Review for Cells At Work Collection
I’ve wanted to watch this show ever since I heard of it, with visions of an anthropomorphised Fantastic Voyage or Innerspace coming to mind. There’s a niche of anime that revels in turning objects into humans, usually cute little girls, and I’ve enjoyed to a greater or lesser degree shows like Arpeggio of the Blue Steel (warships), Hetalia Axis Powers (nations), and Land of the Lustrous (gemstones), and there are even shows like Upotte (guns) and Uma Musume (racehorses). So there’s plenty of precedent for the cells of the human body to be personified as people, although it does make you wonder if they in turn have cells personified as people inside them, and so on ad infinitum. Certainly I had that thought with the first episode where a white blood cell slays a bacterium and it sprays blood everywhere, but I get ahead of myself. Actually it wasn’t other anime that I thought of when contemplating Cells at Work, it was instead an old, obscure US sitcom called Herman’s Head, in which the thought processes of the title character were personified by four aspects of his psyche, a Greek chorus living inside his head. Somehow I don’t think Cells at Work is going to be like that.
Apparently there are 37.2 trillion cells at work every day in the human body. Cells at Work re-imagines the body as a whole world, a city where these anthropomorphised cells work hard to keep everything as it should be. The show takes the viewpoints of two cells in particular, red blood cell AE3803 whose job it is to deliver oxygen, carbon dioxide and nutrients around the body, and white blood cell U1146, whose duty is to keep the body safe from infections. But they aren’t the only cells at work around the body...
13 episodes plus extras are presented across two Blu-rays from MVM.
2. Scrape Wound
4. Food Poisoning
5. Cedar Pollen Allergy
6. Erythroblasts and Myelocytes
7. Cancer Cells
8. Blood Circulation
10. Staphylococcus Aureus
12. Hemorrhagic Shock (Part 1)
13. Hemorrhagic Shock (Part 2)
Special Episode: The Common Cold
Cells at Work gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and sharp, the animation is smooth, and untroubled by compression, aliasing or banding. It’s all very watchable. This isn’t a Fantastic Voyage world of the human body; rather it’s all anthropomorphised, from the cells re-imagined as characters to a world that resembles a city where those cells work. The character designs are appealing, and very well thought out, in that characters are differentiated, even when they are the same cell type.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with subtitles and signs, and you’re free to pick and choose during playback. I went with the Japanese audio to watch the show, and was happy with the experience. The action comes across well, the music suits the tone of the show, and the actor performances are really agreeable. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. There are no subtitles for the theme song lyrics during the episodes, but the songs are translated in the extra features (textless credits).
The discs boot to animated menus.
The extras are on disc 2, beginning with the aforementioned textless credits. There is only the main opening theme though (one of the episodes has an altered theme with different lyrics).
There are 3:58 of Japanese Promos.
The Animated Shorts last 22:28 in total, and comprise some small bits of fun with cute, deformed versions of the characters.
This is amazing! If you’ve seen enough of a certain medium, such as anime, you can easily become jaded, start to think that you’ve seen it all, and that whatever new innovations in stories and style may come, will only be a small tweak on what has come before. It is so satisfying and rewarding to come across a show like Cells at Work, a show unlike anything I have seen before, in anime, or indeed anything else. Cells at Work is edutainment; that usually dispiriting genre that straddles being entertaining and informative, and is usually prone to being rather po-faced, staid, and self-important. Cells at Work is anything but. In fact, it might just be the best edutainment I have ever seen. It’s fantastic!
Cells at Work re-imagines the human body as a world, a universe in which the cells of the human body dwell; 37.2 trillion we are reliably informed at the start of each episode. Most of it looks like a city, and the roads, motorways, paths and junctions are the circulatory system. The show focuses mostly on the blood cells, probably because they are constantly in motion, and you can tell a dynamic story with them, get a whistle-stop tour of the human body wherever the blood might flow, although the organs are all re-imagined and reinterpreted as well. The cells present as people, with red blood cells appearing as red-uniformed couriers, transporting oxygen and carbon-dioxide to and from the lungs, as well as nutrients around the body.
The focus in this show is on one particular blood cell, AE3803, a newly employed cell who’s yet to figure her way around the body; she keeps getting lost, and attracts all manner of trouble. In the white uniforms, and armed with knives are the white blood cells, tasked with dealing with infection, and U1146 is the hero we see most often, and who despite the odds being trillions to one against, keeps encountering AE3803 and rescuing her from whatever bacteria may be invading that day.
We see quite a few of the same faces in this show, which again defies the odds, but makes for good storytelling and character development. We meet all sorts of other blood cells, B-Cells, T-Cells, Macrophages and Dentritic Cells and they all have their various characteristics, personalities and duties. You’ll have to love the platelets, whose duty it is to repair damage to the body, as they appear as cute, elementary school children who work together to build blood clots and the like. The various personalities make the stories fun, the interactions entertaining, although given what the story is trying to accomplish, can be a little far-fetched. But I do think that it helps to draw the viewer in if you think that there is a romantic relationship between Red and White.
Each episode focuses on one aspect of the body, the way the blood cells deal with an issue. Various bacteria try to infect the body, appearing in the form of some anthropomorphised monster. One episode sees the cells having to deal with a scrape, another has a viral flu infection, tiny little particles (hats) which turn previously healthy cells into dangerous zombies. An episode of food poisoning requires a parasite to be dealt with, and the extreme response to pollen gives an idea of what happens in an allergic reaction. A drug treatment in the form of a steroid drug shows up in the form of a terminator. We get to see where blood cells are born, and we see what happens when heatstroke hits.
I thought at first that Cells at Work was taking more than a few liberties with its storytelling, but having been pointed to a few reaction videos on Youtube, where real doctors watch the show, I’ve been doubly impressed by just how much detail and medical accuracy there is in the show, even with all the anthropomorphism. The only thing I worry about is the health of the human hosting these cells. Red blood cells have a limited life, so in quite short order, this person has had to deal with bacterial infections, viral infections, food poisoning, an allergic reaction, heatstroke, cancer, and a life-threatening injury. Surely the unluckiest person alive!
Cells at Work is almost perfect. A show like this can really only work if there is a narrator informing us of what is happening on screen, explaining the nature of the various cells and the processes they go through, and once in a while, this narration escapes the realm of entertainment and becomes a little stodgy and distracting from the story. The show wouldn’t work without the narration, but my attention was diverted from the screen to Wikipedia, and that isn’t good for the flow of the storytelling. It’s a small nit to pick in an otherwise exceptional show.
If you’ve ever wanted to know how the human body works, then Cells at Work is the most fun way you can find out. Apparently a second series is on the way, and reading around the show, it appears that there is a parallel manga set in another ‘world’, in the body of an unhealthy person, a smoker stricken with stress, cholesterol, and a lack of exercise. That would make for a fascinating second season, although there’s plenty more story you could tell in a healthy body.