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Thought this was going to be just as cute as the original? Think again.
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Cells at Work! is a relatively-lighthearted Anthropomorphized Anatomy story based on a hypothetical human body in generally good health, so most of the health issues described there are acute and are from external sources. But sometimes, the problems stem from the body itself. How about diseases due to poor life choices? How do your cells handle overexertion or hormone imbalance? What happens when the pathogens are on the winning side for once? What triggers organ failure?

That would be a bit too dark for a Shonen series, and too jarring for such a bright and cheerful world...so they set a spinoff to that effect in an older man's body instead.

Welcome to the daunting world of Cells at Work! CODE BLACKnote , where an unhealthy body is depicted as a Dangerous Workplace gone worse. In this landscape ravaged by bad habits, the cells inside have to deal with the effects of lethargy, unsafe sex, stress, smoking, and more — often in the bloodiest ways possible, whether they want to or not. Shigemitsu Harada and Issei Hatsuyoshi are in charge of the plot and art, respectively, making this the first installment done without Akane Shimizu's direct involvement. It runs in the Seinen anthology Morning.

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Kodansha Comics obtained the North American license for the manga.


Cells at Work! CODE BLACK contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absolute Cleavage: All the female White Blood Cells wear their jackets partially unzipped/unbuttoned with no undershirt or bra.
  • Absolute Territory: In the second body, Neutrophils have miniskirts and hooker boots, complete with garter belts as the Fan Service-ey part of their uniform.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The author acknowledges that in the second part of the series, the original host body would be unable to donate blood as he had suffered a heart attack. note  However, it continues the story and allow him to explore other, more serious diseases and conditions, so it's excusable.
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  • Action Girl: Female White Blood Cells/Neutrophils.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: In the main series, Staphylococci aren't the sharpest tools in the drawer, but they do have a working intelligence. In here, they don't even seem to be sentient.
  • Adaptational Villainy: While the Pneumococci in the main series are Laughably Evil, gloating, Card Carrying Villains, the ones that appear in CODE BLACK are murderous, bloodthirsty, mindless Generic Doomsday Villains that don't even seem to be able to speak and just go straight for the kill (probably depicted as more "feral" to represent a more virulent strain).
  • Anthropomorphized Anatomy: Just like the source material, a depiction of cells and their functions as humans. This series, however, has a much less "happy and healthy" depiction of them.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Deliver the oxygen," which is both AA 2153's primary job, alongside what he WILL do, against all odds, disasters, and self-inflicted diseases and conditions the host body brings upon itself.
    • "Because that's my/our job," which is at first used as words of encouragement to rouse people like AA 2153 to keep going, but later takes on grimmer tones, of the various Cells resigning themselves to the endless and seemingly futile task of trying to maintain a body that has no interest in maintaining itself.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: Since Cells at Work! portrays the anthropomorphized cells of the body as attractive young people, it does come up with a horrifying issue: what would autoimmunity look like in such a setting? This was finally revealed in here, where the Killer T cells, driven insane by the harsh conditions and the constant stimulation of cytokines, have gone berserk and started murdering innocent body cells, mistaking them for cancer cells in their crazed rampage.
    • Cells are actually recycled by being eaten by certain immune cells. We get to see this at the end of chapter 2, where it's appropriately depicted as a dirty secret.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Unlike the main series, which at least tries to depict bacteria as somewhat resembling their real-life morphology, the Gonococcus (probably Neisseria gonnorrhea) is straight-up depicted as a gruesomely detailed five-headed penis monster.
  • Audience Shift: CODE BLACK is a seinen spinoff of Cells at Work!, although the similarity ends at the usage of Anthropomorphized Anatomy and basic character designs. The content shifts from body functions to diseases in CODE BLACK, and is Darker and Edgier, Hotter and Sexier, and Bloodier and Gorier than the original, to the point that its creators are ecchi artists. It get surprisingly good reception to get Un-Cancelled, and Kodansha Comics considers it appropriate to license it in the US, despite having a 18+ rating.
  • Belly Dancer: Kuppfier cells (a further-specialized type of macrophage who resides in the liver, herein depicted as a nightclub) are represented as an exotic (in both senses of the word) dancing girl.
  • The Big Guy: The T-cells of this body are absolutely ripped.
  • Black Comedy:
    • As tragic and sad as it may be, there is something inherently funny about the idea of pus discharge of gonorrhea being depicted as a Viking funeral.
    • Also the image of sperm cells as happy children and the fact that Red Blood Cell dramatizes about their tragic fate.
