'Misaka Mikoto', a middle-school girl with an amazing and highly-destructive ability to control electricity, is one of the top level espers in Academy City, a highly developed town populated by students with supernatural abilities. Joined by her three very different girl friends - her flirty roommate and skilled teleporting esper Kuroko, Kuroko's innocent rookie partner at the local student-run law enforcing agency, Uiharu, and Uiharu's best friend, Saten, who has no esper powers - Mikoto encounters various strange phenomena and eccentric people through her action-packed adventures in this exciting scientific town.
Following on from Spike's review of A Certain Magical Index, we have the spinoff series A Certain Scientific Railgun which features Mikasa Mikoto from the previous show. Whereas Toma and Index were the main stars in Index, here Mikasa and her friends are the draw. In the show, young children who develop extrasensory perceptions, so called "espers", are sent to Academy City to learn to control and develop their powers. The children are graded from Level 0 to 5, 5 being the highest. So in the City, crimes involving the Espers who live there are investigated by Judgement, a group of powered and non-powered officers from the student body or by Anti-Skill, the adults who tackle more earthly threats. Mikasa's roommate in school, Shirai Kiroku, is a member of Judgement and so Mikasa gets dragged into the problems they face, even though Mikasa is not a member of the organisation. Along the way, they become friends with Saten Ruiko and Uihara Kazari. Uihara is friends with Shirai from when they were little children so the four of them form a close connection over the course of the season.
For anyone unfamiliar with the show, this might sound like a lot to take in, however you shouldn't worry as the show works as both a standalone story and a continuation of the first series. For a twenty four episode series, the show covers a lot of ground from a dangerous method of artificial enhancement of esper powers to an plot to use the latent powers of all the children in the city for an unknown purpose to a conspiracy regarding comatose children who were part of a city experiment. Along the way, the girls have to deal with all the problems that come with being the age they are, the things that they like and the people they look up to.
Whereas Index focuses on the magical side of things, Railgun is firmly in the pure austereness of science. The city is shown to be a cultured, well maintained metropolis with more schools and universities than anything else. Since the emphasis is on the empowerment and advancement of espers, the city spends a lot of effort encouraging their student academically as well as psychically. Hospitals, research centres and centres of excellence abound as researchers work out how and why their younger citizens have such control over their powers. You'd think with all this power, that the authorities would be apt to abuse their positions and you'd be right. While one story arc in the series does deal with the abuses of a certain group of scientists, the real manipulation happens in Index and so doesn't really happen here. With such shadowy figures moving around Academy City, it's a good thing the show has a fantastic quartet of characters.
The series works hard at building the four main girls into strong, competent leads as they struggle with being espers (Saten is the only one who is a level 0) in a city full of them. Of the four, Mikasa gets the most coverage but I'll come to her in a minute. The two smaller leads, Saten and Uihara take a while to brought to the fore with Uihara taking the most time. She's a sweet, well meaning girl who also happens to be dynamite as a Judgement officer working faster at a computer than anybody else and has a talent for analysing data to find buried information. Her partner in crime is Saten who despite being a Level 0 and a civilian, helps out with cases and problems, but has this weird obsession with flipping Uihara's skirt up in public to see what kind of underwear she's wearing today. But things aren't all sweet for them and I liked how Saten goes through a crisis because of not being like everyone else in the city. We watch her slowly getting more depressed as she struggles with what she thinks society expects of her. She sees her life come crashing down, leaving her in a dangerous place and then the show kicks it into high gear by having Uihara track down the way to help her friend. Afterwards, the production staff at J.C. Staff take a page from P.A. Works and slowly bring Saten into the light again and we get episodes like the one where she goes to a reeducation class and learns more about herself than she thought possible.
