Things have changed a lot since I last wrote in detail about Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi’s Dr. STONE. Not only has the series changed considerably from a narrative point of view, but its profile, in general, has been raised greatly due to its ongoing anime adaptation by TMS Entertainment. With that in mind, I thought it’d be useful to return to the Dr. STONE manga with the question: is it still a masterpiece?
Contains spoilers for the Dr. STONE manga up to chapter 115.
The last time I checked in with the Dr. STONE manga, Senku had just become chieftain of the Ishigami village. With this victory, he not only obtained a ready source labor to expand his scientific ambitions but also found a sizeable group of allies and collaborators, aside from his initial allies Taiju and Yuzuriha.
But that victory was short-lived, as Tsukasa’s right-hand man Hyogo arrived to attack the village, obtaining in the process the knowledge that Senku was alive, which set Senku’s Kingdom of Science and Tsukasa’s Empire of Might on the precarious round to all-out conflict – the so-called ‘Stone Wars.’
Yet, even before we move on to talk about the STONE WARS arc itself, I am aware that there were several characters introduced in the previous, Village arc that I’ve yet to talk about – which is a shame, as they really are the best of the bunch.
Characters: New and Renewed
In the latest popularity poll for the Dr. STONE manga as conducted by VIZ Media, the character of Chrome came in second, only behind Senku himself.
Chrome’s popularity is absolutely warranted, as he’s become an indispensable part of the charismatic cast of the series. In part, this is because his passion for science but without Senku’s know-how makes him similar to the viewer, in a sense – which means that we can empathize and root for him much more easily.
He’s also the perfect candidate to replace Taiju as Senku’s sidekick, as he brings a lot of the ignorance needed by the narrative to explain Senku’s thought processes and strategy, but with less of the screaming and general meatheadness that dragged down the very first arc of the series.
But Chrome has been a part of the Dr. STONE manga ever since the beginning of the Village arc, so if we want to discuss truly new character, then someone like Byakuya Ishigami would surely be the best choice.
Byakuya was introduced at the very end of the Village arc as a sort of coda to the arc itself, as well as to explore Senku’s own enigmatic backstory and upbringing. Whether or not this was planned from the beginning is unknown, but Byakuya’s presence has been absolutely instrumental in propelling the narrative forward and keeping it full of surprises.
This is because Byakuya’s narrative situation is very distinct from others we’ve encountered thus far, as he managed to avoid the petrification due to being in space on the International Space Station, which opens up lots of interesting possibilities for the narrative.
Obviously, the biggest example of this is the Ishigami village itself, but we also have such things as the Byakuya’s ‘1000 Tales’ which preserve, in a sense, the knowledge of the modern-day for the Stone World. We also shouldn’t forget the Soyuz capsule in which Byakuya and his crew returned to Earth, which becomes instrumental in the latest, Treasure Island arc.
But before we move on to discussing the latest arc, which has only really just started as of the time of writing, we ought to discuss how the Stone Wars arc itself all went down.
I remember reading the cliffhanger ending with Hyogo that bridges the Village arc and the Stone Wars in the Dr. STONE manga in Weekly Shonen Jump at the time, and I remember that it was such an exciting narrative development that I literally gasped in excitement upon reading it.
Luckily, this hype was definitely not misplaced. Inagaki and Boichi have continued to improve the Dr. STONE story arc after arc ever since its debut, pushing it to newer, greater narrative and thematic heights, and the Stone Wars arc was no different.
This arc brought back into focus the central conflict between Senku and Tsukasa, between Senku’s scientific idealism and Tsukasa’s brutal egalitarianism, and really brought home how compelling of an ideological clash that really is.
At their core, both Senku and Tsukasa want the same thing – the advancement of humanity towards a better future, but they fundamentally disagree on how to get there. Senku believes in the power of science, in that it can help us to overcome the problems that were present in the pre-petrification society, whereas Tsukasa believes that the existence of these problems in themselves proves that science isn’t enough, and that action must be taken now, when it can be taken, to solve those problems and create a better society.
