Tuesday, 1 July 2014


Misaka takes on Academy City!

I will start off by confessing just how severely blown my mind is after watching these first 12 episodes. I did a rewatch of A Certain Scientific Railgun to prepare for this one, but comparing the two is difficult. Naturally both have their ups and downs, but I was a little concerned that season 2 might not be quite as good as the first one. Dear god I was wrong. So wrong it should be criminally punishable. Let's find out why!

Now bear in mind that there will be mild spoilers in this review, but that's mostly because A Certain Magical Index is already old and this season explores the Sister's Arc from Mikoto Misaka's POV. Those of you who still don't know what I'm on about, A Certain Scientific Railgun S' first half deals with the Sister's Arc, a plot set in the Raildex universe to clone Level-5 Espers in an attempt to use them to create a Level-6. Those of you who watched A Certain Magical Index will know that the climax of this arc is resolved there. This season deals with the lead-up to that climax and Mikoto Misaka's journey as she finally begins to learn what sort of place Academy City really is.

The first episode isn't that impressive, hence my suspicion that this season might not be that cool. It's a filler episode revisiting the aftermath of last season's plot. The storyline for this episode is mostly set up to catch viewers up before plunging us into the heart of Academy City when Misaka is informed that 'another' Mikoto has been spotted in town by Saten. Dismissing this, we learn that Mikoto isn't new to this rumor. Growing up, there have been numerous times people have mistakenly thought there were two of her wandering about.
This is until she actually meets her twin - Misaka 9928.

Now imagine meeting your identical twin - a clone of yourself. Just the idea that you aren't special - that there is someone with your brown eyes, chestnut hair - an electromaster like you. You're actually just part of a set. That must be quite the culture shock. We are also introduced to Shinobu Nunotaba, a character who knows about the clones, but like the clones Misaka encounters and everyone else she asks, everyone explains that despite Railgun being the cloning template, she doesn't have clearance and isn't involved in the experiment, so she isn't allowed to know more.

What I have noticed is that the Railgun Gang takes a bit of a backseat for this season. This makes sense as this is a Mikoto driven story. Last season, we had Saten going on a very powerful journey of self-discovery, along with mild developments from Uiharu, but the thing that surprised me the most was Mikasa's idealism. Mikoto started off naive, thinking that Academy City was this magical place where anyone could achieve their dreams. She didn't understand that sometimes, it doesn't matter how hard you work, not everybody has the same capacity for greatness. It's just not physically possible for everyone. It was clear from dialogue with Saten that she really was clueless about simple things such as how important your Level really was. She often encouraged and reminded Saten that using shortcuts to level up wasn't the answer - reminding people that your level didn't matter as long as you were just yourself. I kinda enjoyed her suffering at the end of the last season when it became clear to everyone (including her) that things are much darker than that. Despite promising equal rights, in reality she realized that an Esper's chance of getting passed over for jobs, universities and all other opportunities in life she will no doubt get because she is Level-5 will steadily increase the lower your Level is. Of course Misaka's life would be perfect. She's a Level-5, meaning she has pick of anything she wants, whereas Level 0s like Saten will have a hard life.

