Cells at Work!
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cells at Work! ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Cells at Work! ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
Cells at Work! ?
For a purported family show, Cells at Work sure has a lot of blood. Of course, the whole show does take place inside the human body, mostly in the veins, arteries, and capillaries where our heroes Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell work, so technically the whole thing is about blood. But even beyond that, this is a surprisingly gory series thus far, with all three episodes featuring epic battles or bloody massacres as White Blood Cell protects Red Blood Cell or the Killer T Cells work to fight off the flu.
It's probably worth remembering the words of the late, great Terry Pratchett, when he commented that kids are actually quite keen on blood, because despite the splatter factor, Cells at Work never forgets that it is aimed at a younger audience. It's basically a contemporary biology-based version of Bill Nye the Science Guy or Mr. Wizard (depending on when you grew up) in that it's just as interested in teaching you basic science while entertaining you. And it is entertaining – over the course of these three episodes, not only do the characters fight off several different kinds of germs, but also heal a scrape wound in a style that makes what's going on inside your body seem pretty darn exciting.
The central characters of this show are the naïve young Red Blood Cell, a young woman just embarking on her job carrying nutrients around the body, and White Blood Cell, a hardened young man who looks like he's seen things. (All of the white blood cells do, probably as a consequence of constantly defending the body.) The two meet when Red gets lost and White defends her from a pneumococcal germ; later they meet up again when a variety of bacteria get in through a scrape wound in episode two. Episode three doesn't pair them up, as the focus is on the Killer T Cells and the evolution of a Naïve T Cell fighting off Influenza B, but they are both present in the episode. Biologically speaking, this isn't how cell lifespans function, and we should technically be meeting a totally new group of cells in each episode, but this works for giving the audience a set of characters we can follow throughout, which is more important in a narrative, since if the kids stop watching, the show isn't doing its job.
The real strength of these episodes is the way that they use the medium of anime to help get the lesson across. The idea to show sneezes as bacteria-filled missiles shot out of your nose is both fun and appealing (to kids, of course; totally not to mature adults such as ourselves), and the germs being shown as Go Nagai-style villains adds some color and excitement to the visuals, while the adorable little platelets get the point across without being creepy the way a more literal vision would have been. The depiction of the inside of your body as a thriving community is a little awkward, given the paved streets and apartment buildings, but it does work to make its point; the scrape wound in episode two creating a massive crater with blood cells falling out (bleeding) does make for a good visual representation of the event. All of this is enhanced by the JoJo's style power-up of the Naïve T Cell and the deceptively sweet-looking Macrophage in her maid's outfit (because she serves) going all Higurashi on the zombie flu cells.
Cells at Work! is doing a good job of explaining the basics of the immune system and how it reacts to various common ailments and situations. Episode three's influenza storyline may take on a more sinister context if you've had actual experience with Influenza A or B, which works with the zombie imagery, but mostly this is a fun watch with the added bonus of a mild biology lesson. It feels more like a family show than the other kid's show I'm watching this season (GeGeGe no Kitaro), and Red Blood Cell can get a little shrill at times, but on the whole this is a nice shout-out to the edutainment shows of childhoods past and generally a fun, bloody time.
Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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