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[Cells At Work: Code Black]
AKA: はたらく細胞BLACK
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Licensed by Aniplex of America (and to Crunchyroll for video stream)
Content Rating: PG-13 (Fanservice, violence, mature elements.)
Related Series: Cells At Work; Cells At Work Season 2
Also Recommended: Cells At Work! (the original series)
Notes: Based on manga by Shigemitsu Harada, published by Kodansha in Morning

Copyright: Shigemitsu Harada, Issei Hatsuyoshiya, Akane Shimizu/KODANSHA, CODE BLACK PROJECT

Cells At Work: Code Black


A sister series to Cells At Work, but things here are MUCH darker: the cells' attitudes range from frantic desperation among those who still care, to resigned fatalistic indifference among those who've simply given up; even the PLATELETS are surly. No wonder: their host's horrible health habits (smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet, and even unprotected sex) are taking their toll, in ways ranging from just making it harder to get around the body, to killing cells outright. Our hero, Red Blood Cell AA2153, is trying his best to supply the body with oxygen, but the terrors of their situation may get too close even for HIM.


Setting aside for a moment the grim atmosphere hanging over this spinoff series, we've quite a few innovations in this take on Cells At Work. The first one of note is the gender-reversal. In the original Cells At Work the Red Cells were male and female, though the main Red Cell character was female, while the Neutrophils (White Blood Cells) were knife-wielding males. This time the Red Cells seem to be almost entirely male -and the White Cells are all large-breasted women in cleavage-baring uniforms, wielding katana swords. So right off the bat, we're MUCH more fanservicey; and there will be more sexual innuendo later: for while the body of Cells At Work was of indeterminate sex, THIS body is clearly male, as evidenced by a task our red-cell cast is assigned to do. (Their attitude about sex seems rather Puritan, but when you think about it from the perspective of the body's cells, I suppose it WOULD seem that non-procreative sex might be seen as a waste. In any case, the show gets a pretty good off-color gag out of our hero's lack of "experience" in this function.)

For the first time, we visit the liver and kidneys, and learn that the body recovers components from dead Red Blood Cells. (The process is depicted as a more personalized and private business than you'd expect for something that happens maybe millions of times a day in real bodies.) The staff of both organs seem entirely female. It MIGHT just be a fault of the translation, but I thought I heard, in Ep. 13, a comment made about the liver that seemed to be addressed to the wrong (kidney) girls.

Once again, we have a "special" relationship between our Red Cell hero and one of the White Cells; she's called U1196, and unsurprisingly she seems to be the bustiest of them all. After an injury, we see her dressed in fatigues (which curiously DON'T emphasize her cleavage the way her uniform does) and without her cap, and I've got to admit she's drawn strikingly beautiful; but as she points out late in the show, she's a White Cell, and he's a Red Cell, so, well... (BESIDES that, mature Red Cells don't even contain a nucleus. This relationship is CLEARLY a reproductive dead end.)

Most of the show deals with Red Cell's absolute dedication to his job, in spite of others of his kind who've succumbed to fatalistic indifference; even his best friend urges him to take it easy. But the deterioration of conditions as time goes on increases the necessity for his efforts while at the same time making them harder and harder to carry out, and we far exceed ANY crisis we faced in the original Cells At Work. There are opportunities for interpersonal drama here that the lighter atmosphere of the original Cells At Work just didn't permit, and the show takes full advantage of them.

A few other things:

-This show raised in my mind the issue of what the cells "know" about their situation- specifically, I think they know TOO MUCH. In the original show, the impression one got was that they thought of the body they inhabited as the entire universe, and so regarded medical interventions as "Divine" supernatural acts. HERE we gather that they understand that the stress they're suffering is due to a Higher Power acting on their environment; THAT didn't bother me, since they could attribute it to the whims of a perverse god. (Which has SOME truth, though their owner is more irresponsible than intentionally perverse.) What bothered me is references to "THIS body"- which implies that they are somehow aware of the existence of others. I'm not sure how residents of a more or less self-contained reality could KNOW that with any confidence. If you replace "this body" with the functionally equivalent (from their perspective) "this cosmos", you can see the problem; human cosmology may speculate about multiverses, but we can't prove their existence, much less confidently say things about their conditions. (It's the same problem as with the "REAL rain?" comment from the movie Pleasantville. How would they know a DIFFERENT sort existed?) Of course, if our medically-challenged "body" here ever received a transfusion, maybe this insight could be explained. Come to think of it, that DID happen to the body in the “original” series at the end of First Season; nothing like some new blood to challenge old ideas, I suppose. (That was a NASTY little twist in Code Black by the way; I guess it really IS true that no good deed goes unpunished.)

-The show seems to be running out of creative ways to draw bacteria and parasites, though the ringworm fungi here WERE memorably ugly.

-The Platelets remain cute kids (if some are a bit testy), and the Macrophages are still modest maids (I don't think the latter got to do much AT ALL in this one), but the Killer T Cells here are much more grizzled and grim than they were in that OTHER body, and under stress they can apparently become everyone's worst enemy. The moral is, if you avoid overeating, smoking, and too much alcohol, you'll make your cells much happier; and if you're a guy, wear that condom; all your Double-D'd White Cells will be eternally grateful.

The show gets as grim as it can and still be Cells At Work!- that's all I can say. I very much appreciated the drama growing out of one young fellow's dedication to duty while others have simply given up. I loved the gags surrounding that old "training film" too.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: Much more downbeat than the original series; there's quite a bit of cell death here (some of it kind of grisly), including one that hits close to our hero. U1196 is never really unclothed, but she's pretty fanservice-friendly nevertheless. I'm going PG-13 here.

Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Cells At Work: Code Black © 2021 Liden Films.
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