I’ll be honest and say that I was never entirely convinced of this conflict when it first arose in the first arc of the Dr. STONE manga, but the Stone Wars arc was able to get me interested in it. Whether this is because I’m simply more invested in the series now than I was back then, or whether Inagaki has improved his writing since then, however, I’m not entirely sure.
But it’s certain that Senku and Tsukasa have been strengthened as characters and ideals as a result of the fantastic writing of this arc, which then gives excellent momentum to the next narrative arc, which once again takes these characters’ relationship as its basis.
Speaking of characters who’ve been strengthened, Taiju and Yuzuriha have also come out of the events of the Stone Wars arc as much more compelling and enjoyable characters.
I suppose that, in Taiju’s case, this is because we get to hear a lot less of his yelling and bravado due to his replacement, in a sense, by Chrome, but Inagaki has also toned down his persona a little bit over the course of the series.
Narratively, this can probably be explained by the fact that he’s been reunited with Yuzuriha and therefore feels much more at peace, even taking up agriculture and farming. Although they’re not in a relationship just yet, seeing how Yuzuriha has mellowed Taiju is pretty adorable to see.
Yuzuriha has also shown herself to be quite a compelling character, mostly because she’s simply been given more opportunities to show agency over the course of the series, helping Senku take down the Empire of Might during the Stone Wars arc and playing a pivotal role in reviving humanity during the current Treasure Island arc.
Narrative and Formula
Now, if you’ve noticed that I’ve been focusing on characters more than story so far in my discussion of the Dr. STONE manga, then you’d be right.
This is because, especially when it comes to long-form serialized shonen storytelling, characters tend to be the most important. Planning out a complex story in the hectic environment of serialization is hard, to say the least, so usually, it’s much easier if an author has characters and their relationships to fall back on.
In the case of the Dr. STONE manga, not only has Inagaki created a very likeable cast of characters, both protagonists and antagonists, but he also had the foresight to tie in character motivations and relationships in the overall story and narrative – after all, the clash of ideals between Senku and Tsukasa is what got this whole show on the road in the first place.
While I was drawn to the Dr. STONE manga one year ago because of its unique narrative premise, it’s the characters that keep me coming back each week for more scientific goodness – which makes renewing and improving some of these even more important and impactful.
This is also because the series hasn’t really fundamentally changed it’s narrative formula ever since it debuted all the way back in 2017.
The overall goal for each narrative arc tends to be some kind of highly advanced scientific item that seems impossible to obtain at first, such as penicillin or a mobile phone, but becomes possible when broken down into component parts and stages.
Inagaki hasn’t really diverted from this formula since the beginning, and that’s totally fine. The scientific premise of Dr. STONE is unique enough to carry much of its narrative without needing to be too inventive, which would be very different if it was just a regular battle manga.
That being said, I have noticed a slight change in the way that these scientific goals are achieved ever since the conclusion of the Village arc. At the beginning of the series, it really was a slog just to obtain one item, such as gunpowder, and making penicillin for the Village arc seemed to take an absolute age.
But ever since the conclusion of the Village Arc and Senku’s elevation to chief, that dynamic has changed. Now, with the manpower of an entire village at his disposal, things can be done much faster – such as suddenly making a massive water wheel or even a tank.
Now, from a narrative perspective, this makes complete sense. More manpower equals faster production, especially as infrastructure begins to develop in the Stone World. But with this development and increasing speed does come the loss of that almost quaint, small scale scientific development and discovery that enchanted me back when the Dr. STONE manga first started.
The future of the Dr. STONE manga is, therefore, not certain. With change always comes the potential for failure and disappointment, especially when contained in the very stressful environment of weekly serialization.
Luckily, Dr. STONE is very much continuing on at full force – precisely because of how excellent the characters in the series have become, along with some new additions.
