Science is baaadass. Take a look around at our modern world and you’ll see all the incredible things it’s brought us: refrigeration, indoor heating, prescription glasses, cars, airplanes, bicycles, tricycles, the ability to troll some fourteen-year-old on the opposite side of the world, and a way for doctors to pump-start your heart with their bare hands. Way back in ancient Rome, if you wanted to get a message to a relative in Gaul, you had to pass the letter off to some dude on a horse, then that dude on a horse had to gallop alllll the way up and around the Alps, into Gallic territory, not get lost along the way, make sure his horse didn’t die, find their farm, pass the letter to the recipient, and then he had to backtrack the whole trip just to get back home. Nowadays, you got something to say to your relative, you text or email them. Easy, done. No horses required. It’s this marvel of technology and the possibilities and convenience it brings to our lives that Dr. Stone captures.
The methodology it employs for making the reader sparkly-eyed over science is by destroying any and all technology humankind has ever created. The manga kicks off by turning everybody in the world to stone. Certain species of birds are dropping out of the sky as chunks of stone, and before long, every last human being is hard as a rock because they are rock. That’s the curtain call on humanity, but not really. Even though a wave of light which turned people to stone floored all logic, the thing that follows buries it in the earth’s mantle—people come back to life.
It isn’t back to school and biz, because everything’s decayed after 3,700 years. No anything plummets Taiju and Senku into the stone age, which is where they would stay if Senku hadn’t previously dedicated every nucleus of the atomic structure of his brain to knowing literally everything science. With all of humanity’s scientific process logged in his spiky-haired noggin, he starts from scratch with reinventing all of our inventions.
Fascinating and engaging as a concept that Dr. Rock is, the manga’s first few chapters are okay at best. The protagonist initially is Taiju, who isn’t fascinating or engaging. His two main traits are that he’s thicker than a brick but has stamina and strength to bench-press logs for days, and when he’s fighting to remain conscious while stoned, yelling things like how he’ll never give up, it paints him as little more than a common shonen protagonist. The plot is also only so focused on science, with the pair meandering around with basic survival practices and fleeing from the ripped high schooler they revived initially to save their skins from wild lions. It isn’t until the series does a soft reset at chapter 13, switching the protagonist role to the devious Senku and giving Taiju and his girl the boot, that it starts molding itself into a new, better identity, which solidifies by chapter 17, after Senku meets the wildly strong and generally wild Kohaku and she leads him back to her home village full of, amazingly enough, not-stone people.
Why there’s a tribal village when everybody else is stoned off their asses is a spoiler, but the inhabitants of Ishigami Village underscore the primitivity of the world. When the village sentries bar him entry, Senku confounds them with bubbles. That’s it, just bubbles. Which one of them mistakes for “flying jewels.” How else Dr. Rock improves itself is by giving itself goals for both the long- and short-term, which is where one of the series’s most defining features comes into play, the scientific road map.
Senku reinvents a metric ton of gizmos and gadgets, from gas masks to katanas to a dynamo, many of which don’t require more than the base minerals and some craftwork. But not all inventions are as simple as hammering down a rod of iron a couple hundred times. Some items demand an amalgamation of components, each of which has its own requirements for forging. It’s mind-blowing what amounts to random materials being mashed together to create one of modern medicine’s handiest antidotes, and half the joy of reading Dr. Pebble comes from seeing Senku science iron, copper, and a lightning strike into magnets.
The technologically inept villagers also double as in-universe stand-ins for the audience to gape and gawk and Senku’s activities. You probably noticed one of the ingredients for fashioning an antibiotic is ammonia, most conveniently collected from piss. Piss. If you’re as scientifically illiterate as I am and someone told you one of the crucial ingredients for a panacea to save your ailing loved one was their own piss, you’d tightly grab them by the collar, aggressively force them against the nearest wall, and politely ask that they reconsider their actions.
The crazed and crazy reactions of the supporting cast is what juices this series, because unexcited responses would dry up the fun of making the first automobile in 3,700 years. As a manga, Dr. Boulder takes full advantage of its illustrative format to contort the expressions of its characters into panicked, realistic, and kittenish transformations.
Brimming with as much charm as the characters are, Dr. Ruby isn’t the strongest showcase in character writing, primarily because all of its development and growth is centered on their scientific progress, so the most character development you’ll see is switching allegiances or Senku diagnosing a girl’s “fuzzy eye disease” as needing a pair of glasses. Plus, in imbuing life into its characters, the manga steps too far and gives characters catchphrases or vocal ticks which can become grating after the 1,700th time they’ve recited it. And yet, there’s a camaraderie visible between Senku and his allies when one of them steals his catchphrase for their own usage.
For as grand and lofty as Senku’s ultimate goal of reviving all 7.6 billion personalities of the human race are, the clan he founds, the Kingdom of Science, is a humble community whose membership consists mostly of unassuming, average individuals. It’s common in shonen to have a band of inseparable friends who share a meal and sleep under the stars together, but when battles start, they splinter off into smaller units, if they’re not driven alone, so teamwork across the whole unit is scarce. The Tenrou Island arc of Fairy Tail might end with the guild holding hands in solidarity, but before that, it was mostly 1v1 duels, with that camaraderie in short supply.
But this isn’t the case in Dr. Copper. Much of the Kingdom is a meager lot, made up of people who, aside from their lack of modern technical knowledge, are just like you or me, our neighbors, our classmates from high school, the first boy or girl we had a crush on, or the employees at the local gas station, but they don’t idle in the background or exist to provide the body count for Kohaku’s home village. They chip in however they can to bring form to Senku’s schematics, all of them, even those who specialize in only one talent or another. They’re a sum, however little each of them contributes, coming together to achieve a goal greater than their parts. I haven’t come across another series which fosters a tangible thread of community like Dr. Steel does when Senku devises a furnace just to keep kids warm in winter.
A lot of stories fantasize about the apocalypse and what outlaws the survivors will become, but Dr. Iron provides a rare hope that it won’t be so bad because of the road map it draws up for restoring civilization to its former glory, and in this regard, it doesn’t feel apocalyptic at all. It just feels like good friends having a good time inventing stuff together to benefit themselves, others, and for the pure bliss of it. Dr. Bronze makes the end of the world seem like something we won’t have a single trouble coming back from, as well as reminds us that science is 10 billion percent cool.