A Certain Scientific Railgun Complete Season 1 Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 562 minutes approx.
Billed as a side story to A Certain Magical Index the events of this series in fact take place before and occasionally during the timeline of the parent show, with minimal crossover. The setting is still Academy City and revolves around Espers but this time the central protagonist is Level 5 Esper Mikoto Misaka, who featured in one of the more interesting arcs in Index.
Misaka still has the fearsome reputation her Esper status affords but she puts it to much better use than just tormenting Touma Kamijou, the lead in Index, who makes a few appearances here. Alongside her gregarious and overly lustful friend Kuroko Shirai, a member of a public moral group called Judgment, Misaka becomes embroiled in a number of dangerous Esper related issues that blight Academy City.
Once again the light novels and subsequent manga adaptation from Kazuma Kamachi provide the basis for this series but for the first half only; the second half is a new story Kamachi wrote especially for the anime. As it transpires though the consistency of Kamachi’s writing is once again exposed as it was in Index, showing a few good ideas let down by a weak and unfocused narrative.
In that respect, the first few episodes of A Certain Scientific Railgun offer little hope to anyone seeking an improvement on Index, serving as an introduction to two new regular characters Kazari Uiharu, a meek young girl with flowers in her hair who works alongside Kuroko in judgment, and her friend Ruiko Saten, whose Esper powers are largely innate.
Aside from a few sprinkles of action, the content is based mostly around typical anime high school girl frippery with the added unhealthy panty obsession of Kuroko and Ruiko. It is not until episode six that a proper story appears, beginning with a bombing campaign aimed at wiping of Judgment members. The investigation reveals something equally sinister as the culprit had availed himself with a Level Upper, rumoured to increase one’s Esper powers.
It takes the form of a music download that manipulates the senses of the Espers via synaesthesia and creates powers beyond their level. Misaka and friends become alerted to it when Rurika, depressed about her meagre Level 0 status, tries the Level Upper and collapses as a result. With the aid of AIM expert Harumi Kiyama, they discovers that Level upper users are all controlled by a singular connecting brainwave, the truth about which has deeper consequences.
After such a fluffy and inconsistent start this arc is a breath of fresh air. The cringe worthy comedy and trope based silliness is supplanted by a more serious and focused direction with plenty of action and some horrific twists in the tale. The science behind these developments may be spurious at best but there is a genuine sense of pathos behind the drama to ensure our emotional investment.
Unfortunately Kamachi follows this with more random fluff, uncomfortable fan service, flaccid day-to-day high school distractions and irrelevant antics featuring secondary characters before concluding with a second serious arc born directly out of the Level Upper tale.
This time a young transfer student named Erii Haruue is thought to be the cause of the random cases of Poltergeisting in the city since they occur in proximity to her presence. The team find themselves again in contact with Kiyama and find a connection with her previous plight, but this time Kiyama’s motives polarise the group thanks to the interference of Therestina Kihara Lifeline of the Multi Active Rescue (MAR) force, whose Mecha suit operations lead to a chaotic and intense showdown to close the series.
On paper these sound like solid and intriguing storylines combining action, science and fantasy elements with schoolgirl protagonists to please the less discerning anime fan and in execution this makes for a perfectly serviceable twelve episode series. The problem is that Railgun has twenty four episodes meaning over half are avoidable dross with the depth of a conversation with Joey Essex.
Its predecessor Index suffered from a hot start which deteriorated when the eponymous lead became relegated to the sidelines in her own show, a mistake which befall Misaka while her co-stars are given ample room to contribute too. It takes a while for Misaka to become established as a credible lead since she was mostly comic relief in Index but she eventually comes into her own here and proves quite formidable.
The only downside is that an apparent school rule says she must wear her uniform in public on all occasions and her fascination with childish clothes is less a cute quirk and more a source of embarrassment. Misaka is more likeable Kuroko whose overt lesbian advances are frankly disturbing and often inappropriate, while Uihara would less dorky if her ubiquitous flower hairband wasn’t so large.
Production values are again of a high standard with JC Staff putting a lot of effort into both the artwork and the animation. The action scenes are quite plentiful considering the mount of extraneous nonsense, made up of inventive and over the top shenanigans as expected. There is the odd flicker of violence when required but nothing too explicit, keeping things fairly safe but still bristling with energy and excitement.
Quite remarkably the crossover between Index and Railgun is kept to a minimum with Touma showing up the most, usually falling foul of Misaka’s temper after an innocent misunderstanding or unwanted act of heroism on Touma’s. Index herself appears just once in a throwaway skit which offers little portent for things to come.
All things considered A Certain Scientific Railgun can be considered the better show when compared to Index, displaying more focus towards the main characters and the two episodic story arcs. However this comes at a price with the surfeit of weaker standalone chapters weighing it down like the proverbial albatross, many of which could easily have been excised. In other words there is half a decent series here.
English Language Dolby True HD 5.1
Japanese Language Dolby True HD 2.0
Episode 3 Commentary
Episode 6 Commentary
Episode 17 Commentary
Episode 24 Commentary
Textless Opening Songs – “Only My Railgun” “Level 5”
Textless Closing Songs – “Dear My Friend” “Real Force”
Rating – ***
Man In Black