The second season of Cells at Work is just eight episodes long, so you would think the writers would have wanted to pack as much as they could into such a short run. Oddly, we get three individual episodes, and then a five-part story.
The first episode is relatively forgettable, focussing on the platelets. They are obviously a popular part of the series, and with good reason, but Backwards Cap isn’t as fun a character as the platelet leader who often appeared in the first season and hardly features this series. The second episode is probably the most interesting of the series, with a great visual representation of how a memory cell gains information from a vaccine (like a similar moment in the first season, seeing the results of medical intervention on the miniature world of the cells at work is visually impressive and looks like an invasion from another world… which is exactly what it is). In the third episode a mast cell has a crisis of confidence, making a nuisance of herself by releasing too much histamine, and then failing to respond when her help is needed. The second half of the episode manages to explore the horror of slavery via the idea of acne bacteria enslaving hair cells. It’s a little darker in tone than this series generally gets.
After that, we’re onto our series arc, with Normal Cell finding some very cute looking little bacteria and deciding to hide them from the immune system cells who would want to kill them. If you think back to Season 1, he has a past history of breaking the rules because he thinks he is doing the right thing, and causing mayhem as a result, so this is a lovely reversal of that theme, with his cute pets turning out to be lactic acid bacteria, friendly and useful to the body. Over the next few episodes, Normal Cell goes on a tour of the body and one by one the bacteria find where they belong and help to solve problems, culminating in a rematch with the Cancer Cell from the first season, who is thriving on toxic gas in the large intestine. The intervention of Regulatory T Cell at a crucial moment is very dramatic and exciting, although it’s one area where the metaphorical visuals of humans representing cells doesn’t help the story the writers are trying to tell. Regulatory T Cell tries to stop the immune system from attacking the body’s own cells, and her protection of something that looks as monstrous as the Cancer Cell might make sense in terms of the science, but visually it’s odd to say the least.
Shorter anime seasons seem to be becoming more commonplace, but this really doesn’t feel like enough. Making more of the episodes individual stories might have helped, or simply a miniseries with an arc running right through it would have worked as well, but just three individual episodes followed by a series arc feels disjointed and unsatisfying. Although White Blood Cell still has a strong involvement, it doesn’t help that Red Blood Cell has very little to do this season, with our focus character for most of the series instead being Normal Cell, who doesn’t have half of Red’s watchability. The chance meetings between Red and White during the first season were at the heart of the series, and abandoning that in favour of a secondary character seems an odd choice. It’s good for a series to move on and try new things, but almost every change here is to something less interesting or fun than the first season. Even the opening and closing credits are a disappointment compared to Season 1. To be fair, it’s still streets ahead of most anime series. We’ve gone from amazing to merely very good, with only the cute lactic acid bacteria proving to be a really fun addition to the story. If there is a third season, I would like to see Red Blood Cell return to the centre of the action as our viewpoint character. The series feels a bit lost when she’s not around.
Whether or not we get a third season, this is not the end of the Cells at Work story, because there is a spinoff series set in an unhealthy body, exploring darker themes. Considering the run of luck the body we’ve seen in the parent series has had, it’s going to take some beating. I will explore the dangerous world of Code Black in a future review. RP