This series takes it a step further by violating Misaka and her beliefs. Not in a sexual way, but using her as a model to create copies and then murder them repeatedly? This creates a powerful frenzy when Misaka sees a copy of herself whose leg had been ripped off and the body mutilated by Accelerator. Imagine that: Watching yourself being murdered. That is how it's meant to be viewed. The series makes the impact hit much harder thanks to audio and video. There is also that bloodcurdling scream from Misaka. You can almost feel her pain as she clutches her arm - imagining how much pain losing a limb must be like - seeing someone who looks just like you being crushed and killed over and over again. Unfortunately the experiment is too big to stop and Mikoto is left a mess as even her signature "Railgun" attack has no effect on Accelerator whose vector altering powers can negate anything from heat, sound or anything in the material universe that can move. Worse still her 'sisters' all just accept this mass slaughter. I suppose you can say it is a mental violation of Mikoto Misaka. It's also something she vows to stop no matter what.
Detaching herself from Kuroko and the others, Misaka sets out to stop the experiment on her own and this attracts the attention of the Dark Side of Academy City who want to see Accelerator achieve Level-6. They send ITEM after her, a mercenary group who has a Level-5 Esper of their own. This 3-on-1 fight for me, spanning three episodes, highlights the season as Misaka is pushed to her utmost limits. I like this because in the last season, there wasn't really anybody who could stand up to her level wise. She had hiccups that were somewhat major, but trust me: After you watch this 3-episode fight, you understand that Railgun S is on a whole other level. It takes simple tropes like clones and secret experiments to darker, more mature levels. It also takes Mikoto to darker realms as well.

The last two episodes are a bit of a crossover in my opinion. It clearly leads into A Certain Magical Index's part in the Sister's Arc as Touma Kamijou learns of the clones' existence and the Level-6 experiment. This all happened in A Certain Magical Index, but here things are experienced from Mikoto's POV. The scenes are longer and they set up the events quite nicely I believe. There are a few things that are explained that I didn't quite get in Index. A minor hiccup is that not all the dialogue is not 100% the same as they were in Index, but this can be forgiven. One example is Misaka 10032 having to name the black cat. In Index, she and Touma were walking while this happened, while here they are standing still. Noticeable, but not life-threatening.

I praise Brittney Karbowski who plays Mikoto for giving arguably one of the best/emotionally captivating performances I have ever heard. She excelled as Mikoto in season 1, but season 2 just...it really showcased just how fantastic and beautiful a voice she has. Human highlight reel! She takes the dark journey and just makes the audience feel for Mikoto. Austin Tindle who plays Accelerator feels a little different in Railgun S. Different in a good way. Accelerator was awesome in Index, but here we get to see him right at the beginning. I've heard people complain that Tindle isn't scary as Accelerator. I watch Railgun S and I wonder to myself: Maybe I'm watching something different. This guy is freakishly creepy. Not only does he sound so aloof and uninterested in everything, but then Tindle flips the coin and this psychotic juggernaut steps out.

The animation is also miles better than Index and Railgun. Not that they were bad, but it all feels so much smoother and vibrant in Railgun S, which is ironic given how dark the overall story is. Good use of CGI. It's obvious in places, but really kinda blends into everything. Again, I've heard people complain, but I like it. Nice balance.I just don't get the different between good and great animation if people say Railgun S is average. I really don't and I don't mind staying ignorant of that difference.

One gripe I had was the pacing. It felt a lot like Fairy Tail. This is both good and bad as normally, Fairy Tail starts off slow, but usually at episode 4-5, shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose. From there, things just get faster and more exciting and more faster and more exciting until - stop! You've reached the end. It's a technique that I rather enjoy for the most part, but there are always that first few slow episodes. Railgun S is a bit like that, but this was also true for the first season, so if you minded it then, you're probably going to here. Same is true for the reverse though.

Lastly, the ending to this part might leave viewers who have not watched the first season of A Certain Magical Index somewhat confused. Tree Diagram - the supercomputer orbiting the planet that Kijama wanted to use last season seems to have mysteriously been destroyed in-between seasons. This is because that event transpired on the first season of A Certain Magical Index during the Index Arc. Since the events of Railgun usually take place before Index, this might feel a little weird upon first viewing. If you haven't watched Index yet, but want to see the timeline happening in chronological order, then watch the episodes in this order: Railgun (1-14), Index (1-6), Railgun (15-16), Index (7-9), Railgun (17-24), Railgun S Part 1(1-12), Index (10-14).
Rating Part 1: 9/10. Dark and Epic with lots of dark bits mixed in.

Watch clip: Misaka confronts Accelerator

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