Review for A Certain Scientific Railgun Complete Season 2 Collection
The corporate gestalt entity that I term Manganimatsu released the first seasons of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun on the same day, and they do the same once more for their respective second seasons. That’s a release strategy that practically demands comparison between the light novel adaptation and its spin-off series. Naturally there are fans that have their favourites, and I’ll betray my bias by admitting that I find reviewing the Index series the price of admittance that I must pay before I get to enjoy the Railgun series. That’s an odd position to take, as they were created by the same author, feature the same characters, in the same setting, telling the same kind of stories, and on a rare occasion, telling the same story from two different perspectives.
A Certain Scientific Railgun is a side story to Magical Index; we are reliably reminded 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. The second season, A Certain Scientific Railgun S chronicles their further adventures in Academy City.
Twenty four episodes of A Certain Scientific Railgun S are presented across three dual layer Blu-rays from Animatsu.
3. Project Radio Noise
5. Project Level 6 Shift
6. I... Can See All Of You
7. I... I Want To Be Of Help To You, Sissy
9. AIM Stalker
11. The Vending Machine
12. Tree Diagram
14. The Promise
15. Kamijo Toma
17. Study Group
19. Academic Reach Assembly
23. Silent Party
24. Eternal Party
A Certain Scientific Railgun S gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. Compared to the first series, and indeed both of the Index series, this is in a wholly different league. While those shows looked as if they were animated at a lower resolution and then scaled up, this season looks like it was animated as native HD. The image is clear and sharp throughout, detail levels are excellent, the line art is pin sharp, and the colours are rich and vibrant. There’s no problem with compression or similar digital artefacts, while the animation is smooth and fluid. The character designs and the world design of Academy City have never looked better. When you see this series’ take on the battle between Railgun, Accelerator and Imagine Breaker, it makes you wish that they could go back and reanimate A Certain Magical Index to this quality.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by Manga Entertainment.
You have the usual Funimation options of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with locked subtitles and signs. 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.
The discs boot to animated menus.
On disc 1 you get two audio commentaries, one on episode 5 with Brittney Karbowski (Misaka) and Jerry Jewell, ADR Director, the other on episode 7 with Jerry Jewell again, this time with Alison Viktorin (Kuroko).
Disc 2 has an audio commentary with episode 15 featuring Austin Tindle (Accelerator), and Micah Solusod (Toma Kamijo).
Disc 3’s audio commentary is on episode 19 and features Jerry Jewell again, this time with Kara Edwards (Febrie).
You also get both textless openings and both textless closings, albeit with locked subtitles, and the US trailer for the series.
Two years separated the release of the first and second seasons of both Index and Railgun. When I got around to reviewing A Certain Magical Index II, I wished that I had the time to re-watch the first season, as I had pretty much forgotten all of the characters and the story. But 24 months after watching the first season of A Certain Scientific Railgun, I feel no similar need here. It’s like slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers, as I find that my familiarity with these characters, their stories has stayed with me over the last couple of years.
Season 2 of Railgun is brilliant, the best of this franchise yet. I really can’t pick out any flaw, any point of criticism, which isn’t too good for a review, where you’re supposed to evaluate these things with a sense of balance. I loved every episode, every minute of it, relishing the characters and losing myself in the stories. There are just the two stories in this collection of episodes as well. The first season’s collection of story arcs came together in an ongoing meta-storyline, but the two stories here are a little more loosely linked in terms of narrative, although far more strongly linked in terms of character growth and emotion.
The first sixteen episodes, two thirds of this series tell a very familiar story. If you’ve seen the first season of A Certain Magical Index, you’ll remember the first Misaka Mikoto arc, the story of her clones and Accelerator, the project to create a Level 6 Esper. That was probably the best thing about A Certain Magical Index. This is that story, but told from the point of view of Misaka Mikoto this time, and allowed to develop in much greater depth across fifteen episodes. It takes the best thing about Index, and makes it brilliant, spectacular, and epic. You get the whole back story about the clones, and you see Misaka’s descent from happy-go-lucky Railgun at the start, to downcast, depressed, and eventually fatalistic as she keeps trying and failing to deal with the issue of the clones.
It’s revealed here that as a child, she was told that she would help countless other people if she would allow her genome to be sequenced. She agreed, but it turns out that they didn’t want to help the sick, they just wanted to mass produce Railguns. The experiment turned out to be a failure when none of the clones were Level 5 like Misaka. Subsequently, the project to create a Level 6 Esper was born, and they decided that if the level 5 esper known as Accelerator could kill 20,000 Misaka clones, he’d level up. Since the clones were linked by a telepathic EM network, they’d all learn from the demise of one, and thus subsequently increase the challenge for Accelerator.
The idea of being cloned is initially repugnant to Misaka, but when she learns what use the clones have been put to, she feels guilt over donating her DNA in the first place, and she becomes determined to save her ‘sisters’. Given what happened in the first season, she’s also determined to do it herself, not place her friends in any kind of danger, especially when it turns out that the Project has been instigated by Academy City, and to stop it means attacking the very city that her roommate Kuroko and the Judgment group are sworn to protect. And as we all know from Index, it all comes down to Misaka learning to ask for help when she needs it.
The Sisters storyline was great in A Certain Magical Index, but here it is so enriched with detail, and especially emotion that it becomes epic, a brilliantly crafted story. It also adds more background and nuance, including an underground mercenary group called ITEM, more skilled espers for Misaka to fight against. Most interesting is the character of Shinobu Nunotaba, one of the scientists who worked on the Misaka clones, with a speciality in personality programming. The clones are just supposed to be drones, but her outlook changes when she first notices an emotional response in one of the sisters. Thereafter she’s on a mission seeking atonement and naturally that intersects with Misaka’s mission as well.
The final eight episodes are given to a new story, which revolves around a mysterious young girl named Febrie. They find her asleep in a flowerbed, and when she wakes, she knows the name, Misaka Mikoto, although she obviously doesn’t recognise Misaka, initially shying away from her. She’s endearingly cute, but she’s either lost or a runaway, and Misaka and her friends decide to look after her while they find out who she really is. That leads to another mystery, and a group called STUDY which is planning a terrorist attack to undermine Academy City’s devotion to Espers and the Level system. They’re an academic version of the Level 0 gangs, although their plan is more James Bond-ian in scope. They’re creating their own Esper in a test tube, and Febrie is key to their plans. Once again, Misaka initially thinks that she has to shoulder the burden alone, of stopping the villains, and saving Febrie, but this time she’s learned the importance of sharing her problems and asking for help. More significantly, she’s in a position to pass that lesson on to someone who is acting just the way she once did in her darkest hour against the Level 6 Project.
Storytelling is at its best when character drives the narrative, and you won’t find too many better examples than A Certain Scientific Railgun. Season 2 takes that storytelling to the next level, retelling the best Misaka Mikoto story and making it even better. It also gives it a worthy and appropriate follow up in the Febrie tale. I still don’t get why A Certain Magical Index can’t live up to the quality of its spin-off, but that won’t stop me from enjoying A Certain Scientific Railgun time and again.