WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 10 of Cells at Work! CODE BLACK, "Stomach Ulcer, Friendship, and Loss," now streaming on Funimation
Viewers knew coming into the Cells At Work! spinoff that CODE BLACK would be much darker than the original -- and nothing so far in the series has disproven this. From the start, all of the cells have been overworked and under-resourced while the body they're in barely hangs in there itself, failing under the stress and poor health habits it suffers. Because of this we also knew, on some level, that a lot of the cells wouldn't survive for very long -- that's the unfortunate reality of this body. Still, we didn't think that we'd be saying goodbye to a beloved cell so soon, as is the case in Episode 10.
Bacteria Causes Lethal Danger in the Stomach
In the episode, an emergency pulls all of the available Red Blood Cells to the stomach where the grumpy Gastric Chief Cell is having trouble keeping the gastric acid under control. As a result, an ulcer has formed, and the mucosal layer is damaged and being eaten away by the acid. Oxygen isn't flowing well, either, so it's up to the Red Blood Cells to provide all of the oxygen that they have.
It's extremely dangerous for the Red Blood Cells to be here with the stomach in such a fragile condition and with their numbers dwindling because of the lava-like gastric acid. Every time there's damage to the mucosa layer, it's up to the subchiefs and platelets to repair the damage as quickly as possible. After seeing two Red Blood Cells get doused in gastric acid, AC1677 runs away to hide in a capillary vein.
With the mucosa layer continuously getting damaged, the Red Blood Cells frantically race over to the stomach to deliver oxygen, but it only becomes more and more dangerous with layer after layer getting eaten by the acid. At this point, an enormous sea snake-like creature erupts from the gastric acid, Helicobacter pylori, which damages the mucosa by secreting VacA toxins. The White Blood Cells have no choice but to launch themselves at the bacterium.
One Cell Sacrifice Ends in Tragedy
When AC1677 returns to AA2153, the two of them have to run for their lives, lugging the oxygen tanks. Acid shoots out and AA2153 pushes AC1677 out of the way but AA2153 doesn't escape unscathed: his leg is burned.
H.pylori is a formidable foe until Clarithromycin, an antibiotic, comes to the rescue by inhibiting the protein synthesis of bacteria. They celebrate but Gastric Chief Cell knows that this is only a small reprieve. As long as the body remains this way, there's no way their working conditions will improve.
The two Red Blood Cells bolt as the tremors worsen but AA2153's injury prohibits him from escaping the collapsing floor. Without hesitation, AC1677 grabs the back of AA2153's collar and yanks him back, but this propels him forward... straight into the gastric acid. AA2153 desperately searches for AC1677 but Gastric Chief Cell pulls him back, ordering the platelets to seal the wound, thus closing off any means of AC1677's escape.
AA2153's Spirit Is Broken By AC1677's Death
Eventually, AA2153 gets back home and says to himself, out loud in the dark and empty room, that he's done -- he doesn't want to work anymore. Was it entirely unpredictable? No. On some level, both of these Red Blood Cells knew how dangerous it would be to work even in the most harmless part of the body because the entire system is in such poor condition. AC1677 was always the first to suggest running away but he has always had his friend's back and even though he was scared, he was brave when it mattered.
What's sadder is that although AA2153 has just suffered a great loss, he's given no time to mourn in CODE BLACK. He's supposed to brush it off because death is normalized, expected even. No matter what trials and obstacles AA2153 has faced, he's always stood strong but the death of his best friend has finally broken him.