Kodansha Comics has released volume 1 of Cells At Work!–like Osmosis Jones and Inside Out, it’s a clever visual tale used to personify the things within our body that make it work and keep us healthy.
Cells at Work! Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Akane Shimizu
Translated by: Yamato Tanaka
Lettering by: Abigail Blackman
In your body, an innumerable amount of cells are busy at work keeping you alive and healthy. Red blood cells are carrying oxygen and carbon dioxide through your blood. White blood cells are busy killing off bacteria and viruses that get into your body. Platelets gather to close wounds in your body. There are also many other cells, like T and Mast Cells. This is the story about a few of those individuals and the work they do.
The first volume of Cells at Work! turned out to be a lot of fun to read, with a lot of great elements within it. Story wise, it’s more of an ensemble/anthology about various cells, depicted as humans, going about their day and doing their jobs. The series primarily focuses on two particular cells, a female red blood cell and male white blood cell, as they work and occasionally run into each other. We see WBC fighting off various viruses and bacteria as RBC is occasionally pulled into the mix and has to survive the situation (red blood cells aren’t really fighters like other cells). Without an over-arching story outside of hints of romance blooming, the chapters we get in the volume mostly help establish this unique world and what there is.
The stories in the volume are fun, but the real strength lies in the creativity of Akane Shimizu as the creator brings this universe to life. Every character has their own unique design, appearance, and personality. For instance, red blood cells are dressed as delivery men and women, with reversible jackets and are very meek, but kind individuals. Platelets are all preschoolers/kindergarteners that wear oversized t-shirts and a very dedicated to their jobs. Medicine, from what we’ve seen so far, comes in the former of destructive robots and that do their job effectively, but go nuts if used too much. The locations are a cross between factory-like and suburban neighborhoods, with small gateways for red blood cells to travel through and vents for white blood cells to sneak through. Everything feels like a really well-thought and fleshed out universe and it all makes me eager to see more of it.
Characterization is very basic and simple to start with. RBC is your basic female protagonist from several Shojo style series, both sweet and crushing a bit on the male lead, while also having a tough time with her new job. WBC is stoic and professional when it comes to his job, with a touch of bloodlust to him, as well as a nice side. Platelets are the standard little kid characters from a lot of a series, but less annoying. Killer T-Cells are muscleheads, with the exception of Naive T-Cells, and Macrophage is a sweet girl in an old fashioned costume with an intense desire to killer viruses. These are generally very fun and likable characters, but they don’t have much else to them currently.
The writing was very good–the pacing is solid and the story moves along very well without any awkward transitions or unresolved plot points. There is a moment with one story where it ends abruptly, but that’s more for humor reasons than anything. The humor itself is pretty funny, with some good visual gags and setups here and there. During the course of reading the book, I did spot an actual spelling mistake that editors miss that was rather noticeable (no other errors were found though). The dialogue is genuinely good and it never felt all that exposition heavy, though it feels like it should be given the complex inner workings of the human body.
No, the exposition come in the form of not dialogue, but text boxes sprinkled throughout the chapters. Now I can’t attest to how accurate this information is regarding how the human body’s cells actually work. I’ve heard from medical students who are manga fans that the facts are pretty on point, if a bit dumbed down or simplified for easier understanding, so there’s that. Text boxes are constantly used throughout the chapters to explain what the characters are, what they can do, certain activities they are doing, and items seen throughout. It’s very useful and helpful to the lay person, allowing us to get a clear picture of what is going on while also being educational. The problem is that the writer keeps repeating these boxes over and over again for characters we’ve see before, so it just gets more intrusive seeing them and slows the story down. For the most part this exposition style is actually helpful to the audience, but the creator does overdo it at points.
The more you know.
Shimizu’s artwork was fantastic overall and it went hand in hand with the stellar creativity. Every cell type is given a unique design and outfit (all cells of certain types, like Killer T-Cells tend to blend together, but that’s probably on purpose), making every group easily recognizable. Each cell is depicted well on an expressive level, as the art shows they have their own personality traits, like white blood cells going axe-crazy. The locations are nicely designed and the layouts allow scenes to flow nicely from one to another. The action is a bit stiff admittedly, but there is plenty of style and energy to it that is well-drawn to make up for it (I especially loved the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure reference). As far as the art goes, this is easily one of the most creative mangas I’ve seen in the past year by far.
Cells at Work! Vol. 1 is a fun first outing. There’s no overarching story, but rather it’s an enjoyable series of stories about a bunch of cells trying to keep a human body running and operating. It’s lacking a bit in the character department due to everyone being kind of one note, but the writing is good, the humor is funny and art is just wonderful in this clever, creative book. If you are looking for a unique manga to follow, a fan of Osmosis Jones or Inside Out, or are even in the field of medicine, this is definitely a series to give a look.