Cells at Work!
Episode 14

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 14 of
Cells at Work! ?

Just in time for cold and flu season to really take off, here's a special extra episode of Cells at Work! about the common cold! Ironically, I'm just getting to it because I was sick. (Not a cold, but still.) That's a condition a lot of us can relate to, no matter what time of year it is, making this one of the more everyday stories covered by the series.

The basic plot follows our favorite bored cell who always seems to be getting himself into trouble as he makes a special new friend – a strangely pale fellow with a spiffy blue hat who enjoys playing tricks on the immune cells. Since Cell himself is a bit afraid of the T Cells, WBCs, and Macrophages (who are, after all, assassins who will kill him if he gets infected), he loves that his new buddy is making their lives difficult. This is why he deliberately ignores the signs that his friend may not be the right guy to be hanging out with, like the fact that he keeps triggering Neutrophil's sensor or that he is, as was mentioned, oddly pale. By the time Cell realizes that his new bestie is infected with rhinovirus, it's almost too late.

A lot of the fun of this series is how it transfers pop culture imagery onto the everyday functions of the human immune system, and this episode seems to be drawing on vampire lore similarly to the way that the influenza episode used zombies. Both monsters reproduce by preying on humans and essentially infecting them (although it's called “turning” when we're talking about vampires), so they work particularly well as a metaphor for how infection spreads throughout the body. The Rhinovirus Infected Cell (let's call him RIC) already plays into some of that in his imagery – the first thing Cell notices about him is that he's really, really pale. When he later reveals that it's his hat that's the source of his infection, RIC shows us its hideous toothy underside, again working with the idea of the bite causing the problem. Yes, it looks more like something out of Lovecraft than traditional vampire stories, but the metaphor still holds up, especially since it serves as another visual marker of the transformed state – like the fangs revealed when a vampire smiles. That RIC's voice actor gets an amazing range of meaning out of the only syllables he's given (kshya) may not play into the vampire thing, but it's definitely a major highlight of the episode.

Tortured metaphors and imagery aside, another main goal of this episode seems to be cramming just about everyone from the main series in. Since it only really makes sense for the Killer Ts and Neutrophil to be around, that makes for some character appearances that feel a little forced, such as Red's two brief cameos where she pretty much just wanders onto the set looking for someplace else. Helper and Regulator T and the Macrophages are made the victims of one of RIC's jokes and show up again when Cell decides to try to be friends with safer cells at the end. The Platelets' appearance feels much more natural, since it's largely just what their role was in the rest of the series – doing roadwork and catching Red when she walks off a cliff.

It would be nice if every so often we got one of these extra episodes when a new strain of something popped up or on a disease that's in the news appears. A side effect of watching this show (and reading its source manga) is that it can help you visualize what's potentially happening in your body in a different way, and perhaps understand better that it's just part of life. The illness I mentioned before that kept me from watching this is fibromyalgia, and let me tell you, picturing some stressed-out crazy cell mistakenly triggering my nervous system gave me a chuckle when I needed it. Like the joy of explaining to a kid that a sneeze is metaphorically like shooting a torpedo out of your nose, Cells at Work! offers us not just very basic biological information, but a way to cope with it and think about it beyond the textbook – from the common cold on up.

Rating: B

Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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