Cells at Work!
Episode 8

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Cells at Work! ?

When my sisters were in elementary school, they had a “biology night” where all of the kids did a demonstration of how the circulatory system works. Basically, kids carrying red balloons went into a classroom representing the heart and came out holding blue balloons to give a very simple visual representation of blood carrying oxygen versus carbon dioxide. Mostly I remember because I was allowed to join in, despite being a middle schooler, and it was vaguely embarrassing. Fortunately, none of us were in need of a friendly neutrophil to guide us on our merry way, something that is not true of Red in this week's Cells at Work.

In another shake-up of the monster-of-the-week format, this episode gives us a simple tutorial on what Red is supposed to be doing on a daily basis. That the poor girl is constantly getting lost means that Neutrophil keeps a cautious eye on her as she makes her rounds, careful to keep out of her sight. That all of the other red blood cells know he's there adds some humor to the proceedings, not just in the weird looks they give him (which are pretty good and an improvement from last week's animation downturn), but also in the confused and sometimes snide commentary about what that random neutrophil could be doing in amongst the RBCs—and of course, Red is utterly oblivious to his presence in the way that only anime characters and one of my cats can be. When he throws her notebook back to her and she thinks it just came flying back like some sort of magical paper boomerang is one of the best parts.

In terms of biology, this episode feels a bit more heavy-handed than some of its predecessors, but that could simply be a result of the narrator's return. As you may recall, she was absent from last week's vaguely controversial cancer episode (a wise choice), but she's back in half-force this time, which marks a resumption of the issues she brings. I say “half-force” because there are some innovations to the way the information is disseminated: rather than just have the narrator feed us the on-screen text, there are helpful signs along Red's route to and from the heart, giving all RBCs the information needed to navigate smoothly. It feels a touch silly, because as far as we know Red's the only one who has any issues circulating properly, but it does work better than just using the preschool teacher voice, and it lends legitimacy to Red's issues.

One perhaps unintended bonus to Red's journey is that it really gives you a good idea of why build-up in the veins and arteries is so dangerous. Red spends most of her trip squished between masses of other red blood cells, and the signs continually remind RBCs to leave their carts behind, to be careful of others, and to keep moving at a steady pace. If this is a healthy heart (and we have no reason to suspect otherwise), then just imagine what an unhealthy heart's pathways would be like. Poor little Red wouldn't stand a chance.

This brings us to a question I've found myself pondering over the course of the show – whose body is it that we're getting a glimpse inside? The family-friendly(ish) nature of the show would seem to indicate a child, and the number of abrasions mentioned would certainly bear that up, as would the generally healthy nature of the organs. It's also worth wondering whether the heart looking like a Japanese castle would change in the body of someone of a different nationality, although perhaps that's thinking about things too seriously.

Given the pacing of the series, it seems likely that it's going to cover through volume four of the manga, which leaves us with a couple of really good stories after next week's lesson on the differentiation of T cells, AKA the origin story of Killer T and Helper T. (Poor Killer T just wants to be friends with everyone…) Whether or not you're into the low-key romance between Red and Neutrophil, the characterization of the cells is part of the fun of this show, so we'll see if next week pulls off its childhood story with any more panache than the first one.

Rating: B+

Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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