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Cells at Work!

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film, TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2018). Original title Hataraku Saibou. Based on the Manga by Akane Shimizu. David Production. Directed by Kenichi Suzuki (season one) and Hirofumi Ogura (season two). Written by Yūko Kakihara and Akane Shimizu. Voice cast includes Kana Hanazawa, Kikuko Inoue, Tomoaki Maeno, Maria Naganawa, Daisuke Ono and Tomokazu Sugita. 21 24-minute episodes plus a Special. Colour.

Imagine your body is a modern City with all its 37.2 million cells anthropomorphized, those people working hard to maintain your body as part of the city's infrastructure, which has buildings, roads and even vending machines (red blood cells need their sugars). This is the world of Cells at Work!

We first meet one of the Red Blood Cells, enthusiastic Erythrocyte AE3803 (Hanazawa), new to her job and prone to getting lost (not ideal when your responsibility is delivering CO2, oxygen and nutrients); another regular is a White Blood Cell, Neutrophil U-1146 (Maeno), an extremely capable destroyer of germs and bacterium whose bashful crush on AE3803 is not unreciprocated. We see many other types of cells, the most endearing being the Platelets (Naganawa), cute children who repair the body's damage, as well as further White Blood Cells such as the macho Killer T Cell (Ono) and the maid-attired, cleaver-wielding Macrophage (Inoue). There are also cells holding down white collar jobs, using radar, Computers and the like, and those making executive decisions: like all cells they follow the rule book very closely.

There are many antagonists, such as bacteria, allergens, viruses, cancer cells and parasites (see Parasitism and Symbiosis): all are portrayed as Villains, often Monsters, to be defeated by Heroes, usually the various White Blood Cells. For example, Pneumococcus and Staphylococcus aureus both laugh evilly and gloat; cells infected by an influenza virus become Zombies; attacking cancer cells create much body horror, including proliferating limbs and heads; less malicious are the Cedar Pollen Allergens, who arrive as falling meteors that turn into mindless, lumbering creatures.

The cells are unaware of what exists outside their world, so medical treatments (see Medicine) surprise them – most notably when their body has a head injury and haemorrhages, leading to a blood transfusion and the sudden arrival of unfamiliar Red Blood Cells. They are also puzzled by the appearance of steroids, portrayed as a weaponized Robot. The viewer knows as little as the cells, being unaware even of the sex or age of the person the cells form part of.

The show has been praised for its Biological accuracy: short Infodumps frequently appear on screen, while germs are inclined to give an informative speech about their methodology in the style of a declaiming supervillain. Though occasionally repetitive, this is an enjoyable, educational Anime, with charm, silliness, violence and Humour: electronic signs announce "Status: Queasy" and characters are liable to declare "that's not a pathogen ... that's ... Parasitic Anisakis!"

A second season followed in 2021. The film Hataraku Saibo!! Saikyo no Teki, Futatabi. Karada no Naka wa "Cho" Osawagi! (2020; vt Cells at Work! The Return of the Strongest Enemy. A Huge Uproar Inside the Body's "Bowels"!) was an early showing of season one's episodes 4-8, though it also featured a new short, Kesshouban: Eigakan e Iku (2020; vt The Platelets Go to the Movie Theatre). There has also been a Light Novel version, a stage play (see Theatre) and several manga spinoffs by other hands, one of which became the Television series Cells at Work! Code Black (2021). [SP]

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