Finish or Fail 19 – If Only A Certain Scientific Railgun Had Been More Like Kamichu

I’m happy about having watched Railgun, because I’m a huge fan of A Certain Magical Index. The franchise has been one of my biggest fandoms from the past 6 months or so, and it’s got a lot of great culture surrounding it. Albeit, while I did enjoy Index a lot, it’s always been true that the whole of the series is better than the sum of it’s parts, and it’s for the same reason that while I did enjoy Railgun, I didn’t necessarily ‘like’ it, as ghostlightning might say.

I had pretty high hopes for Railgun, which is why the series managed to be pretty disappointing for me, but I try not to let disappointment effect my overall thoughts on a series. Back in Fall 09, Railgun was my favorite new show of the season, with three excellent opening episodes that appealed to me in a variety of very direct ways and reminded me of one of my favorite anime, Kamichu. Because of my inability to follow airing shows, I didn’t get around to the fourth and fifth episodes till much later, but did enjoy both greatly. Finally, I marathoned the rest of the show after my baby brother finished Index and wanted to watch Railgun with me.

Railgun has a lot of great episodes, all of which come from the Kamichu school of ‘four girls doing fun things with a slight supernatural slant.’ The first seven episodes or so are all great, walking in-between funny, downtempo, and some heavier episodes like the backstory of Uiharu and Kuroko. Eps 14, 17, 18, and 19 were great for similar reasons (14 and 17 perhaps taking my favorite spots due to rampant Komoe-sensei cameos. My love of Komoe-sensei knows no bounds!) And hey, that’s 11 eps – so almost half the series is very watchable and rewatchable and fun, and if the whole series had been like those episodes, it could’ve definitely vied for a place on my favorites list. Those eps aren’t quite up to the level of something like Kamichu, but still appealed to me more than enough to warrant my love.

But Railgun sadly had another twelve episodes, wherein it tried to accomplish arc-structured plots and failed as miserably as possible. The biggest problem with every serious arc was the same – the plot never made any fucking sense. Each story involved a lot of complicated technical terms being thrown left and right to give arbitrary purpose to what went on in the ridiculous plot. Both my brother and I were left scratching our heads during many scenes, and for much of the last arc, we just gave up and stopped paying attention to the explanations towards the end. None of it really mattered anyway, since the explanations were just a direct means to whatever ends were upcoming, and didn’t do anything to help me understand why those ends came about.

Talk all you want about the AIM waves and how Level Uppers taps into them and creates some kind of powerful hivemind that enhances everyone’s powers, it still isn’t clear how the hell Kiyama was able to tap into all of the different powers (and why couldn’t anyone in the network have done that?) and it’s especially not clear how those powers exploded out into a giant fucking mutant Akira-monster fetus. Nor how Kiyama’s rampage was in any way supposed to get her closer to the goal of waking up the children (seriously, huh?)

I think the ultimate moment of ridiculous contrivance was when Misaka shocks Kiyama and somehow, with no decent explanation nor indication that this has ever happened before, manages to create a link between their brains and read her memories, specifically the ones regarding her motivations, in a summarized style. At that moment, I was sure that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t tell what was going on anymore, but most definitely the show’s. Fun as Kiyama was, and cool as the resulting fights may have been, I left that arc with no sense that anything had happened.

The worst arc, however, was the Big Spider story. Okay, so tell me if I’m following correctly – two years ago, Konori Mii was in middle school, and was certainly younger-looking than she is now. At the time, she was a member of Big Spider, and when the group dissolved, she went and ended up joining Judgement. All of that makes sense enough, until you factor in the backstory of Uiharu and Kuroko.

During their backstory, both are in elementary school, and appear to be young enough that at least a year and a half to two years must’ve passed between then and now – both have grown much taller, more mature-looking, and Kuroko’s hair has grown quite a bit. And yet, back then, Konori was the one who trained them. Moerover, she looked as old as she does now, and was apparently the same rank in Judgement that she is now. This would mean that after leaving Big Spider two years ago, she would’ve joined Judgement, risen up to the rank of supervisor for the 177th division, grown much taller and gained much larger breasts, and started training new recruits within the span of about 6 months tops. This inconsistency drove my brother and I nuts, besides the fact that the entire arc’s so-called plot was meaningless to begin with.

