Dr. Stone & the Illusion of a Slow Burn

Recently Weekly Shonen Jump debuted six new series, an unprecedented occasion that includes a couple of important milestones in the magazine’s history. I’m going to be writing a post on each individual debuting series, be it a simple review, a tangentially-related topic or something deeper. We continue with Boichi and Riichiro Inagaki’s Dr. Stone.

Weekly Shonen Jump, by and large, does not support slower storylines. The weekly pace, combined with the cutthroat rate of cancellation in the magazine, encourages writers to have something bombastic in every single chapter, a hook that gets the reader in and keeps the story in their minds when time comes to send in the feedback cards that come with each issue. This is why series with long aims and small developments, like ST&RS, ǝnígmǝ, or even World Trigger have struggled to be placed towards the front of the magazine during their runs; their decision to use a slower pace meant that readers weren’t wowed as consistently.

There are exceptions to this, of course. World Trigger isn’t necessarily a hit, but it’s long-running and has been adapted into a cartoon. Death Note is a phenomenal success that managed to carefully balance high-drama story beats with what would sometimes be weeks of talking heads mulling over possibilities. The Promised Neverland is looking more and more likely to be one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s biggest new series in years, replacing a fast pace with a constant feeling of tension and unease on every single page. But the most interesting display of an author trying to succeed with this sort of slower story comes from the first three chapters of Dr. Stone, which CHEATS THE WHOLE TIME by actually having a lot of stuff happen in each chapter, but maintains the illusion of being a slow series through the time spent establishing the status quo of the book along the way.

Dr. Stone is, at its core, a story about two boys from our time, awakening thousands of years into a back-to-nature post-apocalyptic event that turned everyone into stone, coping with their new life and trying to work out how to revive others who have been trapped in statue form all these years. Despite this, a significant chunk of the first chapter is pre-amble, and its only by chapter three that our heroes, the dense, strong, and pure Taiju, and the hyper-intelligent scientific wunderkind Senku, manage to revive another human. Chapter two spends a lot of page space dealing with the gathering of food, as another example. To a casual reader, it would look like Dr. Stone spends a significant amount of time spinning its wheels, rather than any strong forward momentum. Which is a *very* clever illusion.

As far as impacing opening images in Jump go, this has the potential to go down as one of the greats

By taking its time on certain moments, it feels like the story is doing something much more epic and far-reaching, when it’s actually a constant stream of big moments and ideas that lodge themselves in the reader’s mind. The opening page makes a point of saying that all of humanity is going to turn to stone, in a stunning bit of colour work, but immediately after the series backtracks and becomes a corny romantic comedy, with Taiju deciding to confess to his love, Yuzuriha, and getting grumpy teasing and encouragement from Senku, who they establish as a cartoonish super scientist in his school, talking about things in terms of 10,000,000% probability, while getting gasolene from plastic bottle caps. It’s almost tonal whiplash, but it’s telling you a very real story of what came before, down to the moment of confession, where the series hits you with the big moment; the apocalyptic event that turns everyone to stone. This isn’t a small lead-up, this is roughly a fifth of the entire chapter spent leading it. It’s not *really* a long time, but it feels like it might be. It even takes more time to revisit Taiju and Yuzuriha’s budding romance in a flashback that, yes, shows more lead-up to the apocalypse, but mostly focuses on the chemistry between these two cute-ass teenagers. It serves a purpose, and sticks in the mind, but it’s more breathing space for the overall concept.

It’s in the pacing of pivotal scenes too. Taiju breaking out of his stone form in the future (the present? How should I refer to this when the world is the status quo of the book?) takes up a couple of pages itself, given whopping great panels of the pivotal moment, but it’s not for a lack of depth. We get to see the sounds of liquid dripping in the cave he awakens in, a crucial plot point that provides us with the road to a solution to the stone condition for the other characters. There’s even a panel to casually acknowledge the petrified form of Tsukasa Shishio, the ‘strongest primate high-schooler’, a crucial character come the third chapter. But on first pass this is all just space being filled before Taiju gets to confess to the petrified Yuzuriha, and gets to re-encounter Senku, who freed himself some time before.

A page in a sequence dedicated to explaining the collecting, sorting, and cooking of mushrooms. It feels like madness in Jump, but it’s made to look like something big, and is surrounded by significant story beats

The third chapter almost feels like a swerve to drag the main story beats on too. It dodges Yuzuhira’s revival to instead focus on the insanely powerful and pretty buff-boy Shishio, opening new plot points, and introducing the stakes of survival with the surviving predators of this era, with Lions as the monster du jour, but in doing these things it is *packed* with events. Shishio’s attack, using his cracking stone skin as a weapon, and pummeling the Lion as if it was nothing, is a massively impactful moment, and his appearance at the end, of a giant, muscular man, drenched in long hair, is as powerful as it is worrying, as to the implications of what adding someone so powerful to the ensemble can mean for the others. This isn’t genius storytelling, as such, but it makes it stand out in a magazine that’s either feeding us constant popcorn or gambling on long, drawn-out moments.

(This all stands in stark contrast to U19 and how it tries to do similar with its first three chapters, but misses the all-important content to justify the pace of the main plot, but that might be for another time)

A beautiful moment, a breath taken, and a mission statement made for a series

Some unrelated thoughts: Dr. Stone is my favourite of the six new series. This isn’t even a question. Boichi’s art and storytelling abilities are far beyond most of what’s in the magazine right now, and Riichiro Inagaki displays that same ability to bring out an artist’s best side that he’s previously had in Eyeshield 21, and in his more recent collaborations with Katsunori Matsui. It’s my hope that it maintains this high quality and continues to be published in the English language Jump.

Also, it appears to me from what research I’ve done that Boichi is the first non-Japanese creator to be serialised in Weekly Shonen Jump. 49 years. Over 800 serialisations. That’s long overdue, but what an artist to have broken in. Here’s to a future where WSJ serialises even more!

You know a series is able to take its time when it’s able to take an aside to tell kids how to make wine. Don’t think too much about that, incidentally

Dr. Stone is available in English from Weekly Shonen Jump, produced by Viz Media, and available on IOS and Android, as well as their own website. The first three chapters are now available for free on Viz’s website, which almost softens the blow of taking a month off of writing on this site, right? RIGHT?!

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