This article contains spoilers.
Guardian: The Lonely and Great God star Kim Go-eun returns to our screens as the titular character of Yumi’s Cells, a colourful and charming adaptation of a webtoon which mixes live action and animation. Its 14-episode season is off to a strong start.
A sensationally popular webtoon that spanned 512 episodes spread across five-and-a- half years and garnered over 3 billion views, Yumi’s Cells follows the romantic trials of office worker Yumi (Kim Go-eun). She is in her early 30s and has been focused on her work ever since a bad break-up three years earlier.
Her hardened heart starts to thaw when she develops a crush on her sweet colleague Chae Ugi (Shinee’s Minho), who even starts invading her dreams. She quietly holds on to her longing until Ugi starts to hover around her, offering her lifts home all the way to Ilsan, a satellite city of Seoul, the South Korean capital, and inviting her to a local flower festival.
As luck would have it, Yumi isn’t the only woman in the office set on Ugi. The effervescent and extroverted Ruby (Lee Yoo-bi) keeps inconveniently appearing and Yumi soon finds herself at war with her – each knowing what the other wants without ever saying it out loud.
So far, so familiar. What sets Yumi’s Cells apart is that also we get a front-row seat to view the turbulence happening within Yumi through her emotions, visualised as cartoon characters in a world inside her head.
Somewhere between Inside Out and The Smurfs, Yumi’s “cells” are decked out in blue hooded unitards and represent her different emotions, interests and physical conditions. “Emotion” and “Rationality” try to keep the ship steady in rough waters, while “Hunger” and “Anxiety” have a knack for showing up at the worst moment.
Not all the cells are in action at the start of the show. “Fashion” has been in cell jail ever since Yumi bought a cute 70,000 won (US$59) dress, which justified a Thai holiday to show it off and a spending spree that eventually cost her three months’ salary. Meanwhile, “Love”, seen as the superstar of the bunch, has been in a coma ever since Yumi’s heartbreak.
After a chaotic day at the flower festival, which involves agonising over her outfit, dashing to get a taxi and sprinting away from Ruby when she makes a surprise and most unwelcome appearance, Yumi finally gets to have Ugi to herself as they settle down to lunch in a nice restaurant.
Minho in a still from Yumi’s Cells.
He sheepishly asks her what kind of guys she likes and, just as Yumi and her cells dare to hope that her dream will come true, Ugi reveals his true intentions – he wants to set her up on a date with his friend Goo Woong (Ahn Bo-hyun).
Crushed, Yumi’s cells do everything they can to stop her from breaking down there and then.
Another bombshell drops when Ugi shares a secret with her. There’s someone he likes in the office, but it’s not Ruby, as Yumi had feared – it’s a male colleague.
Ahn Bo-hyun in a still from Yumi’s Cells.
In a daze, Yumi accepts the blind date proposition and she’s on autopilot over the next few days, blankly completing her tasks and going through the motions of everyday life. When her behaviour starts to look a little strange to others, “Emotion” brings out a fake reaction puppet and Yumi begins to overreact to everything as she hides her pain.
Goo Woong, a designer working in a small indie game company, sports a goatee and wears shorts and sandals daily. Though he claims to a colleague that he has dressed up for the occasion, he rocks up to his blind date with Yumi in his usual casual attire.
When he first sees Yumi, he is dumbstruck, but Yumi – still reeling from her disappointment – is in no mood to deal with the monotone, awkward Goo Woong. We get to see inside Goo Woong’s head too, which is currently fogged up as it draws a blank. Finally, a solitary cell breaks through the mist – his bad sense of humour.
Lee Yoo-bi in a still from Yumi’s Cells.
A few bad jokes add to an awkward start to their date, but then the unexpected happens – Goo Woong, after calming down, turns out to be interesting and thoughtful and Yumi’s emotions start to warm to his scruffy charm.
First among them is “Hunger”, who sets off Yumi’s growling stomach when he starts blowing a tune on his belly pipe. Goo Woong notices and brings her to a great restaurant.
Though the level of the animation isn’t of a very high degree, the world inside Yumi’s head hews closely to the design from the webtoon. The characters are lively and the jokes, while occasionally a little childish, fly thick and fast.
Kim Go-eun (left) and Ahn Bo-hyun in a still from Yumi’s Cells.
There was plenty of speculation as to who would take on the leading role, and Kim Go-eun turns out to be a solid choice to play Yumi, bringing just the right mix of relatable, awkward and cute.
Speaking of awkward, fans of cringeworthy situations as seen in shows like The Office will find plenty to like here.
Yumi’s Cells is streaming on iQiyi.Internet Explorer Channel Network