And then the last arc, I cannot comment on, because I don’t have any idea what in the living hell was going on, beyond enough key details to get me through. Kiyama was cool, but the new girl annoyed me with her Kana Hanazawa performance (and after I’d just finally enjoyed her in Black Rock Shooter, too). Overall, I spent most of the arc wanting it to hurry up and be over with, but at least the last episode was satisfying.

I mean, it’s not as though nothing good happened in these arcs. They still gave me things that I’m glad I saw, even if they aren’t enough to inspire rewatches on my part. I loved the conflict between Uiharu and Kuroko during the final arc, especially because they were my two favorite characters in the series for their interactions. The Level Uppers arc had excellent Saten development, leading up to episode 14, which was one of the best in the show (but I wish it’d been expanded on more than Saten’s brief dialog towards the Anti-Skills in the last episode.) Both arcs made Kiyama enjoyable even when I couldn’t tell how her motivations and actions matched up either time.

I’m happy for these things, but I would’ve been happier any other way than those kinds of plots. Episodes 5 and 14 showed clearly that the show could accomplish excellent character development without the use of an over-arching plot, and do a much more effective job of it.

There’s a lot right with this show. It’s a visual feast with a very exciting soundtrack to boost. There’s a whole plethora of great vocal talent (see that ep 1 post for details) and enough to confirm that Toyosaki Aki is one of my favorite seiyuu. I loved all of the main characters, and while I was predisposed to liking Misaka, I couldn’t have loved Kuroko nearly as much without seeing her in Railgun. Saten was interesting, although I wanted to see much more of her, but my favorite character of the bunch turned out to be Uiharu. She was never bound by the expectations that her character type might have put on her – Uiharu is actually a character who knows little comparison (and if we tried, it’d be great characters like Yuri Hitotsubashi or Yunocchi that come to mind) and was a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Tatsuyaki Nagai provided some splendid directing flourish at many times, even if it didn’t quite live up to his job on Toradora.

A Certain Scientific Railgun – Finished (8.5)

I’ve said before that a lot of my love for Index comes from a vast complex of personal biases. The same is true for Railgun. That said, Index rarely managed to bore me even when it was giving long-winded expositions of things, whereas Railgun bored me halfway to death every time it attempted the same thing. But still, I’m in love with this world and these characters, and I’m always hungry for more. At the end of the last episode, there was a text saying ‘see you next season’ and ‘goodbye (for now)’. At seeing this, my brother, who’s feelings were exactly the same as mine throughout the show, said ‘I want to see a second season.’ At this I replied, ‘well, Index has a second season starting soon,’ and he said ‘Yeah, but I want a second season of Railgun and of Index.’ And all in all, I wouldn’t mind that either.

20 thoughts on “Finish or Fail 19 – If Only A Certain Scientific Railgun Had Been More Like Kamichu

  1. Kuroko is love.

    Reading your post I can see where there were certain plot holes that detracted from enjoying the show. I don’t know how much of the show is filler and how much is taken from events from the Index light novel, but the Big Spider arc felt the most like filler to me. Aside from the obvious plot hole it really didn’t have much to do with the overarching going ons in Academy City. (though they made a clumsy attempt to tie it to the final arc) I get that they wanted to give Konori some time in the spotlight but I think it could have been restricted to 1 or 2 episodes. Also the gang comes completely out of left field.

    I thought the plot of Kiyama’s arc made more sense than the plot of the final arc. I don’t think it’s any worse than the final arc of Index though. What with Honoka (or w/e that annoying megane girl was called) being an artificial life-form and AIM diffusion field shit going on there too. It’s all just plain clumsy storytelling.

    I will say this: I liked the way Misaka blew holes in shit. That pretty much sums up the most enjoyable moments for me.

    Also the OPs and EDs were both awesome.

    • “I don’t know how much of the show is filler and how much is taken from events from the Index light novel, but the Big Spider arc felt the most like filler to me.”

      The Railgun anime isn’t taken from the index light novels, it has its own manga, however the Railgun manga does cross over with the Index timeline for instance the sisters arc from Index. The Big Spider arc is filler as it was not in the manga. The sisters arc in the Railgun manga is freaking awesome btw and really needs to be animated either in an ova or 2nd season.

      • Ya, this stuff. Somehow, Only the first half of the anime is actually novel adaption, and the second half is anime-original. However, both the manga and the other story arc were written by the author of the Index light novels, so it might as well all be in the same boat.

