The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dr. Stone ?
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How was the first episode?
The first episode of Dr. Stone is a near panel-perfect adaptation of the manga's first couple of chapters. To my mind, this is both a boon and a bit of a missed opportunity for the anime. It's great because the Dr. Stone manga is a charming and stupendously entertaining adventure into the scientific unknown, and I'm very happy so many new fans will be able to experience all of that by watching the series. On the other hand, Dr. Stone's first act is easily the worst part of the story, and I wouldn't have minded if this production had spruced things up a bit in the transition to animation.
It's not that Dr. Stone's opening chapters are bad per se, but to me they are the shakiest part of the series' whole deal. When we first meet our heroes, we're not given much more to go on than “Senku is the slick smart one, Taiju is the loud but heroic oaf, and Yuzuriha is the girl.” Then, all of the humans (and birds) on Earth get hit by a wave that turns them to stone, and our two male protagonists spend the next three thousand years frozen in a waking nightmare as frozen statues while the planet returns to a prehistoric state of teeming wildlife. Senku awakes first, and he knows exactly what time it is because he literally counted every single second of the three thousand years he was petrified; Taiju managed to tough it out by focusing an ungodly amount of concentration on how much he loves the still frozen Yuzuriha.
You might imagine that hundreds of lifetimes worth spent fully conscious in a prison of the mind would do some kind of lasting psychological damage on a person, but nah. Being turned into statues for three and a half millennia is little more than an inconvenience for our heroes to shake off, and it isn't long before the brilliant Senku and the bold Taiju commit to using the power of science to awaken the rest of humanity and restart civilization. It's such a ridiculous and shallow setup for what will eventually become an epic and incredibly involving plot that Dr. Stone practically begs you to not think to much about it, which feels a bit like a mixed message from a show where the main hero's core motivation is to “fight fantasy with science”.
Thankfully, if you can successfully take that little voice in the back of your head that asks questions concerning logic and realistic character development and toss it into a deep well from which it cannot escape, then you'll likely have a lot of fun Dr. Stone's premiere. Even though Taiju's penchant for shouting everything he says is a bit harder to take when it's not just words on a page, he has a genuinely loveable camaraderie with Senku, and their friendship makes the pair's quest to solve the mystery of un-stonifying the world a compelling one. Senku himself is a great hero, a cocky smartass with the brains to back his ego who still manages to be immediately likable. TMS Productions and Studio 8Pan are also doing a great job of capturing artist Boichi's sharp and punchy style, which means the show still has something to offer fans who've already read the manga. The summer felt like it was off to a slow start up until now, but Dr. Stone is here to give anyone looking for a rollicking shonen adventure a good time.
This is the first time in recent memory I've watched the first episode of a shonen series without seeing anyone fight anything. There's no martial arts showdown, no giant monster invasion, not even a sporting competition to be found. It's just two dudes getting caught up in the apocalypse, waking up thousands of years later, and figuring out how to make booze. All right, there's a little more to the premiere of Dr. Stone than that, but you get my point. Right from square one, this series seems intent on doing its own thing, and that's a good sign.
Aside from a fairly unremarkable flash of light, this episode presents the end of civilization as we know it in a very cool and compelling way. The images of stone-statue people frozen in place are far more striking than any nuclear conflict or zombie horde, and the gradual decay of manmade structures is fascinating to watch. For me, though, the highlight of the moment is the unsettling realization that despite getting turned into a rock, Taiju is conscious and aware for the entire thing. The series runs through this sequence at a pretty brisk pace, but there's still enough time to contemplate the horror of being stuck in one's own mind for thousands of years. As far as individual scenes go, it's an early contender for the most memorable thing I've watched this season.
Once Taiju wakes up and reunites with Senku, Dr. Stone returns to more familiar territory. Our two protagonists have some decent chemistry, even if their personalities aren't terribly original. It's encouraging that Taiju's brute strength is balanced by a more sensitive side, and I like how confident Senku is in his intelligence, but a little more depth from both of them would go a long way. I'm also worried that Senku might turn out to be a little too clever for his own good, as nothing has really seemed to rattle him thus far. In order to really amp up the drama, Dr. Stone will need to throw these dudes off-balance from time to time, and that will be tough if Senku can just invent his way out of everything.
Aside from that concern and the big question mark over how other characters will factor into the story, I'm pleasantly surprised by what I've seen so far. I rarely have the patience to sit through more than a dozen episodes of the average shonen action series, but Dr. Stone looks like it could be a fresh “mind over matter” departure from the usual deluge of grit and fighting spirit. Even if this genre isn't your cup of tea, this series does enough things differently to be worth a shot.
Last season saw the first widely-acclaimed shonen action hit in a while with the advent of Demon Slayer. Could we be seeing a repeat of that this season with Dr. Stone? Based on the first episode, I think that's entirely possible. While its first episode isn't the stunning achievement that Demon Slayer's first episode was, it has plenty enough going for it to quickly earn itself a broad audience.
The most immediately apparent merit is that the series looks pretty sharp despite artistic styling that is about as generic for shonen action titles as they come. TMS Entertainment is a studio that has rarely been associated with top-tier technical merits, but this is one of their best-looking titles to date. The scene with Taijo and Senku in the future have a visual verve to them of a kind often-sought by shonen action titles but rarely achieved. Everything that's not a stone statue just feels alive. Some of this effect is doubtlessly due to a bright color scheme which isn't exactly the normal light-hearted anime look and definitely isn't normal for post-apocalyptic tales. It's almost as if the artists behind the title are trying to imply that the world is richer without humanity or its trappings.
