Saturday, September 15, 2018

Things That Make Steph Happy: Cells at Work

Over the past week, I bandied about some ideas for posts that would address the absolute trash fire that is the fandom and/or modern-day discourse in general -- but in the end, I decided to talk about something a little more fun. In the end, I decided to introduce you all to a treasure of a show that has brightened my Saturdays every week since mid-summer and may yet turn me into a full-blown weeb.

In the end, I decided to talk about Cells at Work.

As one YouTube comment remarks, "I've never been this excited to see blood before." The setting of Cells at Work is the inside of an unspecified human body, and all of the principal characters are anthropomorphized blood cells, including:

Red Blood Cell AE3803, who starts off as a directionally-challenged ditz but actually becomes more competent as time goes on.

Neutrophil U1146, a hyper-dedicated white blood cell who screams "die, germ!" a lot and, oh by the way, also has a thing for Red. (Yes, this show will persuade you to start shipping blood cells. Just roll with it.)

The platelets, little kindergartners who are so freaking precious that you almost die of sweetness overload every time they appear. A clip of these cuties building a clot is what convinced me to seek this show out in the first place.

Additional components of the immune system also make appearances depending on the particular challenge of the episode, including Killer T, Helper T, NK, B-Cell, Macrophage, and others. Of these secondary characters, Macrophage is probably my favorite. One minute, she serves as nursery school teacher to developing erythroblasts in the bone marrow; the next, she busts out a giant ax to lay waste to invading antigens. That juxtaposition is pretty damned funny if you ask me.

Actually, a lot of this show is pretty damned funny if you have a background in biology and/or medicine. Oh my Lord, do the in-jokes come fast and furious! For example, you will sometimes see Red squeezing through an impossibly tiny alley to deliver a box of oxygen to a common cell -- because capillaries are super small, amirite? You will also see various immune cells passing through walls or popping out of sewer grates -- because, of course, said cells actually have that transmigration capability in real life.

On the whole, I adore how Cells at Work depicts its concepts. For instance, in "Cedar Pollen Allergy," the over-the-top immune reaction to the goofy, harmless cedar pollen marshmallow monsters is finally stopped when Steroid, a robot labeled "for medical use only," lays down a barrage of overwhelming weapons fire until the swelling in the mucus membranes goes down and he runs out of juice. I love that! Every time I take steroids from now on, that's what I'm going to picture.

Cells at Work is, for the most part, very formulaic. The characters start off an episode going about their usual business when - oh no! - the Monster of the Week appears, forcing them to scramble for the appropriate solution. But just because a show has a formula doesn't mean it doesn't tell good stories. No: the Japanese writer of the manga upon which this show is based generally balances the teaching aspect and the storytelling aspect of his/her conceit quite well. The evolution of Naive T Cell in "Influenza" is enjoyable to watch, as is Eosinophil's mini-arc in "Food Poisoning." And this happens to be the first show ever that has made me feel bad for a cancer cell. (Poor Cancer Cell! It's not his fault his DNA was copied incorrectly. And yet, he still must die for the sake of "the world.")

TL;DR: Cells at Work is the best educational program I've seen since the days of Square One TV. If you can find a way to watch it, go and do so! It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you have any interest in medicine whatsoever, I'm positive you'll find it an absolute delight.

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