8.8: YouTube channel Anime America got a lot of flak for their (now deleted) review of the anime, giving it a pass, all because it treats Cancer Cell as a more complex character than the pathogens that came before. Not helping matters is their misunderstanding of the source material and stereotyping of fans of the show.
Broken Base: The decision to portray Cancer Cell as a sympathetic Tragic Villain rather than a straight-up force of evil to be defeated leaves viewers divided. Some like the complexity behind Cancer Cell in how he's not a generic villain like most of the other nasties the Immune System deals with and that it does fit in that he's just a normal cell that was born wrong. Others feel this isn't accurate as Cancer Cells are genuinely doing harm by violating the laws of the body and shouldn't be depicted as a circumstantial victim, and then there's those who have suffered because of cancer and don't wish to feel any sympathy towards a representation of it.
Cry for the Devil: Mostly applied to Cancer Cell (you're gonna be noticing a pattern here). Despite being terrible for the body when left to its own devices, some viewers can't help but feel for his plea to be treated like any other cell.
Designated Villain: Cancer Cell, deliberately. He himself invokes this, as he didn't choose to be the villain, but was made one anyway due to merely coming into existence, and having no other purpose or even ability to be anything other than a danger to the body. He's been hunted since the day he was born, which broke him and led him down the path of revenge. So while he is definitely a villain and is taking unambiguously villainous action, it is not as though he has any other choice besides "Suicide by Immune System".
The Platelets are secondary characters in a story that revolves around Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell, and yet they were popular candidates for this during serialization thanks to their adorable Cub Scout-like attitudes. Their appearances in the anime brought an influx of fans. Their Leader in particular was loved enough to star on covers with the main cast, eventually getting one all to herself and her fellow workers. Special mention goes to the focus chapter dedicated to them, their job, and their mistress, Megakaryocyte. The anime sought to bolster their popularity even further, especially Leader-chan who is voiced by Maria Naganawa who is very popular with the contemporary generation for voicing Token Mini-Moe characters (the same goes for Xanthe Huynh for the English version). The Platelet leader got her own Nendoroid designed and in production when the anime was only 5 episodes into airing and Good Smile Company even said it was by popular demand!
Macrophage is side character who became immensely popular both for being a badass Action Girl with a cleaver, as well as a motherly teacher who looks after the Erythroblasts (young Red Blood Cells).
Eosinophil is only one member of the Immune System, a friend of U-1146, but she has a lot of fans for being a shy moe girl who turned out to be a Hidden Badass.
Cancer Cell is by far the most fondly remembered Villain of the Week; both for being a Knight of Cerebus who changed the lighthearted tone to a dark one, as well as being a very complex Tragic Villain with a sympathetic backstory behind his villainy, as opposed to the more card-carrying villainous pathogens that usually appear.
For some reason, U-1146's neutrophil partners (U-4989, U-2048 and U-2626) are very loved in the Japanese fandom, getting their share amount of fanarts.
By far the most popular fan theory is that AE3803's Idiot Hair being crescent-shaped is an indicator of her being a sickle cell, citing her clumsiness and tendency to get lost as examples of sickle cells halting oxygen production. This has been debunked by various real life doctors and medical students who state sickle cell is a genetic disease so it's near impossible to get a single sickle cell in a body unless it was a spontaneous mutation, along with the fact the condition causes red blood cells to get stuck rather than getting lost. AE3803 has no problems passing through tight alleys, which are this series's equivalent to the capillaries.
There's also the theory that AE3803 was supposed to become a White Blood Cell, but was raised as a Red Blood Cell due to her hair color. Her near-constant presence during germ attacks and her Idiot Hair acting up during the first Cancer arc (much like a Neutrophil's own sensor) despite being far away from the action are used as examples. Further credence is lent to this theory in the manga due to how some of the Hematopoetic Stem Cells remarked that they were two Eosinophils short when AE3803 was being sorted for differentiation.
Fanfic Fuel: How would AIDS or a similarly horrific illness be like on the cellular level? Nano Machines? Bio-engineered bacteria, good or bad? Acute Radiation Poisoning? A body with a genetic illness? Or an organ transplant? What about genetic therapy (which involves "helpful" viri injecting cells with foreign DNA in order to teach them not to freak out when they encounter allergens)? What of fictional illnesses, such as G.U.I.L.T., the T-virus, or one of the rapidly mutating global exterminator plagues of Plague Inc.? Or a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot? If the beefier leukocytes of CODE BLACK represent someone with a stronger immune system, would a fast clotter have stronger or more numerous platelets? How do the cells handle long term events like pregnancy? All that and more is ripe for the picking in fanfiction.
Foe Yay: U-1146 and Cancer Cell, in both of the Cancer arcs. While most cells wouldn't treat cancer cells like him as anything other than mutated monsters, U-1146 still recognizes them as living, breathing people, who just happen to go against protocol and jeopardize the body. It's that kind of outlook that actually endeared him to Cancer Cell, and the latter certainly treats him with more respect/affection than any other cell.
Fountain of Memes: The Platelets became among the most memed characters of the anime community in 2018.
