Friday 5 October 2018

Anime REVIEW: Cells at Work!

Cells at Work!
Cells at Work! is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll 

Anthropomorphism – the one thing that will ensure that anime never runs out of ideas. From monsters and countries to guns and warships, the act of turning things into marketable moe has always proven to be particularly popular. Now 2018 has shown that won't be changing any time soon with the release of Cells at Work! (Hataraku Saibou), adapted from the ongoing manga series of the same name by Akane Shimizu. This time it’s the turn of the human body, turning the millions of cells inside of us all into a whole selection of memorable characters. Running for a total of 13 episodes and animated by JoJo's Bizarre Adventure maestros David Production, Japan's answer to Osmosis Jones might just be the series you didn't know you wanted but secretly have always needed.

Red Blood Cell AE3803White Blood Cell U-1146

Inside the human body, our cells are working hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly. From the red blood cells delivering the oxygen to the various types of white blood cell eliminating foreign invaders, everyone has a designated task to keep the body healthy. Inside this particular one, red blood cell AE3803 has just started her job of delivering oxygen, carbon dioxide and various nutrients to the places that need it. She's clumsy and gets lost easily, but dedicated to her work.

After being attacked by an invading pneumococcus bacterium, she's saved white blood cell U-1146 – a Neutrophil who's actually quite gentle despite his rather ruthless role to kill any invading pathogens. What follows is a friendship that stretches across the entire body, as the two repeatedly cross paths and meet with various other cells. But the life of a cell is never easy, and together they face potentially world-ending disasters as well as attackers from both inside and outside the body.

The Pneumococcus attacksMacrophages fight back

When it comes to making a show like Cells at Work! there's a fine line to be drawn between being scientifically accurate and just simply telling a good story. The latter should be the number one priority of any show, but if you can't also achieve the former then what's the point of doing something like this? Thankfully this is something that Cells at Work! doesn't seem to struggle with. The series is comprised of mostly episodic stories that each tackle a different virus or ailment, ranging from generic invasion plots to events like scrape wounds, pollen allergies and even potentially life-threatening things like a hemorrhagic shock. Cells at Work! tackles these things with a very unique perspective, doing things like portraying heatstroke as a drought or a sneeze as a missile launching germs out of the body with such finesse that the ideas all feel refined from the very beginning. But it's also the little details that really make this series something special, ranging from the various bits of scenery that make up the inner workings of the body to the little quirks on each character design to better reflect their real-life purposes. For example the Red Blood Cells are repeatedly shown snacking on sugary snacks like candy or doughnuts - representing the way they rely on glucose for energy. A lot of these things will only be picked up first hand by those who know their biology, but even for the less scientifically-trained among us these little bits of trivia are fascinating to read about and then go back and flick through episodes to find later. It also helps that despite its semi-educational status Cells at Work! does not take itself completely seriously. Moments like viruses having their limbs ripped off in gratuitous showers of blood revel in how over the top they are, and there's plenty of humour in the dialogue to remind you that the show wants to be just as funny as it is wise.

This clever portrayal of how the body works may lay the framework for Cells at Work!'s success, but it wouldn't be what it is without its instantly likeable cast of core characters. True to the reality there may be millions of different cells all serving the same function, but the show makes the right call in focusing specifically on a core cast of different ones. While our klutzy Red Blood Cell might not stray too far from her set character mould, there is still something unmistakably captivating about her go-getter attitude and determination to do a good job despite her sheer ineptitude when it comes to directions. Even more charming are her interactions with White, whose ability to go from calm caretaker to a blood-soaked knife wielding maniac never stops being funny. Cells at Work! is careful enough not to push the pair into an obvious relationship scenario, but develops their friendship in such a way that the viewer is able to take what they want from it without anything feeling lost or underdeveloped. The pair are then supported by a number of other regularly appearing cells, such as the similarly caring but equally psychotic Macrophage, or the aggressive and rowdy Killer T Cell. While these characters aren't quite as involved as the main two, Killer T in particular gets a rather nice character-driven episode which differs nicely from the show's usual flow. Of course if you ask the internet it's the Platelets that truly steal the show, immortalised as a troupe of adorable but hardworking school children that certainly capable enough to not need protecting but you just want to do it anyway.

Red and White meet upEveryone's favourite Platelets

But sadly Cells at Work!'s educational aspect can often also work to its detriment, particularly when it comes to the show's omniscient narrator. In addition to her opening monologue, the narrator often pauses the action to give descriptions of any cells/viruses that have just appeared onscreen or any bodily events that occur. Such descriptions end up being fairly in-depth even when trying to be made as succinct as possible, so having to repeatedly take five or six seconds out can really break the flow of an episode – particularly in some of the more dramatic storylines. This perhaps wouldn't be so bad if scenes didn't freeze to a halt during them, since the viewer could definitely read and grasp the concepts much quicker than the show is prepared to give them credit for. But far worse is just the repetitive nature of these narrations in general, with certain descriptions getting repeated episode after episode instead of just reserving them for new concepts that haven't been covered yet. Certainly the show might want to present itself in a way that makes it accessible to viewers who haven't been watching from the start, but having to two or three narrations in succession with barely a sentence of actual dialogue separating them gets tiresome very quickly.

There's also one episode that particularly needs to be discussed, as its content will inevitably be a difficult watch for some and in some cases could easily affect enjoyment of the rest of the show. The seventh episode rather boldly features the Cancer Cell, a multiplying entity taking revenge against the body that brought him into the world and then subsequently rejected him. While scientifically Cells at Work! isn't exactly wrong in what it's doing, this almost sympathetic portrayal of something that will have undoubtedly affected so many people watching in some way might be a difficult pill to swallow. It certainly differs pretty greatly in tone and approach to the other episodes in the series that feature a personified threat, which all feature outright villainous viruses even though scientifically they're only doing what they do to survive as well. It's an episode that's presented many different talking points so shouldn't be discounted, but definitely one might appreciate the warning on.

The Cancer cellKiller-T-Cell

Ultimately some poorly timed narration and a divisive episode topic isn't enough to pull Cells at Work! down, and what you have is a delightfully fun series that succeeds at being both entertaining and educational perfectly. You'll quickly fall in love with its memorable cast, and with the sheer amount of topics that the show could cover will definitely find yourself wanting more at the end of it. Personally I'd like to see how grittier spin-off manga Cells at Work! BLACK (taking place inside a human living an unhealthy lifestyle) would fare animated, but anything from this thoroughly charming series would be more than welcome.

1 comment:

Oar said...

I totally understand why, but people making the comparison to Osmosis Jones never fails to make me laugh as I imagine some bizarre crossover.