Move over Osmosis Jones, there’s a new absolute work of art in town. CELLS AT WORK remains one of the best anime of the season with strange appeal. It’s pretty common, for example, for a shonen series to gain attention. Hell, half the most popular shows of the summer are just poorly designed harems that keep people in with fan service. CELLS AT WORK is so unique in style and approach that I struggle to categorize it. It lacks the total emphasis on fighting like a shonen anime. But, there’s enough action for shonen fans to love it. On top of that, it’s educational in ways that are directly linked to the characters.

This is why CELLS AT WORK is so compelling. Every part of the human body within the show is thematically translated. In the same way that your body’s cells work hard to keep you alive, so do these characters. But the way they do so is reflected in their personalities. This is why it’s so much fun to see a white blood cell mercilessly slaughter foreign bacteria in the body. The anime puts so much work into its characterization that its hard not to like it. And, in addition to all of the amazing action, there’s a fair share of humor.

If that weren’t enough, CELLS AT WORK is violent in a way that’s gruesome, but fitting. After all, if the only cells your body cares about saving are its own, there’s no issue with being merciless to invaders. Comedy and action blend when violent scenes get normal or even unusually calm reactions from the characters. After all, a white blood cell slicing the throat of some bacteria is just another day at work.

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

A World Within the Body

CELLS AT WORK takes place entirely within the human body. Just one body is made of hundreds of millions of cells, each one with a specific role. In order to maintain overall health, it’s imperative that order is maintained. In essence, multiple parts of the human body have a job. But, rather than profit, the goal is health and wellbeing for the body itself. That’s the parallel upon which CELLS AT WORK situates itself. It portrays the body as a society of hardworking people who embody the characteristics of their corresponding cells.

The hardworking human body of CELLS AT WORK
The hardworking human body of CELLS AT WORK | Image: Crunchyroll

In building the world this way, CELLS AT WORK immediately creates two unique narrative styles. Firstly, we functionally get infinite characters with no strictly unique traits to them. Rather than have names, each character in the series refers to each other by what kind of cell they are. The only differentiating factor amongst two white blood cells, for example, is their number. Secondly, this allows CELLS AT WORK to focus on what the characters do rather than who they are. I’m normally a stickler for strong character development in any show, but it’s necessary here. CELLS AT WORK is extremely episodic, and the only real continuity is the relationship between the two characters with the most screen time.

Red Blood Cell AE3803 and White Blood Cell U-1146 meet several times as they go about their duties. AE3803 is rather clumsy and thus needs saving when she winds up in trouble. U-1146, like all of his kind, is generally stoic. But when it comes to killing bacteria, his demeanor is violent and sadistic.

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When Biology Gets Personal

And that personality shift fits the function of white blood cell within the body. When there are no foreign bacteria to attack and rid the body of, white blood cells are somewhat dormant. So, when white blood cells aren’t “working”, they’re stoic existences that just walk around and patrol for danger. This is why CELLS AT WORK is able to present characters so cleanly. The expository detail normally needed to establish and rationalize each character’s demeanor isn’t necessary. The context by which we understand White Blood Cell U-1146’s stoicism is presupposed by him being a white blood cell. As a result, what makes him a unique character is his relationship with Red Blood Cell AE3803.

White Blood Cell in CELLS AT WORK
His white hat even says “white blood cell”! | Image: Crunchyroll

This isn’t only true for our main characters. CELLS AT WORK’s episodic progression of story favors following a few characters through a single conflict. For example, a Naive T Cell, who has yet to develop like his Mature T Cell counterparts, acts, well, naive. Character development works for him in the same way that his actual biology does. So, when Dendritic Cell meets him and encourages him, he develops and evolves.

Plus, we get some cute and just pure examples of this too. I’m not alone in absolutely loving the way CELLS At WORK portrays platelets. Platelets in the body are numerous and incredibly small relative to other cells. So, in the anime, they’re cute little kids who innocently perform construction and repairs to the body. Even with these minor characters, personality aligns perfectly with their function.

Entertaining Learning

I imagine most people have taken some form of a biology class before. But, taking biology is a lot different from knowing it. In fact, if you’re anything like me, your high school biology experience amounted to screwing around in the back and occasionally writing some stuff. But, there’s one thing that absolutely everyone knows: the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Why does everyone know this? Because it’s a meme, and it’s entertaining. CELLS AT WORK is informationally interesting for the same reason.

A platelet in CELLS AT WORK
The platelets have some of the most complex functions in the body and everything they do is explained on screen | Image: Crunchyroll

Whenever a new cell or cell function comes into the story, the anime introduces it. A pleasant-sounding narrator succinctly explains cell functions and importance each time. Then, the story shows that same function in practice. Plus, as explained earlier, the personality of the cell matches its functional description. So, CELLS AT WORK manages to combine explicit explanation and implicit explanation in succession. The resultant experience for the viewer is one in which they receive raw information, visually identify it with a character, and watch.  They begin to piece together what being a white blood cell means in the context of the show. The story is so entertaining that I legitimately find myself remembering more information from a 30-minute anime episode than a week of lectures.

That kind of skill is incredibly rare for an anime. It’s bold enough to make an anime that educates viewers to begin with. To make one where the education is necessary is even bolder. Yet CELLS AT WORK does an amazing job establishing its world and crafting its characters.

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Action meets Education in CELLS AT WORK!

The series is somehow able to balance this education with constant comedy and violence. Watching cute little platelets casually doom some bacteria to a painful death is hilarious. Watching a white blood cell and T cell army charge at them with combat knives is amazing. I can find everything I love about anime somewhere within CELLS AT WORK, and I could easily watch just it for hours on end.

This is one particular anime that everyone needs to watch this summer. It has plenty of comedy, which everyone loves. The action is wonderfully animated to impress even hardcore shonen fans. And the slow, steady romantic buildup between White Blood Cell and Red Blood Cell is as wholesome as it is compelling. I said earlier that CELLS AT WORK was hard to box into a genre.  That’s because it contains so many superb elements quintessential to many genres. Like the human body itself, the anime brings every part of itself together like a well-oiled machine to deliver a lighthearted viewing experience anyone can enjoy.

Featured image via Crunchyroll.

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