Thursday, March 4, 2021

REVIEW: Cells at Work!, Season 1 (anime TV series)

Cells at Work! is a combination comedy, workplace, and edutainment anime series. The first season is 13 episodes long, plus one OVA.


Red Blood Cell works hard and has her heart in the right place, but she tends to get a little lost when attempting to deliver oxygen and nutrients. She also has terrible luck when it comes to staying safe - she encounters viruses and dangerous bacteria with alarming frequency. Luckily, whenever disaster strikes White Blood Cell (Neutrophil) is there to save the day.

Each episode in the first season deals with a different topic: how the body defends itself against viruses, bacteria, and cancer, how minor injuries are repaired, what the various cells do, etc. All of the body's cells are anthropomorphized. Red Blood Cell is depicted as a delivery girl (possibly a sickle cell, based on her sickle-shaped lock of hair and her difficulty with circulating properly). White Blood Cell is dressed in a white uniform and behaves fiercely and violently at the slightest sign that invaders are present. Killer T Cells are musclebound military men, Macrophages are murderous maids, Platelets are adorable little children, and so on.

I've wanted to watch this show for a while, but the Blu-ray price was prohibitive (it's an Aniplex of America title, of course). I couldn't justify spending $140 on 14 episodes of a series I figured I'd probably enjoy but not love enough to want to rewatch in the future. Then it popped up on Netflix, and I spotted it in Funimation's streaming catalog. I decided to give it a try with Funimation, since I opted to continue my subscription past the free trial period, but I'll mention that I did consider switching over to Netflix to stream it because Funimation's choice of white subtitles on black bars annoys me (although possibly Netflix's subtitles for this series are the same? I haven't checked).

While I did enjoy the series quite a bit, I still think $140 is far too much to pay. I'm glad I streamed it and will probably watch Season 2 once that's complete, but it's not something I particularly feel like I need to add to my collection.

I'd qualify this as edutainment, but the educational aspects feel pretty light. Yes, the plot of each episode is built around an educational topic, but the anthropomorphizing and overall humor could make the information a little difficult to follow. There were times I wished that the series would give more (or any) bigger picture views of what was going on - the narrator would explain some aspects, but it was left up to viewers to picture what the person all of these cells lived inside was experiencing. 

The characters were fun to watch, and I really liked their designs. My favorites were probably White Blood Cell, Macrophage (particularly in the episode where their other identity was revealed - if my high school science classes ever covered that, I completely forgot it), Dendritic Cell, and the Platelets. Watching White Blood Cell quietly rooting for Red Blood Cell (and, in one episode, do his best to help her without her finding out) was enjoyable.

There were several cliched anime character types, and yet the series stayed true to its science/edutainment foundation and never stooped to pairing any of those types up and cramming in romance. These are cells, after all. They don't do romance. It was kind of nice to watch something with a bunch of characters focused on supporting each other purely as friends and coworkers.

My favorite episodes from this first season were the hemorrhagic shock ones. The body had faced several serious-looking threats up to that point, including heat stroke and a horrifying parasite, but the injury and its aftermath in the hemorrhagic shock episodes was truly dire. I actually found myself tearing up as the Red Blood Cells struggled to deliver oxygen to dying regular cells and White Blood Cell found himself moving around in eerily empty areas.

If you've got immunology, cell biology, or circulatory anatomy tests coming up, this is not going to replace actually reading your textbook. But if you'd like something amusing and mildly educational, this is a good series to watch.

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