Cells at Work!
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Cells at Work! ?
On the shortlist of things that probably don't deserve a sympathetic representation is cancer. Not those suffering from the disease, but the disease itself, which makes this week's episode of Cells at Work a little tough to swallow. It picks up where last week left off, with NK Cell confronting what everyone else assumed to be a regular cell, but which she knew to be a cancer cell in disguise. That's all well and good; just another episode where some sort of invader is put down by the good ol' human immune system. Things get odd, however, when Cancer Cell turns out to be less of a villain and more of a misunderstood guy just trying to live in a world where he's not allowed to exist.
To a degree, this does make sense. Unlike most of the infections Neutrophil and Killer T have fought off, Cancer Cell is a naturally occurring phenomenon, produced by an error in the body's own cell replication. As the episode notes, even a healthy human body produces numerous cancer cells daily. That means that, from Cancer Cell's perspective, he's being persecuted simply for the crime of being different. It's absolutely a chance for the show to indulge in a metaphor about the differently abled and the prejudices they face in a world that doesn't understand them—but not quite. Because honestly, being differently abled does not pose a threat to the existence of society, but cancer absolutely does threaten the life of the person it inhabits.
That makes much of this episode pretty uncomfortable. We're given a sympathetic depiction of Cancer Cell, complete with a heart-wrenching backstory about how he was pursued as a child by the immune cells, and his death scene with Neutrophil feels like it came out of a Victorian melodrama. There aren't many (if any) indications that this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, which would make it a bit easier to take; it looks as though we're honestly meant to sympathize with Cancer Cell, even though we know that letting him live would be a really bad idea.
Simply put, this doesn't seem to be the place for a big metaphor about persecution. It is important to know what cancer is and how it spreads, and I do appreciate that the show is trying something different with this episode than its usual bacterium-of-the-week format, but it just doesn't quite work for me. I also feel as if Neutrophil usurps NK's role a bit, making her a less interesting character than she could have been. Yes, she's the one who spotted the problem, which is a major role of the cell, and her playing a prank on Killer T in order to activate herself more fully is an interesting way to depict what actually happens, but the episode could have been more about NK, possibly working together with the rest of the immune system in what feels like a somewhat rushed finale.
It isn't all problems, of course. That blasted narrator is nowhere to be found in this episode, a good move since she would have drastically slowed the action down. (Her sweet-as-pie voice also would have been at odds with the tone of the story.) Cancer Cell's ever-changing design is also a highlight, and Macrophage's terrifying personality shifts being at odds with her docile character design make for a fun juxtaposition as always. (Also, what on earth is she cooking in that one scene?) Outside of some standout slimy cancer cell shots, the animation unfortunately looks to have taken a nosedive, which is about on par with the episode's odd storytelling choices.
Next week, things are likely to take another turn as Red gets her own episode about circulation. That should give the show another chance to try something new that may work a bit better than this did.
Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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