Cells at Work! – Anime Review
Japanese Title: Hataraku Saibou
Related: Cells at Work – Season 2
Similar: Hetalia Axis Powers
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 13 episodes
- Brilliant teaching show
- Cell personifications couldn’t be more anime
- Not much in the way of story
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Are you someone who can name 100s of Pokémon or every piece of equipment in your favourite RPG, yet can’t remember 10 maths formulas come exam time? You’re not alone! It’s because your class didn’t teach you maths in an engaging way that links the formulas to a piece of “story”. In Pokémon, you remember those in your team (main story), some you remember for being everywhere or annoying like Zubat (story repetition), others for being rare (story highlight), and some for an event unique to you (that close battle, that one you caught with your final Pokeball, that one you didn’t know was in the game until a random encounter). Their impact in the story forms a lasting memory. Where is the story when a teacher rattles off a maths formula as your chin slides down your palm before your head hits the desk in sleep?
Cells at Work takes the story approach to teaching kids (adults welcome too) about cells in the human body. We follow a red blood cell as she goes about her job of delivering oxygen to different parts of the human body – if she can get there of course, given her atrocious sense of direction. She encounters various afflictions and injuries that plague the body, which requires the aid of other cell types. A regular is the white blood cell (no one has a name) whose purpose is to massacre foreign invaders.
I love the animefication of the cells. Red cells are dressed as Japanese delivery workers, macrophages – “cleaners” of the body that capture invaders to study them and activate defences – are friendly maids with blades under their dresses, and bacteria are monsters. Platelets, the young cells that clot wounds to begin healing, are little girls manning construction sites. Simply adorable. And the way white blood cells are calm and friendly at most times, but turn into bloodthirsty killers the moment they sense enemies. Love it. The designs of these characters educate, even on a subconscious level, of their purpose.
Everything goes full anime here. When a naïve T cell matures, it evolves from a wimpy kid into All Might. Battles between white blood cells and bacteria are outright anime brawls. The worst of the viruses are Dragon Ball Z-like villains. The cancer episode is rather terrifying. It’s great.
Best of all, Cells at Work does all of this in an entertaining way without sacrificing education. This is such an easy anime to watch. You could binge this start to finish. That said, if you ignore the educational side for a moment, the episodic stories are as basic as you can get. Yes, there are a few twists – what they thought was one virus turns out to be a different more dangerous one instead, for example – and there is proper story structure, but it’s nothing special. If you aren’t interested in the concept of learning about cells through anime, this probably won’t engage you.
If you want to get the most out of Cells at Work, I highly recommend watching Dr Hope’s commentary on each episode, where he explains the concepts in detail and talks to the accuracy of the science. I discovered the anime through him. Here is a playlist starting at the first episode:
Art – Medium
The anime representations of cells in the human body are perfect and recognisable. While Cells at Work looks good overall, you can see budget constraints in the flat colouring of many scenes and often plain environments.
Sound – High
Cells at Work manages to educate the audience in an interesting manner and still deliver a coherent script. The acting is great too – real veterans amongst the cast.
Story – Medium
Explore the functions of various cells in the human body through animefication! The informative aspect of the story is great, but the actual in episode stories are basic. You won’t remember them beyond the macro level.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For those who want to learn through fun. Cells at Work, seen purely as a story anime, isn’t anything special. However, approach it from an educational perspective and it’s a ton of fun. Also watch Dr Hope commentary videos afterwards!
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