When spring season came about six months ago, I decided to pick up A Certain Scientific Railgun S, the second season of A Certain Scientific Railgun which in itself is a spinoff from A Certain Magical Index. Here’s the thing, I have never seen either Index or Railgun prior to watching Railgun S and as of writing this, that remains true. That might sound weird seeing as this very blog is even named after the series, but hear me out.
While the show looked interesting, I didn’t really have time to watch it before the second season started, so instead I wanted to give it a try blindly. I think that worked out rather well, and either way, at least it might be interesting to read the the opinion of someone who has no prior exposure to the series.
The story of Railgun S is split into two somewhat linked but mostly separate stories. The first story, the Sisters arc, being adapted from the manga of the same name and the second story being a anime original. The Sisters arc is what the S in the title is from, that and “Second” to be precise, and I’ve been informed that its place in the parallel Index series it was very much a fan favorite.
Our main character is Mikoto Misaka, the “Railgun” of Academy City. She’s given that title as she’s a Level 5 electromaster. An esper with amazing electrical abilities. The show follows her as she discovers a secret project linked to her past called the Sisters Project.
Without going into what the project is or what comes out of it, it mostly remains a strong series of events for the first half of the arcs run. The problem arrives when the show wants to interact directly with the Index series and lose its focus. For a good number of episodes during the middle of the shows run it basically just becomes a remake of Index in that it stops following Mikoto’s perspective and character. Instead we follow Touma, the main character from Index and how he deals with the things going on.
Now, I get it. It’s a spinoff running parallel with a previous series timeline and events so there will be important parts of the story that will not be focused on Mikoto. But the problem is how much time is spent on it and how minimized and stripped of a character and strength Mikoto ends up being during those episodes. Without going into spoilers or how it becomes a problem, let’s just say there’s a lot of set-up that is pushed aside and just ignored for the sake of following the events of Index.
This is a inherent problem with the fact that Railgun S is following a pre-existing narrative while still wanting to craft its own. It ends up becoming a schizophrenic mix where one part of the story wants to be a self-contained sequence of events following our heroine where as another part just wants to stay true to the source and remake what is already in canon.
It should have either been trimmed down to fewer episodes or just be rewritten out of the show entirely with some sort of hint that watching Index would give you the events that would follow next, because the way it was handled massacred Mikoto’s status as a strong main character in the worst way possible.
There’s also the fact that other events seems rushed at a cost of this. Side-characters get pushed so far away from the spotlight they might as well have never existed and certain developments and sequences end far too fast. I hate to sound hard on the show for wanting to be accurate to the source, but I have to view it for what it is on its own just like every other show. There’s just no beating around the bush here, the middle section of Railgun S is outright terrible and I am honestly surprised I survived through it without dropping the show.
But then, as a ray of light, came the next arc. The anime original arc follows up where the lackluster ending of the Sisters arc ends and while I had a hard time getting into it at first, mostly due to just being disappointed and in a bad mood regarding the show as a whole because of the episodes before it, it ended up winning me over in spectacular fashion. Not only does the second arc manage to push the show back into greatness, it manages to reach the absolute highest point of the series towards the end. I still can’t forgive the middle section, especially as it could have been used to expand the second arc, but I can forgive the show as a whole because of it.
One of the reasons I did manage to stay with the show when it was in the darkest of depths was because of my strong love for the cast of characters. Mikoto is one of my favorite heroines of anime in recent memory and would have easily been in the lead for a season award had it not been for how she was handled during the middle episodes. Mikoto’s friend and roommate Kuroko Shirai is hilarious and the most criminally underutilized character in anime this year. Most of the group of friends that Mikoto and Kuroko hang around are entertaining as well.
With that said, I will never understand the fascination with Accelerator, one of the antagonists in the series. Maybe it’ll be clear to me when I watch the original Index series, but the fact that this character has a fan-following on a really huge level is just weird to me. I get why villains are often enjoyed in fiction, but when it came to Accelerator I just had a strong sense of distaste for the man from the get-go. I mean that in a good way though, he’s a great villain because of it. But nothing came out of the show for him but hatred when it came to me. Or maybe that is why he has a fan following and I just can’t get into it.
Another character I really didn’t enjoy was Touma who basically becomes the show’s focus for the episodes at the end of the Sisters arc. I’ll chalk it up to it being the fact that he was so important during the terrible episodes rather than his character as a whole, but simply based on what I’ve seen here I have a bad feeling about what I’ll think of Index as a series.
Mixing action with drama and comedy can be tricky and I’m sure everyone knows of a handful number of shows that manages to fail at getting the blend right. This is where Railgun S shines beyond its competitors in many ways. Not only does Railgun S have some of the absolute best action sequences I’ve ever seen in anime, it does calm slice-of-life-esque moments stellar and always have enough humor to carry to tone the show wants to set. There’s some amazing talent at work here in terms of writing and direction, especially during the second arc where it all comes to shine.
Rina Satou as Mikoto does a great job at portraying a believable feeling of sadness when required, but she also manages to get Mikoto to come across as threatening when required as well as kind and loving. It’s a spotless performance that shows how secure she feels at the portrayal of Mikoto as a complete character.
Satomi Arai, who has become one of my favorite voice acresses, also portrays Kuroko in a great way. Other worthy mentions include Ikumi Hayama as Shinobu Nunotaba and Minako Kotobuki as Mitsuko Kongo.
The two opening themes perfomed by fripSide, “sister’s noise” and “eternal reality” are both worthy on being on top five lists of best opening themes for both their respective seasons. The energetic beat and vocals are borderline impossible to not get into and I can’t wait to go back and hear their theme for the first season. The ending themes, “Grow Slowly” and “Links”, performed by Yuka Iguchi and Misawa Sachika respectively, are also great and memorable, While the first one is more memorable and performed by one of my favorite singers and actresses, the second one sticks out for how well it fits the tone of the second arc. I won’t pretend I wasn’t tearing up when I heard it playing one last time as the show was ending.
The show is gorgeous as well, mixing CG in with some amazing 2D animation without it becoming too much or having it getting in the way. The art-style manages to capture intense, creepy, heartwarming and goofy moments in a way few others do. The direction during the action-scenes blends in perfectly and makes it all feel more like a really highly budgeted feature film than simply a tv-series. I could not praise this aspect of Railgun S enough to do it justice, it’s that good looking.
Had it not been for the awful moments during the middle of the series, I could have easily seen A Certain Scientific Railgun S being my favorite show of the season. As it stands, it remains strong and high on the list, but not as high as I was hoping it to be. I can only hope a third season is greenlit and that it brings with it some strong writing either from the source material, or original as it’s been made clear that they can handle original content with great care.
As it stands, I recommend Railgun S as a show, but maybe it shouldn’t be the jumping-on point like it was for me as those middle episodes are hard to sit through. I really wanted to give it a full score, but as it stands I just can’t, no matter how much that last episode made me cry. Maybe next time.
Series Rating: 4/5 – Stunning.
Funimation have licensed the Full Series for US distribution.
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