Cells at Work! Code Black Volume 1 Review

WARNING: This manga is for over-18s only. Contains violence, nudity, sexual references and tentacles.

You really do have to start off with that warning, especially given that the original Cells at Work! has a “Teen” rating. While the original series is fun and lighthearted for most of the time, the Code Black spin-off is an entirely different world.

AS in the original manga by Akane Shimizu, this tells the story of the goings-on inside a human body, with the cells anthropomorphised. We have the red blood cells delivering oxygen and nutrients and the white blood cells fighting off invaders. However, while Shimizu’s series is set in a healthy body, Code Black, drawn by Issei Hatsuyoshiya and written by Shigemitsu Harada (whose previous manga all appear to be bawdy sexual comedies), is set in an unhealthy body.

The man in question (we know it’s a male body as several of the chapters in this volume deal with the male anatomy) smokes, drinks, has unprotected sex and has several other issues that means that the cells in his body are constantly having a hard life. Every day appears to be “Code Black” with everyone trying their hardest just to keep the body alive.

Again, we follow the story with the help of one particular Red Blood Cell and one particular White Blood Cell, but the genders of the characters are swapped around in comparison to the original Cells at Work! Thus the heroes of the story are a male Red Blood Cell and a female White Blood Cell.

Across this volume the Red Blood Cell has to encounter problems that his female counterpart in the healthy body doesn’t need to worry about. Our Red Blood Cell has to negotiate his way around blood vessels where bad cholesterol has been illegally dumped, meaning that his path to the organs is trickier to navigate. He also tends to only serve the main organs rather than individual cells as they need oxygen the most. Not only that, there is the danger of carbon monoxide entering the body due to smoking that could poison him. There is also the sprinkler system that pours out alcohol, meaning that he ends up in a bar in the liver where he consumes enzyme drinks to get rid of the toxins – but also where some older red blood cells end up dying.

If he is not delivering stuff, then our Red Blood Cell finds himself going to the penis to help make it erect for sexual intercourse and help release the tiny sperms cells out of the body (in their tadpole-like costumes), where not only does he have to battle against erectile dysfunction, but he ends up distraught when he learns that for most of the time the sperm is released not to fertilise eggs, but to “relieve stress”. This time however, it does appear to be for intercourse – which results in White Blood Cell engaged in a bloody battle against the cells responsible for gonorrhoea.

Obviously, Code Black is not suitable for everyone and there will be some who won’t want to read this title. Put it this way: in this body, think of the horrors the adorable little Platelets have had to go through. Having said that, the sperm cells are even smaller – they are the smallest cells in the entire body. Those tiny adorable cells come out of every man’s penis when he ejaculates, and let’s face it most will never see an egg. Perhaps by accident, Code Black has created the best anti-masturbation material possible. If every time you were no longer master of your domain you knew all those cute little cells died for no reason, it would make you think twice. You suddenly feel all ‘Victorian’ reading this, as if the manga is a warning against the dangers of onanism.

At least you would feel like that, if the manga wasn’t so full of fan service, which one feels might be calling back to Harada’s previous lewd works. As you can see from the front cover, it seems that for the female White Blood Cells, their uniform does not include a bra. All of them, including the main White Blood Cell in our story, are shown with the top of their uniforms unfastened and their breasts partly on show. When we see the battle against the gonorrhea, it appears that the invaders take the form of tentacle monsters who start forcing themselves against the female fighters. Elsewhere, when the Red Blood Cells go to the liver during the alcohol chapter, the bar they enter features the Kupffer Cell, whose job is to break down Red Blood Cells when they die, and who appears as a topless belly dancer.

It appears however that creator Shimizu approves of at least some of this, given that the sole extra in this manga is her illustration of the White and Red Blood Cells in Code Black, with a message saying that the female White Blood Cell, “is among my all-time favourites of all manga characters I’ve ever come across.”

Perhaps the oddest thing about Code Black is that, given the amount of violence and sexual material that appears in it, there is strangely a lack of swearing that might be associated with an 18+ title. Presumably there was no swearing for translator Yamato Tanaka to deal with. Tanaka is the same person who also worked on the original Cells at Work!, and there appear to be no other problems with the way Tanaka has dealt with Code Black.

It is hard to know how fans of the original series will feel about reading this. Code Black is much darker in tone, it feels rather conflicting in the way it treats certain subjects, and the fan service might put people off, but it for those who want to know about some of the bad things we do to ourselves it is worth a read. After all, if this is what we do to ourselves when we live badly, it might make us improve our lifestyle and live better lives as a result.

Read an extract from this manga on the publisher’s website here.

7 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and is also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. Outside of anime, he also is the editor of On The Box, data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, and has appeared on Mastermind.

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