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Cells at Work! Code Black

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2021). Original title Hataraku Saibō Black. Based on the Manga by Shigemitsu Harada and Issei Hatsuyoshi. Liden Films. Directed by Hideyo Yamamoto. Written by Hayashi Mori. Voice cast includes Junya Enoki and Yōko Hikasa. Thirteen 24-minute episodes. Colour.

A spinoff of the Cells at Work! manga and Anime created by Akane Shimizu, whose conceit was to have the body as a City and its organs factories worked by anthropomorphized cells. As with its parent work, the story centres on a rookie Erythrocyte/red blood cell and a heroic Neutrophil/white blood cell; though here the cells, AA2153 (Enoki) and U1196 (Hikasa) respectively, have been gender-swapped – the Erythrocytes male, the Neutrophils female.

However, whilst the human body of Cells at Work is reasonably healthy, here it is in steep decline, constantly at "Code Black" – stress has taken its toll, leading to sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet and excessive drinking – and now it has started smoking again. AA2153 is shocked – training had painted a rosy picture of his future. Loudspeakers urge the rookies to "work optimistically with a smile on [their] faces", but the veterans tell them to "run until you drop" and "suppress our emotions and deliver oxygen in silence": two who advised AA2153 are dead by the end of the first episode. One of the most charming elements of the original series were the childlike Platelets – here life has made them surly.

The passageways are dirty, organs are failing and there is a sense of approaching end times: too often a crisis is resolved not by the body's natural defences but medical interventions (see Medicine) – for example, steroids and antibiotics – usually shown as Robots. Problems faced include impotence, baldness, blood clots, ulcers, urinary infections and gonorrhoea. The latter has a problematic element – the Neutrophils' absurd cleavage already falls into Fan Service territory, but their battle with the gonococci leans uncomfortably into tentacle porn.

For workers death comes as a relief: their lives are miserable (see Dystopias). AA2153 soldiers on, winning the Top Rookie award, but when his best friend dies even he cracks. A heart attack sees the body's functions closing down and everybody prepares for death ("now we can finally rest"), until a defibrillator and other treatments revive the body. The human has learnt a lesson and changes their lifestyle: times become idyllic. Then one day (in the season finale's after-credits sequence) AA2153, U1196 and others are syringed out of the body, and find themselves in a new one, in even worse condition than their previous home: they are part of a blood transfusion.

The series can be read as a commentary on capitalism and workplace pressures (see Satire): it is readily inferred that the human's stress is a reaction to overwork. Not as engaging as the earlier series – the now male Erythrocyte is noticeably more heroic than his predecessor, pushing the now female Neutrophil into a less prominent role – nonetheless, this is an interesting exercise in Horror in SF, combined with a strong educational element, having numerous Infodumps explaining the working of the body. [SP]


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