But the main thing you need to understand about the girls is that for reasons that become pretty clear soon, Mikasa is treated by everyone she meets as a rock star. Literally children, teenagers and adults all know who she is. She's the Railgun, a girl so powerful that when the other kids get tested annually for their esper potential and to see if they've improved, they use a school nurse's office. Mikasa uses a swimming pool to prevent people from being hurt. As she goes through the show, we learn that she has a thing for cute frogs, frilly clothing and generally likes things that belie her tough exterior. Her friends either pretend not to notice or just don't care while other people are shocked with how she is in real life. The vibe I get is that they expect her to be aloof and badass but really she lets her talent do the walking and her personality do the talking. Mikasa has a crush on Index star Toma but in true anime fashion never lets him know that. Toma literally turns up in the series whenever he feels like it and since this is set around the events of Index, Toma is still getting to know Mikasa during the first half of the series. So their interactions are sparking, witty, and from Mikasa angry. She can't tell him she likes him so he gets attacked by her a lot. Index herself turns up but she never speaks to anyone so it's nice to see the two shows cross over without being convoluted. Speaking of convoluted, Shirai's relationship with Mikasa is a bit perverted. She's constantly trying to undress Mikasa, profess her undying love for her, take racy pictures of her and generally catch her in an unguarded moment. But Mikasa is too wily for that and keeps her at bay with a series of punches and electro-shocks. That doesn't stop Shirai but even with this overdose of one way love, Shirai is a capable character being introduced to us beating up criminals while trailing Mikasa and her own trail of destruction. Shirai can teleport herself, other people and objects over vast distances even without line of sight. She carries a belt of metal pins that she uses to incapacitate her opponents. Even though at the start episode, she's only known Mikasa for about a month, the two girls form a great duo themselves in which they never doubt that the other can do great things but they're always ready to back each other up.
The side characters are also given time to be explored which is fairly impressive when you think of the amount of characters, plots and stories that they pack into twenty four episodes. I particularly liked the adventures of the Anti-Skill adults who help Judgement and Mikasa out from time to time and how their days off shape up. It's very to see the grownups having to deal with their own stresses, often to hilarious effect. The writing of the show in general is such that you're never sure who is being truthful and who is hiding something until the show is good and ready to tell you. I know they're following the basic plot set out by the original light novel series by Kazuma Kamachi and illustrated by Kiyotaka Haimura and the manga series by Kamachi and drawn by Motoi Fuyukawa but it's great to see a confident show make its own changes to the material to suit the show.
The series has always been marked by the amazing animation in its action scenes but Railgun ups the ante by showing in minute detail the way that the air distorts around Mikasa as she charges up and releases volts of electrical energy and how she can rend the ground by altering the gravitational constant of the concrete under her. But the show-stopper has to be when Mikasa uses her signature and flips a coin in her hand and when it comes back to her hand, she flicks it with her coiled up thumb, sending it forward with the force of a rocket, causing ripple clouds to form around the shot, devastating the target in front of her and setting off a pile of explosive blasts doing so.
The other espers in the show have their own talents, especially Shirai and her teleport ability, but we get to see everyone shine before the finale. Speaking of which, it is not shown at the beginning as to who the main villain and when it's revealed, the show goes into overdrive again to deliver a show-stopping end.
The blu ray's look amazing and while it's a bit annoying that there was only a Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Japanese track, we do get a fairly meaty TrueHD 5.1 track English track as well and it plays to the show's strengths as much as possible. The English dub is OK but I agree with Spike that the dub goes for higher emotional ranges than the more subdued Japanese original so some nuances are bound to be lost in translation. On the discs are the opening and closing animations plus a few commentaries from the English crew and VA's. Well done to Animatsu for getting the show to market with a good looking package for extras and video and audio quality.
The show is well worth your time and I echo Spike's comments about wanting the next story in the light novel and manga series, Accelerator, to be out into animated form. If you're hungry for more Mikasa and crew, there's a sequel series A Certain Scientific Railgun S, which is available now from FUNimation in the US and that I hope Animatsu brings to the UK/ROI soon. A neat, perfect blend of comedy and action with a little teen drama thrown in for good measure, Railgun is a great anime to get stuck into.