I planned to review this TV adaptation of the Cell At Work spin-off series Black Code, as i heard the second season was delayed to summer 2021…. but clearly i was wrong, as both the oddly short second season of the main series AND the spin-off series started airing back to back in early January… so that threw me a curveball, as i was planning to revisit the first season of Cells At Work before the second one hit, but still, i’m reviewing this in detail, i’ll get to the main series eventually.
Regardless, it’s even better, since using anime to guilt-trip people into having a more healthy lifestyle is a proper “thing”, and it’s beautiful.
I loved the first season, it was absurd but also a very fun way to combine the old french edutaiment series “Once Upon A Life…Time” (or Micro Patrol, if you lived in an European country in the 90s you mostly likely have seen or heard of it at some point, it’s quite famous even in Italy) into a shonen manga format, so your body is basically a city-temple where every cell exists for a purpose, be it carrying packages of oxygen to the lungs, keeping track of information, and each episode it faces a new treat, usually viruses that are quite stabbable by the white blood cells, as they lunge with knives at the bacteria like a fuckin Hellsing villain. Gotta love how the violence is basically pardoned by the educational facts about cells, how the body deals with extraneous material, etc.
And how you basically have plenty of antrophormic Amazon delivery people taking drinks from the vending machines that are inside of you. Lucky bastards?
This is the basic rundown of Cells At Work, so how does this spin-off differ?
Well, basically by “edging” everything up, so this time we have the cells dealing with a fairly unhealthy body, it’s all way more sour and dark, with even the primary school children representing the platelets are disgruntled, cynical middle schoolers… and the red blood cell and white blood cell have been genderswapped. Which is a very odd thing to even write, not that it matters, since they’re CELLS, and they didn’t also swapped their personalities and called it done.
But i’m sure this will help sells more figures of the White Blood Cell characters, i mean, i kinda get the upgrade from big knife to katana, but the genderswap just to give the character big boobs is as obvious as its very exploitation cinema. At least it’s consistent, as now all White Blood Cells have huge racks ready to burst from the shirts, and all seem ready to star in “Blood Orgy Chanbara”, and the other types of cells have been “edgied” as well, which is hilarious, with the grizzled linfocytes and the macrophages, which already had exploitation-y maid get-ups, now with scythes.
I mean, from the “morale boosting-team building introduction film for red blood cells” you can see a night city-organ with implied brothels and/or host clubs. XD
Put another way, while the main Cells At Work series is aimed as young (but not THAT young) demographic and it’s basically a weird battle manga, CODE BLACK is still that but looks more at the edgier side of the “shonen” range, with bleak visuals, bleak dialogues, noble sacrifices, and so on, as the stakes are higher, and the body is the complete opposite of the healthy specimen seen in the main series. This one smokes more than Dr. Girlfriend, drinks like Andy Capp, he’s fat, balding, probably middle-aged, barely sleeps, etc, so it’s no wonder most of the times he has to take medicine or antibiotics, because its immunitary system sure as shit isn’t able to save the day.
This one is handled by LIDENFILMS instead of David Production, but it doesn’t feel too distant from the main series, since that also had a lot of gore and blood anyway, the art style is coherent, so it feels like Cells At Work, and it’s overall well animated and drawn. I do also like that all the external benign elements (like antibiotics and medicinals) are represented as bio-robotic entities.
Actually, one thing i think they could have modified more is the designs for the bacteria and viruses, they are a bit… well, a bit childish for the edgier shonen this spin-off wants to be, you could have made them more monstrous. And yes, one has them tentacles, but aside that one-off sequence with the gonorrhea monsters, it’s not that graphic. Mind you, it still uses the peculiar premise and educational side to get away with a lot, i mean, one episode it’s a struggle of the blood cells on “testicular patrol” so that this unhealthy bastard can manage to get erect for 10 seconds.
And of course he manages to get gonorrhea from this spat of intercourse. Amazing.
If anything, i feel they should have reserved the erectile dysfunction & gonorrhea combo for at least mid-season, instead of the fourth episode, because it peaks a bit early, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of incredible visualizations of disease, infections and addictions, like the red blood cells doping themselves with caffeine, the kidneys visualized as half bathless bath house and car wash, trombosis represented as “giant blood katamaris”, gout as as an EDF platoon fighting an Angel from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and so on.
If anything, the series lives up to its monicker, everything always feel like it’s the end of the world, and it makes you feel bad for the body of someone so unhealthy.
And i think it’s a successful marriage of educational and exploitational content, the grim-dark tone and situation also help in giving it more entertaiment value, where the main series it’s more for children and/or relaxing, as you know everything will be taken care of by the end, children anime style. Nothing wrong with that, and its cuter (with more emphasis on comedy), but the edgier version of the formula provided by BLACK… i just find it to be more entertaining, also thanks to having more stakes to it and just more stuff happening at a faster pace in each episode.
Also, we also have a character arc for the lead (and the white blood cell who isn’t exactly a genderswap of the character from the main Cells At Works series, this one is similar, but a bit more stoic), who starts like a diligent, wide-eyed optimist, a determined worker that wants to desperately improve the status quo but gets smacked in the face by the brutal reality of the body’s health, and eventually kinda goes crazy after enduring and soldiering through so much, and the obvious realization that it feels pointless to slave away 24/7 for something that never gets better, only worse.
That’s about as deep as it gets, as this spin-off series serves the same purpose of the famous “The Belly And The Members” Aesop’s fable (notoriously retold by roman consul Agrippa Menetius Lanatus” to quell a rebellion in ancient Rome), only less to satisfy a political goal in this case, and more to shock and guilt trip people into feeling bad for their own body when they neglect it, so the obvious takeaway is not “don’t question authority or the system”, but more “look at the ghastly shit that you inflict upon yourself, you stupid unhealthy fuck”.
So i’m not exactly disappointed that the finale is a happy ending… for a bit, until a cliffhanger that promises even worse unhealthy scenarios in the next season.
While the manga of Cells At Work BLACK did end at the end of January, there’s at least a good amount of material to make two more seasons, but we’ll see about that.
Overall, quite fun and educational, unsubtle but intentionally so, and all for the better.
I genuinely prefer it over the main Cells At Work series, but don’t choose, just watch/read both, they actually complement each other well.
Treat your kidneys with care, kids, they will serve you well in the long run.