There are many animated versions of the human body and how it functions, from the comedy based Osmosis Jones to the more educational Magic School Bus. So of course there’s going to be an anime about it as well, and Japan is going to do it the only way Japan knows how: with lots of cute characters and a human body that is more akin to an office environment than a theme park of body fluids. It’s a mesh of both comedy and education, exploring more complicated immunology (and some physiology) than I initially expected and is a welcome addition to the edutainment genre. Spoilers ahead.
I don’t typically watch edutainment anime, but I decided to try this one because there seemed to be a lot of hype around it at the time. I went in expecting something closer to the entertainment focused Osmosis Jones to showcase an exciting crime ridden “city” with a lot of drama and easy to write plotlines (in hindsight, I should have known better). Instead, Cells at Work spends a lot of time trying to create scenarios around which it can portray the body’s reaction realistically while still injecting some excitement.
Every time a new cell, function or enemy is introduced, the anime takes a pause while a narrator cheerfully explains the function of whatever is being shown, even beyond the boundaries of what is happening in the show. The explanations are simple and straightforward so that they can be understood by anyone, while still also delivering more information than you would expect out of a typical beginner biology class.
The explanations were so good and in depth that it actually made me curious exactly how accurately this anime was portraying the human body. I found the YouTube page Dr. Hope’s Sick Notes. Dr. Hope is a Junior Doctor in the UK (meaning he is qualified to practice medicine while still doing on the job training). He does react and explain videos on Cells at Work due to viewer requests; as of right now he’s done episodes 1 – 9. Much to my delight, he shares my impressions about the accuracy of the videos and even goes so far as to draw ever expanding diagrams and explanations of what we’re seeing on screen (in an entertaining way). I’ve posted episode 1 below.
Given the content of the show, I think it would be rather easy to supplement learning about the human body with this show at a middle school/high school level (and probably college level as well). It’s episodic, so a different function or disease is explored every week, and it always seems to put accuracy and education at the forefront while building an engaging story around it. Initially, that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but the information covered is really interesting and I found it personally helpful in my understanding of how my immune system functions.
The character designs are clever, trying to inject a little bit of their functionality into their personality and physical designs. To name a few examples, the Killer T cells are hyper aggressive SWAT style commandos, the platelets are adorable children who carry around construction gear and traffic flags, and even the red blood cells adorn hats that are shaped like real red blood cells. The anime is full of many other such easter eggs.
Cells at Work did something for me that is normally impossible: it made learning something outside of my usual pool of hobbies both fun and interesting. Because of that, I actually learned a lot of new stuff, especially fundamental functions that were repeated a few times for clarity. It’s not an anime that you watch for the exciting plot developments or interpersonal relationships, but it was still something I looked forward to every single week just because it was exciting to learn again. Honestly, I recommend this for audiences of all ages (within reason; there are still violent fights with viruses and infections) for the edutainment component alone.