What did humanity's final astronaut, Byakuya Ishigami, do when he saw everyone on earth turn to stone from the international space station? A special side story written and drawn by Boichi Sensei himself! The first simultaneous series and side story serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump history!
Ah, yes. "Dr. Stone Reboob: Who's Byakuya, Again?"
This review may appear overly scathing and contains more text than the manga itself, but I believe its nature to be appalling enough to warrant a comprehensive criticism. Please bear with me, and here's to hoping it will make more sense than the subject matter.
Let me prepend the following by saying no manga is perfect, and the acclaimed Weekly Jump mainstay Dr. Stone is no exception. There's often the classic Jump contrivance ("this will go my way because I'm very determined, dattebayo!"), the omnipresent melodramatism, the use of hyped-up terms for completely unrelated concepts (e.g. calling a radio
a "smartphone" just because that's the word modern kids learn first), the occasional out-of-character behavior, and sexualization of characters to an uncalled-for extent. Thankfully, these weaknesses are well-offset by Dr. Stone's numerous strengths.
Where the spin-off comes in is gathering pretty much all of the weakest aspects of the original while adding some of its own (which we'll touch upon later) in a concentrated cocktail of low-effort pandering and creative bankruptcy without any redeeming qualities other than Boichi's characteristically expressive art. It's a functional equivalent of a beach vacation episode—just set in space. Of course, the decidedly short run and narrow focus played their part in making it worse than it deserved to be, but it didn't *have* to be this short in the first place. That was just an arbitrary decision, presumably on the side of the publisher, Shueisha. Together, we will try to get to the bottom of this myst... er, the reason why it ended up that way.
Feeling dreadful yet? No? Good. Let's move on to the bigger problem, which is the titular character Byakuya Ishigami himself. The way he was portrayed in the original Dr. Stone made him look like one of the coolest characters, so it was natural that readers had wanted more of him in some form. And at first, this short spin-off seemed like a godsend to everyone who wanted Byakuya to have some more screen time. What they received, however, was a mini-series with a disturbing *lack* of Byakuya: in fact, he's totally absent in most of it! To add to the injury, it actually *detracts* from his character in a major way. The moment the disaster hits Earth, every one of Byakuya's decisions becomes based on the notion that it will be Senku who will wake up by himself and save humanity, and this notion is grounded in... neither science nor reason, but a bunch of purely emotion-driven assumptions.
Think about it. He didn't consider even for a moment that somebody else could wake up before Senku. Nor that they should prioritize the assumption that petrification is irreversible and the new civilization has to be able to make it on its own. Nor that Senku's statue could end up lost underground, broken, or eroded beyond repair before depetrification is solved. Nor that he'll be quickly killed by the primitive world even if he does wake up—which would be a reasonable assumption considering he almost *was* killed by a lion! None of these nor any other options are considered even as a passing thought—and frankly, they are all ten billion percent™ more likely than what we got in the canon storyline. Make no mistake: I'm not entirely happy about how this was explained away in the original series, either. Far too many concessions have been made to make the plot pieces conveniently fall into place at the expense of character agency and sensibility. Realistically, for the astronaut team it would've been a far safer bet to repeat most of Senku's initial steps in restoring and preserving primitive technology to ensure long-term survival of the colony and accelerated rate of development. At the very least they could have ensured that the basics are taught and preserved in whatever convenient form to the entire populace, so it doesn't always hinge on the one girl who has to memorize a hundred vague precepts and stay alive and in good enough mental shape to pass them on—because every astronaut has the concept of redundancy drilled into them.
But Senku just had to be the Jump protagonist, AKA the most powerful and plot-armor-coated entity in existence. As a result, Byakuya doesn't even bother coming up with a convincing rationale for his decisions that would prioritize sensible decisions that *also* happen to work out for Senku if everything was to go as he envisioned. So he just goes one step ahead and unashamedly weaves his narrative around the notion that ensuring *Senku* has everything he needs when he is eventually depetrified is the only right thing to do. Instead of, you know, maximizing the chances of survival of the *colony* that is already far too small to take extra risks. Apparently that's the best course of action, least likely to end up in failure—which is, well, the end of all humanity. And I'd be fine with having selfish reasons, but remember that just moments earlier the same guy claimed they had to "save humanity". Not Senku—humanity. But they will somehow do so by helping Senku first, with humanity taking a backseat. What a load of inexcusable horseshit this line of thought is.
The other characters are no better for buying into Byakuya's (lack of) reasoning, but I can accept them being too depressed to argue against somebody who's read the Dr. Stone script in advance. I mean I'd probably consider humanity as good as doomed in that scenario anyway, so yeah, why not humor the crazy guy and let him die believing he did the right thing? The only one who has the balls to stand up to Byakuya's selfishness is Shamil—who is immediately put in his place for daring to question the father of a Jump protagonist. When called out, Byakuya nearly bullies the opponent into submission by turning this into a fight for authority over the group—which he only has by the virtue of being the Jump dad, despite Yakov being the actual commander for the mission. This unashamed self-righteousness borne from plot armor, as well as the fact that he gets away with it without much opposition at all is insulting to intelligence. You know, that thing we like Senku for.