Ryusui and the Beginning of the End
Before I conclude, if you’re up to date with the Dr. STONE manga, then you’ll probably be pretty aware that I’ve missed out one particularly important new character – one character that has made waves ever since he was introduced not too long ago, even coming second in the Japanese popularity poll. I’m, of course, talking about Ryusui.
Ryusui Naname is the self-proclaimed “greediest man in the world” and was, in the past, the son of the family behind the gigantic, fictional Naname corporation.
He’s a far cry from the more humble characters of Senku, Chrome, Taiju, and Yuzuriha, as he’s served around the clock by his loyal butler Francois, but he has brought many exciting new elements to the ongoing narrative of the Dr. STONE manga.
One of the biggest elements has to be money, which he’s begun to issue on the basis that he’ll get to own any oil that Senku and crew find in order to power their scientific sailing ship, the Perseus.
He also acts as a narrative foil to Senku, mirroring his arrogance and intelligence but for a much less righteous cause, as he’s only in it for himself and his own ego. This is probably why he’s become such a popular character in such a small span of time, as he’s very similar to Senku, who’s always very much been the star of his own series.
I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of Ryusui like some others, but I still appreciate what he’s brought to the series. Much like the introduction of Chrome in the Village arc, Ryusui’s character makes possible all sorts of interesting narrative threads – including exploration beyond Japan, which the Dr. STONE manga is currently embarking upon.
The fact that Inagaki has been able to introduce such a cool character at this point in the story should be seen as a testament to his creative spirit and prowess, and surely signals that this series is in safe hands.
Not that there haven’t been any problems along the way, mind. As I mentioned, the pace of scientific development and discovery is changing the dynamic of the series slightly, but this seems trivial compared to how Inagaki might have undermined his own narrative during the events of the latest, Treasure Island arc.
This latest arc sees Senku tasked with discovering the secret behind the petrification that turned humanity to stone at the beginning of the story. Doing so will, however, necessitate a seafaring journey to the other side of the world, to the source of petrification.
Or the gang could just go to an island off the coast of Japan to locate the Soyuz capsule, inadvertently finding the wielder of the petrification powers along the way.
Such backtracking is always infuriating to see in a story, and no doubt comes from the hectic environment of weekly serialization that leaves you with little choice to finetune a narrative as it’s being published.
That being said, I’ll refrain from making a judgment just yet. There are still many things up in the air regarding this arc: is the wielder of the petrification power actually behind the petrification itself? What makes it work? Can Senku actually use it for good?
I suppose that’s the beauty of following a manga such as Dr. STONE as it’s being published – we really don’t know what’s going to happen, and the authors probably don’t have that much of a concrete idea, either.
But, to return to my initial question, is the Dr. STONE still shaping up to be the masterpiece I made it out to be in April 2018?
Well, to be honest, Dr. STONE isn’t really doing anything differently now from what it was doing one year ago. Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi still deliver exciting scientific shonen escapades week after week, with a strong, charismatic set of characters that just keep on getting better and better.
So, as long as the series doesn’t drop the ball anytime soon, I don’t see why it can’t end up being one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s best.
Not that it’ll have many more opportunities for failure, mind – the manga is already entering what seems to be its final arc, as it resolves its initial narrative hook.
What that in mind, the next time I end up talking about the Dr. STONE manga at length might just be when it finally comes to an end – which is a shame considering that only now, only after it’s anime adaptation by TMS entertainment, it’s started to blow up.
But, as Weekly Shonen Jump editor-in-chief Hiroyuki Nakano said himself, sometimes the best thing for a series is for it to end – and, in this respect, I hope to one day count Dr. STONE among such series as Assassination Classroom, Bakuman and Medaka Box as modern-day shonen masterpieces.
You can read the Dr. STONE manga as it releases in Japan via VIZ Media’s English-language Shonen Jump.