Cells At Work 1 by Akane Shimizu

Cells at Work is an imaginative way to learn about how the body’s blood system works. Although educational, it is also fun – plenty of adventures and even a potential love interest between our hard working red blood cell protagonist and the mysterious but powerful white blood cell agent who protects her. As can be seen from the cover, all the cells looks like people but the bad guys (infections, bacteria, germs, viruses) all look like monsters.

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The story here is that our red blood cell works in a ‘vein’ factory, moving packages (oxygen). Her work is something she loves but the factory sometimes gets invaded by monsters. White blood cell armed security guards arrive and dispatch the invaders in a very bloody (ironic) and messy way. There are asides that describe the actual/real parts of the circulatory system/invaders and how they work. Those asides give just enough information to be informative but not so much that it is burdensome to read them.

A good example of the stories in this book (which admittedly in this first volume feel very ‘monster of the week’) is the first chapter: a pneumococcus bacteria invades and wreaks destruction on our poor red blood cells and heroine. White blood cells arrive and promptly take out the monster but not completely – he is able to hide part of himself to wait for another opportunity to invade. Along the way we learn about neutrophil, red blood cell and its job, venous valve, macrophage, lymph duct, cell capsule, pneumococcus bacteria, receptor, dendrite cell, platelet, blood clot, T helper cell, killer T cell, lymphocyte, lungs, capillary, alveolus, wandering cell, encapsulated bacteria, sneezing. And that’s just the first chapter! Most chapters are fairly long in length to create a whole story arc.

How creative is this? The mangaka/author has created an extraordinary way to present biology. E.g., when the bad bacteria attacks our red blood cell, a white blood cell breaks through the ceiling and attacks him, exclaiming that white blood cells can pass between veins. The pneumococcus can use its own cell wall to protect itself – so in this case, the monster creates a shield matrix that our white blood cell has to penetrate in order to attack. There is even an encapsulation machine in the factory to capture the bad bacteria, put it in a rocket, and then eject it from the body with a sneeze!

This type of story could have been really boring or childish but owing to this being a manga, it’s surprisingly mature and never talks down to the reader. It is quite violent by American standards, yes – but when you think about it, what the human body does to protect itself is quite violent to those invaders (and the invaders are violent to the body’s cells and organs). The story is quite fun with an intriguing mixture of both shounen (boys) and shoujo (girls) manga sensibilities.

As entertainment, the fights between all the different germs/bacteria/viruses and the body’s systems keep readers interested. But the real value here is the creativity in explaining the human body and how it works. And well, the platelets are just so darn cute! This is genius work here anthropomorphosizing the human body’s circulatory system and won several awards in Japan. Highly recommended as the perfect manga for adults to give kids. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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