Honestly, the way Boichi wrote Byakuya here is such a low blow to his character. Not to mention that for a series so preoccupied with the concept of science and making it look cool at all costs, Byakuya sure loves being completely under control of his gut feelings and other cognitive biases, sending the wrong message without ever acknowledging it. There is no love for *actual science* here—just a shocking absence thereof. I understand that he's a loving and loyal father and all, but the characters have to have at least a modicum of self-awareness. Show me the thought process, show me the actual conflict of opinions coming from highly-educated professionals, best people on the job, instead of this limp attempt to use kindergarten-level rhetorics to talk Byakuya out of his obsession. This could have been a good opportunity to open an interesting insight into rational vs. irrational thinking, e.g. whether it's better to follow the brain or the heart in extreme situations—something Interstellar has tried to execute (and also failed at it, by the way). Or, alternatively, the conflict of a person who is torn between trying to save his son and trying to save the rest of humanity. You know, the good psychological stuff that makes you think what you'd do in a situation like this. But evidently, Boichi isn't as capable a writer as he is an artist. Perhaps because his writing was sufficient for the actual goal at hand—which we'll move on to right now.
Still with me? Impressive resilience. You leave me no choice but to dirty our hands with our main offender and the only conceivable reason this abomination exists. Enter the actual main character, Rei—yet another Star-Wars-esque knockoff robot sidekick with a distinctly Japanese manga personality trait of exhibiting ten billion percent more emotional expressiveness than actual Japanese people. And of course, being the Jump protagonist for this series, it immediately embodies all the dumbest traits thereof. Right from the start it's introduced as a self-aware AI supercomputer (which, let me remind you, wasn't yet a thing as of the beginning of the main story, and would still be at least a decade or two away, realistically) that Byakuya "helped develop" as his "side-project" which we had no idea about because he was presented as a teacher and a carefree person, not a hard-working genius programmer and/or engineer with deep connections in the industry. Gosh, what a champ this Byakuya is! I bet his other side-projects helped cure cancer, or solve cold fusion, or whatever other exploits that would've easily made him Dr. Stone's version of Elon Musk if whoever came up with this idea gave a crap about making Byakuya a self-consistent character. Doing something amazing offscreen doesn't make a character great; it's the journey, the hardships, and the mindset that drives them that make it interesting. Loving Senku is not a character trait, either, it does not help develop advanced robots. We need to see the why and how of this process: what spurred Byakuya to even start thinking about it, what he struggled with, how he managed to get it done. We don't know remotely enough about him to see how something like Rei would come to exist as a result of his ambitions. We don't even know what sort of ambitions lead to it being a thing in the first place!
But back to Rei. It is introduced very suddenly and unnaturally, as if none of the senior ISS crew knew what cargo they would be receiving, and as if the world's most intelligent AI that is also a supercomputer and the first robot to operate in zero-g was just stuffed in the closet until it was the right time for it to make a dramatic entrance. Normally, everyone would know about this months in advance, and it would attract more media attention than a celebirty space tourist coming to ISS or whatever. Incredible retcon quality right there. Over the course of the manga's nine chapters which cover the span of the entire time Senku and the others had spent petrified, Rei manages increasingly unrealistic endeavors, as is par for the course for the center of the universe any Jump protagonist is—even if it's a protagonist of a short spin-off. These endeavors culminate in it getting a new synthetic body. Of a bombshell blonde girl. Because fucking of course. And all of this is done for dear Byakuya in the same sort of tiresome obsession that Byakuya has for Senku, even though with Rei's already-superhuman intelligence, it certainly must understand that Byakuya is long dead and nobody is returning to the ISS in foreseeable future. I guess even superhuman intelligence can overlook something so simple when it's convenient for the plot. The reason why it was so obsessed with Byakuya is never explained, either. Not that any explanation would make sense...
Honestly, I don't want to keep talking about this character any longer—which is good, I guess, because there simply isn't anything else to say. It's just a dumb mascot for kid readers, doing vaguely "sciencey" things that casually waltz all the way into the realm of high fantasy (with alien dragons and all—no, I'm not joking) and are spiced up by copious amounts of needless melodrama and cult of character strong enough to make Joseph Stalin blush like a tsundere schoolgirl. And it's also the reason why this spin-off was developed without the involvement of the writer and the science consultant of the main series. They were simply unneeded—the goal wasn't to create more of bona fide Dr. Stone, after all. It was to create a marketable mascot and trick the buyer into thinking this volume was about one of their favorite characters—which it wasn't. It was about Rei, somebody who goes decidedly against what Dr. Stone is about—which is the fun of using real, publicly available, mostly basic science and engineering knowledge to solve survival problems, and seeing how a primitive civilization can expand using such knowledge. The fun of making something functional out of sticks and vines and rocks has nothing to do with an unrealistic obsessive robot mining comets and satellites for thousands of years to upgrade itself into a gynoid in a futuristic space station made via recursive additive synthesis. It boggles my mind that people see them on the same level because both are somehow related to "science".
