It’s been quite awhile since I last watched A Certain Magical Index, but I recall handful of things from the experience. Wondering when Index would actually be useful, for instance. Or thinking that they were just trying to do too many things at once and making things far more complicated than they needed to be, and trying to explore grand themes which they could barely grasp themselves. One recurring frustration was how I wanted to see more of the actual strong female character, who they did absolutely no justice to in relegating her to little more than a background role. I mean, how could they have created such an awesome character, and then failed so completely in the handling of her?
I speak, of course, of the obvious fan favorite master of electromagnetism, the schoolgirl who kicks ass as a matter of course and let’s nothing stop her, Mikoto Misaka, dubbed “Railgun” for her signature move. She was clearly a formidable girl, strong-willed and free-spirited, and, in spite of her bullheadedness, she genuinely cared about people. Yes, she clearly had the hots for the hero after seeing his own strength, compassion, and self-sacrifice, but it was fairly understandable, he really earned her respect, and I don’t recall her being either obsessed or overly selfish, unlike others I could name. She was such a badass girl, I was always wanting more of her and less of most other characters.
So, when I heard about this spin-off/side-story entitled A Certain Scientific Railgun, you better believe I was up for it! I was still disappointed with Index, but no way I was going to let that spoil Railgun for me! 🙂
Now, I’m not going to try and make the show sound more awesome than it is. I did put this one up as one of my Top Contenders, but that might have been a little hasty of me. 😛 It’s still plenty of fun, but I think it’s been outclassed now.
Speaking about Railgun entirely on its own, I do have to appreciate both what it does and what it tries to do. It discusses surprisingly complex, important topics such as the simple value of human life, as well as how we view each other and ourselves, and it does so in ways which have an unexpected emotional impact. That caught me entirely by surprise, especially after my experience with Index.
It has some serious missteps, I think. Sometimes things still seem overly complicated, and the solutions they come up with are practically out of thin air and don’t care about logic and reasoning and realism. It’s the sort of thing you just roll your eyes at, like, “Of course they deus ex machina the situation.” It’s pretty corny and formulaic like that. And some things about the culture within this anime just make no sense to me, but that might be my narrow, Western perspective at work. It might be nitpicking, but, seriously, who puts together an association of school boys and girls with the authority to meddle with criminals?
The basic premise of the show is that there is a city, Academy City, where people with psychic abilities, or who want to develop such, can go to study, learn, and train. The successful people are espers, with abilities and power levels which vary from person to person. Somehow, there’s always someone causing trouble, be it common thugs and bullies, or robbers, or militaristic criminals, or super-powerful villainous espers, or vast, inhumane conspiracies revolving around mad science and human experimentation. These are the threats which Misaka faces down with the help of her friends, including the teleporting Kuroko Shirai, the computer expert Kazari Uiharu, and Ruiko Saten, a normal girl, and others.
Misaka, herself, does not actually have any authority to become involved in these situations, but she tends to get caught up in them, and she does not hesitate to do what she feels is right. She also has something of a well-earned reputation for her strength, so it’s not uncommon for the authorities to respect her as she takes the lead. It certainly gets the job done quick and easy, for the most part.
As we go through Misaka’s adventures, we continually have conflict between how people see things, especially other people, and how they really are. This ranges from the justification of various villains – that Misaka and those like her have so much and it’s so easy for them, ignoring how she and they actually worked hard and made what they have themselves – to smaller, more comedic conflicts, such as how Misaka, for all her fearsome reputation, still likes stuff that others consider to be more childlike and for kids, so she’s forced to hide how much she likes it or risk embarrassment. The message seems to be that we define ourselves with our own choices and our own efforts. There’s no need to live according to the opinions of others, or to compare oneself to the very best as a measure of one’s own worth.
Which goes into another recurring theme: the value of individual human life, and how we define a person’s worth. It can be based on their capabilities, their origins, their function in society, there is simply something wrong with valuing one group of people more or less than others. Original vs. clone. Natural vs. artificial. Gifted vs. normal. All of these are worth the same, and, even more, all of them have worth. People are more than lab rats to be used and cast aside.
One would think that would be fairly obvious and not need to be said… but, well, between how badly off the world is and how I actually had someone demand that I prove life has inherent, empirical worth, I’m going to venture a guess that maybe it does need to be said after all. But I digress.
It’s also fascinating to see how much of the cruelty and evil that goes on is simply what happens in a society that permits such. One of the early villains isn’t that evil, she’s just using extreme measures to save some children who were used and cast aside by the powers that be. Another treats people like test subjects, but this is what her own grandfather did to her when she was just a little girl. Another is driven by external forces to become stronger, and they provide the people he is meant to kill in battle for such.
Over and over and over again, the true evil is simply the twisted “science” which declares life, any life, as having limited or lesser value.
So, with all of that said, and with the action which is fairly well done, and the especially the emotional bonds of these lovable, endearing girls, there’s plenty to recommend the show for. The technical aspects, the animation, the music, the voice acting in both languages, it’s all very well crafted. Is it perfect by any means? No. But highly enjoyable.
Outside what I said earlier, about formulaic, corny, and deus ex machina, I have one particular complaint. It’s something that, having seen Misaka and Shirai on Index, I was already aware of, and actively disliked, but as Railgun centers more on them, it’s even more difficult to ignore.
See, I am a big proponent of privacy, and respecting other people’s boundaries. So, to see Shirai constantly sexually harassing Misaka really irritates me. Her behavior is, frankly, inappropriate, yet it’s peddled as the comedic flavor of the show. Why? Why should this be acceptable just because they’re both girls? Indeed, the fact that they’re still in junior high makes it even more disquieting, but even if not, how is this any more appropriate than if a guy were to harass a girl? Just because Misaka is able to fend her off does not make it OK for Shirai to continually put her in that position. And yet, somehow, Misaka still befriends Shirai anyway, even with the constant fending off of sexual aggression. Why would such a firm, spirited girl do that?
Adding to this, we have Saten always flipping Uiharu’s skirt up every chance she gets, despite how Uiharu continually expresses her displeasure, and yet they, too, are still friends. How, exactly, is that in any way OK?
I tolerate many things in what I watch, taking the bad with the good. But I must admit, even I’ve been getting fed up with so much sexually-based content, and passing it off as humor. Yet, even worse, I think, is depicting such infringement on one’s person and privacy as somehow “normal” between friends. And that is my single biggest issue with Railgun. Am I overreacting? Maybe. I’m interested in hearing what everyone else thinks about this.
That aside, I still generally enjoy A Certain Scientific Railgun, in spite of this particular issue.
It’s generally fun, exciting, funny, oddly emotional, and it speaks about things which we ought to speak about. And who doesn’t like when the girls kick ass, eh?
Rating: complaint notwithstanding, I will give this 8 stars out of 10.
Grade: similarly, B-Minus.