Not too long ago, Polygon came out with an article basically calling the first two episodes of the anime Dr. Stone lackadaisical. I haven’t seen the anime, but I have read the manga at length and can agree on this front. I wasn’t too taken with Dr. Stone to begin with, and I didn’t commit fully to it until chapter 16.
But I didn’t start this blog post so I can agree with Polygon, I started it because I’ve got a bone to pick with them, and I encourage you to read the article yourself so that you know I’m not plucking random words and rearranging them completely out of context like Bubsy 3D did.
For the uninformed masses, Dr. Stone takes place 3,700 years (or four decades, to quote the article) in the future, after a mysterious light turns all of humanity into Michelangelo carvings. Our protagonists break out of their stone castings and set about restoring and rebuilding civilization to its former glory by reinventing modern inventions.
If you held a taser to me made from two wires powered by a waterwheel and demanded that I list the genres Dr. Stone belongs to, I would reluctantly bullet one of them as post-apocalyptic. The story is post-apocalyptic in the sense that it occurs four centuries after the end of humanity, but it doesn’t feel like it, since the series doesn’t carry the same bleakness seen in the hallmarks of the genre. This incites the notion that genre isn’t what’s in a story but why we read the story. I’m shamelessly ripping this from better people, but it does shift our perceptive on genres. Naruto may have romances in it, but you won’t find it on a Best Romance Anime List because most fans watch it for the ninja action. I’m sure there’re some out there who watch specifically for the many ships (I’m guilty of binging series just to see if the leads hook up), which might explain why some label certain shows under genres we otherwise strongly disagree with.
But this is all an aside, and I only included the above paragraph to pace the moment I throw the wham-line at you to segue into the meat and potatoes of this post.
The thing with which I am poking at with a bone of unspecified variety is Polygon’s claim that Dr. Stone is an isekai.
Dr. Stone is an isekai in disguise.
I mean, it’s right there in the first sentence. A bold assertion made to draw the reader’s attention and keep them reading.
Wild claims require wild evidence, and Polygon’s wild evidence is that both Dr. Stone has an exposition dump issue which grinds on the pacing, as do most isekai, so therefore, Dr. Stone is an isekai.
You know, this reminds me of a moment at my old job, when one of my coworkers and my manager got into a verbal scuffle. My coworker posited that because sweat contains urea and urine contains urea, sweat = urine, to which my manager confidently declared, “Balderdash!”
That’s all that Polygon’s doing here—seeing that Story A contains X trope and that Story B also contains X trope, and then drawing a bulls-eye around those two overlapping points, ignoring all the other little dots meters gone from their custom-made bulls-eye, such as the fact that none of the characters are transported to another world.
As many of you have had drilled into your noggin, isekai is written as 異世界, which, broken down, is 異 (different) 世界 (world). While “different” as a word usually refers to any two or more things which are dissimilar, such as kiwis the fruit and kiwis the birds being two different conglomerations of molecules, the “different” in “different world” has a specific meaning, referring to a separate universe, typically one ripped straight from the transported protagonist’s favorite fantasy MMORPG. Polygon, however, uses “different” by its usual sense, and this is where its argument unravels like a cat pulling on yarn, and I’m the cat.
Dr. Stone’s world is, no contest, different from ours, despite beginning in our not-apocalyptic world. The Earth after the first act is reverted back to how it was before humans came and mucked it all up, with trees and leaves and rocks and stone statues of the sorta, kinda dead, and the closest thing to a civilization before Senku revives is a crush of villagers whose favorite food is fish and least favorite food is “Oh, God, why more fish? Why, God, why? Why do you hate us?”
But a lot of fictional settings are unrecognizable beside ours. Naruto takes place in a pseudo-Japan a few centuries back. Gurren Lagann occurs in a future where beastmen rule the earth and humans live in suffocating underground hamlets. The world of Seraph of the End is overrun with vampires who have pushed humanity to the brink of extinction and inadvertently inspired a culture where teenagers are encouraged to embrace their desire to fornicate anything which vaguely resembles a pair of tits. And Nichijo features little girls whose screams can obliterate the very planets of our solar system. Yet nobody calls any of these isekai. Your Name takes place in our modern world but carries some supernatural tangs to it which differentiate it from our actual modern world. But I’ve never heard anyone call that an isekai, or even a time travel story despite that spoiler of a trope arguably being in there. (Polygon also wants to call the time skip in Dr. Stone time travel, but reasoning from their perspective, one can argue that we’re all time travelers, since we’re all traveling forward in time.)
