INTERVIEW: The Challenges of Adapting Dr. STONE NEW WORLD with Shuuhei Matsushita and Shuusuke Katagiri

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Dr. STONE NEW WORLD follows Senku and his comrades as they persist in unraveling ancient mysteries to rebuild society. Much like Senku’s unwavering determination, the team behind Dr. STONE is dedicated to bringing this series and storyline to life. At Anime NYC 2023, Anime Trending and other outlets had the opportunity to interview Director Shuhei Matsushita and Producer Shusuke Katagiri about the third season of Dr. STONE. Together, they revealed details about the production process, discussed their fieldwork experiences, and shared overarching reflections on the series.


In a 2019 interview before the anime’s premiere, Dr. STONE’s editor on Shonen Jump said that the series demonstrates the audience’s evolving taste in shonen. Do you still think this is the case? And if so, how would you say Dr. STONE has codified this revolution? 

Shusuke Katagiri: Personally, I don’t know if the trend has actually changed, but since it’s such a long-living title, the target demographic has changed because of that, or rather expanded. So that means that [for] something like this, there’s a little bit of a difference in taste. We’re handling slightly different themes and tastes than other shonen manga styles. There’s no magic and etc, but that genre is also accepted and celebrated. Maybe we were able to offer a few more options for shonen manga.

Director Matsushita-san, how did your brief experience as a ship’s captain on a really hot day help you with the sailboat scenes in Season 3?

Shuhei Matsushita: A boat has a really narrow corridor and hull. The setting is really important in creating anime, and if the audience detects a little bit of untruthfulness, [if] that gets caught, then you can’t fully dive into the narrative and story and characters. Especially with this title, Dr. STONE, we want to be truthful and authentic to scientific elements and stuff like that, so we pay attention to make what you see on screen as authentic as possible.

Katagiri: Actually, we did the fieldwork and went to the boat during the daytime, but when you’re inside the boat, it’s actually much darker because you’re inside. We were able to reflect that in the animation as well. So we were happy that it was worth it that we went to do the fieldwork with the boat.

 

Anime Trending: Dr. STONE is on its third season and is still airing. Could you talk about the creative process behind the production? 

Katagiri: We paid close attention to the beginning and the ending of the first cour and second cour, especially the end of the first cour and the beginning of the second cour. We made sure that there was continuity to the story. 

Matsushita: At the end of the first cour, we wanted the audience to be engaged so that we could carry them onto the second cour. Especially when we’re thinking about the flow of the script altogether, something happens and that concludes, but something else needs to be set up so that everybody is interested in watching the next. So that is what we paid close attention to for this season.

So many shonen series focus on physical strength and superpowers, and Dr. STONE shows that science and knowledge can be the greatest power of all. Has it been satisfying to push that narrative and to create a show that focuses on brains over brawns a lot of the time?

Matsushita: Well, there are some characters that kind of have superpowers, but with that said, we believe that everybody is an expert at something, so that’s kind of the underlying theme.

Katagiri: Also, the characters are relatable in that I’m sure everybody [has the same] experience: “I’m smart, but I can’t do sports, or I have lots of power, but I’m not as smart.” You know, that kind of balance. I’m sure you know somebody in the class who is like that. So that fact is what makes the series and the characters relatable and gives a little bit of realness to it. I can’t do any sports whatsoever. But I was good at drawing!

 

What do you love about Dr. STONE’s story, and, having worked with these characters and bringing them to life, do you have a favorite one that you love?

Katagiri: I think one of the biggest appeals is that what they create leads to something next, and something next is always bigger. So they’re sort of scaling up and trying to do something bigger and better. Sometimes when original manga gets adapted into an anime series, sometimes because of the length, the limitations, we have to drop some of the story arcs or chapters. But with Dr. STONE, if you cut something out, then you can’t lead into the next arc. So that’s why we spend a lot of time and energy on storyboarding so that everything is coherent and makes sense. 

Matsushita: For me, in terms of the scale of the story, such an epic saga type of story, we haven’t really seen that recently, so I’m definitely attracted to that element.

Katagiri: If you look at the page and see it has been 3,700 years, [it’s] like, “What?” You don’t really see that grand scale of a story.

