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You’ll Want To Take Better Care of Your Body After Watching This Anime

Did you know? 

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our body, working relentlessly throughout their life cycle (about 120 days), after which they are replaced with new cells. 
  • White blood cells protect our body against diseases and foreign invaders. There are several subtypes, including macrophages, which destroy bacteria, as well as T-cells that destroy infected cells. 
  • I learned all this from an anime. 

Okay, so that’s not 100% true. I learned it in biology class. But that was 15 years ago, and I’ve long since forgotten everything but the most basic facts about the human body. So watching Cells at Work: Code Black was a fun (albeit dark) refresher. 

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Seriously, if we had shows like this back in the day instead of boring ol’ textbooks, everyone would have aced their biology exams. It has everything that a good anime should have: beautiful art, interesting characters, a great plot, awesome action. But most of all, it’s educational, and it carries an important message beyond just entertainment: Take. Better. Care. Of. Our. Bodies. 

Based on a popular manga series, the first anime season of Cells at Work! details how a body functions through the eyes of anthropomorphised cells, ie a red blood cell and a white blood cell. I haven’t watched the original, but I’ve heard it’s light and fun, with a focus on comedy. Code Black, however, is much darker – and shines the spotlight on what happens to an unhealthy body caused by bad lifestyle habits and stress. 

Synopsis 

The series opens with our ‘hero’ AA2153, a rookie red blood cell. Somewhat naive in character, he starts off enthusiastic and pumped (ha!) for work, but soon discovers that there are plenty of problems with his work environment, from angry, overworked cells to pathways clogged with cholesterol and plaque, hindering oxygen deliveries — a reflection of the body’s unhealthy state. The environment is also hostile: AA2153 often gets verbally abused by other cells, as they are all stretched to their limit and often have to prioritise certain functions over others.

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During a delivery run, our protagonist is saved by white blood cell U1196 from an invading Pneumonia Coccus, and a friendship blossoms despite their different roles. The two characters will continue running into each other throughout the course of the series, as they both try to fulfil their duties to keep the body running. 

AA2153 does his best under terrible working conditions and tries to keep his optimism up. In the first episode, he witnesses a terrible scene: his co-workers turning into zombies (carboxyhemoglobin) after coming into contact with carbon monoxide (from smoking). Although initially terrified, he hardens his resolve to deliver oxygen after his senpai sacrifices himself by running through the gas, so that AA2153 could deliver oxygen through a safer route. However, this is just the beginning of the body’s troubles. 

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Throughout the course of the anime, our characters will have to overcome various situations, some of which are self-inflicted by the body, from heavy drinking and a bad diet to consumption of caffeine and energy drinks, which in turn cause the body to weaken further, making it prone to disease. After battling conditions such as hair loss, kidney stones, gout, erectile dysfunction, gonococci and pulmonary embolism, AA2153 starts to lose hope that the hellish environment will change… 

Verdict 

I absolutely love this anime. Pretty art style aside, I think it’s brilliant how the writers have managed to turn somewhat complicated concepts into easy-to-digest (pun intended) stories— and they’ve also done an excellent job depicting the anthropomorphised cells and the various organs creatively. 

The kidney, for example, is shown as a traditional bathhouse, and the glomeruli (the filtering unit) as bath girls who help clean up the red blood cells. When bacteria invades one kidney, threatening to destroy it, AA2153 urges the girls to evacuate – but they are prevented from doing so by the matriarch Glomeruli, who tells them that the kidney is a ‘silent organ’ — always working, never complaining. This hit me hard because I know that kidney failure is often called a silent killer, and it isn’t until they are failing that we realise something is very wrong. The kidney is eventually saved after the body ingests antibiotics, which help the white blood cells defeat the invading bacteria. 

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Another good example of the anime’s creativity is the liver, represented as a red light district with hostess clubs, where the red blood cells go to ‘unwind’ and detoxify, especially after alcohol consumption. But as the body continues drinking excessively, the once bright and colourful district becomes a dark and gloomy place, with exhausted and sickly hostesses (hepatocytes). I think it’s just great how they used real-life scenarios and applied them to the anime in such a way that is easy to understand. 

