“Cancer Cells”

「がん細胞」 (Gansaibou)

In a classical Scooby-Doo reveal, budget Touma turned out to be Cancer-kun. Given his whitened hair, controllable body extensions, and pockmarked eye sockets, I couldn’t help getting Tokyo Ghoul vibes from his character design. And that would be rather fitting too, because where existentialism was concerned he became the tragic villain of this set-piece. To be honest, I didn’t think I could be made to feel sympathy for a cancer cell, especially since cancer has caused death and suffering for some of my loved ones. But this episode somehow managed it.

Utilitarianism, Consequentialism, Existentialism

From Cancer-kun’s perspective, what was the positive meaning of his existence? To have an innately destructive life that was not of his choosing? To be actively hunted out like an animal for the slaughter? An interesting ethical discussion was brought to the table, that reminded me of the one presented in Shin Sekai Yori, which I won’t elaborate upon because spoilers. But it wouldn’t be difficult to take a pragmatic stance. The Cancer cell will die either ways, and in accordance with utilitarian schools of thought, we should strive to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. That would mean saving the body and sacrificing the rogue element that will cause it harm. And as White Blood Cell put it, the immune cells are doing their job. What else do you expect them to do, stand by and watch the body get destroyed out of concern for consequentialism? At the end of the day, it is not a difficult question to answer. Screw Cancer, though feel free to take pity on the poor cell that was involuntarily born as one.

Animation Blues

Praise aside, I did have a non-trivial qualm. After sneakily pre-reading this chapter, I overhyped the upcoming action because it genuinely seemed like a complete package. Sad to say, David Production completely dropped the ball on this one. For what it could have been, the fight scene ended up being a huge disappointment. And it wasn’t just the overall action choreography, which was subpar to say the least. The animation was uncharacteristically shoddy across the board, and some of these frames were unacceptable for a studio of their caliber. Go back and check the episode, I kid you not. When Macrophage stops RBC-chan and asks her where all the RBCs are going, a RBC has a noticeably unnatural movement cycle before freezing near RBC-chan. That said, I’d cut the animators some slack because their work is tiring and a truly thankless task. Just hope these issues are fixed before future blu-ray releases.

Concluding Thoughts

Anyway, enough with the criticism. This episode may have fallen below my personal levels of expectation, but it was nevertheless a fine one that did not miss a beat in terms of executing the story line in question, even if the animation and choreography were not up to scratch. Having skipped ahead by reading the manga, Blood Circulation was a chapter that I found uninspiring. But who knows. While the anime might have been below par on this particular occasion, it has been a major exception to what has generally been an exemplary adaptation. Also, I have no doubt that David Production will bounce back, since they are talented enough to go beyond the source material.



  1. If reincarnation exists in this world I hope he is reborn as a normal cell so he can finally be happy. 🙁 No one here chooses to become a cancer cell, but shutting off exposure to radiation, drugs, and other harmful chemicals can lessen the chance of it.

    These posts have been coming in way later than usual.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if living in a world where nuclear testing was prevalent in the past century plays a part in the rising cases of cancer. Or if the modern prevalence of mental health issues might have something to do with that, given how we could do with more laughs to get our NK cells going. I apologise for the late posts and the lack of Boruto catchup for well, fans of Boruto. I’m actually getting overwhelmed by real life obligations and it’s difficult to find a time to get everything together. But things should improve once September begins.

      1. Just to drop in and be scientific for once 😛

        Current increases in cancer rates aren’t due to past nuclear testing (for all its horrific side effects it’s a relatively isolated risk—look up soil-based radon poisoning for something really dangerous and widespread) but rather three things: industrial pollution, longer lives, and better detection.

        Industrial pollution is obvious: with increased industrialization, particularly in third world states, there is an increased use of known carcinogens, especially in agriculture and basic manufacturing where safety measures are hard to verify and/or prove. There are also effects from prolific dumping of hormonal byproducts (ex. flushing birth control pills) into water streams whose human effects are now only being properly researched. Eating habits/smoking also feed into this, especially with processed foods and sugar.

