Time to head back inside the human body and check in on all of our favorite cells in the latest volume of Cells at Work!. Is it good?
Here’s the description for this volume:
Life’s not easy for a workaday cell, and amid all the hustle and bustle it takes to keep the human body going, it can be hard to know who’s an enemy and who’s a friend. You might think all germs are bad, but it turns out some bacteria aren’t just friendly, they’re downright essential (not to mention cuddly)! In fact, when an old nemesis returns, it might just be those friendly, cuddly bacteria that help save the day. The saga of life inside you continues!
The fifth volume of Cells at Work! reminds me of the final volume of Master Keaton in that the series moved from an episodic format where every chapter tells its own singular story to telling one long, big story. This volume features Cell (a character from a previous one-shot tale) teaming up with White Blood Cell to get a bunch of Lactic Acid Bacteria to safety somewhere within the digestive system. The change in structure and storytelling keeps the series fresh, while still having its episodic bent to it as some smaller individual tales build up the larger ones. On a critical level, I like that switch-up since it makes more epic and larger scale stories in the future that aren’t just confined to one or two chapters, since the bigger overall narrative is well-executed.
Speaking of which, ignoring the storytelling and structure changes, the main meat of the tale is very enjoyable and shows the series at its absolute best. This a very large epic of a tale that’s great to dig into, building off a lot of the characterization and growth some of the cast has experienced throughout the series thus far. A very threatening antagonist returns (and given its nature makes absolute sense for them to return); NK Cell comes back into the picture in all of her vicious, violent glory; the long scale plot of getting the bacteria back to their home is overall fun to read and takes us through the digestive system (which hasn’t really been explored that much); and the creativity with all of its new concepts introduced give this story a more exciting feel. It’s a story with so many pieces to it that all really work well. The only downside is that Red Blood Cell only appears in one extremely short cameo at the end, sadly.
There was a good deal of character growth and development here. You have Killer T (upgraded to Memory T for this story), who finally reaches the high point that he’s been trying to reach by mastering a secret technique involving Perforin. Cell reappears and gets some good characterization that builds off his initial introduction, showing why he is so willing to make friends with less than savory individuals and how weak he feels being on the bottom of the cell ladder. NK Cell finally resurfaces after being absent for a while and maintains her cool, badass persona she has going on. She’s confident and cocky, but willing to accept extra help if needed (even though she doesn’t get along with most). However, she’s also easily rattled and collapses under stress if she loses confidence, which connects to how stress can affect the immune system of the body. It’s a clever way of giving her extra depth while connecting it to actual biology. White Blood Cell continues his evolution of growing to care for other people by willingly helping out Cell and the bacteria, when he may have not done so earlier in the series. You can see how every encounter and event he became involved with, especially with Red Blood Cell, has shaped him into this character who’s more than just a killing machine. It’s something other ally cells, and even the antagonist, have taken note of.
Then we come to our big villain (sadly spoiled by the back cover and table of contents), Cancer Cell, who has returned to get his revenge and put his plan into motion. The thing that struck me the most about the character in his original debut was how sympathetic he was made out to be; in a different series you’d think he’d just be a pure villain. However, he was merely a victim of circumstance due to how he was born and hunted ever since. You understand how terrible it is for him, but you also understand the sad reality that he can’t exist either. This volume continues that idea through his master plan: to ultimately sabotage this body and send it into a spiraling state of destruction to where it will die. If it dies, everyone else will go with it, but that’s what he wants — equality, a world where cells don’t have to kill other cells, even if it’s bound for death. All will be equal and all can be friends. It is a dark and messed up plan, but given the character, it fits him well and you can understand it in a very morbid way. The complexity and tragic nature of this character makes for easily one of the better villains in manga.
I remember that guy with the weird hat and when he tried to kill me… good times.
There are plenty of other solid parts to this great volume as well. Besides the drama and thrills, the humor is still just great here. The timing is wonderful with a lot of the gags and visual jokes, like the switch from bad to good in the opportunistic bacteria or how boosting immunity is depicted with Dendritic Cell tossing out embarrassing photos to get cells super when fighting influenza. Speaking of which, the creativity was just on fire this volume. There were so many clever ideas showing how cells function and the locations of the body, like how the large intestine looks like an industrial park and intestinal flora is like an alien underwater world. The pacing, dialogue, and story flow are all solid too, leading to an easy read from start to finish.
Backing all of this up is the incredible artwork, which seems to be changing and evolving along with the story. The art style feels far more serious in tone and look than previous volumes, with darker and more dramatic moments hitting harder with heavier inks and more detailing in the faces. It admittedly hurts the comedic moments on some level, but not enough to ruin anything. The art style looks great when it comes to depicting its characters, showing their range of emotion and expression. The layouts are very well constructed and easy to follow without ever feeling cramped. Some of the double page spreads are breathtaking and amazing, like when Dendritic tosses out all the embarrassing photos. I will say some of the posing can be off, especially Regulatory T Cell when she kicks or punches. I appreciate that the artist is trying to prevent her from flashing her underwear, given that she is high-kicking in a skirt, but the way she bends her body to pull off some of these moves just looks so weird at times.
Cells at Work! Vol. 5 was a terrific, fun outing, taking our heroes on an incredibly creative and tense journey through the digestive system. The change-up in the narrative and storytelling was great and all the characterization, writing, and artwork help bolster everything further. This is easily one of the best, most unique, mangas, let alone educational mangas, that I have ever read. Without a doubt, this is something you should check at some point in your life, especially if you have passing interest in biology.