A certain final thoughts on Railgun

So with the final volume of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun released, it’s time to discuss the whole of the first season. I hope to cover both the positives and negatives throughout the season in this look back (and it’ll also work as a look forward to To Aru Majutsu no Index 2). Similarly to my review of the first arc, I’ll be putting images of the whole set of Blu-Rays throughout this editorial.

The first fact of note that should be mentioned about Railgun is that not only is it an adaptation of an ongoing manga series, but that itself is an adaptation from the original Index light novels. At the beginning of this season, there were only one arc that was complete compared to several novels of Index. That was the Level Upper arc seen in the first 12 episodes. The following manga arc is still ongoing (the Sisters arc from Misaka’s POV) so it could not be adapted due to that constraint.

With Index being a two cour season, it made little sense to make the “sequel” a one cour season, thus JC Staff had to create 12 episodes that had no involvement with the manga. This became the set of episodes that were widely disliked to say the least (episodes 15-24). While personally, I do like the final arc, it did feel at times like the series was missing something tying everything together.

But we have to think about the purpose of the Railgun franchise as a whole: to show Academy City from the point of view of Mikoto Misaka as well as what the “normal” style of life in the city is. Index focuses on the conflicting side of magic vs science, but Railgun serves to flesh out the city into an actual place instead of a setting. When I think of the city that Haruhi’s based in, the little town for K-On!, or even Otogibana City, they seem as settings moreso than places one could live in.

In that respect, Railgun more than succeeds; it thrives on showing the ordinary lifestyles of extraordinary people. There’s not a single character that’s introduced and not expanded upon (with the exception of the main Index characters of course). We see how the teachers that are on the Anti-Skills cope with both teaching and protecting the city. We see the day-to-day styles of the Judgement offices. We see how the city takes care of their youth and why they come to live here.

Unfortunately, it’s only hinted as to the real reason why the whole city exists. That’s more present in the main series, but we get to see glimpses of the main reason why kids are taught superpowers in Academy City: they’re test subjects first and foremost. In the manga, Misaka was asked to give a sample of her blood to start the Sisters arc, which wasn’t shown in either series. Not having read the novels (or even the translated ones available), I hope this gets expanded on in further installments of the whole franchise.

As said earlier, this series was set to focus on the POV of Mikoto Misaka and her friends: Kuroko Shirai, Kazari Uiharu, and Ruiko Saten.We see their bonds of friendship tested time and time again throughout the series (mostly because Misaka wants to always play the hero) and yet it almost never feels like a Superhero show. All four of them are Super-powered-people, yet the emphasis is not on their powers, but on themselves first and foremost. That’s heavily emphasised in the second half of the season, and it’s partly why I really like the franchise.

Not only does the anime series place more focus on Misaka and her friends than the main series, it also places more focus on her friends than in the original manga. The manga starts out with a few stories like the first 6 episodes, but then it goes into the Level Upper and Sisters arcs which focus primarily on Misaka. The anime adaptation original episodes give much more development to the other characters, especially the character of Saten. She’s touched upon slightly in the manga, but she doesn’t get near the amount of exposure she does in the anime. They truly feel at times like different series, and yet they’re focused upon the same principle character.

Railgun is not without its flaws. While the concept of expanding on background characters is wonderful since we don’t often get a chance to see that play out, it’s difficult to actually pull off effectively. Sadly, you can skip episodes 17-19 and have little to no impact on the overall story. Granted, the episodes are nicely done and aren’t actively horrible, it’s just that they’re not as important as every other episode to the main plot. Episode 17 just seemed to bring in cameos from Index just to appeal to those fans.

One other negative against Railgun is the lack of originality in the later fight scenes. It’s been commented before that the final episode has a lot of animation from the second opening (which really hurts it when it’s added in the DVD/BD ver). As a scientist, I would have prefered to see more of the electrical attacks beyond “railgun” and win. The fight scene with Touma in episode 4 added some originality, and the manga expands on the use of electrical currents as attacks, yet the adaptation seems weaker in that aspect.

In a lot of ways, Railgun tries to be a lot of different types of shows and generally succeeds, but it doesn’t excel at any one particular aspect. Index had more shounen fighting scenes, K-On! has more slice-of-life/everyday activities, and there are other special power shows. But what makes this show memorable to me is the high quality of the characters. The deeper caring aspect of Misaka shown in Index gets expanded beyond her “sisters” and herself. Kuroko gets expadned beyond “lesbian love interest”. Uiharu and Saten are introduced and highlighted throughout the series as strong characters. Yet together, you get a sense that while they can’t accomplish the impossible, they can make a difference in this world.

Next month begins the second season of Index, and we shall soon have a return of these four girls (at least in the OP). While I doubt that Uiharu and Saten will be able to be featured since JC Staff adapted the novels very closely from what I’ve heard, I do hope that Misaka and Kuroko get a couple of interesting arcs. Maybe we’ll be able to see another of the Level 5 Superpowered persons and how they match up with the rest of the Espers. With a greater appreciation for the city itself, maybe this next season will be able to expand upon the city itself and the role the higher-ups play as well as why these children/young adults are brought to the city.

Regardless of if there’s a second season of Railgun or not (with the sales its gotten, very likely to get one), the final line says it best: “It never gets boring here in this city.”

This entry originally appeared on Cartoon Leap and has been copied faithfully (minus image locations) from the original content.

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