    • The seriousness and despair with which the Red Blood Cells and the Brain command center treat their host suffering from erectile dysfunction. (On the other hand, given the Existential Horror below, well...)
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The antigens aren't the only creatures reduced to bloody chunks. In AA 2153's delivery service, couriers die daily.
  • Blood Is the New Black: Neutrophils are almost never seen without massive red cytoplasm stains, U-1196 especially.
  • Break the Cutie: AA 2153, with his breakdown after his friend AC 1677 sacrifices his life to save him, and the poor Hepatocytes at the Liver when the body starts to drink excessively, daily.
  • Body Horror: Plenty of examples, like the Red Blood Cells effectively asphyxiating from carbon monoxide exposure in the first chapter.
  • Boobs of Steel: The White Blood Cells are not afraid to show off their impressive racks, and they definitely kill a lot of germs.
  • Central Theme: What can happen when you don't take care of your body and why you need to take care of it.
  • Code Emergency: The English title refers to a hospital color code that, in one major Los Angeles hospital, means the hospital is over capacity.
  • Cooldown Hug: Given by U-1196 to AA 2153 after his Rage Against the Heavens below.
  • Cool Old Guy: The veteran Red Blood Cells tend to be this, having survived and learned to handle the hellish landscape that is the host body. Shame they eventually have to be systematically executed and/or recycled after they reach a certain age, pass away naturally, or get irreparably damaged...
  • Corpse Land: During the Ghonnorea chapter, AA 2153 makes an air delivery through an area littered with heaps of white cell corpses.
  • Courier: The Red Blood Cells' one and only job. In spite of the fact that they constantly have to deal with death and dismemberment every time they make a delivery of life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients, and take away potentially toxic CO2, all the cells just keep complaining about how they never bring enough.
  • Crapsack World: Fitting for a spinoff about bad health, CODE BLACK deals with body functions failing left and right, cells struggling to keep pace with demand overload, Platelets working even younger than they already appear to be (their uniform is standard kindergarten wear, for crying out loud), and too many cells dying to count. Among other issues are the constant germ attacks with easily overwhelmed White Blood Cell forces, being gassed and killed seemingly at random thanks to smoking, and a constant lack of necessary goods while management continuously rations what little they have. Even the glamorous-looking hostess club of the Liver has its brutally dark and gritty reality...
  • Cuddle Bug: An immunosupressant medicine is depicted as a robot programmed to give a Cooldown Hug to every white blood cell it meets.
  • Darker and Edgier: While the main series doesn't shy away from serious plotlines, CODE BLACK makes sure to remind the viewers that the life of an overworked body cell is fleeting and kind of miserable. The maturation of Red Blood Cells is portrayed as organs getting ripped out to make them more efficient oxygen carriers, and cells actually die instead of just switching their clothes, like in the main series.
  • Deadly Gas: Smoking cigarettes causes the blood vessels to fill with carbon monoxide, gassing, incapacitating, and rendering useless the hapless Red Blood Cells caught in its cloud.
    • Acedelhyde takes the form of black smog that makes everyone miserable.
  • Determinator: AA 2153, like AE 3803, will do EVERYTHING in his power to make sure his deliveries are made. He later suffers a breakdown and loses all hope in his job, but he gets better eventually.
  • Despair Event Horizon: AA 2153 has one after AC 1677 sacrifices himself to save his life. He spends a long time depressed and locked away in his apartment, brooding about the meaninglessness of his work amidst the host body's self-destructive behaviour and neglect, and even tries to have the Spleen kill him.
  • Deus ex Machina: Medications and procedures undertaken by the host body have this effect, seeing as they just about solve every problem that the body can't handle itself.
    • Chapter 4 has Penicillin, depicted as a Kill Sat that helps the WBCs fight off the Gonorrhea.
    • Chapter 5 has a squadron of Steroid robots suppressing the immune system, and stopping the spot balding and hair follicle damage.
    • Chapter 6 has Butenafide Hydrochlorine washing away the first wave of ringworms.
    • Chapter 7 has the antibiotic Clarithromycin, depicted as a Spider Tank, help the WBCs defeat the Helicobacter Pylori invading the stomach.
    • Chapter 10 has the coronary stent and defibrillator that revives the body after a heart attack.
  • Dropped Glasses: AA 2153 loses his glasses at one point during Chapter 7, but he's too traumatized by his friend's death to even care. He eventually ends up fleeing the scene without bothering to find them. U-1196 finds the pair of glasses on the floor and picks them up, but she doesn't get to return them until the next chapter, when she reassures AA 2153 that his friend's death was not his fault.