Red Blood Cell's numerical designation, AE3803, is a hexadecimal color for a shade of red. Specifically, the brownish-red of a deoxygenated Erythrocyte.
In certain back angles, on the back of Red Blood Cell's hat, it's appropriately shaped like an actual red blood cell.
All of the bacteria and pathogen designs possess physical features that correspond with their real life appearance. For instance Staphylococcus aureus is yellow in color and possesses 'grape' like appendages around her torso, while Pseudomonas possesses tentacles which signify the flagella they have in real life.
Bacteria are made of cytoplasm, while red blood cells have hemoglobin. Depicting them as the cells'/bacterial 'blood' actually makes sense.
Influenza viruses are depicted as small red balls with sticks protruding, which is exactly how they look in real life. Unlike most of the other infectious entities, viruses are not strictly considered 'alive' by scientists, which makes sense of the fact that they aren't depicted as being sentient.
Dendritic Cell has a post in a tree. In real life, the actual cell looks tree-like with their shape.
Enucleation of erythroblasts and graduating them to erythrocytes is depicted as a pom-pom on their hat being removed, signifying the removal of the red blood cell nucleus. This is fitting considering their hats are shaped like real life Red Blood Cells.
Viewing from the top view, when Macrophage uses a Spin Attack, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment where she looks like the actual cell.
Eosinophil wears pink clothing while Basophil wears blue, just as how real-life eosinophils and basophils respectively stain pink and blue under the microscope.
LGBT Fanbase: The Killer T Cell Squad Leader has earned a discernible gay male following thanks to the combination of his hunky design and personality.
Magnificent Bastard: Cancer Cell is a malfunctioning cell attempting to survive. After watching his friend get killed by Killer T Cells, Cancer Cell became wrathful, devoting his existence to destroying the body and pushing the white blood cells down to his level. Disguising himself as an ordinary cell, Cancer Cell uses one of his clones to stage an attack and gets saved by Neutrophil; Killer T Cell; and NK Cell. He then lures them to his lair to kill them with his clones. Returning to life when his genetic information is leaked, Cancer Cell manipulates Regulatory T Cell into believing him to be a functioning cell, using her to protect himself from attacks. He then invades the intestines and siphons off the toxic fumes of the harmful bacteria. Reasoning that a better world would ensure that cells of all kinds would be able to live together in harmony, Cancer Cell notes that even if it fails, he would be putting everyone out of their misery. Despite his omnicidal designs, Cancer Cell displays an unwavering respect for Neutrophil, taking both of his defeats with stride.
"Anone anone!" Explanation The anime version of the Platelet Leader's first scene dialed up the cuteness to the point it's regarded as her fanon Catchphrase. Viewers considered it so much of a Most Wonderful Sound that they could watch a 10-hour remix of the Leader saying just that over and over again. This appears to have become an Ascended Meme as any appearances outside the main series featuring Platelet-chan, such as the Sensei anone song or the chibi shorts, have her using this phrase very regularly
Jokes about the Platelets abound, mostly memes warning "stop lewding the Platelets or they won't make your bleeding stop".
Poke the lolinote due to Red Blood Cell's fondness for poking Platelet Leader's cheek, jokes were made that even though lewding the Platelets was off the table, poking them was considered acceptable
"Protecc the Platelets"note as per norm with loli jokes, fans declare the Platelets need to be protected rather than lewded, with White Blood Cell being a primary example with him carrying them around during the heatstroke
"It's sad they only live for 8-9 days"note a common response to seeing the Platelets when they're being all happy and cute, by citing their lifespan in the real life
For a while, fans took to Wikipedia and constantly vandalized the page on "platelets", replacing the images with pictures of the Platelet Leader and calling them "lolis".
The real Cells at Work. Explanation All sorts of jokes were made about the Cells and their real-life counterparts, ranging from biology textbooks being the "real" manga, to microscopic videos marked as the live-action adaptation, to photos of actual cells being embarrasing/lewd in-universe or Dendritic Cell's Porn Stash.
Korean Twitter fans have taken to reversing the colors and personalities of the cast. Of them all, "Black Blood Cell" U-1146 stands out, being a more emotional and aggressive counterpart to his Neutrophil self.
Shipping AE-3803 and U-1146 will have fans unanimously end up saying the phrase "Great, now I'm shipping my own cells!"note Which can also bring up shipping countries i.e Hetalia: Axis Powers with the line
Pink blood cells. Explanation Red+white=pink, so despite cellular reproduction not working that way there's been some jokes about such cells being the result of the fandom's OTP.
Given that famous meme figure Stefan Karl a.k.a Robbie Rotten passed away from cancer shortly before the release of the Cancer episode, a common response against those who sympathized with Cancer Cell was "But he shanked my man Robbie!"
"I want to keep my body healthy now." Explanation Whenever the body is suffering other bodily issues, such as a fever, fans will often say that they want to keep their own body healthy so their cells won't suffer, especially the platelets
The anime lied to me! Explanation People will jokingly post a failed biology test, especially about the platelets, based on what the cell is and not how they function.
