Mere months after the release of 2010’s A Certain Magical Index— the 24-episode anime adapted from Kazuma Kamachi’s light novels of the same name– animation studio J.C. Staff returned with this adaptation of Kamachi’s Index side story/companion, A Certain Scientific Railgun. Whereas Index followed Toma Kamijo and his magical friend Index, caught in the middle of a war between magic and science, Railgun centers on the Index secondary character, Mikoto Misaka– the titular Railgun. Gone is the emphasis on magic from Index and the war that raged therein. Gone almost entirely are Toma and Index too, as they drop by for the occasional walk-on at best. Instead it offers something very much lacking in Index.
To that end, Railgun provides us with a more complete and intimate portrait of Academy City and the people who attempt to keep it safe from those who would use their special abilities for evil. Although Misaka is one of only seven Level 5 Espers (psychic power users) in Academy City, she is intriguingly not part of any of the groups that maintain order in the city and therefore make up much of the series’ cast. Of course, that doesn’t prevent her from interfering or getting wrapped up in the confrontations between the law and the lawless, especially since her closest friends are all members of Judgment or Anti-Skill (the official organizations composed of students and teachers, respectively, charged with defending Academy City).
Having spent so much time exploring the underbelly of Academy City with Toma in Index, it’s a much welcome and needed change, learning more about the city itself and how the powers that be prevent the city from descending into utter chaos with so many Espers running about. I also notably found Misaka to be one of the most intriguing characters in Index, in no small part due to her sisters’ deadly confrontations with Annihilator. Thus, given my complaints about the deficiencies in Toma’s characterization in my review of Index, Railgun finds a better developed and more relatable protagonist in Misaka, making Railgun a worthy and absolutely essential companion to Index— one that, at the very least, isn’t a harem anime! What’s more, it has one of the coolest titles of any series I’ve ever encountered! So it has that going for it.
Still, it’s not without its share of shortcomings. Whereas Index as a whole had to contend with the shortcomings of its protagonist’s characterization, Railgun’s stellar cast of characters have to contend with the series’ overall looseness. The series is highly episodic, which is something that I rarely ever enjoy, especially in a modern program. Of course, those episodic adventures are later revealed to be but individual components of a larger, umbrella narrative– a conspiracy– the contours of which only become totally clear after the fact. That said, the revelation of said narrative is not so great that it ties together ALL the threads of the episodes that prefigured it. The revelations seem more like afterthoughts in many respects, leaving the entire series feeling loose overall, which is a shame given how quickly the narrative of Index escalated, by comparison. Still, this doesn’t make it a lesser series than Index by any means. In fact, I’d say Railgun matches Index quality-wise beat-for-beat and you simply cannot own one without the other.
Like Index before it, the DVD release of A Certain Scientific Railgun from FUNimation Entertainment finds the series divided into two, 24-episode sets, both of which feature commentaries, textless songs and trailers.