Cells at Work!
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Cells at Work! ?
If there's one thing getting in the way of Cells at Work telling a good story, it's the narration. It's an almost classic example of something that worked well in the original print format of the series that was ill-suited for the transition from manga to anime; in the manga, the reader can skip over repeated information, such as what a neutrophil does, while getting to new information in their own time – perhaps after completing a tense scene so that the narrative flow isn't interrupted. In anime form, however, we're at the mercy of the narrator. If you're a fast reader like me, that means completely stalling the action while a voiceover reads through the onscreen text at a glacial pace. If you read at a slower pace, like my sister who I polled for this, you're stuck either trying to pick which onscreen text to read (full definition text or subtitles of the narrator's speech), which is still frustrating and stalls the progression of the story, possibly forcing you to jump between the two and miss the definition all together. No matter what the intended audience for this show, unless it was “people who really dig treacly narrators,” this is a major problem.
That's why it's fortunate that the show's interpretation of the human immune system is so much fun. This week recounts the dangers of consuming raw seafood (so maybe no sushi for dinner after this episode) when the body gets a case of not only bacterial food poisoning, but also a parasite. It also shows that Red Blood Cell may be the unluckiest cell in the entire body, because once again she manages to be right where the danger is unfolding, in this case on the viewing platform of the stomach. (Don't you love that the stomach has a viewing platform?) It's really a chance for her to meet other white blood cells beyond her pal Neutrophil 1146 or the Killer Ts. This week, that would be Eosinophil and Basophil, who have slightly more specialized jobs as part of the immune system, making them much rarer than the neutrophils.
To be honest, I'm not sure how well the show's depiction of Basophil as a total mystery really works, because a little layman's research shows that scientists do have a greater idea of his function than the narration implies. He is pretty funny in the episode though, wandering around covered up to the eyes and spouting melodramatic lines that make him sound like he escaped from a low-rent samurai drama. He certainly doesn't do much more than that either, as opposed to Eosinophil, who is the target of the other cells' barely concealed nastiness until she shows what she's really made for: eliminating parasites.
The fact that almost everyone totally missed the parasitic invasion until it was chewing through the stomach walls makes her seem even more underappreciated by her fellow cells! As we've seen, most of the neutrophils and other immune cells show up once there's a problem, with our Neutrophil friend just sort of wandering around as an exception. Therefore, the fact that Eosinophil was present during the bacterial attack should have clued someone in that there was more going on than the Abominable Snow Bacterium. Neutrophil 1146 may have figured it out as the sole perceptive character in the series thus far, because he can be seen quickly stepping in when Eosinophil tries to take on the bacteria and then later stands back when she goes after the parasite. I'm not sure if that makes him a better character or everyone else a worse one.
In any event, Eosinophil's storyline does make a good case for everyone having their own niche in terms of work, and if we look at this as either a show for a younger audience or an homage to such shows, it's the kind of message we'd certainly expect to see, especially since everyone was making fun of Eosinophil for not being able to fight the bacteria. It's also an interesting way to make it clear how many different types of white blood cells there are – Killer T, Macrophage, Neutrophil, Basophil, and Eosinophil are all drawn to look different, and that's a good tool for understanding a subject you may not be familiar with in general. Narration aside, that's really where Cells at Work is succeeding, and we'll be continuing that trend next week when poor unlucky Red runs into some allergens.
Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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