Sorry for the long break; I got obsessed with translating over the weekend and put this post off for too long.
From episode 10 of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun onward I became a big fan of the character Ruiko Saten.While she wasn’t featured in the main part of Index I and very much in the original manga, she became a huge hit with the fans in Japan.
So what makes Saten an amazing character? Firstly, she’s the first main character we meet that is a powerless student in Academy City! Unlike the male lead in Index, she truly is a Level 0 superhuman (pardon the oxymoron) in a city where almost everyone else has a superpower of some kind. She’s the person designed to relate to the viewer.
She’s constantly surrounded by Mikoto Misaka, the third most powerful person in the city, Kuroko Shirai, a Level 4 teleporter who is respected in Judgement, and Kazari Uiharu, who has amazing technological skills. During the Level Upper arc, especially as it was featured in the anime, you get to see why a person like her would use the Level Upper, if only so others wouldn’t have to save her from trouble anymore. It’s only human to want to fit in and be like everyone else, so seeing that desire become real and her amazement at her power is a very impactful scene.
Unlike the first chapter in the manga, Saten’s first big moment comes in the first episode of Railgun when she goes in the line of fire to save a child from being hit. That’s our first clue to tell us Saten is not afraid of being hurt by a superpower, which is only re-enforced over the rest of the series. That culminates in the 23rd episode where she stands in front of Mikoto and asks “What do you see in front of you?” She’s willing to stand up to anyone in order to help them through a difficult situation, even someone close to her and as powerful as Mikoto.
Saten has had to learn many skills in order to survive in Academy City on her own. We see her cooking, researching urban legends, and being able to tie a yukata by herself over the course of the city, not to mention bringing food for Uiharu and Eri when they both are bedridden. If there was anyone that could be a partial mother figure, it’s her as seen later in episode 23 when not only does she make Mikoto apologize to everyone, but for Kuroko and Uiharu to make up.
So why is an amazing person so untalented at having superpowers? She doesn’t believe she’s anything special anymore. During the Level Upper arc, she remarks several times that “[she’s] only a Level 0” and that “[she] won’t ever get any powers.” Since part of having an ability in the Raildex universe involves being able to create your own reality, she’s unable to realize her power. Episode 14 in Railgun is my favorite episode because it details how difficult it is to realize your own potential and create a superpower.
Having said all of that, she’s still only 13ish and acts her age in a lot of ways. Urban legends still interest her to the point where she’s telling others what she’s read online. She still picks on Uiharu with flipping her skirt rather than a proper introduction. She still wants to go out and shop with her friends, even going to embarrass Uiharu during said times. Instead of being considerate and seeking why she was picked on, she wants revenge for covering her eyelashes with a marker.
Saten appeals to me because of all those reasons: she’s the “normal” person in a city of abnormal individuals, she’s the caring person who’s not afraid to stand up for anyone else, she’s willing to take a hit to save someone, and her story is the “never give up hope” plot. She’s almost the perfect example of a realistic teen: periods of mature thought with many examples of still being a child.
Overall, it’s great to have some focus on a “powerless” character in contrast to the world of magic and scientific power-users. She’s just herself, and she’s growing to like that about her. With her friends, she can conquer anything (except a lack of screentime in Index).