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.