I can go on and go with the examples, but hopefully, you get what I’m getting at. Just about any story you pick will feature a world different from ours in some regard, whether it’s a slight modification or a ground-up construction. When you become aware of this but stand in Polygon’s position, all stories, when you get down to it, are isekai.
Through all these words, just as a disclaimer, I’m not trying to take up my own immovable stance that an isekai is only an isekai if it features a hopelessly single male teenager plucked from our world and inserted into a high-fantasy one where he becomes god and harem king. Fantasy worlds are what’s prevalent, but there’s no writing in the sky making it law punishable by getting put in the same room as Re:Zero’s Petelgeuse if you transport the protagonist to a sci-fi realm. I just saw the argument Polygon was trying to make and was compelled to write this post on why I strongly disagree with it. Genres are flexible, but not so much that a military saga can have two characters kiss in one scene, then be called a romance. Fullmetal Alchemist has a murder, but that doesn’t make it a murder mystery.
You know, I kinda wonder if Polygon would eye Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon? for an isekai, seeing how it has swordsmen, mages, arches, and so on wielding magic and plundering a multi-layered dungeon to gain item drops and level up. The only thing keeping it from identifying with proper isekai is that Bell is a male, virgin protagonist born in that world rather a male, virgin protagonist yoinked from his 21st century earthen bedroom one fateful night. But so long as Polygon doesn’t go making additional wild claims, there’s no need in responding to facetious speculation.
Even if Senkuu’s explanations are legit, it’s still just science.
Woah, woah, woah, stop the press! Hold the phone! Wait just 60,000 milliseconds!
“Just science”? Just science??? They just called all the cool stuff that Senku does throughout Dr. Stone JUST SCIENCE???????
I’ve been patient with the article’s writer, Austen Goslin, up to this point and have worked hard to respond to his points with logic and reason, but, no, I’m done with that. The kid gloves are coming off. It’s time to get emotional.
I’m gonna make some assumptions about you, Goslin, and I want you to correct me if I’m wrong. First up is that you eat food, much of which goes bad if exposed to air of a moderate temperature for too long. So I’m sure you would find it incredibly convenient to be have a containment unit with gas which absorbs the heat from food, releases that heat back into the atmosphere, then continues this cycle to keep your foodstuffs nice and chilled. Or maybe not, because, I mean, it’s just a refrigerator.
I bet at some point in your life you’ve needed to travel a great distance, much too far to just get up and walk there. That was probably a terrible experience for you, if you’ve ever done it, boarding a machine that divided air pressure so that it was lighter on top but heavier on the bottom, thereby allowing the object to glide through the sky. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. But it’s not all bad, you know? It was just an airplane.
You’re human, I assume, and since you’re human, I also assume that you at some point have gotten sick. The microscopic world may be invisible to the naked eye, but it’s incredible how some germs can bring a man to his knees and give him a nasty cough. To combat that, I bet you ingested dextromethorphan, which suppressed the receptors for neurotransmitters for NMDA, Sigma-1, and serotonin, cajoling your brain into believing it doesn’t need to cough, and then felt better afterwards. But no big deal, right? It was just cough medicine you took.
But that’s all day-to-day background science. Boring, inconsequential stuff, right? I’m sure even when science creates a spectacle, you still wouldn’t think much of it. Particles from the sun entering our atmosphere, exciting the atoms, which then disperse that extra energy as little bursts of lights known as photons. The resulting phenomenon is stunning, but I bet you wouldn’t appreciate it. I’m just talking about the auroras.
While we’re talking about science, I should probably let you know that you wouldn’t enjoy A Certain Magical Index. It’s got “magical” right there in the title, but don’t let that fool you—there’s science around every corner, such as one character’s ability to generate electricity in a coiling motion along her arm, propelling metallic projectiles at high speeds. But you would hate her character. It’s just a railgun she’s duplicating.
As the spokesperson for science for this post, I would like to say on the behalf of science, excuse science for being just science. Sorry that it’s not magic, which is used almost exclusively to cast destructive spells or heal wounds. Maybe if someone learned how to cast a spell to separate salt from water, you would find that exhilarating. Science’s deepest apologies.
Oh, and one last thing. The crystal filters twisting the direction of lightwaves through the polarizers, which control the amount of light that reaches the red, green, blue color filters that’re forming the words you’re reading? It’s just your computer screen.