Before I begin this Dr. Stone review proper, I find it imperative to discuss one of the geniuses behind it; namely, writer Riichiro Inagaki. As it happens, Mr. Inagaki remains the sole individual who grasped striking distance in sparking any athletic interest (in this case, American football), namely in his previous Weekly Shonen Jump hit Eyeshield 21. Possibly my favorite manga in high school, this collaboration with Yusuke “God” Murata (One-Punch Man) remains one of my all-time favorite manga in its unbelievably fun cast and possibly the most invigorating artwork I’ve ever witnessed in the medium, with every double-spread a cathartic victory or soul-destroying loss, every battle between running backs and linebackers a duel between gladiators. This was all thanks to its easy-to-digest rule set, and so even those alien to sports (i.e., me) could get into it. Releasing on a bimonthly schedule, every book was awaited with bated breath, with the nail-biting four-volume Shinryuji Naga game one of my all-time favorite manga memories (a decade ago; how time flies!).
Needless to say, Inagaki’s return to Shonen Jump last year with another collaboration in Dr. Stone – this time a science-based race for survival, illustrated by South Korean manhwa artist Boichi (Sun-Ken Rock) — was met with much jubilation on my part; however, that’s what makes this review so difficult to pen. No, this isn’t say Dr. Stone is a crushing disappointment — in fact, it’s one of my most anticipated installments in VIZ’s Weekly Shonen Jump — it’s just…well, let’s put this way: certain storyline events within the very near future render this first volume in an entirely new light, and it’s difficult elaborating my true feelings without giving much away (after all, I can’t just go “no, guys, see, this really picks up in Volume 3!” the whole time, can I?)
In that sense, it’s best to start with the here and now, so let’s break down the synopsis: muscle-head Taiju Oki and science prodigy Senku Ishigami are living out their high school lives – the former prepping his love confession, the latter tinkering in the Science Club – until an ominous flash of light turns Earth’s population into stone (and yes, as we learn from a shocking cameo, not even Donald Trump is spared). Thousands of years pass, and both boys miraculously emerge from their petrified shells to discover nature has completely taken over, with the rest of humanity still preserved and any and all signs of civilization crumbled to dust. Combining brain and brawn, two old friends join forces to restart civilization by finding a cure.
While I enjoyed these first seven chapters in Weekly Shonen Jump, there were admittedly two factors impeding my full engagement; namely, accelerated pacing and that one of the leads (Senku) is *far* more interesting than the other (Taiju). We’ll get to the latter momentarily, but upon revisiting said chapters in this volume, I was surprised in encountering the opposite problem I recently elaborated with One Piece Vol. 87; as in, a story I felt progressed a little too quickly within a weekly format felt perfectly condensed in this opening volume. We could, perhaps, cite chapter two’s sudden time-skip as Inagaki not wanting to drag the story’s feet (lest he fall victim to the editor’s axe), but you can’t deny it’s compellingly succinct: a goal is defined (finding a cure for humanity, beginning with Taiju’s love Yuzuhira), the villain is introduced (Tsukasa Shishio, who believes a revived humanity will simply ruin this newfound paradise), and the stakes are raised appropriately for the next volume (the re-invention of gunpowder).
So, uh, who’s the real main character?
There’s still the Senku/Taiju dysfunction, though, and while Inagaki’s author note designates Senku as the protagonist, that much of the opening chapter operates from Taiju’s POV crafts an opposite impression. Let it be made clear Taiju is hardly the first one-track-mind protagonist within Shonen history – and for the record, I enjoy his humble disposition, as well as his penchant for frequently screwing Senku over — but I imagine fellow readers will quickly catch onto who’s the superior lead in Senku. His quick-thinking and endless fountain of knowledge is what drives the story, and the impressive lengths he’s achieved to properly kick-start humanity leave a far bigger impression (can you believe he correctly deduced the current date by counting for over three thousand years?). Taiju further cements this by functioning as a knucklehead — his ignorance provides a natural conduit for exposition courtesy of Senku, whose scientific deductions are broken down for readers who may find themselves as clueless as Taiju.
Still, regardless of whoever truly deserves the protagonist role, I can’t deny there’s an innate chemistry between the two: even putting the aforementioned exposition, there’s an evident mutual respect for each other’s respective strengths, which constructs a believably unshakable trust between the duo. Meanwhile, while we don’t learn enough about Yuzuhira to form much of an opinion on her, Tsukasa’s emergence as the antagonist is about what you’d expect: putting aside our suspension of disbelief that the world’s strongest high schooler can take down a pack of lions, this sort of survival scenario would clearly lead to clashing ideals; in this case, Senku’s desire to save every last human vs Tsukasa’s dream of a natural paradise for children (although it begs the question: what happens when they inevitably grow into adults?).
Dear me, I’ve written this much, and I’ve yet to discuss the art. Boichi certainly deserves more than being sidelined, as he’s a true talent. Let us dismiss any unfair comparisons with Murata simply commend not merely his skill, but just how well he crafts Inagaki’s world. His elation in drawing a primeval Japan has clearly paid off, with unbelievable detail in his petrified humans and overgrown forests (not to mention an eye for tragedy: an early sequence of a puppy barking at its frozen owner is especially heartbreaking, and may be a little too tough for some readers). Some have taken issue with his proportional work (particularly with the female cast), but I can never get enough of his comedic facial expressions; in fact, I suspect they’re what ultimately grant Senku the edge over Taiju. Given those “certain events” I keep hinting, Boichi’s art is a necessary talking point for the next volume, but just know for now you’re in for an artistic treat.
Overall, Dr. Stone’s first volume is a little shaky, but its initial origins hold up far better than I recall, and so we have something of a solid opening. As it happens, a quick review of volume two’s chapters thankfully means I’ll be liberated to discuss my feelings in full come this November, so I’ll leave you with this one final clue: this volume of Dr. Stone is currently deceiving you, and you’re better off letting it do so. You’ll thank me.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.