But more than just spitting facts, the anime manages to depict the emotions of the anthropomorphised cells and the seemingly hopeless state they are living in. The characters aren’t just there to tell you about how the body works: they have their own hopes and dreams and feelings. The main character is your typical anime hero: bright, cheerful and enthusiastic, always trying to inspire others — and while it’s nothing original as far as animes go (think Naruto, or Luffy), AA2153 is endearing in his own way.

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AA2153 and AC1677

The side characters are equally well developed. In episode 7, our hero’s best friend, a fellow red blood cell designated as AC1677, becomes jealous of AA2153’s achievements, having always been overshadowed by the former’s achievements.  He also feels somewhat guilty at AA2153’s persistence and dedication, as he doesn’t have the same zeal. AC1677 turns to the high that caffeine produces in order to try and outshine his friend. The body suffers a nosebleed, and AA2153 almost loses his best friend as red blood cells are sucked out and AC1677 loses his strength after crashing from a caffeine high — but he manages to save him, and eventually returns to his former self and works harder. (AC1677 is my favourite character by the way!) 

It’s episodes like these that make me feel a twinge of guilt — of course, I too have made my own body suffer from bad decisions (lack of sleep, for example, eating unhealthy food, and stressing myself out lol) and watching Code Black somehow drives the point home that I’m letting it down. I’m killing these cells in my body even though they’re working so hard for me — always working, never resting — so that I can enjoy a good quality life for as long as possible without suffering and pain. 

Since the pandemic began, I’ve made some changes to my lifestyle, including more exercise and a better diet (because I haven’t been able to eat out lol). I’ve lost about 12 kg, and I’m feeling much better compared to the days I used to gorge on fried foods coz of work stress. I couldn’t even climb stairs without feeling winded. My body must have been screaming. 

I’d like to think I’m providing a better ‘working’ environment for the cells living in me these days. So that’s a good thing. 

Rating: 8.5/10 

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Film Review: Tarung Sarung (2020)

Gone are the days when local and regional films are thought to be inferior to Hollywood productions. Thanks to a burgeoning film industry, Southeast Asian movies are on the rise: and while they may lack the big budget their Hollywood counterparts have, some of these films more than make up for it through creative storytelling, beautifully choreographed scenes, and something Hollywood films might find hard to integrate – culture and heritage.

Tarung Sarung (literally ‘sarong fight’) is one of these movies, and it surprised me with how much heart it has, despite the simplistic plot. Directed by Archie Hekagery and starring young actor Panji Zoni in his movie debut, the film was supposed to be released in April last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and subsequently released on Netflix on 31 December 2020.

Synopsis

Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni) is the spoiled and arrogant young scion of one of the richest families in Jakarta, who thinks that money makes the world go round. After a fight in a club which was caught on camera, Deni’s mother Dina sends him packing to Makassar, to manage a resort development project and learn some responsibility. There, he meets Tenri (Maizura), a local girl who is passionate about environmentalism, and is opposed to the resort project.

Deni hides his identity from Tenri in order to get closer to her, and sparks fly. Unfortunately, he gets on the wrong side of Sanrego (Cemal Faruk), a local thug who intends to marry Tenri. Sanrego challenges Deni to ‘tarung sarung‘ (literally, sarong fight) – a traditional martial arts practiced by the Bugis people of Makassar, whereby the participants take part in close one-on-one combat within a sarong. Naturally, Deni gets pummeled, and wanting revenge, seeks help from the village’s undefeated former champion Pak Khalid (Yayan Ruhian), who runs the local mosque, to train him in the ways of the sport. And while Deni starts off wanting to get back at Sanrego, he soon finds motivation and strength from other reasons: the love of Tenri, belief in himself, and ultimately, finding god.

Thoughts

Tarung Sarung is heavily inspired by The Karate Kid (I mean, Deni Ruso? Daniel LaRusso? lol) and follows the typical martial arts film formula, where we follow the journey of our naive and inexperienced hero undergoing training and tutelage under a master, emerging not only stronger physically but as a better person. And while the film doesn’t bring anything groundbreakingly new to the table, it still makes for a surprisingly entertaining drama about teenage love and discovering one’s self, with bits of action thrown in.

Now, I haven’t watched many Indonesian films so I don’t have a benchmark to compare it with, but I felt that the acting was pretty good, especially from Panji Zoni, who pulls off the role of rich, spoiled brat really well. (If I was 10 years younger I’d probably be fan girling coz he’s pretty cute).

