Thursday, July 27, 2017

REVIEW: Cells at Work! (manga, vol. 1) by Akane Shimizu, translated by Yamato Tanaka

Cells at Work! is an action and comedy manga series with educational elements. It's licensed by Kodansha Comics.

Review:

Cells at Work is a semi-educational series that takes place inside a human body and stars a bunch of anthropomorphized cells. Red Blood Cell is a cheerful delivery girl who takes oxygen to cells (I suppose they’d qualify as the “ordinary folks” of this world) and carbon dioxide back to the lungs. There are lots of potential dangers along the way, so different kinds of White Blood Cells protect everybody. One recurring character, for example, is White Blood Cell (Neutrophil) 1146, who is part of the force that acts as the body’s initial defense against foreign invaders and infectious diseases. He’s depicted as a savagely violent man who is nevertheless polite and maybe even a little friendly towards Red Blood Cell.

In this volume, readers get to see White Blood Cell and others deal with Streptococcus pneumoniae, cedar pollen, Influenza virus, and a scrape wound. This results in the introduction of characters like Helper T Cell, the violent and manly Killer T Cells, hilariously intense and dramatic Memory Cell, Mast Cell, Macrophage, the adorable Platelets, and more.

I can’t remember which review put this on my radar, but I’m glad it did. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to continue on with this series before it gets stale, but this first volume, at least, was a lot of fun.

The educational aspects were a little rough. Yes, there were little information boxes that explained what each type of cell was and what it did, what each invader was, etc., but it’s been a long time since my last Biology class, and I admit that I got a bit confused here and there. For example, I had a tough time grasping the distinction between the different kinds of white blood cells. Also, I had particular trouble translating what was happening on-page during the cedar pollen chapter to what would have actually been happening in the human body. The steroid’s actions seemed extreme. If the author had truly intended this series to be educational, then diagrams and/or a few paragraphs of explanations at the end of each chapter that went into a little more detail about what would really be happening inside the human body would have been helpful.

That said, I was certainly entertained, and I loved the way Shimizu opted to reinterpret some of the biological details. For example, since platelets are relatively small compared to a lot of the other cells, Shimizu opted to depict them as an army of adorable children. And since one of the things macrophages do is remove dead cells and cellular debris, they’re depicted as maids. Extremely violent and powerful maids. I also enjoyed the naive T cell’s transformation process.

The entire volume was fun, but my favorite chapters were probably the cedar pollen and scrape wound ones. Although the cedar pollen chapter was chaotic and occasionally a little hard to follow, Memory Cell’s habit of lurking around and issuing dire warnings made me laugh. Plus, since I’m currently dealing with allergy-related drainage and headache issues, I could definitely relate. I found it bitterly amusing to see the whole horror show depicted as confusion and overreaction on several cells’ part that just snowballed from there.

The scrape wound chapter appeared, at first, to be a rehash of the same kind of thing the cells dealt with during the Streptococcus pneumoniae chapter, with just a few slight differences. While I enjoyed several of the panels depicting particularly crazed White Blood Cells, I was a little worried that the author had already run out of ideas. That was when the Platelets came into play. I had thought they were okay but nothing particularly special earlier in the volume, but they won me over in this chapter. They made the most adorable little army. Somehow the blood-spattered White Blood Cells standing around them and protecting them made the whole thing even better.

I definitely plan on getting the next volume, but nothing beyond that just yet - I’m going to approach this series one volume at a time. I doubt there will be cliffhangers, and I don’t want to buy several volumes only to discover that the series is already stale by Volume 2. This first volume, at least, was lots of fun despite some occasionally confusing moments. Crossing my fingers that Shimizu manages to keep things fresh and interesting in the next one.

2 comments:

  1. I found it interesting, and it was a good review of human biology, but a little repetitive. One immune system battle after another. This volume would have been more interesting if the author had interleaved other cell functions between the immune responses.

    Tangentially, you might find the writings of Fritz Kahn interesting - who represented the internal functions of human beings as machinery operated by little homunculi. A good introduction to his works is "Fritz Kahn: Infographics Pioneer," by Uta and Thilo von Debschitz.

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    1. It doesn't look like my library has the book you mentioned, although I can probably get it via ILL. It does have some book by him, though. Thanks, I'll take a look!

      Yeah, it hurts Cell at Work that the subject matter is so limited. Technically the series doesn't have to stay focused just on immune responses - the title just mentions cells, not which kind - so I could see later volumes branching out.

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