Cells at Work! is a hilarious and education manga series by Akane Shimizu, where the various cells that comprise the human body are represented as anthropomorphized workers carrying out various jobs. Red blood cells are personified as delivery workers carting oxygen canisters around the body and white blood cells are soldiers who constantly fend off alien-looking viruses and bacteria. In this spin-off series the reins have been handed over to a new writer and artist team: Shigemitsu Harada and Issei Hatsuyoshiya. Building off of the premise established in Cells at Work!, Cells at Work! Code Black takes place in a new, less healthy body and explores more mature topics… It also features more boobs…
A new red blood cell has just started his job delivering oxygen in a body where the working conditions have become harsh. Stress levels are high, germs are constantly invading and the body has picked up bad habits and is engaging in risky behaviors that only serve to make things worse. Labouring under these bleak and dangerous working conditions has caused this red blood cell to question whether there is any point in doing his job, but an encounter with a female white blood cell causes him to change his perspective. Seeing her and the other white blood cells fight tirelessly and thanklessly to protect the body inspires him to do his best at his own job. But how long will they and the other cells be able to hold things together as conditions continue to deteriorate inside the body?
Much like the series it’s spun off from, Cells at Work! Code Black provides a wealth of interesting facts about human biology in a fun and easy to understand format. While the original Cells at Work! explored the workings of a relatively healthy body (I say relatively because it seemed like the body in that series was facing some kind of a health crisis every other week), Code Black takes place in a body that isn’t taking care of itself and is operating under high levels of stress. As a result, the immune system has been compromised and the cells must contend with problems such as hair loss and erectile dysfunction. Whereas Cells at Work! featured a more humorous tone, Code Black is laced with a sense of foreboding. It becomes increasingly clear to the various cells that something is very wrong with the body that they call home and they all struggle to hold onto hope that things can improve as more and more problems crop up. Code Black also deals with some more adult topics, such as: the effects of smoking and alcohol consumption on the body, the process of getting an erection and the white blood cells need to fight an STD as a result of the body having unprotected sex. This is one of the reasons that Code Black has a Mature rating, as opposed to the Teen rating of the original Cells at Work! series.
The second reason this manga earned a higher rating is that it features a fair amount of partial female nudity. The female white blood cells seem to have been assigned a uniform top that doesn’t have any buttons and thus always shows off a healthy amount of cleavage. Most of the time they probably needn’t have bothered putting on the top at all, as it often gets ripped to shreds during their fights with the invading bacteria, exposing their breasts. Now, I’m not generally opposed to a bit of sexiness in my comics, but this manga crosses the line into icky territory during the white blood cells fight with some Gonococci bacteria. The STD is represented as a tentacle monster that rips the clothes off of the all-female force of white blood cells and licks their exposed flesh in a scene that I found to be gross and exploitative. It was completely unnecessary for the fight to play out in this way and this scene wound up lowering my overall opinion of this book, which is too bad because I found the rest of it to be pretty enjoyable.
Cells at Work! Code Black succeeds in presenting information on human biology and diseases in an entertaining way and does a good job of building up tension around the declining health of the body, however, it contains some problematic elements that left a sour taste in my mouth. If you’re a fan of the original Cells at Work!, then I’d say that this is still worth checking out, as most of the book is fun. If you haven’t read Cells at Work! though, I’d suggest checking out that series instead.
Final Score: 6 out of 10
For more information on Cells at Work! Code Black check out Kodansha Comics’ website: https://kodanshacomics.com/volume/cells-at-work-code-black-1/
Be sure to let me know what you thought of this manga in the comments or what your thoughts are on the original Cells at Work! series.