Cells at Work

Hataraku Saibou. Aniplex, David Production, Kodansha; 2018.

In these times of social distancing and staying at home, many of us are looking for new shows to watch to help the time pass. On top of that, school closures mean we have kids to look after and finding entertainment for them that is both fun and educational is essential. Allow us to offer a solution that may be appealing to all. Cells at Work, created by Akane Shimizu, is a Netflix anime about the daily lives of the cells in a human body, depicted as people with jobs and personality quirks (there is an excellent English dubbed version). The structure of the body looks like apartment buildings (cells), roads (blood vessels), and factories (organs); the “average” cells of the body wear white t-shirts and live in the apartments. The main character is Red Blood Cell, a red-headed, jacket and shorts-wearing girl with a map and a pushcart full of oxygen. She’s new to the job and is completely lost trying to find her way to the lungs. She’s attacked by Pneumococcus, portrayed as a sassy scheming purple monster, but is saved just in time by White Blood Cell, wearing a jumpsuit and sporting an emo hairstyle, accompanied by an even more emo personality. True to his cell nature, he likes to enter scenes unexpectedly from vents, drains, and impossibly thin cracks in the walls, and goes from brooding to barbarian-mode the second he spots an enemy.

Episodes tend to focus on a different type of “enemy” or situation that the internal body has to deal with: scheming bacteria, virus zombies, allergies, abrasions, blood-loss, and truly disturbing cancer cells. While dealing with these scenarios, either the main characters or a narrator explains what each new development is, so that the viewer can learn about the nature of that particular cell/situation. For example, when a new character type is introduced (Platelets, Microphage, Killer T Cells), their job description is mentioned by another character before quickly being followed by the narrator explaining in a more detailed, formal way. It becomes educational for kids, and fun for adults to see how these cells/situations are portrayed in this format. For those of us who watched Osmosis Jones or The Magic School Bus, this show is along those vibes.

Now, forgive the unavoidable pun, but this show features an excessive amount of blood. Yes, that does mean the main characters are all blood cells, but it also means that this is an anime, which is a genre known for excessive gore. Luckily this show is on the lighter side, but the characters themselves somehow bleed, and it’s especially exaggerated whenever White Blood Cell kills an invader. Also, the depiction of cancer cells are the stuff of nightmares, which certainly addresses the seriousness of cancer, but still, yuck. So, if you or your child veer towards being easily disturbed, perhaps this show wouldn’t be the best choice. However, give the first episode a shot and see how you feel, because the beauty of this show is that it’s able to educate about how the human body works in a way that is both unexpectedly funny (the overreaction to allergies) and occasionally deeply moving (the birth and death of a cancer cell.)

This post was written by Samara Cary, an Information Access Assistant  for the Biomedical Libraries.

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