#1 It is terrible at educating
What initially drew me to the show is that it’s supposed to be an educational comedy anime about human biology. Starring characters that represent various entities within our body, I was made to understand that the show would be about how these function and what happens when you get sick or wounded. As somebody who dropped biology classes at age 14, I was honestly excited to watch this show and pick up some of the basics that I missed out on.
However, Cells At Work is a terrible teacher and, while I did pick up some details like red blood cells transfer energy throughout the body and white blood cells ward off anything that could make you sick, a lot of other stuff didn’t connect with me. What the show does is that each episode has some problem to solve and anytime a character appears, the show pauses and throws a paragraph of text on the screen that explains their function. This goes for any type of cell, but also any bacteria and other villains that appear, even actions like sneezing and sweating get this kind of explanation.
This means the fun has to stop to get the education out of the way and these paragraphs are frustrating to read, because at the same time the narrator is talking over it as well. The explanations also use terminology or reference other cells, which made me lose track of it all quickly. Maybe the certified biologists out there are watching this and nodding along with the show’s summarized explanations, but I have no bloody clue what an Immunoglobin or a capillary is.
The frustrating thing is that the show is so damn close to getting things right, only to lose itself in that terminology. White blood cells murdering everything is a good way to explain to me that they fight off diseases, explaining influenza with an episode about a zombie invasion is great stuff. But then you have characters like the mast cell which dumps a load of weird water on the city at some point, and I honestly don’t know what a mast cell is, what that liquid she used was, or why it did what it did to the villains of that episode.
#2 Everything is an apocalypse
I can appreciate shows that are quick to get to the action, but the pacing is just as important. If you just throw non-stop explosions at the screen it’ll be fun for a while, but you’d have to continuously one-up yourself to keep that cheap thrill going. And the same applies to Cells at Work: the first time a crisis hits that sends the entire body into a doomsday scenario it’s thrilling, but that impact is lessened by the 7th or so time.
Many of the show’s episodes revolve around some sort of crisis that breaks out and, while the first arc keeps it relatively simple with a lone bacteria on the run, everything after that is explosive, huge, and cataclysmic. The entire body is wrecked several times, turning it barren and reducing the vast metropolis to ruins. It looks cool… once.
When every episode is the big, explosive event that will wipe out everything, it’s difficult to appreciate when the stakes should be raised. A two-part finale should feel significant, but I hardly even noticed I had started watching what was supposed to be the show’s ending. It came, it went, I tried firing up the next episode, only to be met with nothing.
It takes a lot of effort to make blowing up an entire city unmemorable, but Cells at Work manages it just fine.
#3 Not naming your damn characters
This might be a minor point to many, but I felt myself getting increasingly agitated by the show’s unwillingness to name its own characters. The story makes a point of it that the protagonists, a red and white blood cell, are but two in a countless flow of largely-identical kinsmen, yet these two always end up finding each other and, alongside several other cells, form friendships. To still have them call each other by species at that point comes off as weird.
It feels really impersonal and makes it harder to get attached to these characters, which you’d figure would be the entire point of anthropomorphizing something. This also just served to confuse me about how many of some cells there are. Are all the T cells called Killer T or is it just the one dude we keep seeing? Are there only one Mast Cell, B Cell, and NK Cell? They are the only types of cells presented as unique, so I suppose. Why are all the millions of basic cells presented as unique people, while all the macrophages are clones of the exact same lady?
A whole bunch of stupid questions that would be easily solved if the show either made each character unique or went with the angle that there are far too many to consider them individually relevant. Just call them something, anything, as long as it makes the dialogue flow less obnoxiously.