How would you rate episode 18 of
Dr. Stone ?
Well that escalated quickly.
I get that the pressure needs to be kept on to keep the story running but the pacing of this episode felt a little odd coming off the conclusion of the Village Arc. Sure the last few were a bit slow with them being more backstory than forward progress, but even with trying to kick the story back on track this felt like an especially poor transition from a series that so far had been pretty good on moving between story arcs. Writing wise the pieces are there. I can buy Gen's return being predicated on leading a path, but he's already been back and influencing events for a bit, and it doesn't feel like Hyoga and his weird band of muscle men were waiting for a signal or anything. They merely show up and immediately attack. Everything that happens after is pretty good but would've made far more sense if there was even a semblance of downtime, but apparently the idea is that any downtime would've left them better prepared and thus was eliminated from the story. It's just so very clunky and distracts from the rest of the episode.
Also distracting are Hyoga's crew of dumb strong men. Emphasis on men here. Tsukasa so far has been very clear on who he deemed worthy of reviving, and based on character design alone I don't think proto Mad Max thugs meet that criteria. Either his idea of how dangerous adults are has been sacrificed in order to build military strength or we're meant to believe these are very very developed teenagers. It's not a great sign for the rest of the arc to start off with multiple distractions like this. Even when getting into their purpose it feels shallow compared to the previous writing. They're nameless mooks meant to highlight how superior Hyoga is. They're also an excuse for Senku to quickly establish that the katana, favored weapon of every anime fan, is of course still the strongest weapon known to man. While this kind of weapon making does fit into the science story it feels more like crafting an entire scenario to force a personal favorite to front and center than the more natural flow of creations we've seen till now.
Which again, seem to exist only to further inflate Hyoga as a threat. Honestly Gen's warning that Hyoga was on Tsukasa's level should've been enough. Instead we're forced to sit through Hyoga talking down to everything to establish that he's just that good. Attacking a spear on a narrow path? We can already assume that he understands that as he's got his own spear. Waiting for a storm being too obvious? His confidence in his own abilities overcomes that so we don't need the degrade the mooks to prove that. It could've been a simple conversation between he and Gen. It really is a case of trying so hard to quickly develop Hyoga that all other aspects of the episode are sucked dry and end up over-inflating what was already easily understood.
That's not to say the entire episode was a bust. While the surface level stuff had issues the larger meta-battle between Senku and Tsukasa remains as interesting as ever. Senku's fake rifle gambit was a brilliant continuation of the smoke and mirrors approach that has been used to stave off the inevitable conflict. It's even more fitting that Gen's true allegiance is openly revealed this episode as we go further into this kind of stage magician warfare. Each deception can only last so long and Gen being knowingly involved presents another question to how Tsukasa runs things. Will he be even more cautious knowing there are now two tricksters working to hide their actual strength? Or will his response to further deception be as quick and forceful as possible and simply smash through any attempts to further delay his conquest? I'm sure the next episode will address this as it heavily impacts the way in which Senku has to prepare.
With the further introduction of weapons I feel that the series really wants us to believe that the race to guns is the endpoint to the conflict, but that's gotta be a red herring. It made sense back when it was Senku and Tsukasa on a personal level, but now each of them have entire populations at their disposal. Even if he did create them, Tsukasa is not the type to simply stand down. He would force Senku and his people to use them, and that feels like something Senku agrees against introducing to the Stone World. Going forward I expect the story to keep the idea of rifles front and center, but I'll be looking for hints we're given about what Senku's real plan is going to be. I just hope that whatever it is that this arc reveals it by falling back to the more stable writing and pacing that I've come to enjoy.
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