Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of your body’s cells might look like? And by cells, I literally mean the red blood cells that fill our blood or keratinocytes that make up most of our skin. There are over 37.7 trillion cells in the human body alone. Can you imagine the kind of work these cells have to go through on a day-to-day basis? In CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 by Akane Shimizu we get our first glimpse into this life. Through intense action scenes, witty humor, and clever storytelling, Shimizu opens the door to the never-before-seen inner-workings of the human body and the cells that function inside us all.
That 9 to 5 Grind
CELLS AT WORK! is a fairly simple manga since each chapter is pretty much self-contained. Each chapter features a new injury or foreign invader that the protagonists must tackle to keep the body healthy. Taking place within an unnamed person’s body, we see their cells hard at work. First published in the US in 2016, the story follows fairly naive Red Blood Cell AE3803 and White Blood Cell U1146 as they’re thrown into the wildest situations possible. Seriously! These poor cells can’t seem to catch a break! CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 specifically sees our protagonists dealing with a bacterial infection, pollen allergy, influenza, and skin abrasion.
If by now, you’re thinking the premise sounds a little familiar, that’s because, in the US, we have OSMOSIS JONES, a live-action/animated comedy starring Chris Rock, Laurence Fishburne, and David Hyde Pierce. Osmosis “Ozzy” Jones, a white blood cell, and his cold pill sidekick Drill hunt down a deadly virus. This is pretty much the extent of their similarities, however. CELLS AT WORK! takes on a much more literal and educational route to tell its story.
If you’ve ever taken a class on the human immune system, the words Killer T Cell, Dendritic Cell, and Platelet might sound familiar. In CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1, they’re the characters that help our protagonists along the way. Though each cell is fully anthropomorphized, CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 doesn’t bother with individually naming or designing each character. A simple name tag somewhere on their person identifies each individual cell while cell groups share similar-looking uniforms. By referring to cells by their cell type and giving each type a unique design with few variations, Shimizu simplifies a story with literally trillions of possible characters.
A Whole New World
Despite its unique concept, the things that make CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 function might also hurt it in other areas. For example, readers might find an issue in the uniformness of the characters. The protagonists do sometimes get lost when surrounded by their own kind. However, Shimizu combats this by frequently relying on close-ups of the protagonists’ faces to keep the focus on them. It also helps that Red Blood Cell AE3803 is incredibly expressive, more so than any other character in the manga. This method allows for important moments to shine, which usually take up full pages rather than multi-paneled pages.
The main thing I want to point out in CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 is the way Shimizu has applied shonen-style artistry to the story. This is a manga where you’d least expect the bold lines, sound effects, and explosions typically seen in manga like ONE PIECE and MY HERO ACADEMIA. However, Shimizu makes it work. With clawed, alien-like invaders wrecking havoc around the body, it’s incredibly easy to welcome the style as our protagonists go head-to-head with them. Fights are bloody, often coating the White Blood Cells completely. But thanks to the quick effortless kills we often see in shonen manga, the fighting is never grotesque. Instead, it adds a level of seriousness to the battles, making readers understand the difficult tasks White Blood Cells undertake to keep our bodies safe.
Educational and Fun
CELLS AT WORK! VOL. 1 might come off as a little scary when you first start reading it. Since it takes on a very literal interpretation of human cells, the scientific terminology used can be startling. Thankfully, the manga eases readers into it. Whenever a new concept or cell is introduced, boxes with the word’s definition or the cell’s job appears, quickly explaining information. This allows for readers to grasp basic concepts while letting the science to slip through naturally in dialogue without interrupting the scene.
The science behind CELLS AT WORK! also appears in indirect and often clever ways. My favorite example of this is the Platelets. The Platelets are depicted as young elementary school children. In real life, platelets typically live for only 8-9 days whereas most other cells live at least ten times that. The best part is that they always appear when you least expect them and the amount of cuteness they bring to scenes is unfathomable. Don’t let their cuteness fool you though. They’re there to work and if you get in the way, things won’t look so good for you.
The humor of CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 is something I want to highlight in general. Shimizu masterfully captures the weird things the human body does. Think about it, the human body does quite a few weird things and often goes out of control on its own. In the manga, this is how a seasonal allergy looks like a cataclysmic event or influenza virus looks oddly similar to a zombie invasion. By utilizing all the elements introduced into this manga, from the shonen-style, science, and humor, Shimizu allows these elements to feed off and influence each other.
CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1 Gets the Job Done
In CELLS AT WORK! Vol. 1, author Akane Shimizu brings to the table an incredibly refreshing take on a concept everyone is familiar with. Its unique style and smart comedy offer so much to the story that calling it a Japanese OSMOSIS JONES doesn’t do it justice. It’s an incredibly fun read and I can’t wait to see what more this series has to offer.
We’ll be reviewing more volumes in the coming future. There are five in total out now via Kodansha Comics. An anime adaptation has also started airing and will have 13-episodes. As of the publishing of this piece, the first volume has been fully adapted. It’s a must-watch anime this summer season so don’t miss out!
Featured image via Kodansha Comics.