The edu-tainment anime "Cells at Work!" is fun, but not quite right...

So, Cells at Work! After Thatsmapizza wrote about it being on his list of anime to watch this summer, I decided to check out the first episode.

I got to say? It was quite fun. Not fun enough to do a proper write up on it but amusing in an edu-tainment sort of way. It also got a few things a tiny bit wrong though. Now, I studied health sciences when I was in university, so I’d like to think that my human biology knowledge is still top notch (HA HA HA HA HA no) and I could pin point some of the errors/liberties that Cells at Work took to adapt the human body into an anime (I googled a lot). Let’s go over some of these errors, shall we? In no particular order!

The lettuce is fiber! That’s indigestible! That’s for the colooooon!

Cells at Work!: Red Blood Cells (RBCs) carry nutrients with them in the blood stream.

Real life: not quite, RBCs have hemoglobin that carry oxygen from the lungs to various locations in the body that need it and exchange it for carbon dioxide. They then return to the lungs to exchange the carbon dioxide for oxygen and repeat the cycle. However, they don’t quite carry nutrients, such as sugar/glucose, which is one of the main energy sources the body uses, as depicted in the anime. Instead, glucose is dissolved in the blood fluid and is transported passively.

So cute!

Cells at Work!: the platelets are cute little kindergartners.

Real life: I wish. Oh my, they were so cute........such precious babies!

I like this guy’s voice.

Cells at Work!: Commander Helper T Cell oversees all from his office and sends out the Killer T cells to eliminate the bacterial threat!

Real life: sort of? For one, there’s more than one helper T cell for one, and they’re pretty specific to the type of antigen that activate them. In turn, they specifically activate certain killer T cells - so no generic marching squads, but specialized marching squads.


Cells at work: one of the capillary doors had the sign that it was cramped, so RBCs could only enter one at a time.


Real life: true, however all capillaries are small enough to only allow RBCs to move through them in single file. So technically all of those doors should have had that sign.

I mean....yes...information....but no to the circulation?

Cells at Work!: dendrites allow white blood cells (WBCs) and RBCs to pass through them, and also are handy for information!

Real life: no. Dendrites are the arms of the nerve cells, so while they do conduct electrical signals from one place to another (information), they do not have WBCs or RBCs flowing in them. The anime/manga definitely took liberties with that to combine the two.


Update: a commentator pointed out (and ep 3 shows) that the tree branch structure was representative of dendritic cells, which are part of the adaptive immune system. That kind of makes things they circulate in the blood in addition to other cells, and they don’t let other cells ride them (I don’t think).


Cells at Work!: the platelets are absolutely adorable.

Real life: folks, these guys are the cutest things I have ever seen. So adorable.

Neat adaptation!

Cells at Work!: the protagonist RBC had a confusing time getting back to the lungs, especially when she hit the one-way venous valves.


Real life: the venous valves are correct in that they only allow blood to flow in one direction (unless you have a leaky valve, at which point go to your doctor/hospital). However, blood flow should not be that confusing (if it was, various parts of your body would probably have issues with keeping up oxygen requirements), so the protagonist getting confused was kind of BS. The venous valves prevent blood from flowing backward, so the only way for blood to flow is...forward, to the lungs.

Uh oh.

Cells at Work!: the RBC accidentally went to the spleen but got out

Real life: lucky for her! The spleen actually plays a huge role in destroying old RBCs, so if she stayed there for longer, she’d be a goner.

There’s more coming, right?

Cells at Work!: the RBC delivered the oxygen “for the day”.

Real life: no. Body cells need oxygen to create cellular energy, and it’s a constant process - so there is no “oxygen delivery for the day”, oxygen levels are always being replenished at the cellular level.

They’re so short they can’t reach! So cute!

Cells at Work!: platelets.

Real life: I just wanted to post another picture of these guys. Oh, in the show they were trying to reach calcium ions, which platelets need in order to properly form a blood clot.



So these were just a few examples of the egregious errors that Cells to Work had in adapting the living body to anime. Does it completely ruin the show? Heck no! Have you seen the platelets? The average teen/adult probably doesn’t know that much about how the human body works, so having such information being presented in a fun way is a great primer to get people interested in health sciences! Plus, when adaptations are done, liberties have to be taken to keep things interesting.


Though, about that friendship between the RBC and wants to tell her that RBCs only have a life span of 120 days before they get destroyed by the immune system...

Yikes, do not want to run into these guys.

Note that since it’s been a while since I’ve done human biology, some of my knowledge may not be quite right, so feel free to correct me in the comments! I didn’t talk about the villain of the week (Pneumococcus) because I’m even more rusty in bacteriology (though the coccus shape was shown intact during the show). So how about you, did you see any “errors” (liberal adaptations) in the show?

Cells at Work! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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