By Akane Shimizu. Released in Japan as “Hataraku Saibou” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sirius. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Yamato Tanaka.
We have seen a lot of anthropomorphism in manga and anime recently, with Hetalia probably being the most famous example of it. It can be fun to imagine countries, or subway lines, or beers reimagined with human shapes and personalities. It’s been around a long time, and is usually in a humorous vein. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be used to teach you things. In Cells at Work!, the things we’re learning about are – no surprise – cells, as the human body is shown as sort of a messy organic factory, where various types of cells try to do their job as quickly as possible while avoiding the seemingly constant threat of invasion. Thankfully, this is not an ‘educational’ manga per se, as the main thrust is human and action, both of which we get in great amounts.
Our Heroine is Red Blood Cell – yeah, don’t expect easy to remember Japanese names here – a cute, spunky, but somewhat dim girl whose job it is delivering oxygen to various parts of the body and then CO2 back to the lungs. Assuming she can ever find the lungs. And assuming she is not utterly destroyed by the various things that go wrong while she’s on duty, ranging from Pneumococcus and Influenza to allergies and scrape wounds, all of which could be complete disasters if not taken care of fast. Luckily, we have our hero, White Blood Cell, who is stoic and deadpan and more than a little insanely violent. He’s there to take out these monsters (some of whom resemble typical magical girl show villains, which is what makes it so amusing) and help explain things to Red Blood Cell, who seems to need a lot of things explained.
Much of this manga gets by on the sheer ridiculousness of what is going on, which helps make all the discussion of T-Cells and Memory Cells go down easier. We see overenthusiastic B-Cells, airheaded Mast Cells, yandere princess Macrophages (possibly my favorite), and trembling and scared Naive Cells. Each of the four chapters shows something going wrong, and what needs to be done to fight it. The fights involve a lot of things blowing up, crowds running and screaming, and lots of property damage, so in that way it’s a very fun shonen action manga. The humor is what I keep coming back to, though – especially a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure cameo where I was not expecting one to be. And then there’s the Platelets, who are absolutely adorable little moppets who will make you go ‘aaaaaw’.
You really do learn a lot about cells here, and the color frontispiece seems to imply we’ve only just scratched the surface of the cells we can talk about. The main characters are definitely Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell, though, and while there’s no romance (how on Earth could you pull that off?), their growing friendship is also a highlight. I had no idea what this manga was going to be like when I heard it was licensed, but now I’m totally sold. Give me more.