Yayan Ruhian as Pak Khalid is also superb. He exudes a tranquil, Mr Miyagi vibe; friendly and wise, but not someone you’d want to piss off. Granted, I did feel that some of the other performances felt rather forced, like Deni’s two sidekicks Gogos and Tutu (who are there to provide comic relief), and the villain Sanrego whose one-sided personality seems to comprise of only over-the-top machismo and angry grunting…but overall I liked the characters and performances, as they feel relatable and believable. Tenri, for example, is a well written character who, despite wearing a hijab and being covered up, is a strong, independent girl with her own dreams and aspirations – a departure from the usual damsel-in-distress roles girls that look like her are supposed to play.

What I really enjoyed, however, is the film’s unique Indonesian perspective, which is refreshing to see in a sea of cookie-cutter action films themed around fighting and violence. Deni, who believes in nothing but the power of money and influence, is slowly guided to discover more about god and religion, which is obviously a big part of Indonesian life. Prior to watching the film, I had also never heard about tarung sarung (which is a real thing in Indonesia), so it piqued my interest in art. Back in the day, duels were fought to the death with badik (a traditional dagger) but this is no longer practiced today (in the movie, they fight bare fisted instead).

There are also interesting bits highlighting Indonesian culture, such as a scene where Deni takes part in pindah rumah, a practice where everyone in the village works together to help carry an entire house from one place to another (this can be done because the traditional homes in Makassar are usually made from wood and have stilts, so they don’t have piling in the ground unlike regular houses). Pindah rumah is also done in other Austronesian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.

Another thing the movie does right is the cinematography, which is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of rural Indonesia – it’s sandy beaches and blue seas, the charm of its small towns and villages, and the warmth of its people. Without spoiling too much, I’d also like to commend the clever ending, I think some audiences might not like it, but I felt like it was very different and subverted expectations.

That being said, Tarung Sarung does have a couple of flaws. For me, it’s the long and draggy run time – at nearly two hours, I feel that the film could have done without certain scenes that don’t add much to the story. The fight scenes are all well choreographed, as expected of a film starring Yayan Ruhian (he was in John Wick 3, by the way. remember that epic scene with the two Indonesian shinobis?), but they are few and far between, which may leave audiences wanting more, since this is supposed to be an action film after all.

Verdict

Tarung Sarung has a standard if somewhat cliche plot and characters, with a uniquely Indonesian flavour and a good mix of romance, coming-of-age, action and drama. And while it won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, I think it’s a nice and entertaining film nonetheless. Worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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I Finally Got Netflix

There are two kinds of people on this planet: those who subscribe to Netflix, and those who don’t.

Until very recently, I belonged to the latter. As someone who has little patience for TV shows and web series (can’t be bothered to sit through multiple episodes), I’ve never felt the need to, despite how popular Netflix is with my peers. I’d much rather spend my free time reading, or playing video games.

My parents, though, don’t have such hobbies – and they’ve been bored watching the same old Astro shows. So one afternoon, after my dad changed channels for the umpteenth time (he wasn’t even watching the TV; more like mindlessly scrolling through shows with remote in hand, eyes glazed over), I suggested we try Netflix.

After subscribing, I finally sat my ass down to watch the much hyped about The Queen’s Gambit (forced myself, more like, lol). It’s decent as far as dramas go, and has quite a unique subject, but like I said, not a big fan of serials. If nothing else, it was good bonding time with the fam, because we all sat down to watch the show together – something we haven’t done for a long time.

Of course, Netflix also has an extensive catalogue of films, which I much prefer watching over serials. I’ve been catching up on some old films (John Wick, Deep Blue Sea, and Small Soldiers – the nostalgia!), and I also checked out an Indonesian film called Tarung Sarung (review up soon – it’s actually pretty decent!).

With cinemas still closed, I think this is the only way I’ll be able to watch films without paying through my nose. The good thing about Netflix is that it isn’t that expensive (about RM35 per month) – and unlike bloodsucking Astro, does not require you to sign a contract tying you down, so you can cancel at anytime.

Do you have a Netflix subscription? If you have good movies to suggest, lemme know in the comments below!