    • I didn’t care much for either op or ed. But then, I’m very picky about anime music.

      Yeah, the Big Spider arc was definitely the low point of the show. I was facepalming like the hand of Zeus.

  2. The time discrepancy is… wow. Never noticed that.

    I’m surprised, though. Our experiences of Railgun and Index are basically flip-flopped. Though I will agree, the Big Spider arc was very very lame.

    • Honestly, I think some of this has to do with my inflated expectations. I didn’t expect Railgun to have what many consider ‘the Index problem’ of too much exposition and complicated story elements. The image of this show in my head got blown up to be something very special in the 9 months or so between starting and finishing it. I think that this could’ve left me less prepared for or forgiving of the show’s faults.

      I’d seen 3 eps of Index way back, and remembered liking it but thinking that it was really awkward. After that I heard mostly negative things about it. So when I watched it, I kept thinking ‘wow, this is so much better than I thought it would be!’ The first three eps of Railgun, however, were on a whole different level for me, so even if Railgun really was only as bad as Index about those kinds of things, my thinking went ‘wow, this isn’t as good as I thought it would be’ most of the time.

      But I don’t let those kind of things get in the way of my scores, and I still scored Index higher than Railgun, so here’s why: I think it’s because Index was bigger. It was taking on a bigger world and plot, while Railgun never stopped definitively feeling like a ‘side story’ instead of it’s own thing. The entire Kiyama plot is self-contained and wouldn’t interact with the main story at all. The one thing we do get is better character development, but a lot of it was for characters that just won’t be important (or even existent) in the main show. If this Misaka perspective on the sister’s arc thing had been in the anime, it might’ve upped the ante a bit, especially if the Railgun-specific characters had any part in it that might tie them more definitively to the overall plot.

      I liked Index for a lot of reasons, and a lot of those reasons were duplicated in Railgun (great designs, great characters, great art and animation and visual style, great music) but some of them weren’t, and some of them were more powerful in Index. Much as I loved the city porn in Railgun especially, Index had a lot more moments of visual style (especially in coloring) and while I think Tatsuyaki Nagai is a great director, nothing he did in Railgun compares to the first half of Index ep 3. I love Uiharu and Kuroko and I’m partial to Misaka and Saten, and somewhat Kiyama, but Index has plenty more characters (and half of those) such as Accelerator and Last Order, and a lot more of my favorite character in the franchise, Komoe-sensei.

      What’s more, even if some of the Index plots made no sense (I agree with Taka’s comment above that the last arc of Index was pretty fucking retarded, and I never thought the second arc made a damn bit of sense either) it’s still got at least three arcs that genuinely intrigued me with their plot (Heaven’s Fall, Last Order, and Misaka arcs, namely) whereas Railgun couldn’t captivate me any time it tried to force the same thing.

      But hey, none of that is ultimately important. You’ll see that on my Favorites List page. I’ve got Index and Railgun listed together with a Heart Score of 8.9, as opposed to their respective 8.8 and 8.5 Head Scores – because I’m happy about all of the series. The whole is really much better than the sum of the parts, and while I would’ve much rather seen a Railgun series that acted like Kamichu or, hell, an Index series that acted like, say, Boogiepop, I’m still very happy about what I did get, since I’ve got a lot of emotional investment in this franchise. After all, my interactions with it will mostly be in fanart and doujins, and those always gain more meaning when you know more about the characters.

  3. I dropped Railgun after the Big Spider arc because it was so god damned boring … I had been enjoying the series OK up to that point, but I wasn’t super into it or anything (not a huge fan of Index, but I enjoyed it enough to give Railgun a shot). Really, I was probably going to drop it sooner or later, since nothing in Railgun really grabbed me, and the boring Big Spider arc just provided a convenient reason for dropping.

  4. Pingback: 2010 Anime Review | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

  5. Honestly, I really hated Index. I couldn’t get past the first episode; and I hate the main character, the boy.
    However, I LOVE Railgun, and their plots are super easy for me to understand. They are really interesting and cool <3

  6. Really interesting review, just one thing and this is on the arcs that made no sense to you, if the scientific stuff made no sense like how the AIM waves then its no surprise you did not understand the rest, yes there are plenty of plot holes but it is a anime and not a manga.
    I will not go into any detail explaining AIM waves seeing that will take too long but its nice too see someone else likes the series as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s