It’s quite strange to think that TMS Entertainment’s anime adaptation of Dr. STONE is already over. I began my career here on this website by talking about Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi’s original Weekly Shonen Jump manga, and the various anime announcements since then have been a constant feature of my daily work on the site. But now it’s all over. The Dr. STONE anime has come and gone – how well did it fair?
In the beginning, things seemed pretty good. I tuned in pretty much every week to check out the latest episode and was consistently left impressed with and enthused by TMS Entertainment’s work on the adaptation.
This was because one of my biggest questions going into the Dr. STONE anime was how the studio would handle the original manga’s first arc. It’s widely accepted that the initial ‘Stone World’ arc isn’t the series’ best, as Taiju’s outlandish personality is abrasive to some and the content of the arc appears largely inconsequential to the overall plot for quite a while.
In fact, this initial arc was what always prevented me from recommending the manga wholeheartedly and without caveats back when the anime didn’t exist – any recommendations had to come with the age-old cop-out ‘it gets better, trust me.’
But, somehow, TMS Entertainment managed to transform this otherwise lackluster narrative arc – at least, in comparison to the rest of the manga – into something genuinely entertaining. Part of this comes down to the production. Art director Tomoyuki Aoki and color designer Fusako Nakao particularly stand out thanks to their lush, vibrant background art that really captures the primeval nature of the setting.
Combining the three-fold talents of composers Tatsuya Kato, Hiroaki Tsutsumi and Yuki Kanesaka also wasn’t such a crazy idea after all, as it is by grouping together their prowess and expertise that the Dr. STONE anime’s varied and captivating soundtrack was created, ranging from epic orchestral arrangements to upbeat hip-hop and electronica. Both volumes are also available for streaming on Spotify, by the way.
The sheer power and appeal of the work of the various staff members over at TMS Entertainment is almost enough to paper over the slightly conceited nature of this initial arc. Certainly, experiencing all of this for the first time in the first couple of episodes was enough to blow me away.
This would explain why the studio was able to get away with a more-or-less one-to-one approach to adapting the original Dr. STONE manga by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi, while a more drastic, compressed method along the lines of Studio Orange’s work on BEASTARS was always available to them as an alternative.
Nevertheless, the format of an anime episode also works wonders for the flaws of this initial arc. The fact is that following that initial arc in manga form week by week, as I did back in 2017, inevitably made it feel much more drawn out and inconsequential. Compare that to the standard 24-minute runtime of an episode of the Dr. STONE anime (including OP and ED sequences), which usually fits in around three chapters, and the difference is clear.
But the honeymoon period was never going to last forever, and once the Dr. STONE anime had gotten the Stone World arc out of the way – firmly introducing us to our main protagonists and antagonists, Senku and Tsukasa – then moving into the Village arc, things quickly started to turn sour.
What first became evident was a significant drop in overall production quality and consistency. To a certain extent, this is inevitable on any show, and most especially on a two-cour show such as Dr. STONE. But for however much I may understand the realities of production, it would be impossible for me to ignore the blatant missteps – most especially the continuing degradation of in-betweens and general proliferation of increasingly off-model character art.
This reaches a notable low point in episode 18, wherein the difference between the key animation and regular scenes is starkly apparent. Thankfully, however, things never get quite that bad again.
That is not to say that TMS Entertainment was somehow caught unaware by the realities of anime production and the production schedule of the Dr. STONE anime. The studio has far too long of a history producing and creating anime for that to be possible. Hence why the show orientated itself towards more comedic moments during the Village arc and particularly in the second half, utilizing chibi versions of the characters to heighten this effect.
I’ll admit that I’ve long detested this practice in anime and, therefore, wasn’t particularly pleased when the Dr. STONE anime started to use it so often. If it can save precious time and resources, then I’m all for it, but an overreliance on the technique makes its practical purpose all the more evident and its comedic impact less and less effective.
Tied in with this technique is the use of still frames, ‘traced’ from the original manga, that never quite do Boichi’s detailed art justice and thus fail to have much of an effect on a fan of the original manga.
But, then again, a lot of this isn’t TMS Entertainment’s fault. The original manga itself begins to rely more and more on comedy and comedic character interactions heading into the Village arc, and there is a noticeable slowdown in pacing as Riichiro Inagaki’s story really begins to focus on the minutiae of scientific progress and discovery.
It also begins to stay in one place – Senku’s ‘Kingdom of Science’ and lab just outside the village – meaning that we don’t get the same variety of locales that precisely allowed the staff involved with the background art to flex their muscles in the initial, much more active first arc.
Even the music team’s efforts seem slightly wasted as the same character themes and tracks begin to play in each episode, almost mechanically, precisely because the same kind of story – scientific progress and discovery – is being told week in and week out.
Even so, there are a few points on which I can’t quite forgive TMS Entertainment for their failings on the Dr. STONE anime.
Firstly, the fact that all of this could have been avoided with a better production schedule. Ufotable are showing the way forward in this respect. Secondly, the fact that just because the manga did it a certain way doesn’t mean that that will work out in an anime. Just look at Orange’s work on BEASTARS for a lesson on that. But, most of all, I can’t quite bring myself to forgive the studio for their lackluster version of the Byakuya story, contained within episodes 16 and 17.
It would be an understatement to say that the story of Byakuya and the ISS crew is my favorite part of the original manga. In fact, I’d call it my favorite moment in manga of the past decade. There’s just something about the emotional resonance of it all – the crew’s determination in the face of pure despair, Byakuya’s blind belief that his adopted son will prevail – that hit me hard back when I read it in the original manga in 2017.
Of course, the fact that I was living in Japan at the time and followed it as it unfolded in real-time in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump also makes it particularly memorable. But I’m pretty sure that Shueisha wouldn’t have minded a better Byakuya episode, either – they tried to launch a spin-off series off the back of it, after all.
Dr. STONE Anime: Jumping the Gun
In this sense, there is a clear difference in quality between the first portion of the Dr. STONE anime and the second half. Whether it was inevitable or not, it is hard to deny the significant drop-off in visual fidelity, background art, and musical variety that contributes to a show wherein the production studio really failed to allocate their time and resources in an effective way.
The thing is, though, that by the time the drop-off becomes apparent, you’ll most likely already be invested in the show’s setting, characters, and overall plot. Otherwise, why would you sit through so many episodes? Just to write a review of the show for a Japanese pop culture website? Surely not.
Hence why many viewers, including myself, will be willing to sit through the bad times in anticipation of the good. And there are good times – although I’ve been quite negative so far, it must be said that TMS Entertainment does manage to capture some of the original manga’s most exciting moments in a visceral way. The voice actors, too, always give their all and manage to craft personalities for the many characters that perfectly match what sounded in my head as I read the original manga. Oh, and all of the opening and ending songs are absolutely fire.