Cells at Work!
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Cells at Work! ?
It's here: Red's big Balto moment. If you don't know, Balto was a sled dog who helped get much-needed medicine to a town in Alaska during horrible snow storms in the 1920s, and popular culture says that if not for Balto, most of the population would have died. That's the position Red and Kohai are in for most of this episode. The body they live and work in is slipping closer and closer to death, in part because of the well-intentioned sympathetic nervous system, which in an effort to move more oxygen around the body increases the blood pressure. As you might guess, all that that does is send more blood cells out the gaping wound that caused the problem in the first place, putting Red and Kohai in an even more precarious position.
This, however, is where Red shines. She may be a few fries short of a Happy Meal in terms of her sense of direction, but no one can find fault in her determination. The world as she knows it may be on its way out, but as far as Red's concerned, it ain't over till it's over, and as long as she can still pull a sled or simply move her feet, she's going to keep doing her job. In a nutshell, that's what makes her work as a character – her unfailing sense of duty and determination. No matter what's facing her, be it germ or wound or just another unpleasant cell, Red will not give up and will do her utmost to complete her job. That's what draws Neutrophil to her in his efforts to make sure that she gets where she's going in one piece, and that's ultimately what makes her a sympathetic heroine despite her more annoying aspects. This episode does a great job of showing those positive traits off.
Although, it must be said, she does get pretty irritating at one point. When she and Kohai arrive with oxygen for some cells, she spends far too long dithering around about why they could be feeling so poorly when they're literally telling her they need oxygen. Rather than open the box and hand it to them or even forcing the carton into their hands, Red keeps asking them what's wrong, delaying their recovery. It would be a moot point if we expected the episode to end with the death of the body (and wouldn't that have been a kick in the teeth), but given the family show nature of the series, that never really feels like a possibility. The result is simply that Red comes off as profoundly annoying in a moment of tension, which doesn't help the narrative.
Fortunately that's really the only part where that occurs. Red's on point for the majority of the episode, and the arrival of the transfused blood cells is timed perfectly to make most of the half-hour feel tense. That the new RBCs all speak with a strong accent turns out to be an even better choice in the anime than in the original manga, because this is a case where hearing them truly drives the point home that these cells came from someone else. Their initial confusion at being in a new body allows for a bit of much-needed levity before they snap to, and before long life is back to the way it ought to be for our cell friends – Red bumbling along while Neutrophil watches out for her in between psycho bacteria killing sprees.
Cells at Work never quite overcame all of its persistent problems, such as the bizarre decision to make Red directionally challenged or that too-sweet narrator, but it does succeed to the end as a fun way to learn the basics of the human immune system. Converting biology to an action format works better than you may have expected, and if nothing else, this certainly helps you to think about what you put your body through on a daily basis and how hard your immune system works to save you from your constant scrapes and scratches. Since that's what it was presumably going for, I think in the end I'll have to say that as a series, Cells at Work was a success.
Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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