Review for A Certain Scientific Railgun Complete Season 1 Collection
This is the part of the Raildex franchise that fans have been most looking forward to apparently. The Certain Magical Index light novels certainly have their fans, and it’s a story that warranted the anime adaptations that it received, two seasons and a movie worth. But while fans appreciated the adventures of the Level 0 esper Toma Kamijo, and the magical nun/walking encyclopaedia Index, it seems that it was the side character of Mikoto Misaka that really caught on to imaginations. The Certain Scientific Railgun manga quickly spun off from the light novels, and it’s no surprise that the manga also received the anime treatment, two seasons and an OVA worth. After Animatsu finally released the first season of A Certain Magical Index in the UK, it’s no surprise that they’re moving on to Railgun as well. And just as for the Index series, it’s a show that has been in UK limbo because of its Geneon rights holders being difficult for Manga Entertainment to deal with, and it’s taken so long to release here that we’ve gone straight to DVD and Blu-ray release, avoiding the Blu-ray holdback that the US had to deal with. So while the DVDs came out two and a half years ago in the US, we’re actually getting the Blu-rays just nine months after them.
A Certain Scientific Railgun is a side story to Magical Index; we are reliably informed by the caption at the head of the first episode. This show focuses on Mikoto Misaka, the level 5 esper who has electromagnetic capabilities that she can manifest in the form of the titular railgun, accelerating metal projectiles to extreme and dangerous velocities. She has a scholarship at Tokiwadai Middle School, where she rooms with her friend Kuroko Shirai. Kuroko’s level 4 ability is teleportation, and she’s a member of the Judgment security group in Academy City. She also nurses a full-on crush on Mikoto. Kuroko’s junior in Judgment is the level 1 Kazari Uiharu, and her best friend is the non-esper level 0 Ruika Saten (who has a habit of flipping up Uiharu’s skirt to check on her underwear status). When Uiharu and Saten first meet the legendary Railgun, a new friendship is formed. A Certain Scientific Railgun chronicles their adventures in Academy City.
Twenty four episodes of A Certain Scientific Railgun are presented across three dual layer Blu-rays from Animatsu.
2. When Working Under a Hot Sun, Rehydration is Essential
3. Tokiwadai is Targeted
4. Urban Legends
5. A Certain Pair of New Trainees
6. Everyone is Proactive When it Comes to This
7. Abilities and Powers
8. Level Upper
9. Majority Report
10. Silent Majority
11. Dr Kiyama
12. AIM Burst
13. A Bikini Divides the Eyeline Between Top and Bottom, but a One-Piece Shows Off the Figure, so They Only Flatter the Slender
14. Special Workshop
15. Skill Out
16. Academy City
17. Tsuzuri’s Summer Vacation
18. Asunaro Park
19. Midsummer Festival
22. Level 6
23. What is it You See in Your Eyes Right Now?
24. Dear My Friends
A Certain Scientific Railgun gets the usual 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. The image is pretty much akin to that of A Certain Magical Index, clear and sharp, with great character designs, an excellent world design, and decent, fluid animation. I do feel that the effects sequences, certainly Misaka’s electromagnetic charms do look better in the spin-off series. Banding is there, but easy to dismiss, and just like Index, Railgun looks as if it was scaled up from less than full HD resolution.
There is an issue with this release that we’ve inherited from Funimation’s release, one of the risks of using someone else’s masters (although given Manga’s track record in authoring locally, it’s a small price to pay). On disc 1, episode 2 at 36:02, the screen freezes with a rectangular green glitch until 36:09. There’s not a lot of animation at that point, and we’re just missing out on a reaction shot (it should be fine on the DVDs). It’s not much of a problem, but it’s something to be aware of.
The images used in this review were supplied by the PR company.
You have the usual Funimation options of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese. I listened to the English long enough to confirm that it exists, but not long enough to form a critical opinion. But the Japanese audio is great, with voice actors suited well to their roles, giving strong performances across the board. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. It’s an action packed show and the stereo is enough to give the show some space to breathe. The music too for the show is really quite good, beyond the generic j-pop theme songs. The incidental music drives the action without being too noticeable, but has enough individuality to make you seek out a soundtrack CD. One oddity is that the Japanese audio level drops considerably for the final episode, which given Funimation’s propensity for soft audio on their discs might be a problem on quieter TVs.
These are the Funimation discs, localised for the UK, made Region B, logos replaced, and trailers changed, but in every other respect, these are the same discs. They present their contents with animated menus.
Disc 1 has two commentaries to partake of.
Episode 3 gets an audio commentary from Brina Palencia (Saten) and Cherami Leigh (Uiharu).
Episode 6’s commentary comes from Alison Viktorin (Kuroko), and Brittney Karbowski (Misaka), and it sounds like a commentary from Dumb and Dumber crossed with Beavis and Butthead. I swear, some of these commentaries devalue the product!
Disc 2 has an audio commentary on episode 17 with Jad Saxton (Komoe), Martha Harms (Yomikawa), and Kara Edwards (Tesso).
Disc 3 has the rest of the extra features, and you won’t be surprised at the usual suspects of two textless openings, two textless closings, and the U.S. Trailer for the show. The commentary on episode 24 features ADR director Zach Bolton with Anastasia Munoz (Kiyama), and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Therestina). I didn’t make it through five minutes of this commentary.