It also helps that at least one of the two protagonists is not the normal shonen action lead. Taiju is unquestionably the stereotypical meathead, but a likable one; he's a guy who gets things done as long as they don't require much thinking. Senku, on the other hand, is the smart one, but rather than being timid he's acerbic. While he may look down on Taiju a bit for being an oaf, he also freely acknowledges Taiju's strengths and merits and recognizes that he's the ideal working partner for the situation. His expressions are also great ones; the smug but also relieved expression he shows in the screen shot I'm using is a good example of that.
The premise behind the setting is also a very different twist for shonen action series and offers up some fascinating questions. Some of the flashbacks suggest that the stoning phenomenon was affecting birds before it affected humans, but it didn't appear to affect other animals. Why would that be? And of course, what caused it in the first place? That it only affects human flesh, and not clothing as well (which petrification effects typically do) is also interesting. On the negative side, I have trouble believing that even 3,700 years is enough time to wipe out all signs of advanced human civilization, even with natural disasters unchecked by human hands figured in.
This project is helmed by Shinya Iino, who is a first-timer as a series director. Some wise choices on scene selection and timing are also evident here, so that might be a name to remember.
It definitely says something that I was never once bored while watching the first episode of Dr. Stone and that even someone as hyper-aware of time as me didn't check how many minutes were left of the episode until the end credits began to stream. Since I didn't love the manga (I'm not wild about how it treats its female characters), I wasn't expecting that of this episode, so color me pleasantly surprised.
Part of what really works about this is the way it mingles flashbacks and scenes of the slowly-changing world with the main story, that everyone was turned to stone 3,700 years ago (our present day) and two high school boys managed to hold on to their consciousness during all that time in order to eventually resume living. For Senku, it was a matter of pride – he's a scientist through and through, and he's not going to let some inexplicable phenomenon be the end of him. His friend Taiju, on the other hand, was on the verge of finally confessing his love to his friend Yuzuriha, and just before he managed to, the stone encased them. Damned if he's going to die before he follows through on that, and it's the thought of seeing Yuzuriha again that keeps him alive. When he and Senku eventually manage to break out of their stone shells (thanks to a bat guano solution that's been dripping on them for centuries), they're the only humans left in their region of Japan, something Senku's aiming to change.
The motivations that kept both boys conscious say a lot about them as people, and while neither of them are particularly innovative in terms of character type, they are who's necessary for the plot to move forward. Taiju's a little annoying; he's the type of character who was loud even in the silent medium of manga, so his yelling can be a bit much now that he has a voice (although no where near the level of Asta from Black Clover, as a comparison), but the two seem to have a genuine friendship, which is nice. There are some serious inconsistencies with the world building that bother me, however, such as why humans and birds are the only two species that seem to have been turned to stone, but those may be taken care of in later storylines – with the question of whether or not people who did not remain conscious down the years can still be freed and revived. This needs to work a few things out (and I'm unreasonably annoyed by the fact that Senku's hair makes him look like he was pulled out of a vegetable patch), but for traditional shounen adventure, I suspect this is going to be good.
As a popular Shonen Jump manga with a very unique hook, Dr. Stone was one of my most-anticipated properties coming into this season. The story's conceit is just so novel and compelling that I couldn't not be excited - a shonen property where the engine of advancement is not training to develop physical powers, but rebuilding society altogether sounds inherently fascinating, and I was eager to see how the story turned scientific experimentation into hot-blooded drama. This first episode certainly isn't perfect, but it absolutely succeeds in capturing the inherent strength of its central idea. If Naruto is “shonen ninja world” and My Hero Academia is “shonen superhero world,” then Dr. Stone might well be “shonen scientist world.”
The first half of this episode focuses on the leadup to society's collapse, as our protagonists Senku and Taiju demonstrate their personalities and firm friendship in the context of Taiju confessing to his crush. While I wasn't immediately sold on Senku's personality (his pride and one-liners often make it seem like he's basically feeling out a punchy catchphrase, rather than actually communicating), Taiju quickly proves himself to be an extremely charming big lug. Shonen's propensity for loud shouting generally just irritates me, but Taiju's self-awareness and earnest enthusiasm won me over, and he served as an excellent audience avatar once Senku started explaining his experiments. And the second half of this episode is basically just one snappy breakthrough after another, with the pair's efforts to distill a petrification antidote falling somewhere between the appeal of a clever training arc and a game of Minecraft.
As far as the production goes, Dr. Stone looks polished and attractive, with bold, thick-lined character art and generally engaging expression work. This episode's animation wasn't so strong as to be a genuine hook, but to be honest, this episode's drama didn't really lend itself to animation; it was mostly just Senku explaining things and Taiju reacting to things, along with an engaging final montage of the two committing to a full year of experimentation. Whether Dr. Stone will be able to translate its largely cerebral conflicts into compelling visual drama remains to be seen, but this episode's visual design was certainly strong enough to avoid being any kind of dramatic hindrance.
On the whole, Dr. Stone's relatively archetypal characters and dialogue mean it likely won't win over people who aren't amenable to shonen conventions, but its terrific central conceit and polished visual design earn it a firm recommendation for anyone who enjoys the genre. I certainly do, and I'm very excited to see where this creative adventure leads.
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