REVIEW: ‘Cells at Work: Code Black’ is Educational and Emotional

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Cells at Work: Code Black
Content warning: Cells at Work: Code Black deals with themes of suicide.

Cells at Work: Code Black is an educational adventure drama produced by Liden Films. New red blood cell AA2153 is starting his first day at his new job. Like all red blood cells, he is tasked with delivering oxygen to the many parts of the body. But he quickly discovers some serious discrepancies between the environment he was told he’d be working in and the one he discovers all around him. Because nobody told him the truth. The body he inhabits has entered a state the cells refer to as Code Black!

Anyone familiar with the original Cells at Work series will find the basic setup of this series instantly familiar. The series focuses on AA215, white blood cell U-1196, and the many other denizens of the body they come into contact with throughout their various journeys through the body. The striking difference between Cells at Work: Code Black and its parent series is the tone of these adventures. 

While the original series was constantly putting its cast in harm’s way, there was always a sense of optimism in the show. As each crisis passed, life for the cells would return to normal, since the body’s overall condition was one of good health. In this series, however, the problems facing the cells in each episode aren’t due to external difficulties like scraped knees, or a sudden invasion of hostile bacteria. The majority of the problems facing the cells here are much more ongoing and systemic. Problems like alcohol abuse, smoking, lack of sleep and increased stress are all combing to slowly break the body, forcing the cells to work harder and harder for ever-diminishing returns. Due to the ever-increasing peril the body finds itself in, Cells at Work: Code Black often takes a far harsher tone to its stories than Cells at Work. 

And while a viewer doesn’t need to watch the original series to understand and follow this one, I cannot recommend at least watching a few episodes of the original first. While the gravity of the deteriorating situation is delivered excellently within the series, it lands even harder when you have a crystal clear vision of what a healthy body looks like. 

While I’ve made it a point to emphasize the hardship and dire straits that Cells at Work: Code Black puts its protagonists through, it is important to note that there is still charm, hope, and joy to be found in this series. Even though the moments are rare here, it is due to their rareness that they feel all the more meaningful and earned. And something that the series overarching struggles give Code Black ample opportunity for is moments of great inspiration and hope. These moments are delivered most frequently, and most poignantly, through the series’ dual main protagonists AA251 and U-1196.

As the body’s health fails, U-1196, as a white blood cell, finds her work’s demands growing exponentially. And as the struggles become more frequent, and the body has less time to restore the immune system between battles, the white blood cells soon find their workload eclipsing the breaking point. This quickly sees blame for their jobs going undone aimed at the few overworked white cells that are left. 

As this situation reaches its zenith, AA251 comes to his friend’s aid with a speech that is far more impactful than I ever thought I’d hear when I started watching Cells at Work: Code Black. His defense of his friend, as well as the white cells in general, is impassioned and powerful. And this support is a two-way street between our main characters. As U-1196 comes to AA251’s aid in his darkest hour in what is easily the hardest-hitting moment in this ridiculously emotional show about the various cells that make up our bodies. 

The animation in Cells at Work: Code Black borrows heavily from the original series, despite being produced by a different production company. The designs are almost universally wonderful. Due to this overall strong performance, the occasional slip-up feels all the more glaring. This is particularly true when they introduce some creepy-looking sperm cells in one episode. 

The most noteworthy element of the visual design, though, is its shading. Shaded areas are often filled with a scratchy sort of look, filling areas with broken, uneven lines of black to give shading a unique look. It proved to be striking, in an oddly subtle way.

When all is said and done, Cells at Work: Code Black delivers an extraordinary 13-episode run that is equal parts educational and emotional. As long as you are ready to have your heartstrings pulled by these hard-working cells that are just trying to keep their body alive, I cannot recommend this show enough. 

Cells at Work: Code Black is streaming now on Funimation and Crunchyroll

Cells at Work: Code Black
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done, Cells at Work: Code Black delivers an extraordinary 13-episode run that is equal parts educational and emotional. As long as you are ready to have your heartstrings pulled by these hard-working cells that are just trying to keep their body alive, I cannot recommend this show enough.