So it came to pass Richard continued his form of being terrible in keeping with the times and so waited for a sale to randomly purchase and watch the first series of Dr. Stone... Yes, it’s true. Such is the way of the world that I come to many things but only eventually, for good or ill, and I have to say with Dr. Stone is very much for the good.
Science prodigy Senku wakes up 3,700 years in the future, finally breaking out of the shell of stone that covered him, just as it covers all the people of the world. Discovering the secret to breaking the stone shell, he rescues his friend, Taiju, who has seemingly limitless stamina to augment Senku's incredible brain. Together they plan to break the stone shell of all those who wait to be reawakened, especially Yuzuriha, who Taiju fancies the pants off. However, in true scientific fashion they have to set priorities and one of the first is waking the muscle-monster that is Tsukasa; and dammit if Tsukasa wants to create a new world, a world of strength, where the adults are destroyed before their stone shells can be broken and so starts the war between brains and brawn.
Something about Dr. Stone caught me immediately and it felt like watching Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, or Berserk, in the sense that each episode slips by effortlessly and entertainingly without you even noticing. In fact the series if anything felt a little bit like FMAB mixed in an alembic with Cells at Work; where Cells at Work taught you about the body while having fun, Dr. Stone teaches you science – there's even a disclaimer at the end that states don’t do this at home - while having a tremendous amount of knockabout fun. It also has a surprisingly strong story, and like FMAB is willing to allow aspects of it to progress naturally, to unfold its narrative with slow care not just smack us around the face with backstory, to the point where we often go back in time but never in a laboured way, always one that enriches the world we find ourselves in as it grounds us and contextualises the stone world.
It’s also a world that goes well beyond the opening with Senku and his two friends opposing the strength of Tsukasa; in fact soon it is Senku discovering a small island community, with its own budding scientist, Chrome, yet this is a place lost in time and rituals, where the inhabitants distrust Senku; yet it’s here where our story really takes off and Dr. Stone introduces a series of characters that are engaging and themselves engage in what becomes the core of the series. Yes, there is the ever present threat of Tsukasa’a muscular army, but Dr. Stone thrives on having Senku develop technology, bringing back to life two-million years' worth of science; meanwhile various narrative strands ensure that our side characters continue to develop alongside the story alongside how Senku brings technology back to life. It’s done at a breathless yet effortless pace so that throughout the 24-episodes that make up the series there’s never a moment to be bored; entertainment comes as standard. Importantly, Senku has depth to him, as well as a bit of an edge; at times he may seem distracted from the world but this is his overarching curiosity, and while it can make him slightly insensitive, Senku is nevertheless psychologically insightful about the characters he meets (without ever being smug) and you feel he genuinely cares about the friends he finds. And we have reason to enjoy the wider cast, as they feel right even when they might be of a kind, like the young Suika who wears a watermelon as a mask: it could be so-so cutsey but it is always charming and even her watermelon mask becomes narratively important, so that many aspects all fold in together to be richer than you might at first think. That said it’s also solid shonen fun, not veering into radical territory but working because it does what it does so very well. Even towards the end of the series where a grand device is being developed – and yes, we have a road map for its development – and some of the story and characters become subsumed by it, the sheer entertainment value it provides more than makes up for this.
Thankfully the story never tries to be too tricksy and even our villain never seems too one-dimensional, though to be fair we barely see Tsukasa as the story continues: the focus is on Senku and the island village, developing a greater understanding of the world, and the return of technology to fight the war of science against strength to come. In this the series is intriguing because though it ends, it doesn't with the bang you might expect, but in the best possible way because it’s very much the first act, the setup, it knows when to bow out rather than hurrying into conflict and what fun it is.
Is it perfect? A few small missteps perhaps; certainly one attack on the island feels rushed and one of the army of strength appears out of nowhere and seems just too conveniently destructive; also Tsukasa’s army when we see glimpses of it seems to not be as young as you think it should be, considering Tsukasa wants to rid the world of adults that he believes will just try and restore the same old order.
The animation does a good job, too, hiding some cost-cutting aspects, the still images never lingered but instead kept to the side; visually there’s a lot to play with here, with a world strewn with forgotten stone forms and secret places to explore for the sake of science! Senku of course with his green and white hair stands out, but again this is visually referenced elsewhere, so not just good old manga hair.
Dr. Stone gives us a rogues gallery of characters, many who are recognisable, but shows enormous panache and effortlessly entertains, as Senku would say, one billion percent.