Part two of our summer anime extravaganze looks at To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts and Dr. Stone.
To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts
In a vaguely 18th-century fantasy world, the continent of Patria is riven by civil war, with a northern union battling a southern confederacy. When their clumsy rifles, sabres and battlefield drummers fail to turn the tide, the north resorts to Incarnates, magically-altered soldiers who can transform into terrifying beast hybrids. But it turns out the Incarnates are slowly succumbing to a mysterious illness that causes them to hulk out and slaughter everyone in the vicinity when they—
You’re still hung up on the civil war thing, right?
Yes, To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts’ setting is very obviously modeled on the American civil war, although as far as I can tell this is solely an aesthetic decision, as the Patrian conflict is kicked off by a scarce energy resource (so it’s based on the second US civil war, heyoooooo) rather than slavery and overall the series doesn’t seem to be engaging with its inspiration on anything other than a surface level. The actual ongoing plot, which sees the protagonist hunting down the remaining Incarnates in the postwar period, could be read as some sort of commentary on the aftermath of the conflict and the way soldiers in general are permanently scarred by war, but…well, the series doesn’t seem that smart.
I knew I wasn’t going to get along with this one when as soon as the opening sequence, where our hero Hank and his buddies transform and wipe out an enemy garrison during a sequence that’s clearly meant to be brutal and horrific, but which is utterly de-fanged due to how absolutely ridiculous the Incarnates look when they transform. Instead of terrifying organic war machines, they look like a teenage furry’s deviantart drawings, garish neon fur colours included. I challenge anyone to take this as seriously as the show clearly expects.
There was pretty much no hope for The Abandoned Sacred Beasts after that, but the following twenty minutes, which seesaw wildly between gory war action and cliched soap opera antics, cemented my opinion. Nope. Hard avoid on this one.
The second high profile shounen adaptation of the season begins with oafish high schooler Taiju setting out to confess his feelings to his crush Yuzuriha, egged on by his pal and precocious science genius Senku. Taiju is just about to say the three magic words when an energy wave sweeps across the planet, turning everyone into stone but leaving them conscious and aware, trapped in darkness.
For the next 3700 years Taiju struggles to keep his mind intact via his single-minded commitment to telling Yuzuriha how he feels. He finally awakens to a world utterly transformed: human civilization has completely crumbled, a massive forest blankets the land where Tokyo once stood and distant Mt. Fuji is the only recognizable landmark. He soon finds Senku, who woke up six months earlier and has been scraping together the means to survive in the new world. After locating Yuzuriha’s statue, Taiju joins Senku in his grand project to solve the mystery of the stone curse, reawaken the remaining intact humans and rebuild civilization from scratch.
As you may have gathered, this one is kind of odd. The cliche that anime is totally wacky and bonkers liek woah is often overplayed (and sometimes stems from xenophobic “weird Japan” stereotypes) but it’s true that the medium does play host to stories that probably wouldn’t have been greenlit in any other environment. Dr. Stone seems to be fully aware of how strange its premise is, as it injects a hefty dose of comedy into the proceedings. The situation Taiju and Senku (and everyone else) finds themselves in is incredibly disturbing—it’s basically locked-in syndrome coupled with total sensory loss—but the show plays it mostly for laughs by contrasting Taiju’s hot-blooded internal bellowing about confessing to Yuzuriha with scenes of Tokyo crumbling to dust as centuries and then millenia pass.
But Dr. Stone isn’t just strange in its own right; it’s also unusual for a shounen series in that its first episode has no action or even antagonists. The whole thing is about Senku and Taiju figuring out how to survive and spending an entire year (yes, just in this one episode) trying to replicate the chemical process that broke them out of their stone slumber. The result is kind of like an anime version of The Martian.
Apart from a few quibbles I’ll talk about below, I personally found this incredibly compelling. This episode hooked me right from the opening seconds and didn’t let go until the end credits, which came far too soon. If you enjoy stories that are mostly about likeable people solving problems, this will be right up your alley.
About those quibbles, though.
You might be able to tell from the screenshots I’ve included, but Dr. Stone isn’t a particularly good looking show. The animation is fairly rudimentary in a way that would doubtless be more noticeable if there were any action scenes and the character designs are distinctly old fashioned and unappealing. I’m particularly not fond of Senku; dude looks like he stepped straight out of a 90s fightng game.
Actually speaking of Senku, he was a major stumbling block at first. There’s been a trend recently of hyper-competent nerd wish-fulfillment protagonists who are usually geniuses at maths, science, programming or other nerdy pursuits (Kirito from Sword Art Online is the most famous example; the dude from The Irregular At Magic High School is the worst) and Senku, as a precocious chemistry whiz who expressed everything in terms of ridicolously specific percentages and is constantly blowing the minds of the lesser beings around him with how smart he is, seems at first to fit right into that mold. But as the episode went on it became apparent that that isn’t quite what Dr. Stone is going for, as Senku admits that he needs Taiju’s strength and industriousness if his societal rebuilding project is ever going to advance beyond the basics of survival, and we see one of his experimental attempts at creating ethanol going comically awry.
This suggests that the series going forward will be about an unusually intelligent guy who’s competent but not infallible putting in a lot of gruelling work and trial and error to solve the seemingly-insurmountable problems in front of him. In other words, it seems like it’s more interested in the actual process of science than just wearing science as a personality trait like a lot of nerd media does, and speaking as a science graduate I’m much more interested in that.
Overall, Dr. Stone really surprised me. It’s not like any other shounen series I’ve seen and I’m eager to see where it goes next.