In my previous review for Dr. Stone’s first volume, I stated “certain events” prevented me from disclosing the truth behind Dr. Stone’s opening chapters, namely to the effect that it was “tricking” its readers. With said hoodwink come and gone, it’s time to spill the beans: everything up until the mid-volume Chapter 12 — wherein Senku’s faux-death initiates a flashback depicting his emergence from stone stasis – was but a prequel. Fans of writer Riichiro Inagaki’s previous work Eyeshield 21 will certainly recognize the “Epilogue of Prologue” naming convention — which marked Sena’s graduation into embracing football – but Dr. Stone seizes the moment and establishes a reboot; consequently, Taiju and Yuzuhira are, for now, essentially booted out of the story, with Senku fully taking the reins as the man destined to de-petrify humanity.
Given certain hints within the following chapters and how the story’s progressed since, I cannot fully commit to the cynical theory most readers held upon the initial Weekly Shonen Jump publication: that this was a forced direction – be it editorial guidance or writer’s desperation — to avoid the ever-looming axe. However, I cannot deny two evident factors: a) how much Dr. Stone improved following Taiju and Yuzuhira’s absence, and b) the blatantly clumsiness of their exit. It was my hope upon receiving this volume that, having previously relished its subsequent chapters week after week, I’d revisit this volume enlightened with the knowledge of what, exactly, Inagaki was attempting with the serial’s genesis. But therein lies the problem: the Dr. Stone of today and the Dr. Stone of early/mid-2017 may as well be a completely different series not least of all in cast, but in pacing, narrative, and most importantly, engagement.
Let’s not deny there weren’t problems with the set-up hitherto: Taiju is far too one-note to share the protagonist role with Senku, and we aren’t invested enough in Yuzuhira to care either way. However, while I am not about to tell the writer how they should write their story, that the shift’s enacted this early renders it far too abrupt to accept. One may claim that the true story unveiling now depicts Inagaki’s confidence — and perhaps it does — but Dr. Stone sacrificing two weak leads in the midst of accelerated pacing portrays a far shakier, directionless impression. I possess little doubt Inagaki planned this far ahead, but with the payoff for Taiju and Yuzuhira nowhere in sight, Dr. Stone becomes a much harder sell. Even despite their thematic purpose, that I even have to discuss this brings their presence into question.
Basically, the girl and the brown-haired guy? Uh, pretend they never existed.
This briskness has other consequences: on a conceptual level, Tsukasa’s transition into antagonist is certainly sensible – if humanity was already corrupt once, how could the pragmatic cynic trust them avoiding the path of crookedness once more? There’s evidence for a sympathetic villain right there, and to Inagaki’s credit, we do get effective scenes of how Senku and Tsukasa may have, once upon a time, may’ve become friends. However, while Tsukasa’s dark commitment to smashing human-turned-statues began in the previous volume, his transition into villain happens far too quickly for my tastes, and it’s almost as hard to believe as the character — who need I remind you that, despite being Japan’s strongest high schooler, he’s still a teenager — taking on a pack of lions bare-handed. (I know, I know: suspension of disbelief and shonen go hand-in-hand, but let’s enforce a believable narrative catalyst while we’re at it.)
Not that the Senku flashback doesn’t soften the blow; if anything, that it’s this effective at turning the series onto its head may be the volume’s most jarring moment. Look no further than the moment he “reunites” with Taiju — while our brainy scientist’s certainly no stranger to expression, he’s far too logistic to bother depicting actual emotion. But with his solitary quest for survival reaching its inevitable limit, the discovery of his best friend’s preserved statue elicits an undeniable earnestness; in other words, Dr. Stone has finally deciphered the formula for a beating heart. The abruptness of the following split still stings, but it reaffirms Senku’s proper position as protagonist.
Regardless, this volume only has one chapter to prove its reboot worth, functioning only as a preview. We learn earlier there are other un-petrified people out there, and we finally meet one at the very end: Kohaku, a primitive warrior who can go toe-to-toe with Tsukasa’s monstrous strength. From her primeval dialogue to Tsukasa’s deduction, the gears begin to click on her role — having no prior experience with science, her encounter with Senku lays the groundwork for our hero’s plans…provided a most unexpected confession doesn’t throw a monkey wrench, anyway. Will this spell Senku’s undoing, or can she be successfully recruited into the world of experimentation and mathematics?
Make no mistake: while Senku’s finally free from his shackles and Boichi’s art remains delectable, Dr. Stone has stumbled its introduction. As a reviewer, all I can do is impart my subjective impressions upon you, the reader; as a fan, however, it is taking every ounce of restraint not to wave my fanboy flag and yell, “wait and see! Wait and see!” Whatever Inagaki’s purposes may’ve been, it’s a shame things got off on the wrong foot, and I’m not about to expect the doubtful to invest into a potential failure. For those who have faith in my manga taste, however, that little flag is all I have to offer. Wait and see, my readers. Wait and see.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Full Disclaimer: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.