CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2 by Akane Shimizu Review
In CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2, author Akane Shimizu shifts gears and opts for stronger storytelling and more complex villains than what we've seen thus far. As a sequel, it offers more developed characters and plot without losing the playful tone set by the first volume.
92 %
Great Sequel!

The human body: a complex system of cells, tissue, and organs designed to keep us going day-to-day. Or, if you live in the world of CELLS AT WORK!, the human body is a dense metropolis where anthropomorphized cells live in harmony. Except when giant bacteria monsters and other ailments threaten to destroy everything. You know, everyday stuff.  In the action-packed first volume, we met Red Blood Cell AE3803 and White Blood Cell U1146. CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2 builds off the momentum laid out by the first volume and establishes a more coherent storyline and its first multi-chapter arc.

Written and illustrated by Akane Shimizu, CELLS AT WORK! takes a peek into the daily lives of our body’s cells à la OSMOSIS JONES. From the combat-oriented white blood cells to the delivery-minded red blood cells, there’s no shortage of things going on in this busy body. Volume one walked us through bacterial and viral invaders and a skin abrasion. These invaders take a back seat in Vol. 2. Instead, we learn more about the two main characters and more about what happens when the body turns on itself.

Shonen Action Where You Least Expect It in CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1

Deeper Storytelling

Red Blood Cell AE 3803 and White Blood Cell U1146 run into each other quite a bit, so obviously, readers would be curious as to how they first met. In a flashback, we see our protagonists while they were still young myelocytes and erythroblasts living in the body’s red bone marrow (where new cells are created). Red Blood Cell AE 3803 and White Blood Cell U1146 have a history that runs deeper than just a string of coincidental run-ins. With a manga liked CELLS AT WORK! where chapters aren’t very interconnected, flashbacks like this one show a commitment to creating characters that don’t just exist in the moment. So this change in storytelling was much welcomed. Flashbacks like these offer a moment of reflection. For CELLS AT WORK!, Shimizu also uses this as an opportunity to further the worldbuilding surrounding the main story.

A young White Blood Cell U1146 defends Red Blood Cell AE3803 in CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2
He’s a true hero. | Image: Kodansha Comics

CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2 also brings about the series first multi-chapter arc. It only lasts two chapters, so its not quite the multi-chapter arcs we see in series like ONE PIECE. But, it does manage to alter the tone of future volumes. As the story moves along, cutesy one-time villains like bacteria can only make so many appearances. Foreign-born invaders in CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2 typically only get the spotlight for about a few pages, compared to the first chapter where these villains received whole chapters. With a plethora of possible ailments that can plague the human body, its hard to guess who our protagonists might be fighting next. But as they grow and learn from the cells they meet, we can likely expect tougher villains in chapters to come. In Vol. 2, we see one such villain in the Cancer cell.

New Challengers Approaching.

Toward the end of Vol. 2, White Blood Cell U1146 faces off against a rogue cell, leading to a tense investigation of a nearby condominium with Killer T Cell and Natural Killer Cell. What we find is a meticulously planned invasion and an incredibly clever villain unlike any of the ones we’ve seen thus far. Posing as a regular cell, a cancer cell lures the white blood cells into the condominium. The only surviving member of a group of cancer cells killed by white blood cells, this particular cancer cell wants revenge.

What’s unique about CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2’s main villain is that he’s given an incredibly depressing backstory meant to have readers empathize with his actions. He isn’t blinded by his desire to spread across the body like with bacteria and viruses. Instead, he seeks revenge because he doesn’t understand why cancer cells aren’t given a chance to live. “Why do we have to die…?!” He tells Killer T. “We didn’t do anything wrong… We were just born like this!”

The Cancer cell says his dying words to White Blood Cell U1146 in CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2
It’s hard not to empathize with this villain. | Image: Kodansha Comics

The cancer cell’s tragic backstory is an interesting take, to say the least. In a world where cancer is often a literal villain, Shimizu reminds readers that cancer cells are as much a part of the human body as the white blood cells are. We learn in the chapter that even the healthiest body actually creates thousands of cancers cells a day. We just have our immune system to fight them off. Seeing this villain, whose only wish is an equal chance at life, is somewhat jarring. Many people fight for this right every day. As a plot device, it makes the cancer cell’s death unexpectedly emotional.


CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2 Delivers

CELLS AT WORK is a series that doesn’t require a complex narrative. And yet, the choice to add in plots that further develop the protagonists while also giving them tougher challenges to face is a step in the right direction. CELLS AT WORK Vol. 2 manages to keep the playful tone set by its predecessor while also paving the way for future storytelling. Even though it brings about a few similar villains from Vol. 1, it does so without feeling like its rehashing old work. By placing them in new situations, Shimizu allows the villains to take upon new roles within the story.

With Vol. 3 set to further explore the world of CELLS AT WORK! and its characters, we’re excited to see what new obstacles our protagonists will have to face. If the end of Vol. 2 is supposed to be an indicator, we can likely expect more complex villains and more frightening situations to come.

CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 2 is available here. Can’t get enough of the manga? Catch the CELLS AT WORK! anime on Crunchyroll.

Featured image courtesy of Kodansha Comics.

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