The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun

Title: Toaru Kagaku no Railgun aka A Certain Scientific Railgun
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: J.C. Staff
Format: 24 episodes
Dates: 3 Oct 2009 – 20 Mar 2010

Synopsis: Misaka Mikoto is one of the few level 5 espers in Academy City, a city mostly filled with students that learn how to control their scientifically granted superpowers. Mikoto attends Tokiwadai Private Junior Highschool and is best friends with her dorm-mate and not-so-secret admirer, Shirai Kuroko, a member of the Judgment, which is a student-run law enforcement group. Mikoto’s power gives her something of a celebrity status around town and Shirai’s partner in Judgment, Uihara Kazari is desperate to meet her. Uihara’s best friend Saten Ruiko suspects Mikoto’s elite status would make her stuck up, but after they meet her, they quickly hit it off and the four of them become close friends.

The Highlights
Characters: The four main characters are so genuine; an improvement over Index.
Pacing: Lots of one-off episodes that are fun and (often) tie into the main plot.
Music: Lots of good music from Index; ELISA’s “Dear My Friend -Mada Minu Mirai he-“ is the best theme song of the franchise.
Action: Well choreographed and animated, but some sequences require major suspension of disbelief.
Themes: Has a good sense of “sci-fi” skepticism towards technology; also has some touching themes about friendship.
Setting: Academy City is well fleshed out, but never strikes me as a city I’d wish to live in.

Trying to describe the relationship between Railgun and Index isn’t straightforward. One is a spin-off of the other, but whether they even share the same timeline is disputable, and trying to justify that they’re parts of the same overarching story requires a lot of rationalizing and conveniently ignoring a few scattered examples of retcon. I just find it easier to say that there’s no continuity between Railgun and Index: like The Legend of Zelda, they’re different stories that just happen to share a few of the same characters. Fortunately, those characters happen to be the ones that didn’t drive me up the wall during Index.

The difference between the two series isn’t quite night and day, but it’s stark and a lot of those differences make for good reasons why Railgun is the significantly better series. There’s a better director at the helm for starters, Nagai Tatsuyuki, whose background in grounded romantic melodramas like Honey and Clover II and Toradora! evidences a respect for downtime and introspection, meaning that Railgun isn’t as utterly one-paced as Index was. Actions have consequences that linger more than a few episodes. Characters have hopes and feelings that change over time, and are shaped by their experiences. It isn’t just exposition, followed by an action scene, followed by an action scene filled with exposition. Nagai wants us to understand these characters, and understand why they’re all friends.

So it’s a good thing that Railgun’s cast is so much stronger than Index’s, particularly the four girls who make the main group. The character interactions and dynamics are so clear and the relationships are all very well realized. There’s an obvious sense of care and concern between all girls within the group, and their behaviour as a group of friends is quite believable, even despite the fact that three of them are superpowered. Interestingly enough, it’s the character without the superpowers that seems to shine the most. I have no qualms with saying that Saten, with her bubbly personality, internal dilemmas and strong sense of duty and fairness, is the most complete character penned in either series.

While the characters are good, I wouldn’t say the same about the plot. The vast majority of the series is episodic, and there are only about three arcs that span multiple episodes. Some of the one-off episodes tie into the arcs later on, particularly the earlier ones relating to “Level Upper” (which are, funnily enough, among the most entertaining of the series). These one-offs (I’m deliberately avoiding calling them “fillers”) aren’t bad, and I wouldn’t quickly dismiss any argument that says that they’re better than the multi-episode arcs on average (with the exception of the “Level Upper” arc). There’s a pretty high demand for suspension of disbelief as well. The powers themselves are quite versatile, and the way they’re used is often creative (eg, Misaka’s iron dust sword), but while the action sequences are well animated and choreographed, when certain events occur that would only be possible with microsecond perfect timing, nanometer perfect aim and a complete disregard of momentum, it’s a bit hard to swallow.

Maybe this is the bias talking, but the thing that impressed me the most about Railgun was that it was so vastly different to Index. It’s picked and chosen the good stuff from Index, like the music and a few of the characters, jettisoned most of the crap, and combined it with some new stuff in a way that has context within a small handful of meaningful themes. It’s still mostly popcorn action, but I was generally entertained by it, and always engaged.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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