One of the hottest anime of this past season of Summer 2018 was Cells at Work!. During my almost 7 month-long hiatus of watching anime, I acknowledged Cells at Work! as an anime I definitely had to watch once I got back into it, and — I couldn’t have chosen a worse anime to kickstart my watching anime again.
Some people have a “3 Episode Rule”, where they’ll watch the first three episodes of an anime before dropping it. My own rule (for short series) is to watch 25% of an anime before dropping it; if it is so dreadful that I have to drop it before that 25% mark, I generally don’t rate it on MyAnimeList or talk about it here. I watched 4 episodes of Cells at Work!‘s 13 (30.77%), and I was very disappointed with this anime I had been anticipating watching.
The premise of Cells at Work! is almost nonexistent, in my opinion. What’s most notable is the setting, which I feel has been mistaken for the premise by the creators and fans of the show. The setting and premise are not synonymous, and one can’t substitute for the other. You can have a good premise and no explicit setting, but not the other way around, like Cells at Work!.
Each episode plays out by showing how useless the red blood cells are; they are completely petrified whenever the body is invaded by a pathogen. In a biological context, it wouldn’t make sense for “civilian” cells likes red blood cells to fight the pathogens, but they don’t even run away in the face of danger. You could argue in the red blood cells’ defense that there is no need to run, considering the villains, and you’d be right. In all of the four episodes I had watched, almost every villain would have the upper hand over one cell and launch into a villainous monologue. The villain will end their monologue and attack the incapacitated cell, but, at the last second, White Blood Cell jumps in and kills the germ. I know the joke has been made so many times before, but it’s really irritating, especially in anime. Almost every battle plays out like this, so I can’t imagine the purpose of the anime is to showcase epic battles. So what is the purpose?
Remember when I said there’s no premise to Cells at Work!? What does “premise” mean? It’s the basis of the show, and, normally, the basis of a show is its story. Cells at Work! does not have a story:
Episode 1: Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell meet. White Blood Cell saves RBC from and defeats a bacterium.
Episode 2: RBC and WBC happen to meet again. There is a rupture in the bloodstream, letting endless hordes of bacteria in. The platelets’ function of closing ruptures is showcased. The white blood cells defeat the bacteria.
Episode 3: WBC saves a Naive T-Cell from a virus. WBC and other mature T-Cells fight the viruses as NTC despairs over his weakness. His power is unleashed by an activator cell, and he joins the fight against the viruses. WBC and the T-Cells defeat the viruses.
Episode 4: WBC saves a “Pink” (White) Blood Cell from a bacterium. PBC is insecure about her weakness. A large bacterium invades, but is defeated by WBC. A parasite also invades, which the white blood cells are unable to defeat for some reason. PBC defeats the parasite single-handedly, and she is celebrated by the same people that scorned her.
You might think it’s unfair to boil down the plot of each episode like I have here, but this is really how I felt watching every single episode. They even threw in those easy “character development arcs” of NTC and PBC being weak, but eventually growing into their full power. Neither of their successes were earned; they won because they were written to win. NTC’s powers are given to him, and PBC gains extraordinary strength out of nowhere. The plot is so surface level, I can’t imagine the purpose of the show is the plot. So what is the purpose?
Many shows can survive without a deep plot, meaning, setting or premise. This can be done through the establishment and development of a strong, likable, and unique characters. As I’m sure you can guess, I don’t think Cells at Work! has any characters like that. Red Blood Cell is a ditzy newbie in the bloodstream. White Blood Cell is a scary killer inclined to helping as many civilian cells from danger as he possibly can. Other than these two and the supporting NTC and PBC, there aren’t any other characters to note, let alone strong ones. I also think that the platelets were made kids to exploit the “moe factor” of children working together to transport large objects and repair the bloodstream. And it worked — the Internet fell for the manipulation of this show. Just like the plot, the characters are miserably shallow, and couldn’t possibly be the purpose of the show. So what is the purpose?
Many shows will be panned for their lack of depth, but praised for their art, animation, or music. The music of Cells at Work! was forgettable, the art completely lacked identity and style, and the animation was embarrassingly unprofessional. The character designs were pretty standard (and the one at fault here is the manga artist), but the overall art style itself had nothing unique about it at all. It was a drab, run-of-the-mill looking anime. At times, the animation, particularly walk/run cycles, was absolutely abhorrent, and I couldn’t stand to look at it. So far, none of the aspects of this show have been enough to hold up Cells at Work! as a decent show, let alone a good one. The last thing I considered was this: the purpose of the show is to educate. And this would be a very unique goal for an anime!
Even to this end, though, Cells at Work! fails atrociously. When introducing a new character or pathogen, a freeze frame and a cursory description will be provided. There’s no way that the brief introductions this show gives is meant to educate the viewer to any degree. Additionally, each episode shows WBC defeating almost every pathogen in the show. I haven’t been in a biology class for a while, but something tells me that a single white blood cell is not the solution to every single problem presented in the show. And even if I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be a good choice on the production team’s part to showcase a bunch of enemies that can be defeated by white blood cells, if education was their goal. A more diverse set of cells and pathogens could have been highlighted for a more educational and expansive dive into the immune response. Of course, I realize the anime industry wouldn’t let an educational anime thrive, so the education angle probably wasn’t there to begin with.
Overall, I was really bummed that I couldn’t find anything I liked about the show. I’ve been waiting to get back into anime through something amazing, and this wasn’t it.