Frankly, the density of cringe and the utter lack of subtlety or sense in the writing of Dr. Stone Reboot: Byakuya are suffocating even compared to the usual Jump fare. It began innocuously enough, but already starting with chapter 2 I had just about one question: why was this necessary? I mean, by the end of the chapter we get to "enjoy" the following gem: as the astronauts are tasked with finding a method of reducing the margin of error in calculating the optimal descent trajectory to safely hit their target, Byakuya has an eureka moment which he immediately discusses with the rest of the crew—who, as we are told in the same chapter, are all PhDs:
"I've got our solution!"
"You figured out how to reduce our margin of error?"
"If it's the atmosphere throwing us off, let's just plug that data into the computer as well!"
Ooh. Oooohhhhhhhhh... So that's what was missing! We need to put the magic numbers into the magic box which will give us the needed results. Dayum! The pea-brained astronaut peasants, graced by this pearl of heavenly wisdom, then raise their mud-covered faces once more to ask an obvious question as to where the data for the atmospheric model and the required processing power will come from. To which Byakuya tells them not to sweat the small details and presents the end-all solution: Rei. Because it's a supercomputer, duh. Of course, that's what the solution had to be. PhD my ass, I'm genuinely impressed all these characters managed to graduate from high school. I understand that a sci-fi script needs to be dumbed down for kids to make sense of what's going on, but this is knocking it all the way down to a level of a gag parody. A bad one at that.
Before you run to curse at me in private messages for bashing this spin-off so hard, please believe that I have rational reasons for doing so. See, I'm well-aware that normally there is no harm in having some sort of an expanded universe surrounding a popular work of fiction. In many cases it enriches the fictional universe. There are many spin-offs that are no less valuable than the originals, and even some fanfics out there that keep up in terms of depth and character development. All of this is cool by me. But this is one of the few sad cases where it would actually be better if it were never written, because it perverts your perception of the canon characters and setting. It portrays Byakuya as an obsessive, irrational, and myopic person who is far more successful than he deserves to be—a far cry from the initial impression one has of him based on his depiction in Dr. Stone. It portrays the setting as a world where the word "science" is used as an excuse for what is arguably magic—ironic, considering how in the original this is exactly how the primitives were thinking about it. It betrays the very foundations of Dr. Stone's narrative which is predominantly grounded in scientific determinism rather than stringing together assumptions, off-chances, and loads of wishful thinking in a mishmash of whatever-goes.
A spin-off, or a sequel, or some other sort of official expansion that devalues the original work can do harm by simply existing, and it's much worse than having an unrelated standalone work fail. That's a risk writers and producers should realize when expanding their stories, but they almost never care because a good portion of the time even a critical failure can still bring profit in extra sales of merchandise and whatnot if the franchise it piggybacks on has enough drawing power by itself. Pardon me for bringing Star Wars into this again, but the godawful prequels—as laughable as they were in terms of writing, acting, and directing—were still a massive financial success for Lucas because of all the toys and games and clothes and amusement park rides. And that's exactly the kind of soulless thing this is: a vehicle for byproduct sales conceived by a greedy publisher without the involvement of the original creator. No offense to Boichi, though: his art is superb as always. But that's about the only positive thing I can say about this garbage.
In conclusion, let us ponder a bit about what this manga could have been if it were an honest spin-off (or "reboot", as it calls itself) true to Dr. Stone's ideals, storytelling principles, and overall writing quality. First of all, it would be focused on the man himself, Byakuya: how he was developed as a person, how he acquired his interest in science and passed it on to Senku, and how it affected his own life. A deeper insight into what made him the character we came to know, love, and respect, and how he managed to raise Senku into another character we love. Instead of the one-sided obsession with Senku driving his decisions and the other astronauts playing the role of cardboard yes men, we would see how it was Byakuya's curiosity, charm, wit, and sharp mind that earned him the leadership over the team—not unlike how it was done in Space Brothers (which is excellent, by the way!). We would see how they—a team of five highly trained adults and a somewhat less-trained space tourist—built their own village and how it differed from what Senku and others did. We would see the expanded backstory of the second village. We would follow the team's discussions and arguments on how to ensure that the essential life-preserving knowledge isn't lost over the centuries. We would see Byakuya's ingenuity and determination as he worked to ensure his colony's survival, and the pain of loss as his friends succumbed to injuries and illnesses instead of promptly killing them off almost as a passing notion. In other words, we would see the aspects of him that would make him his own character and not just Senku's dad. And most importantly, there would be no Rei at all—because honestly, fuck that. Let the ISS burn as well; it has no meaningful role in the story, anyway. The last thing Dr. Stone needs is a superhuman AI in the body of a sexy naked anime girl overseeing the world in a lone Evangelion-esque space station as some kind of a postmodern deity. Truly the darkest timeline.
I hope you're satisfied, Shueisha. You've successfully kept up your image as the publisher who does their damnedest to milk and suck everything good out of the properties that end up in their care until they become a dry husk. Readers, too—you have to start developing standards at some point in your life. The earlier, the better. Especially if you're big fans. Don't just blindly accept something as good only because it's related to something you love or panders to your closet interests. Vote with your time and/or your wallets, and let this sad attempt at expanding Dr. Stone's universe sink to where it belongs: in the gutter.