Cells at Work!
Episode 5

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Cells at Work! ?

One thing we can all probably agree on is that allergies suck. My particular nemesis is similar to the cedar pollen that invades the body this week (maple pollen), so at least it only lasts a month or so, but my mother and sister are allergic to basically every yellow wildflower from St. John's Wort to goldenrod, so this week's episode is a pretty good depiction of what happens to them from June through September. It's a horror show for sure, even without the anthropomorphized visuals Cells at Work provides.

Without a doubt, one of the most fun aspects of each episode is the depiction of each new body-invader. We've had germs that look like 1970s shounen villains, we've had cuddly-looking bacteria, and this week things go the goofy route with the cedar pollen: big yellow blobs that resemble chubby ghosts. They're definitely solid – Neutrophil takes a big bite out of one to identify it – but they also look as if they'd leak if you stuck them with a pin. Basically they call to mind one of the familiar allergic reactions many of us are familiar with – the snot that runs out of your nose or the goo in your irritated eyes. Given that the scene of the action this time is the eye, it's a good choice of association by design.

By this point in the season, it may be worth wondering if Neutrophil is just sort of shadowing Red Blood Cell, because he's right there again when she blunders into danger once more. It wouldn't be such a bad plan on his part, because the girl's a trouble magnet, but this week she also gets to play the role of savior. When B Cell and Mast Cell have created chaos by using too many histamines and other anti-allergy defenses, Red rolls up with the dose of steroids that finally put an end to the allergy attack. She's just delivering the cure, but given that we typically see her running and screaming or just getting lost, it's a really nice change-up. It's also interesting that the narrator declines to inform us that this is also part of the job she and her fellow RBCs do – carrying medicine like they carry nutrients. It isn't hard for us to figure out what's going on, and the narration is a difficult aspect of the show, but with everything else stopping the action for an explanation, it is striking that this variation on her function doesn't get a line.

As with most of the other visualizations of microscopic things, the depiction of the medication as totally inorganic is intriguing. The steroid is shown as a robot, coming in and simply eliminating all of the problems heartlessly because that's its purpose. More natural parts of the body are given personalities and emotions, but the steroid has been introduced for the sole purpose of shutting those natural reactions down. It really works for the scene, but more importantly, it also works to illustrate that drugs truly don't care what they're doing to your body. The cells live there and make it work, so they're invested in the body's well-being. The steroid? Not so much. If nothing else, it makes the spinoff Cells at Work BLACK sound even more interesting.

Cells at Work has settled into a rhythm at this point, so it's a good thing that next week is going to shake things up with a story about Red and Neutrophil when they were kids. (The whole lifespan thing is probably best not thought about too hard.) The original manga is sprinkled with chapters that focus on something besides a bodily crisis, and later volumes feature longer stories, so if you're starting to get a little bored with the infection-of-the-week format, I wouldn't worry too much. Things are a bit repetitive, but think about how many times a day you sneeze or touch any given surface that could have germs on it! This is what we put our immune systems through, more or less. It's a good thing they're such hard workers.

Rating: B+

Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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