"Blood cuck" Explanation The anime has been used to promote blood donation◊, to which some fans have jokingly responded that they want to keep their adorable blood cells and platelets for themselves instead of sharing them with another person.
The Platelets. A group of small children in overly large T-shirts earnestly working despite their size? Gosh darn adorable, and pretty much all of the body and blood cells that we get to see think so too. The anime also gives them voices that verge on Most Wonderful Sound.
The Erythroblasts (young red blood cells) and Myelocytes (young white blood cells) are tiny and innocent. This is especially the case with little AE-3803 and U-1146. The former even wears a meido uniform prior to graduation, which is typical for all Erythroblasts.
Narm Charm: Let's see... A narrator talking like it's a children's book, anthropomorphic personifications of cells tackling the various functions of the body, some very cheesy dialog here and there. Who would ever think that an Edutainment anime that looks like it's aimed for kids would be one of the more popular anime of Summer 2018? Somehow this show pulls it off.
One-Scene Wonder: Because Cancer Cell is so incredibly popular for his Tragic Villain status and complex characterization that makes him one of the most memorable antagonists in the series, many are surprised when watching the show to find out that he doesn't last any longer than any other Monster of the Week.
One True Pairing: Red Blood Cell/White Blood Cell. The fandom unanimously ships these two together, especially after Episode 8 where White Blood Cell spent the whole episode tailing Red and making sure she didn't come to harm, while being so proud of her when she navigates the whole circulation system by herself.
Periphery Demographic: The anime presents itself as an edutainment show aimed for children, yet has attracted the attention of adults, especially Doctors and Biology majors for its accurate representation of the immune system. It has reached the point where biology teachers in China would assign it as homework to their students.
U-1146 is occasionally shipped with Killer T Cell (Squad Leader) despite (or perhaps because) of their interactions in the actual series.
Shipping Killer T Squad Leader with NK Cell (and, to a lesser extent, the pairing of B Cell and Mast Cell) also counts. Their on-screen interactions have been consistently hostile, and there are no indication that they remotely like one another, but clearly fans see their dynamic as a Belligerent Sexual Tension.
A surprisingly high amount of fanart ships some of the named Red Blood Cells with members of WBCsquad (AA5100 x U-4989 is the most common pair), despite them barely interacting together. It also seems to be more of a Ship Mates thing, as they tend to be compliments to U-1146/AE3803 fics.
Pairing Macrophage and Dendritic Cell together is also quite common, despite their lack of actual moments together. However, as members of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPC), macrophages and dendritic cells do share a close biological classification—and this probably serves as the basis for the ship, regardless of the relevant characters' actual on-screen interactions.
Spiritual Successor: In a lot of ways, Cells at Work is like an edutainment spin-off of Psycho-Pass. Like the citizens of Psycho-Pass, the cells are all assigned professions from the moment they are born in order to contribute to the society, that society being the human body. The Immune System is a microscopic version of the Public Safety Bureau who hunt targets deemed a threat to either detain or execute before they can cause too much damage.
Despite depicting the chaotic (and often disgusting) happenings that take place inside the human body each and every day, the series somehow manages to avoid any of the gross out factors that normally comes with this sort of concept and instead oozes heartwarming charm from every angle. With its clever symbolism and design choices, varied but unanimously-lovable cast of characters, and lighthearted tone that rarely wanes despite the constant conflict, it's very hard to not smile and feel happy for your own body's hard work when tuned in. This is one of the reasons why Cancer Cell is such an effective Knight of Cerebus.
Special mentions go to the Platelets who provide "Awww" moments in virtually every scene they are in, from how hard they work, playing with each other or the older cells, or having trouble reaching places due to their short height.
Ugly Cute: Cedar Allergens are little more than blobs with faces but there's something endearing about them, especially with the anime's jiggly animation. It helps that unlike the other monsters, they're actually completely harmless and the conflict of the episode revolves around the immune system's completely disproportionate response to them.
In the anime, Naive T Cell has a feminine-sounding voice that might cause him to be mistaken for a short-haired girl. (The fact that he is actually voiced by a female voice actress probably doesn't help.)
There are both male and female platelets, but due to their unisex clothes and having high-pitched and childish voices, some viewers have mistaken them for being all girls. The most prominent male platelet is the one distinguished by having his hat backwards. This is so bad that even official material can get confused, particularly with Backwards Cap-kun, where the subs for Season 2 Episode 1 call him a girl, and the Cells at Work: Platelets! spinoff outright turns its version of him into a girl.
What an Idiot!: Due to the anthropomorphic representations, some natural reactions become this instead of just chemical imbalances. Such as responding to a hemorrhage by increasing blood pressure and being surprised that this caused even more blood cells to be ejected, or the immune system going into overdrive due to the presence of allergens.
What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: On one hand, the Edutainment factor and the adorable characters intended to appeal to children. On the other hand, gory violence, a few genuinely disturbing antagonists, and depressing existential horror in the Cancer Cell arc.
Woolseyism: During B-Cell and Mast Cell's Volleying Insults, the Japanese version has Mast Cell yelling out that the B in his name stands for "Baka", to which the subs and English version adjust to the rough equivalent of "bonehead".