March 18, 2021

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Cells at Work: Baby! Volume 1

 

This past summer, I was searching for a new show to watch on Netflix and the algorithm suggested Cells at Work! I figured I’d give it a try. One episode in and I was hooked. One of the biggest reasons why I love the anime and the manga that the anime is based on is because I have learned so much about human biology. As a kid and preteen, I loved educational shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus. However, in high school and college, I only took a handful of science courses and only a couple of those were in biology. Still, I thought that I had a pretty decent understanding of how the human body works. But with each episode of the anime or issue of the manga, I would learn more and more about the immune system, red blood cells, cancer, bacteria, etc. Another thing that I really appreciate is how much teamwork is demonstrated. It doesn’t matter how brave or determined an individual cell is if the rest of the cells don’t also pull their own weight. Without teamwork, the body wouldn’t survive.

Like the main series Cells at Work! created by Akane Shimizu, Cells at Work: Baby!—which is written and illustrated by Yasuhiro Fukuda—all takes place inside of one human body. Dr. Naoya Hashimoto, a Japanese pediatrician, serves as the book’s medical supervisor. The body in this case is a baby who is about to be born. All of the baby’s cells are depicted as toddlers who don’t fully understand their respective jobs. Often instead of doing their jobs, the cells prefer playing with blocks or running around. The main red blood cell is a pig-tailed girl who has a lot of curiosity but is lacking a bit when it comes to finding her way inside the body. Her friend, F-niichan (niichan is a term of endearment used to indicate that the speaker sees the addressee as an older brother), is a red blood cell bearing hemoglobin-F, and he’s able to more easily carry oxygen. He takes a sibling-like interest in her and tries to encourage her to deliver oxygen on her own without getting lost or distracted. Many of the adventures in the book start with red blood cell getting distracted by a new sight in the body or by her wanting to meet new cells.

The art by Yasuhiro Fukuda is similar enough to the flagship line while also being distinct. The cells here are cuter, the violence that can get quite gory in the other series has been toned down, and the body seems appropriately smaller and less complex compared to the adult bodies that are the settings for Cells at Work! and Cells at Work: Code Black!  The character’s expressions are often a bit more exaggerated, and that totally makes sense as these cells aren’t old enough yet to become jaded or bored.

 

Each of the organs is depicted differently. The placenta looks a bit like a large conference center that’s been decorated to look like a preschool. The mother’s adult red blood cells hand over oxygen and nutrients to the baby’s childish red blood cells through a series of windows that look like a bank teller’s station. Because the mother’s blood and the baby’s blood don’t intermingle, the placenta acts as a meeting ground for both bodies’ red blood cells to exchange oxygen and nutrients. The umbilical cord is a long, tall tunnel with linoleum tiles and muzak playing in the background. The lungs appear to be composed of a series of large geodesic domes connected to massive vents. The small intestine looks like a mix between an oil refinery and an assembly line at a food manufacturer. The stomach, when it is first shown, is a dry, empty wasteland. The brain is a mix of NASA’s mission control room and a children’s library filled with information from the genes.

The book is listed as 16+ on Kodansha’s website, but I think it would be appropriate for middle grade readers. There’s no talk of sex or conception, no nudity, and the violence is pretty tame. I think that this would be a great series to give to a young reader, especially one who is starting to learn about the human body. By giving the different cells distinct personalities, it makes it easier for readers to differentiate between white blood cells, red blood cells, etc. And there are also helpful tips throughout the book for expectant parents and caregivers. A preteen who’s about to become a big sibling would likely get a lot out of this book. Heck, I got a lot out of this book!