That is so much better! They may both be set in the same story universe, but A Certain Scientific Railgun succeeds in telling its story in a way that appeals and entertains without the niggling flaws that kept A Certain Magical Index from quite hitting memorable status. The problems with Index were two-fold. The first was a bland and simplistic protagonist in Toma Kamijo (all he had to do was stick his hand out to save the day), made even blander by the story convenience of amnesia, which apparently had no effect on his personality or the actual story itself. The second was its structure, based no doubt on the light novels. You get the same arc format. You had one story followed by another, and then another, and in that first season, there was very little tying the arcs together. Again, following the blandness of the main character, it offered very little chance for character growth. Against these complaints, it seems picky to mention that it was the scientific arcs of the story that appealed more than the magical, and of the supporting characters it was Mikoto Misaka that was the most interesting.
That much is self evident given that this spin-off is all about Mikoto Misaka. But this series corrects all the flaws that I found in Index. For one thing, A Certain Scientific Railgun is all about the science side of Academy City; it’s all about the cool stuff, the espers, the scientifically developed abilities, the search for the mythical Level 6 powers that informed one arc of Index. The second thing is that the characters are interesting, not only Mikoto Misaka, but her friends as well, Kuroko, Uiharu and Saten, and the grouping of the four here offers for much greater character development, with interesting character dynamics that Index’s amnesiac and his nun lacked. Finally, the story structure is more robust here, with A Certain Scientific Railgun blending its narrative with the slice-of-life entertainment of four school friends hanging out, and its arc based stories seemingly separate at first, but slowly revealed to be part of one season long over-reaching arc, making watching this show a far more satisfying experience.
The narrative of Railgun follows the genre that audiences tend to appreciate most. It’s a crime drama. Academy City is one of those educational metropolises that we get in anime, so its police force is formed of its inhabitants, with the Judgment group formed mostly from the students, to keep order and investigate petty crime, while the Antiskill group is more of the SWAT force in the city, made up more of teachers, and far more tooled up to take action. That doesn’t stop Kuroko with her teleportation ability from getting in over her head, while Misaka, not part of either group, is still liable to bring her Level 5 Railgun abilities to bear in a situation, and gets chewed out by both Judgment and Antiskill for her interference.
How the show develops is really good, and quite deceptive at first. The first six or so episodes really are all slice of life, introducing the characters, vicariously enjoying their developing friendships, and taking in this world of Academy City. There’s a throwaway episode of a marauding prankster, who uses her abilities to get even with people that she thinks have slighted her, but it doesn’t seem serious at first. It’s just a passing reference that she’s using abilities beyond those that her records state that might ring an alarm bell. But it isn’t until the second ‘arc’ a few episodes later, that of a mad ‘teddy bear’ bomber, again using abilities greater than possible for his level that you begin to see the flow of the story.
That leads to the Level Upper arc, an explanation for the increased abilities, which begin appearing more and more in the city, and which one of the friends gets tempted by. There’s more than a hint of peril when the side-effects of the Level Upper technology are revealed, and we also get to meet a woman who might be the series antagonist, using the Level Upper technology for her own, undefined goal, although sympathies will waver when Misaka learns what that goal actually is. Another arc dealing with a level 0 delinquent gang attacking espers might seem something of a diversion, but it is an interesting story, and there are still elements which tie it into the overall arc, which comes to a conclusion when Uiharu gets a new roommate, and ‘poltergeist’ attacks start occurring through the city. This leads to the reveal of what has been behind everything that Judgment and Antiskill, and the four friends have had to deal with over the season, and it all ties neatly up.
What’s great is how the narrative blends with the slice of life; it really does feel like a whole, complete series, rather than the bite-sized chunks of Index. There are nits to pick though, the character stereotyping of modern anime vogues is evident, and the cutesy or playful antics of the girls plays very much to the intended audience, rather than coming genuinely from the character development. Gimmicks like Uiharu’s amiable dopiness, Saten’s skirt-flipping panty-checks, Kuroko’s full on lesbian crush and Misaka’s violent response to it have to be forgiven as the expected tropes. By far a greater problem is the ultimate antagonist, whose evil is foreshadowed from the off, and who comes from the school of psychopathic anime villains that pontificate obnoxiously, and whose faces actually deform with their insane malice, so much so you that you have to question how they achieved their position of authority and kept their insanity secret in the first place. By then it’s too late, you’ll have thoroughly enjoyed 20-odd episodes of Railgun, and will probably forgive the show for this misstep.
Also, while the show shares a universe with Index, with characters from that show popping up for cameos and even more, it somehow manages to ignore that story completely, which given what Misaka goes through in Index, and also given that it seems that this show is running concurrently with that story, is decidedly odd. After all, it turns out that the pursuit of a Level 6 Esper is a big element of Railgun, but no mention is made of Accelerator from Index, and neither do we see any of the 10,000 Misaka clones wandering around Academy City (if they are there in the background, I missed them), and given the events of the Accelerator arc, you should expect Misaka to at least harbour some conflicted feelings, some guilt that she revealed in Index. But she generally spends her time in Railgun having a good time with her friends, leaving the dramatic and emotional weight of the story really to be carried by Uiharu and Saten.
But generally, A Certain Scientific Railgun is more satisfying to watch, and more entertaining than the show it spun-off from. A couple of minor story flaws and one video glitch aside, this is very much a show to have in your collection, and the second series couldn’t come soon enough!