Dr. Stone Premiere & Panel Report | Anime Expo 2019
At noon on the 4th of July, my friends and I gathered into the Main Events hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center to get Stoned with over 1000 people. Dr. Stone–d that is! It was the world premiere screening of TMS’s anime adaptation of the hit Shonen Jump manga, hosted by Crunchyroll. Did we get excited? Ten billion percent!
Dr. Stone has a unique post-apocalyptic premise whose focus on knowing science over possessing strength makes it stand out against more fight-focused fare. It’s a survival series in which the world has regressed in the wake of a calamity that turned most of the world’s population into stone statues. The protagonist’s only superpower is remembering scientific knowledge now lost to the past, and through their brainpower, they aim to rebuild civilization and uncover the mystery behind why their world was petrified. When compared to more thoughtless and arguably stupid shonen heroes like Goku or Luffy, Senku Ishigami is a breath of fresh air. He’s a physically weak character, but is nonetheless is the most powerful man in this world thanks to his genius-level intellect and ability to problem-solve scientific conundrums, like creating an elixir to de-petrify those encased in stone. While much of the premiere is focused on the perspective of Taiju, Senku’s more good-hearted and simple-minded friend, it’s clear just by the framing and the emphasis on him in the opening theme that Senku is the true main character of the series, and this is his adventure we’re following. After all, there’s a reason this series is called Dr. Stone.
Having been a fan of the manga ever since it began in Weekly Shonen Jump, so I was looking forward to seeing the story animated. After watching the episode, I’m not sure that I did? Dr. Stone is pretty minimally animated, and the little movement that was there in the premiere felt quite stiff. There were some pretty awkward keyframing and moments where it seemed like art assets were just slid from place to place, particularly during the plane crash in the beginning, which felt distractingly weightless. The minimal animation particularly stood out to me in group shots featuring other characters, particularly during the scene where Taiju busts into the science room, where every character besides Senku is locked in one, stiff expression that made them feel like they’d already been turned into statues. Considering what TMS can be capable of at their best, particularly on modern Lupin stuff and last year’s Megalobox, it felt very conservative and limited. There is also a lot more emphasis on still shots whereas Dr. Stone will require more fluid and dynamic animation in the future. The opening scene does have a few promising shots in it, so here’s hoping that they are saving their resources to pull their efforts into the later material.
That said, I still have concerns about the general draftsmanship on display. Many bodies are awkwardly drawn, particularly characters who are supposed to have fit, muscular physiques. The way Taiju is drawn throughout this first episode came across particularly sloppy. The musculature on his body is indicated with linework and shapes that show a disregard for realistic anatomy and are inconsistently rendered between scenes. As a result, there are times where Taiju looks like a completely different character, or his body seems almost twisted and distorted in unbelievable manners. Dr. Stone has a lot of fit, muscular characters like Taiju and I’m worried that the animators won’t be able to draw them consistently throughout the show, which would be distracting for viewers attuned to such details like myself.
In spite of these quibbles, I really enjoyed watching the premiere. Where the show falls short in its animation it makes up for in its filmmaking and sound design. The audio for this show sounded fantastic in the auditorium, with the stellar performances of the seiyuu booming throughout the room and every sound effect and the musical score reverberating in your ears in an energizing, immersive way. Tatsuya Kato’s score is perfect for making even the smallest of movements feel like the most exciting thing ever and sells the beauty of a powerful scene like the moment where the elixir works and the bird flies free from its stone imprisonment. This was especially essential in the montage scenes, which rely on the music for energy and momentum in lieu of dialogue, and it absolutely carries the weight and heart of the show. To say nothing of Yuusuke Kobayashi and Makoto Furukawa’s performances as Senku and Taiju, who imbue so much energy and personality into these characters that it overcomes the stiffness of the animation and makes them feel alive. Sound effects from the crackling of fire and the cracking of stone, to the roar of a waterfall and the chirps of birds and the rustle of leaves in the foley of the forest scenes, all make the Stone World feel like a fleshed-out, fully realized environment that you could immerse yourselves in. Watching Dr. Stone felt like a cinematic experience, and that sensation is concentrated in its superb sound.
Which isn’t to say that the show doesn’t have any other strengths as an adaptation. While the character art can be wonky at times, the backgrounds are lusciously rendered. The verdant world of Dr. Stone’s future is beautifully detailed and brimming with color. The show also benefits from quick pacing and clever cinematic tricks to help tell its story. The first episode adapts two chapters, split evenly across both halves of the episode.