  • Epic Flail: Macrophages here use huge flails, instead of the cleavers they use in the main series.
  • Existential Horror: AA 2153 has a number of despairing moments, wondering why all of them are even working so hard if the host body so steadfastly refuses to take care of itself, and especially when the cells realize that the host body is unable to even fulfill the ultimate goal of any life form: reproduce.
    • A near-fatal heart attack is portrayed similarly to the Apocalypse.
  • Fan Disservice: One chapter of CODE BLACK has U-1196 fighting off an army of extremely phallic monsters - Gonorrhea, to be precise. She gets overwhelmed and restrained, with her jumpsuit generously ripped off for the occasion... but she's covered in blood and about to be torn apart, with several other already dead or about-to-be White Blood Cells in similarly horrific situations. It's combined with Lecherous Licking, Perverted Drooling, and the Gonococcus moaning that they're "So gon-ely..." as if this wasn't bad enough.
  • From Bad to Worse: Things just never improve in this body... from the moment the host starts smoking again after 10 years of being off it, it just gradually worsens till he's having a heart attack and the whole system shuts down. Comparing all the bad stuff that happens to him, the Cosmic Plaything main series host got off easy.
  • Foil: AC 1677 to AA 2153. Respectively, an easy-going slacker who has no illusions that any more hard work on his part will change the abysmal conditions of the body and even goes out of his way to shirk his duties, and a workaholic who will deliver his oxygen as quickly as possible, through thick and thin, and feels deep, personal guilt whenever things inevitably go downhill.
  • Gender Flip: CODE BLACK features an inversion of the main series primary duo as their protagonists, a dorky, glasses-wearing Red Blood Cell boy and an Action Girl White Blood Cell. This actually extends to the ordinary cells and neutrophils. In the main series's body, the ordinary cells look like your average 16 to 20-year-old males and the neutrophils are the same. In CODE BLACK, the Neutrophils look to be women between their early to mid-20s, while the ordinary cells look like stereotypical middle-aged housewives. Currently, there's no information between these correlations.
  • Genius Loci: This time, the body in which the story takes place is of a male (has a penis) who makes some bad decisions, being stressed out and prone to unsafe sex and addictions.
  • Here We Go Again!: By the events of chapter 11, the host body is on the way to recovery, but U-1196 and AA 2153 are transferred to a new, unhealthy body that was just as bad as it during the beginning of the series.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Done by AC 1677, pulling AA 2153 to safety and falling into the deadly gastric acid in his place.
  • Hollywood Acid: While the human body's gastric acid is no joke in reality as it is in the manga, its effects are depicted as this, with all the sizzling, bubbling, and the horrific sights of cells' skin, muscles, and bones melting away into nothing that you've come to expect.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Chapter 9. After a bout with gout, and reacting to the intense pain AA 2153 and the other cells cause the body, it seems like things might finally get better for them. Then the body has a heart attack and everything begins to shutdown, before it cuts to black.
    • Part II opens up with the host body finally working properly, and everyone doing fine with no major incidents. It seems like all is going well...but then AA 2153 and U-1196 are transported into a completely different body, which is just as hellish, if not worse than their first.
  • Hotter and Sexier: CODE BLACK, written by the person who brought you ecchi series like My Balls and Yuria 100 Shiki, gets plenty more risque than the other spinoffs: most cells get bigger and beefier to deal with their workload, the liver is a bustling red light district that gets visited, and we even get a mini-arc about sperm cells and their functions. The busty U-1196 fights plenty of germs while showing off her figure, and the rest of the Neutrophil division is similarly shapely and fit. the second host body's Neutrophils are just as servicey, with one being more petite and conservative topwise but having longs legs wearing thigh-high boots and garter straps instead of trousers to make up for it.
  • Idiot Hair: The main Red Blood Cell AA 2153 sports one, just like his female counterpart in the main series.
  • It Is Not Your Time: AA 2153 falls into despair and tries to get the spleen to kill him, but the spleen cells refuse because he is still young and there is nothing physically wrong with him, so they order him to get back to work.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Apoptosis is shown as a Kupffer cell eating a dead red blood cell. While it's treated as a dirty little secret about the Liver, AA 2153 isn't upset by it in the least.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The White Blood Cell's default weapon is clearly based on a Japanese katana. They use them almost exclusively, until it's time to literally break out the big guns in the form of assault rifles and bazookas.
  • Kill Sat: Penicillin is portrayed as this during Chapter 4, in the fight against Gonorrhea.
