Review: Cells at Work! (Blu-Ray)

Ever wanted to know more about how the human body functions from day to day? What triggers an allergic reaction and the various ways the human body responds? Understand what exactly killer T cells and macrophages are? Then you’re in luck, because Cells at Work! is the entertaining and educational series that will guide you through the lives of the 37.2 trillion cells that make up the human body, depicting these diligent cells as anthropomorphised humans going about their daily routine as they work to keep the body functioning. Whether it’s red blood cells carrying nutrients around the body, white blood cells mercilessly destroying any pathogen in their path, or platelets fixing scrapes and wounds, there’s always something that needs doing – and each cell is hard at work making sure it gets done!

Cells at Work! is a special blend of genuinely educational and enjoyable, with a string of fun characters and intriguing depictions of bodily functions that make learning and entertainment go hand-in-hand seamlessly. For the most part, the series manages this balance by framing its various health-related scenarios through the perspective of two of its 37.2 trillion residents – Red Blood Cell AE3803 and White Blood Cell U-1146. Red Blood Cell is a rookie red blood cell, constantly getting lost as she delivers oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other nutrients all over the body. White Blood Cell on the other hand is a dedicated pathogen killer, but is quiet and considerate despite his cutthroat profession. The two cross paths during an attack by some pneumococcus bacteria, and as the series progresses and they continue to miraculously run into each other, their friendship grows. While the two of them are fairly standard anime archetypes – the bubbly, clumsy young woman and the stoic but thoughtful killing machine, they are charming leads that give the series some consistency and heart.

While this episode format may not sound particularly ground-breaking, it is extremely effective, with the development of the characters and their relationships offering simple and sweet entertainment while a biology lesson provides a great backdrop for external drama and events. Cells at Work! manages to tie both of these elements together in such a way that allows viewers to learn about the human body from a different perspective, while using the anthropomorphised cells we know and love to create drama as they are thrust into a variety of interesting and often dangerous situations. An excellent example of this is the series’ episode on blood circulation, which has the viewer follow Red Blood Cell as she tries to prove she’s no longer a rookie and can circulate through the body on her own. It’s a neat layer of ideas – not only does the episode teach viewers how blood circulates and exchanges carbon dioxide and oxygen in its travels, it is also a big part of Red Blood Cell’s character arc as she tries to become a more competent worker. This balance of education and character drama is really effective, and Cells at Work!  benefits from being able to use both when it begins depicting some of the more dramatic and serious health scenarios.

Cells at Work! generally approaches the topics it tackles in a light-hearted way, depicting invading pathogens in quippy and action-packed fights with white blood cells and killer T cells, and minor scrape wounds as seismic events. This contributes to the series’ exaggerated style and often heightened sense of humour, two things that fit perfectly within a series where everything feels larger than life and characters are always caught off-guard by the next big pathogen invasion, bout of food poisoning, or heat stress. That being said, during the episodes where Cells at Work! depicts some of the more serious medical issues, it does so with a healthy amount of restraint. Perhaps it has something to do with the educational elements of the series, but Cells at Work! is able to touch on topics of varying severity and tone while still managing to form a cohesive series and avoid serious mood whiplash. This includes both an episode on cancer cells and a particularly intense set of excellent episodes depicting haemorrhagic shock. These episodes are still reflective of the series’ exaggerated style and educational angle, but it dials back the humour in favour of drama, which works surprisingly well – so much so that I was completely hooked, waiting to see how Red Blood Cell, White Blood Cell, and the other countless trillions of cells would pull through.

Cells at Work! is a series with a clever and creative concept, that is as good at entertaining as it is at educating its audience. As someone with a basic education of biology, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the series, and came away feeling as if I had genuinely learnt a lot about the human body and the trillions of cells that look after it. It should definitely be on your watch list.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.

© Akane Shimizu / KODANSHA, Aniplex, davidproduction