Matsushita: They start from the bare minimum, and step by step, they really need to painstakingly build something up. That process is also very engaging to watch. 

To go more specifically into the story, this new season adapts the New World story arc. As somebody who’s read the manga, was there a specific sequence or scene that you were really looking forward to bringing to life?

Matsushita: All of it. Well, like I said it’s everything, but the Treasure Island Arc, every chapter is so exciting, and there’s no lagging of the story and the tempo. So hopefully the anime can catch up on that rhythm and capture that exciting speed with the animation.

Katagiri: I’d say episode 13, the final episode where Kohaku and Ginro get petrified. It was a shock to read the manga when I saw it. I didn’t want to animate it, but you know of course I had to, and so it was almost like I had to get to this point.

Matsushita: There was a lot in episode 13, so it was very difficult to edit, and it took a lot of time to edit as well.

 

What are the most challenging aspects of translating the Dr. STONE manga into the anime?

Katagiri: Just the portrayal of anything scientific.

Matsushita: The manga has liquids [and gasses], and [so] what color is it? How does that gas flow in real life? Just because it’s described and depicted in a certain way in the original manga, is that really true? We have to investigate and make sure what happens, so that was very hard.

Did you feel like you had to learn a lot about science in order to animate the sequences?

Matsushita: Yes.

Katagiri: We always, always had to study.

Matsushita: As the story continues, there are different fields of science that are introduced, so we have to keep studying.

Katagiri: Not that we got any smarter, but we have more knowledge about science.

Can you talk about your trip to Shizuoka to check out the oil fields, and would you recommend wearing brand-new sneakers when doing so?

Katagiri: No, definitely do not wear new sneakers. The people definitely told us that we needed to wear long boots. Intentionally, I left out that information. That funny little anecdote gets more focus, but in reality, that fieldwork was really helpful. We got to smell the oil coming out, see it, and we took a lot of photos.

Matsushita: Especially on the surface of the oils, it gives off an iridescent light, so we were able to reflect that.

Katagiri: The boars also lived there too. The boars rubbed their bodies against trees, and we actually saw that mark. We were told that yeah, just watch out for boars when you see one, but how were we supposed to be careful about it when we saw one?

AT: It can be challenging to produce a TV anime series with many seasons and to maintain that quality and rich storytelling, especially with Dr. STONE. So could you talk about that process of maintaining that quality and rich storytelling?

Katagiri: It’s always difficult throughout the process, but Director Matsushita took over the TV special RYUSUI and Season 3, and we had a lot of discussion about the balance and flow of the whole series. Sometimes, on average, it takes about five thousand to six thousand animations to make one episode, but because we need to pay attention to the balance of the whole series, maybe one episode needs to get seven thousand, and maybe the next one will get four thousand so that there’s a dynamic from episode to episode.

How do you know what’s important from the manga to keep and what’s important not to keep to keep the story cohesive?

Matsushita: In terms of the creative style, I like to make a longer version of it, and through editing, we shorten it down. That’s kind of what I like to do, but as a basic principle, we want to include all of it if we can. Especially when you’re looking at manga, sometimes a cute silly face again maybe is not necessary, but we want to see that, and we want to include that.

Katagiri: The TV special was really hard, wasn’t it?

Matsushita: The TV special RYUSUI was really hard because it was actually my first time making a one-hour-length anime. It’s always thirty minutes, and I was able to do a theatrical episode. So it took a long time to edit it — about fifteen hours. 

 

Moz is such a memorable enemy for Senku. How did you want to really set him up this season as a villainous presence?

Katagiri: If you look at the original manga, he definitely has lots of muscles, he’s very intimidating, so we just try to replicate that. 

Matsushita: Maybe you can see a little more of Moz’s face close-ups compared to the other villains, but we try to make him intimidating.

Since the Dr. STONE manga finished last year, have you felt any new pressures in crafting the anime version of a finished product? Or is it a relief to know exactly when the story is going to end?