  • Lighter and Softer: Of all things this applies to steroids. In the main series steroids are the focus of an apocalyptic prophecy due to destroying everything in sight indiscriminately and leaving the area in ruins. Here, they specifically and relentlessly focus on rampaging Killer Ts and the Helper T giving them orders, looking like remorseless assassins - but they simply restrain and bind the rogue cells, causing very little damage.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The host body has erectile dysfunction due to stress, and has to take sildenafil (Viagra) to correct this.
  • Manly Tears: Poor Killer T Cell Leader has this after the steroids suppresses him and the command center, and AA 2153 tells him he doesn't have to work anymore, in the wake of their rampage through a follicle.
  • Man on Fire: Glycation, the excessive absorption of glucose by Red Blood Cells, is depicted as them bursting into flames and shortly dying from their scars.
  • Miss Fanservice: Regular white blood cells are depicted as an Amazon Brigade of sexy ladies with an Open Shirt Taunt built into their uniforms in the first body, and in the second body they have a Dangerously Short Skirt instead.
    • Kupffer cells (the cells in the liver responsible for apoptosis) are shown as topless Belly Dancers.
  • Meaningful Name: Works in both English and Japanese, for different reasons:
    • In America, a "Code: Black" means that a hospital is in Over-capacity mode.
    • In Japan, a "Black company" means that the working conditions are dog-shit.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: In what has to be a record, the main Red Blood Cell's mentor dies not a handful of pages after being introduced in the first chapter. This goes on to happen several more times to anyone who could be considered a mentor to AA 2153 as well as U-1196's senpai.
  • Mistaken Identity: Spot baldness is caused by the stressed-out Killer T Cells mistaking the rapidly multiplying hair cells for cancer cells and attacking them.
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: How apoptosis (cell death and recycling) is portrayed. When an elderly red corpuscle dies, one of the Belly Dancers at The Liver takes him behind a screen and eats his corpse.
  • More Dakka: The Neutrophils' response when a problem gets too large for their already impressive blades is to start pulling out automatic rifles and bazookas.
  • Multiple Head Case: The Gonococcus is depicted as a phallic-looking Humanoid Abomination, with four tentacles that end in even-more-phallic heads with sideways-opening mouths. While the main head is a gloating Card-Carrying Villain, the four smaller heads just slither around the female White Blood Cells moaning "we're so lonely...". Ugh.
  • Mythology Gag: Volume 1 of CODE BLACK shows the Red and White Blood Cells in a similar pose to the cells on the main series' first cover, except U-1196 is drenched in blood, while AA 2153 is deoxidized and carrying more than his own weight.
  • No Name Given: Many of the background cells, and even some of the protagonists are not given proper alphanumeric designations. It's only until some omakes (end-of-chapter extras) do we get them, and even then, it's rarely said in the dialog proper, and many chapters after said character's first appearance. One has to assume it's intentional, to emphasize the cheapness of life and death for these cells.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: The invasive bacteria present don't bother with Shonen villain antics the way they do in C@W-Prime, and are more like invading alien soldiers.
  • Not So Stoic: U-1196, upon seeing the corpse of her senpai during the mass funeral for the fallen White Blood Cells post-Gonorrhea attack, finds herself having to pull her cap over her eyes as she's overcome by emotion.
    • The kidney cells finally allow themselves to cry during the UTI arc (the kidney is a "silent organ" that doesn't set out a Distress Signal until it's nearly too late).
  • Open Shirt Taunt: in the first body, white corpuscles have their shirts open with nothing underneath to show their, uh, courage.
  • Peaceful in Death: An old Red Blood Cell in Chapter 2, one of the lucky ones who went while enjoying himself at the Liver.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In Chapter 5, this is how autoimmune diseases are portrayed, with the T Cell Command Center and the Killer Ts themselves confused and mistaking regular cells as foreign bodies - with horrific, dramatic results. A poor Dendritic cell just can't get them to listen...
  • Public Bath House Scene: The kidneys are shown to be a public shower, with the cells there depicted as cute girls with hoses. It's subverted, however, because it's neither fun nor relaxing for anyone involved. Red corpuscles aren't even allowed to take off their uniforms and the kidney cells aren't allowed to talk to anyone to ensure maximum efficiency despite the fact that they just want to sit down and cry from being worked almost to death (the kidneys, like the liver, is a "silent organ" that doesn't let on how bad things are untill it's in full-on crisis mode). Their status as a Dwindling Party is made clear to AA 12153 and the reader (kidney cells don't replicate). The structure itself looks more like a cattle run than a public bath as well.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: AA 2153, fed up with how the host body doesn't take care of itself, tries to make it listen the only way he can — by striking the body full force. The other cells join in and create pain, which finally gets the body to listen to reason and rest.
