Cells at Work! Vol. 1 - Manga Review

The world is a dangerous place for the cells of the human body, but they’ve all got their roles to play in fighting off invading germs and viruses, firing off sneezes, and repairing scrapes!

The Lowdown

Red Blood Cell just wants to get her daily oxygen and CO2 deliveries done, but when the body is invaded by the pneumococcus virus the lives of her and her coworkers are in danger! Thankfully, White Blood Cell is on the scene to save the day by brutally taking down the virus, but invading viruses aren’t the only thing the cells at work have to contend with. Allergies, bacteria, and scrapes are all there to throw a wrench into their operations, and it’s up to all of the cells to work together to keep the body running!

How Was It?

Cells at Work! is a lot of fun – rather than telling a continuous story with set characters, the real star of Cells at Work! is the human body and all of the cells that make it up. Cells at Work! shows the various parts of the body working together in a series of loosely connected vignettes that riff off of familiar set pieces at they deal with various threats such as viruses, bacterial, and allergies, and this creates the set-up for an entertaining look at the way the human body actually works. There is a really nice variety in terms of the way the story is broken down – each chapter follows a different threat to the body that the cells have to deal with, and we see the cells working to try to fix the problem. For example, the first chapter plays out as a straight action based fights against the bacteria, but the formula changes later on in the third chapter as an outbreak of influenza plays out like a zombie attack.  

The variety of different situation faced by the cells definitely kept things fresh, and I was impressed with the way that none of the chapters felt formulaic while remaining logically connected to the issue facing the body. The chapters play out in a way that mirrors how things play out in real life – for example, the second chapter of the volume follows the cells as they deal with a pollen invasion which brings floods of legend in something reminiscent of a disaster movie while showing how the body and its cells react to an allergy. This combination of action and education was quite unique and kept me interested throughout this volume in these different scenarios, and I liked the way all of the action happened logically within the context of each situation. It might seem odd to speak of realism when discussing a series with talking cells, but I was genuinely impressed that this manga was conscious of trying to keep the portrayal of the cells in the body and the situations they face realistic while working the action naturally into this frame.

As I noted above, the stars of this series are the multitude of different types of cells that work together in the human body, and it was charming to watch them all play their roles in frequently hilarious ways in the course of these stories. Perhaps the closest thing that this story has as a main character is Red Blood Cell, a rookie red blood cell tasked with making her oxygen deliveries to the various parts of the body. Along the way, she gets caught up in numerous crises only to be continually saved by White Blood Cell, a neutrophil white blood cell who is tasked with being a first responder fighting bacteria. These two anchor the stories told in this volume, and Red’s experiences provide the narrative framing for the explanation given to us as readers in a clear and frequently funny manner as her reactions are often played out for laughs. I admire the sense of humour that this series has in terms of showing the absurdity of some of the situations these cells end up in, and this definitely made for a zany and entertaining ride as they go through their trials and tribulations.

One of the fun things that I thought Cells at Work! did really well was strongly convey the roles of each of the cells – there would repeatedly be a small info box explaining what each cell’s function was, and this was helpful in terms of keeping track of who was who. More than that, the cells are each characterized outlandishly in ways suitable to their function – while the red blood cells are timid and akin to average civilians, the Killer T white blood cells are crazed germ fighters, and this made gave them all a lot of character in highlighting their function within the body. There was only minimal individual characterization outside of the function of each cell, but I thought this spoke more to the cells playing their roles being the “characters” of this story as opposed to highlighting the role of individual cells in most cases. Individual personalities outside of Red were really only highlighted to emphasize the particular function of a cell – for example, the development of a solitary Naive T Cell anchors the fight against influenza to show that cell’s development into a deadly Killer T Cell. While the individual personalities were not on display here, the roles of the cells were highlighted in these stories in a memorable and frequently funny ways, and I really enjoyed feeling like I was actually learning something about the way the body works in reading this volume.

The art of Cells at Work! works well most of the time to highlight differences in the types of cells, and I really enjoyed the way that the design of the cells – from the softer looking Red Blood Cells in their delivery uniforms, to the child-like Platelets, and to the crazed looking Killer-T Cells – helped to make it easy to tell exactly what each cell did. The facial expressions are also frequently exaggerated for humour, and this was welcomed because it felt like another funny way to play up the casual absurdity of the rest of what was going on. In particular, I laughed out loud at Naïve T-Cell's exaggerated transformation, and the way that he was drawn afterward was definitely a highlight for me in his story. In contrast, the action scenes got a little bit busy at times due to some cluttering, and the art gives off a flat look at times that didn’t complement so of the scenes being depicted in panels all that well. I think the art does more good things that it does bad, but hopefully it’ll be a little bit clearer as the series proceeds.

Final Thoughts

Cells at Work! Vol. 1 is a charming and action-packed look at the human body, and if you want to learn something about the human body and have a fun while doing it, this is the manga for you. Although there isn’t a strong overarching story or any particularly memorable characters, Cells at Work! succeeds because of the hilarious way that it characterizes all of the cells in the body at they fight through an interesting series of maladies. It’s all quite memorable and definitely good for a laugh, and definitely worth a read for anyone looking for an unconventional and educational action-comedy. 


Cells at Work! 1
By Akane Shimizu

Cells At Work! Vol. 1 was published by Kodansha Comics USA on November 1st, 2016. Authored by Akane Shimizu, the series is currently ongoing and published by Kodansha's Monthly Shonen Sirius magazine. 

Verdict:

B+

Date of Publication: November 1st, 2016

Author: Akane Shimizu

Translator: Yamato Tanaka

Editor: Paul Starr

Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA




Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka