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Do I dare watch this after A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX? Can a prequel actually be better than the original?

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

metalsnakezeroon April 11, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.

In a way, Mikoto is the reason why I watch Index since she is a interesting character. So when they made a series about her and her friends, I know it was going to be fun.

Marshal Victoryon April 11, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.

For those who did not know rail guns were real.

Us old folks who rember mechwarrior or did any sci fi table top gaiming know what it is.How it works with her works just the same as described in the vid just she can control the shot.

Also reguarding A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX its clumsy til 9 then it was a set up for one joke.After that it gets much better.

rachella if ya liked this you really should check out Zettai Karen Children or really its 3rd season Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited both have that love letter to the x men feel in a way.

Petiewon April 11, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.
I avoided Index after hearing a ton of complaints about it, but watched the first few episodes of Railgun. It did seem pretty fun and interesting, after reading this I might get back into it.
I think the 2nd series starts today or tomorrow.
takashichea moderator on April 11, 2013 at 9:31 p.m.

I'm going to put this series (the original) on my watch list.

sora_thekey moderator on April 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.

I've actually never watched A Certain Magical Index, but I got into this franchise because of this prequel. I consider this one of my favorite anime by far...

I fell in love with most of the characterizations (for the exception of that almost sexual harassment) and especially loved how Saten, the girl you'd expect to be the self-loathing character, is so positive and works as a contrast to Mikoto, who is really powerful but doesn't really enjoy all that power.

I can't wait for the sequel to this anime!

Marshal Victoryon April 13, 2013 at 8:43 a.m.

@sora_thekey: I think some how i missed the build up for A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX .aprently hype was rather think an in some it didnt live up to it.So maybe thats why i set threw the 1st 9 as watchable than shouting on the internet that it is unwatchable. Like i said it kinda sets up the 1st 9 for one joke. after that it gets beter.

Watching the spin off 1st might be better. The shows intertwine alot actualy.

Dig Deeper into A Certain Scientific Railgun

A side story of To Aru Majutsu no Index that follows Mikoto Misaka, a Level 5 member student, dedicated to preserving law and order in Academy City.

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