  • Red Light District: The Liver is portrayed as this, with Hepatocytes depicted as attractive hostesses. Here, Red Blood Cells go to recover from alcohol exposure while also letting off steam, ironically sobering themselves up by imbibing hormones in a similar manner to drinking beer and smoking. Chapter 6 shows that the place has gone from Riches to Rags from the host's alcohol consumption, with the Hepatocyte from before looking like she has tuberculosis.
  • Rousing Speech: AA 2153 gives one during the Gonorrhea attack in chapter 4, about how he will continue to do his job in spite of all odds, helping inspire the surviving Neutrophil forces to defeat the invaders. Of course, the Penicillin Kill Sat that came up behind him and made the bacteria vulnerable wasn't his doing, but U-1196 specifically thanks him for it in the next chapter anyway.
  • Ship Tease: Similar to AE 3803 and U 1146's moments in the main series, AA 2153 and U-1196 have some romantic moments. These are mostly her saving him and him acting smitten and Distracted by the Sexy in her presence; but in Chapter 2, when she catches him getting hugged and kissed on the cheek by a Hepatocyte, she acts irritated and jealous.
  • The Siege: In Chapter 4, the White Blood Cells face off against a Gonorrhea infection. Both the Brain command center and the White Blood Cells themselves know it's a hopeless fight against an enemy that replicates faster than you can kill it, but they fight anyway, because that's their job. Thankfully, the body has the good sense to take some penicillin which helps the immune system fight it off for good.
  • Shout-Out: Staphtococcus bacteria look an awful lot like tyranid gaunts. Fitting, since staphtococcus is what causes flesh-eating disease and 'nids eat whole planets.
  • Spoiler Title: The first chapter is named Smoking, Germs, Beginning of an end, it pretty much tells this series is not going to have a happy ending.
  • Suicide by Cop: Done by AA 2153 in a sense, since the Spleen is the authority of disposing of old and damaged Red Blood Cells.
  • Suicide Mission: The Brain command center and the White Blood Cells both acknowledge that fighting the Gonorrhea infection is a losing battle, but they fight anyway.
  • Super Serum: How caffeine is depicted. However, once it wears off, the cells dosed with it undergo intense widthdrawl.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: With thanks to timely modern hospital treatments.
  • Translation Matchmaking: The English title seems to evoke associations with Code Black, a TV series about an overworked and understaffed emergency room.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: The Killer T Cells. Absurdly buff, hairy, and with the ridiculous levels of aggression and shouting to match, they make the Killer T Cells of the main series look like cannon fodder; fittingly, they show up during the chapter about spot baldness.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Several cells mock the White Blood Cells and call them useless when they are trying their best to fight infections. They have to eat their words when they get rescued.
  • Viking Funeral: How the body pays its final respects to masses of fallen White Blood Cells, except without the "setting on fire" part. Just don't think too hard that their corpses are pus, and are going to exit through the urinary tract...
  • Visual Pun: When the leukyocyte's normal attacks fail to break down the purine crystal in Gout, neutrophils start showing up with RPG's and assault rifles-literally breaking out the big guns.
  • We Can Rule Together: The Gonorrhea say they know the White Blood Cells are not appreciated, and proposes they team up to get revenge on the rest of the body. The White Blood Cells say 'not a chance' and attack.
  • Wham Episode: Chapter 9. The body suffers a heart attack and shuts down. Even the upper management in the brain declares that everyone can stop working now.
  • Wham Line: U-1196 gives one to herself at the end of Chapter 5 when looking down from a roof.
    My colleagues the other White Blood Cells... I can't see them anywhere?!
  • Wham Shot: Chapter 14. After a battle, AA 2153 finds U-1196's sword all alone.
  • When She Smiles: U-1196 is usually stoic, serious, or bloodthirsty. When she finds the rare reason and opportunity to smile, however...
  • You Are Number 6: As in the original series, characters are only ever referred to by their species, or their alphanumeric designation, such as AA 2153.
  • You Don't Look Like You: Streptococcus-B (which causes necrotising fasciitis, AKA flesh-eating disease) is beefier and hunchbacked, with bigger claws, Glowing Eyes of Doom, and all their Combat Tentacles oriented backwards compared to the streptococcus-A bacteria encountered in Cells at Work!-prime, which is more humanoid.

Alternative Title(s): Cells At Work Black

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