        Likewise longer lives is easy to make sense of. One of the side effects of aging is a reduction in immune activity, and it is this activity which combats cancer (one of the lesser known biology facts is we produce cancerous cells all the time, we just never notice because they’re usually picked off before they can divide and metastasize). Our modern life spans and living standards gives plenty of time for otherwise unknown cancer breeds to appear, something previous generations never had to deal with.

        Modern detection too is an extension of this as before the invention of radiology and machines like MRI and ultrasound cancer was never really apparent until a tumor was physically detectable—i.e. visible on the body surface—and of course by that point it was usually too late. With our current technology we can often detect single cell cancer growth, which naturally leads to increased rate reporting.

        Biology degrees and molecular-based cancer courses, they can be worth something I guess haha.

      2. I wish there was a ???? for Pancakes comment. There is a high correlation with certain pesticides and certain types of cancers. Look up take for example the case of guadeloupe and martinique in the west indies. Both have really high incidence (more than normal) of breast and prostate cancer. And it is interesting that the locations were the ocurrence is the highest correlates with areas were banana plantations were done.

        Neither of the islands have nuclear energy.


        P.S. I am still bothered by “cancer-cell” and the longest living neutrophil ever recorded in history… Funny how “once upon a time: life” is a lot older with less information (base on all the new things we have discovered in the last 20 years) and yet I still find it more accurate than this series.

  2. Something tells me someone cast Akira Ishida as Cancer on purpose, because this isn’t the first time he’s played an ordinary guy whose mere existence makes him a threat to humanity.

  3. You’d be surprised that medical students gave a thumbs up for Hataraku Saibou and this episode even got a seal of approval by a research fellow at a medical university. Links below.


    This episode gave me conflicting thoughts about cancer, anthromorphisation of cells and also our body as a whole. Kudos to the original manga writer and the production staff for creating such a cancer where the back story makes you want to empathise. Than it dawns upon you that cancer itself has taken lives and as a biology student, we did learn about oncology albeit not as detailed as oncology majors. I know that they should not exist in our body and they should be eliminated at the very fist signs of detection.

    That said…
    I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it or over reading and thinking things… It suddenly dawned on me that if we were to have a political analogue of our body, it would be close to that of an authoritarian utilitarian regime. Where the dregs of the society are weeded out for the good and betterment of the society and everything works towards the proper functioning of the body.

    Henrietta Brix
    1. The haunting idea that comes with anthropomorphic cells is that real life ones lack any kind of judgment or emotional capabilities or wills of their own, and they automatically work in groups, sacrificing any individual right or will to speak their own minds. This creates a very unsettling commentary underneath the comedic, light tone.

  4. Cancer cell’s can live a peaceful existence just outside the body. There are countless cancer cell lines that “made it” to become immortal cell lines that are cloned forever in labs cultured in rich growth broths free of any immune system. The most famous of witch is the HeLa cell line who unfortunately killed its original host but in a somewhat legal gray zone became a major part of scientific research. These cancer cells go on to become so used to lab conditions that scientists have to be careful to control their clone number to keep it from getting too high as they start to mutate to adapt to a lazy existence. Some high clone depth cell lines mutate to the point where they are no longer very similar to human cells and have many adaptations for lab conditions.

    Many of these cancer cells also become forever immortalized by being digitized into a whole genome sequence done so many times over we very likely have a perfect picture of at least one state of the cell’s genetic blueprint. Very few people ever get their normal cells sequenced so frequently and in depth (high coverage). They also get replicated and frozen across the world being used every day in labs for important research into everything from cancer therapy to drug safety testing. Other interesting thing is cancer cells show that human cells can be biologically immortal we just haven’t figured out how to make body cells infinitely renewing without them eventually making too many copy errors that results in dysfunctional cancer cells.

    So if we ever find a way to cure almost every type of cancer we will probably also be able to greatly extend lifespans by taking some of the brakes off (aging itself related to anti-cancer mechanisms).

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