Matsushita: Just because the story has been completed, [it] doesn’t mean that we can sit back and relax about the animation because what the anime series brings to the table feels a little different than the completion of the anime. There are fans who only watch the anime series and don’t read the manga, but we want those anime-only fans to experience those thrilling moments as much as the manga readers do. But with that said, because we know the ending, how it’s going to be completed, we can plan ahead and do foreshadowing, etc, so we do have that luxury. 

What were the anime and manga that inspired each of you to join the industry?

Matsushita: So my first start was Evangelion. The first theatrical release of that, I really wanted to work with Director Ango, and that’s what got me into this industry.

Katagiri: I kind of got invited into this field, if you will, so I didn’t really have a series or anime that inspired me to come into this industry. But with that said, my ideal dream job would be something like Cowboy Bebop, a sci-fi series.

How were you invited to the field?

Katagiri: This was before I joined TMS Entertainment. My roommate was an animator at a studio, and the production assistant at that studio left. My roommate said, “If you’re not working, then come.” And then I got pulled into it and started my career. I was at that company for one year, but I cannot tell you how horrible the working situation was. I just can’t. Very terrible working conditions. Just to give you a glimpse of how terrible it was, I didn’t have time to bathe, so I had to wash my body at the bathroom sink. It was hell. 

AT: Director Matsushita-san, you came in as a director for Dr. STONE NEW WORLD. Could you talk about what it’s like continuing the role as a director for an existing TV anime series?

Matsushita: Yes, I was definitely nervous, but I first got to work on the TV special RYUSUI. The main crew remained the same, so it was more like I was learning from them. The episode director taught me a lot about the series. Luckily, the editors and the sound directors were people I’d worked with before, so they were familiar faces. So it really helped me get used to and accommodated to the existing team.

Katagiri: When the TV special aired, as a team we watched it together, and it was sort of like the introduction ceremony where it was like, “Yes, now I’m finally part of the team!” 

Each season really expands the scope so much. You’re meeting new characters and  you’re seeing new worlds. Is that an exciting experience? Is it a little intimidating to change things up so much as the show goes on?

Matsushita: Like you pointed out, the characters that show up in the series are almost like double [that] of a normal anime series. With that said, Inagaki-sensei draws them and incorporates them into the story, so each of them is essential. We can’t drop anybody. So we want to make all of the characters attractive as much as possible.

Katagiri: There’s a character that only speaks once in an episode. 

Matsushita: Even though a character only speaks one line for an episode, you might feel like maybe we can cut that character, but the voice actor comes in to record that. It’s the accumulation of those little moments that make up the story, so we can’t drop any of them. They’re all important.

For this particular season, is there any particular episode that you look at the final product and go, “That’s my favorite,” or have you seen any particular episode where the audience really gravitated toward that one?

Matsushita: The fans haven’t seen the whole thing, [but a lot more happens] in the second half. With that said, episodes 12 and 13, Ryusui coming out of petrification and Kohaku getting petrified, everybody worked hard on those two episodes, especially the animators. So that’s something that you want to look forward to.

 

We have to talk about Senku. He makes a lot of hard decisions in this season. How is it showing his moral challenges and his internal struggles this season? 

Katagiri: Senku’s facial expression and stuff, [when] something shocking happens, we see his face sometimes, but the director has made intentional decisions to not show his face. So maybe we see his back or something. When he hears the news about Kohaku, we only see his mouth. But we can tell that there’s definitely something going on.

Matsushita: With that said, you see Senku’s emotional expressions a little more than [what you] see in the manga because I feel like in animation, you want to make the characters relatable.

Post-apocalyptic stories have always had a lot of fascination for people, but especially now, when younger generations are facing these cerebral threats like global warming, do you think of the story from that angle as a starting-from-scratch story?

Katagiri: Maybe there are elements of it in this story, but obviously nobody’s going to get petrified and won’t revive for 3,700 years. With that said, if something similar happens, just imagining that [a] similar thing might happen, I feel like if you know about the series and follow this series, you will have this survival knowledge that might help you survive such a situation. I mean, did you know that wheatgrass can be substituted for wheat, etc? We get to learn survival skills through the series. If you know the skills, you can survive — maybe a little bit.


Dr. STONE NEW WORLD  is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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