Dr. Stone is an isekai in disguise. The adaptation of one of Shonen Jump’s most popular manga, which is now two episodes into its first season, has the premise of a sci-fi adventure, but it’s got the same exposition problems as any other alternate-world anime.
In anime, the isekai genre is one where a character, or characters, travel from their own world to an alternate one. In the case of Dr. Stone, they travel from Earth in our near future — the year 2038 — 3,700 years into the future after every person has been turned to stone, but magically kept alive. With no humans, nature has retaken the world, covering everything in dense plant and animal life. It may not exactly be an alternate world, but with no human technology and no geography to speak of, Dr. Stone’s Earth 5738, might as well be the video game fantasy worlds that make up most isekai anime.
The show even starts with the main characters gathering into a party and explaining their roles — a typical character introduction in most isekai. Through the first two episodes, only three characters have been freed from the stone that kept them alive for almost four centuries, and like any good alternate world character, each one gets their own special super-powers, which the show carefully explains to us: Senkuu, the main character and a super-genius scientist; his best friend Taiju, not nearly as smart as Senkuu but extremely strong; and Tsukasa, a character with unbelievable fighting abilities.
While most isekai have complicated rules of their fantasy worlds to explain, Dr. Stone subs in real(ish) world science, as explained to us by Senkuu. As the party’s resident super-genius, he knows everything they need to do to restart society. He knows which mushrooms you can and can’t eat, how to make wine that’s safe to drink, how to cook and pickle food, how to mix concrete, and even how to build elevated wooden cabins all by himself. Senkuu is essentially a collection of whatever non-magical superpowers the plot requires.
His detailed asides about which chemical compounds can be created from crushed up seashells may be based in real science, following scenes in which a character just punches a lion to death with his bare hands, confuse a show that wants to sell us on a world that is real. Even if Senkuu’s explanations are legit, it’s still just science. At least most isekai have magical powers, rather than pretending we’ll be in awe that a character can separate salt from ocean water to preserve meat. The only real magic in Dr. Stone seems to be the mystery of how everyone turned to stone in the first place, but the characters have to learn to survive before we can make much progress there.
The one true saving grace of Dr. Stone is that it looks gorgeous. The show is animated by TMS Entertainment known for shows like Megalobox and the recent remake of Fruits Basket. The plant-based post-apocalypse is full of forests colored in greens and browns with impressive attention to detail. Every reaction and facial change of the characters registers as genuine emotional shifts and give them more personality than any of the lines they actually speak. With all the careful detail of TMS’s animation, there are times where it’s hard not to wish the dialog was cut out entirely and the images were left to play out alongside the show’s beautiful score.
As more characters show up, and their roles on the show become a little less rote, the group dynamic is sure to get a little more entertaining. We even get brief flashes of this every time the show stops worrying about telling us how the character survive or what their motivation in this new life is and just let them be friends. But until the set up is over, and the show learns to stop letting its exposition smother it, Dr. Stone will probably continue to suffer all the problems of an isekai with none of the magic.