Akane Shimizu’s wildly imaginative manga Cell’s At Work has captured the attention fans with it’s insane take on what goes on in the human body. The subsequent anime adaptation cemented it as a firm fan-favourite and has led to several spinoffs. The first one to make its English language debut comes from Shigemitsu Harada and Issei Hatsuyoshi in the aptly named Cells at Work! CODE BLACK.
The original series showed you what happens when a young, healthy body gets in trouble… but what if the body wasn’t so young, and was never very healthy? This new take stars a fresh-faced Red Blood Cell and his friend, the buxom White Blood Cell, as they struggle to keep themselves and their world together through alcoholism, smoking, erectile dysfunction, athlete’s foot, gout… it’s literal body horror!
The original series obviously approaches proceeding in a very tongue and cheek manner, but CODE BLACK throws any restrictions that Shimizu put on herself out of the window. Originally published in the seinen (adult manga) anthology Morning, the series is definitely more in the adult bracket than the original. At its core, the theme is exactly the same as the original and it maintains the accurate yet imaginatively reimagined actions of the human body. But the idea of the body being ridden with ailments opens up the creators to many fresh opportunities when it comes to storytelling.
There have been elements of horror in the original series, but nothing compared to what the cells encounter in CODE BLACK. Cells that were once benevolent find themselves unable to distinguish between good and bad cells, and that’s only a sample of what they must endure. Additionally, the series maintains a strong element of black comedy throughout that takes the series in a more twistedly humorous direction. The depiction of erectile disfunction is both tragic and painfully funny whilst gonorrhoea’s presentation is not something you’ll forget in a hurry.
On the art front, Issei Hatsuyoshi does a terrific job of emulating the style and world that Shimizu created, but at the same time warping it with an adult twist. The cells that readers will be familiar with in the original series not only take on a more mature and cynical slant, but the cells that cause harm to the body tale on a more exaggerated and frightening quality (once again, the gonorrhoea virus is an unfortunate and terrifying standout).
This is a perfect holdover for any fans looking to fill the gap whilst waiting for the latest volume of the original series and the second season of the anime. It’s also perfect for any comic fans whose humour skews to the more twisted side of things.
Cells at Work! CODE BLACK 1 is out 29 August from Kodansha Comics (9781632368942 , p/b, £10.99)