The show employs some snappy sequences to keep events on-screen fresh and fun to watch. There’s a great sequence where Senku is just commenting on whether various vegetables Taiju’s picked up are poisonous or not, and the way in which each ingredient slides on and off-screen is simple but engaging because of the variety of transitions and energy imbued into the scene by the music and voice acting. Another really standout scene towards the end of the episode shows the camera lingering on a shot of Senku’s camp while fast-forwarding through Senku and Taiju’s daily routine, showcasing a lot of thought and detail in the passage of time and how these characters would live their daily lives. The montage towards the end of the episode does a great job illustrating how much time has elapsed through an amusing sequence showing Taiju growing a beard and then clipping it off with shells, all of which is communicated purely through visuals and music, removing dialogue from the manga in a way that actually makes the scene play more naturally and even funnier.
The show also knows precisely which moments to emphasize and let the audience sit in, be it Senku’s declaration that he and Taiju will be the “Adam and Eve of the Stone World” or the final scene showing the bird breaking out of its stone shell and flying gracefully into the sky as Taiju cheers triumphantly. It’s incredibly fun to watch and did a great job of getting me excited (heh) and interested in seeing what happens next, even as someone who is already familiar with the story. Dr. Stone’s animation might be rough around the edges, but its filmmaking is rock solid.
After the premiere, the Crunchyroll staff invited some very special guests on stage; Shunsuke Katagiri, the producer of the anime, and Hiroyuki Honda, the manga’s editor in Weekly Shonen Jump. Both were dressed in Senku cosplay and wore the Senku hair headbands Crunchyroll was giving out at their exhibitor’s booth. Katagiri and Honda were asked a series of questions, the first of which being why Dr. Stone was chosen to get an anime. Honda replied that Dr. Stone was getting popular, and they were sent an offer by TMS, and one thing led to another. Katagiri was offered the opportunity to produce the project by his boss, who warned him it would be a difficult property to adapt, but he accepted anyway.
The duo was then asked to share any unique production experiences they may have had. Honda joked that the production team is very fond of alcohol, and that “this show is made of alcohol.” He remarked that if he had the opportunity he’d like to brew his own brandy. Katagiri, meanwhile, mentioned that the team put a lot of painstaking effort into the details. They two then discussed their thoughts on finally sharing the show with fans. Honda remarked that “it’s the most fun and exciting thing to see overseas fans react to the show,” and Katagiri mentioned that he felt nervous before the screening, but felt more at ease after seeing the fan reaction. He humbly remarked that “people don’t compliment me often, so having all these people cheer for me is making me very happy.”
Next came a question concerning what key elements from the manga the staff wanted to depict on screen. Honda mentioned that getting the science and technology depicted in the series accurate was key. The manga itself has its own scientific advisor, but the anime has additional elements to consider like sound and color. They wanted to make sure all the nuances were correct. They also wanted to make sure the color design was always appealing to look at in the anime. They brought up the show’s key visual: the liquid in Senku’s flask was originally yellow in the manga, but they didn’t think it looked good, so they changed it to blue for the anime. Another detail Honda wanted to keep appealing were the character designs. He remarked that Jump has a lot of charismatic heroes, and Senku was particularly sexy, so he wanted to make sure his sexiness carried over in animation. This comment got a lot of laughs and hollers from a very appreciative audience.
Lastly, when asked what fans should look forward to in the show’s future, Honda mentioned that it will get even more exciting in the episodes to come. Katagiri said he’s glad they made it, especially since they were worried they wouldn’t finish it in time for the premiere at AX, so he’s glad to have delivered a finished product. Honda then closed off the interview by musing that he was very happy to watch this show about the second birthday of humanity on the birthday of the United States, which once again earned a lot of sweet coos and thunderous applause from the audience as the metaphorical curtains closed.
Overall, I’d say the Dr. Stone premiere was a smashing success. The Crunchyroll team did a great job getting the audience psyched up and making it feel like an event, even incorporating all of Senku’s famous catchphrases in their pitch. The interview they conducted with Honda and Katagiri was informative and thoughtful, and revealed a lot of fun insights into the thought process behind the show and their personal feelings about what they wanted to communicate through it. While a minor comment, Katagiri’s concerns about finishing the episode before AX put a lot of the animation issues I had with the premiere in perspective, and makes me wonder what the production schedule of the show is like and how that will affect the quality of future episodes. Regardless, most fans absolutely loved this premiere and walked out ecstatic about the show and looking forward to more. Fans were riled up and screaming as excitedly as Taiju at all the hype moments and the awesome power of science on display. The characters easily endeared themselves to the crowd, particularly Taiju, who got tons of cheers and laughs for his gung-ho attitude about confessing his love and enduring any hardship to survive the Stone World and reunite with her. There was clearly a sizable chunk of the audience who were already familiar with the manga, especially when the opening theme started to play and cheers and claps were thrown several characters’ way. Miles from Crunchyroll commented later on how he noticed a lot of applause and excitement when Gen Asagiri popped up in particular, and I’m going to be very excited to see how new viewers will react to all of the show’s eccentric cast once they get to meet them. Dr. Stone is shaping up to be one of the most promising break-out hits of the season and like a bird or a rocket, there’re no limits to the heights it can soar.