- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA *** ERGO PROXY
- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE *** WOLF CHILDREN *** RUROUNI KENSHIN *** [C]-CONTROL
- BLACK LAGOON *** SERIAL EXPERIMENT LAIN *** MASS EFFECT *** BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM
- A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX *** TORIKO *** RENTAL MAGICA *** BOOGIEPOP & OTHERS *** EMMA
- BLOOD C *** HEAVEN'S LOST PROPERTY *** SWEET BLUE FLOWERS *** SHINGU *** EMMA Vol. 2
When I first received A CERTAIN SCIENTIFIC RAILGUN, the name sounded vaguely familiar. Once I searched it on Anime Vice, I found Alexei’s review of A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX, and recalled his vehement distaste for the series. It was with a heavy heart that I popped its prequel into my Blu-Ray player: ready for nuns, dreary religious debates, and a half-baked romance. In a pleasant twist, RAILGUN turned out to be... well... simply delightful. = = TEASER = =
The prequel is also set in Academy City, a place where students with special abilities, known as Espers, train and hone their skills. It focuses specifically a group of four girls: Kuroko Shirai, a Level 3 spitfire redhead on the city’s Public Moral Committee; her mentor, Mikoto Misaka, the uber-talented, nearly-infamous Level 5 Esper; Kazari Uiharu, a tiny little Level 1; and Ruiko Saten, their despondent Level 0 friend.
We meet Kuroko and Mikoto in the streets of Academic City, dealing out judgment to some local street thugs. The dynamic between the two is hilariously lopsided. The two are roommates and friends, but Kuroko harbors intense feelings for Mikoto - - feelings that manifest in mild stalking, fits of jealousy and surprise strip teases. Kuroko is so adorably feisty that what could be seen as sexual harassment is instead just a cute, if excessive, crush.
Like in A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX, Mikoto is a well-known electromaster. As dry and tomboyish as Kuroko is scrappy, Mikoto walks around with a permanent scowl. The girls first meet Kazari and Ruiko at the city’s “System Scan,” where Espers from various schools test their abilities. Kazari is a massive fan of Mikoto, but both she and Ruiko expect the electromaster to be stuck up and snobbish.
In the midst of pyrokinetic bank robbery (yep), the four girls bond together and reveal some of their powers. Kuroko is a teleporter, zipping in and out of space with a mischievous grin. When Ruiko is injured protecting a young boy, Mikoto gets pissed.
As I watched the first episode, I wondered, "What’s a certain scientific railgun, exactly?"
Turns out it’s Mikoto. Kuroko introduces her as, “My sissy - - the pride and joy of Tokiwadai Middle School. The ultimate, unstoppable shock princess!” Her signature attack channels her electricity at metal objects (usually coins), resulting in a high-speed blast of energy that blows pretty much anyone out of the water. (It also blows up her skirt ; thus explaining the shorts!) Known as “the Railgun,” Mikoto is finally a multi-layered heroine I can get behind.
It’s not just "the Mikoto Show," though. Kuroko, Kazari and Ruiko are just as fleshed-out. Throughout the series, the four girls grapple with a combination of regular slice-of-life problems and magical hijinks. The 24 episodes feature different individual arcs, including a psychic hive mind turned evil supercomputer, graviton bomb attacks, and manufactured poltergeists, all leading up to the show’s central conflict.
Tomo, the protagonist from A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX, also plays a role in the prequel as a foil to Mikoto. His ability to block other Espers’ powers incites a fierce competition in her, despite Tomo’s good-natured and friendly attitude. There are a few romantic undertones hinted at, but nothing too distracting. Kuroko’s obsessive crush is perhaps one of the most entertaining aspects of the show; in a scene where she steals Mikoto’s cutesy underwear and darts away from her, she responds to Mikoto’s electric shocks with, “Oh yes! Hit me again with your electrified whip of love!”
Not only was RAILGUN a breeze to watch, it was the first anime series so far that I’ve watched nearly to the end, and will continue to watch to find out what happens. Mikoto, Kuroko, Kazari and Ruiko are fun characters to follow, and the tone of the show remains light without the usual childish antics seen in slice-of-life anime. By taking the characters of Academy City and paying more attention to friendship than romance, the show strikes the perfect balance between a playful comedy and adventurous sci-fi.
If you hated the original, put that Necessarius nonsense aside, up your level to 5, and get ready for its sassy younger sister.
Rachel Heine is an anime novice, film buff and food blogger based in Los Angeles. She writes and edits for arts & culture online magazine, Buzzine, and runs her own personal blog at PopandSizzle. Follow her Twitter: @RachelHeine