By Sean Aitchison
Imagine this: one day you’re in high school and the next thing you know, you wake up almost 4,000 years later. Oh, and you’ve been petrified in stone along with the entire human race.
This is the premise of Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi’s Dr. STONE, a manga and anime that has managed to flip the entire concept of a post-apocalyptic narrative on its head.
In addition to its Stone World apocalyptic event being wildly creative and unique, the general vibe of optimism in the series directly contrasts with the grit of most post-apocalyptic media.
It’s these two factors that make Dr. STONE one of the most unique and well-crafted doomsday tales.
Dr. STONE follows protagonist Senku Ishigami, a teenage scientific prodigy who wakes up in the Stone World and quickly gets to work rebuilding society and freeing others petrified by stone. He does this through his vast knowledge of science and medicine and with the help of Taiju Oki, his childhood friend.
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The two go on to free Tsukasa Shishio, known as the strongest and fiercest high schooler. But rather than wanting to rebuild society as it was, Tsukasa wants to build a new society, one where the corrupt adults who “ruined” the old world have no place.
Thus begins an arms race and ideological war between Senku’s Kingdom of Science and Tsukasa’s Empire of Might.
Senku’s Kingdom of Science is the core of Dr. STONE’s unique optimistic approach. Though the apocalyptic situation of the series is clearly a dreadful tragedy, it’s not met with more dread and desolation from its main character. Instead it’s met with excitement by Senku, who certainly loves a challenge.
For him, the idea of getting to rebuild society from the ground up is exhilarating. His catchphrase of “Get excited” carries a larger purpose. Not only does he use it to show how fascinated he is at the task ahead, but it soon becomes a rallying cry for those around him.
Whether it’s with villagers already present in the Stone World or those newly-freed from stone, Senku’s excitement spread optimism for the future, a nice contrast from how bleak the situation is.
Sane Senku vs. Mad Max
There’s no shortage of pop culture content in the post-apocalyptic genre. But Dr. STONE stands apart. Media franchises like Mad Max, Fallout and The Walking Dead portray the world after an extinction-level event as dark and trying. It’s a place where only the strong survive and good people are driven to do bad things just to stay alive for one more day.
But Dr. STONE couldn’t be more different. Sure, it’s technically set thousands of years after the petrification event, but its world is a bountiful place of discovery and potential.
There is no hoard of zombies or ravagers here to serve as an antagonistic force, just the conflict of deciding the right path for humanity to move forward. Even Tsukasa, who can come across as cold or vicious, isn’t intentionally leading his people to doom.
But it’s Tsukasa’s intent, to destroy what was, that makes Senku’s journey so exciting. He wants to re-create every bit of science and technology from his era, because science is fun to him. He’s eager to teach the villagers in the Stone World about everything that made his life so great, and this results in a number of wholesome moments — not something you’d expect from the apocalypse.
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Dr. STONE is a welcome change to the gritty post-apocalyptic narrative, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with references to its more bleak predecessors. The main conflict of the series, Senku’s Kingdom of Science versus Tsukasa’s Empire of Might, can be seen as a representation of a clash between the concepts of optimism and power.
Tsukasa wants to make a world where only the strong persevere, a Social Darwinist-esque set of ideals equivalent to Raider culture in the Fallout video game series, or the gangs from Mad Max. Senku is determined to combat them with science and positivity.
Then there’s the backstory behind Senku’s father, Byakuya. Without spoiling too much of the series, Byakuya leaves a message for his son in which he states that he found the post-apocalyptic world fun, not terrifying. He set out to build the groundwork for society’s return and the thought of his son breaking free from stone and finishing what he started filled him with hope.
Science fiction has been packed with these tucked-away messages forever. Looking at you, Blade Runner, Tron: Legacy and Star Wars. It’s this father-son dynamic, even millennia apart, that builds on the show’s optimistic outlook.
A Kingdom of Science
When you think of the post-apocalyptic genre, you might think of lone warriors clad in leather jackets and shoulder pads. There they are, wandering a desolate world struggling to survive against the harsh trials of the wasteland and the psychopaths that inhabit it as the need to live another day outweighs their own humanity.
Yeah, that’s not Dr. STONE.
Through Senku’s ideals, actions and knowledge, he takes the fight to Tsukasa and flips the post-apocalyptic script. Where tragedy is usually met with gritty desolation, the series brings optimism and discovery —things often absent from the genre— and amps them up 1,000,000%.
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It’s this unique approach to the end of the world that Dr. STONE truly finds its footing in the field of storytelling. It subverts all we know about the genre and does something fascinating and beautiful with those subversions, all while reminding us just how incredible things like science and medicine truly are.
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