A spin-off from A Certain Magical Index, Railgun follows Mikoto Misaka as she takes on delinquents, helps her friends out, and deals with the fallout from the various experiments and projects going on in academy city.
Railgun was always going to be the better show when compared to A Certain Magical Index. Why? Because they took the best character and storyline from Index, shook off a lot of the unnecessary debris, gave the show a clear tone and focus, and delivered some really great stories.
The thing is, Academy City is a reasonably good location for a story. The sheer number of super-powered teenagers and the intrigue of the scientists behind the scenes gives you nearly limitless opportunities for things to go awry (whether by accident of design). The problem is, Index wasn’t satisfied with that setting and also tried to bring in the church and magicians and ended up being messy.
Also, as pointed out by someone who commented on my review of Index, the title character is totally unnecessary to the story after the first arc and kind of becomes either comic relief or the occasional victim of the week.
What are the distinct changes from Railgun to Index?
The female main character surrounded by her room-mate (who we will talk about later) and two other female friends gives Railgun a much more cute girls doing cute things feel even while some of those cute girls regularly take out entire gangs, bank robbers and anyone else who crosses their path. Also, Mikoto isn’t Touma who is overly powerful because of some ill-defined power. She’s traditional Esper and has worked hard to gain her power and to become one of the best in academy city. It makes her a much more intriguing character and means it always looks like she is working so much harder for victory than Touma who just kind of blunders his way through situations.
Additionally, we see more of the actual school setting of Academy City. Not that we really see all that many lessons, but we do get to see the students having their powers tested, hear them complain about their lessons, and even see some of them attend remedial classes. Judgement (which appeared as an organisation in Index) finally gets some sort of explanation and has a real presence in the plot, as do the teachers and security of Academy City. All of this makes the world seem that bit more real.
The retelling of the sister’s arc is fantastic. Honestly I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a story I’d already seen in Index retold and thought this was kind of cheating a bit, but watching it you realise that this was a story that needed to be told from Mikoto’s viewpoint and it is definitely the superior version of the story. Touma is of course still present but this time we very much see Mikoto’s thoughts and feelings and it has far more impact.
Finally, the support cast are great. Index had a large support cast but they mostly came and went and to be honest all of Touma’s friends were either jerks or apparently secret agents. Mikoto feels more real because she is surrounded by real people and the dynamic of the core group in this anime is fantasic.
Kuroko Shirai (Mikoto’s room-mate and serial attacker). Seriously, Shirai crying sissy and grabbing at her and groping her usually right before Mikoto electrocuted her is probably the most annoying this about this series. it’s an overused joke that wasn’t funny in the first instance and is at times down-right creepy. It also makes it hard to take Shirai seriously in any other capacity as a character and the thing is, if you remove this one annoying aspect, she’s a pretty amazing character in her own right. Teleportation, great combat skills, and drive. She works for judgement and generally does her job well (though she does have some ways to go with teamwork). But you can’t appreciate how amazing she is because just when you think she’s not so bad there she is rolling around on Mikoto’s bed or sniffing her clothes or something.
Swimsuit episodes are kind of expected when watching an anime about high school girls but in this case they didn’t even go to the bother of actually going to the beach. Instead we have the girls taking part in a modelling thing and to be honest it serves no purpose other than to put the main characters and some other classmates that show up occasionally into swim-wear.
Last complaint, the need to try to get us to sympathise with every character and villain. Why can’t they occasionally just have a confrontation with someone who is a jerk? Simple and straight forward. Oh no, every single antagonist must have a complex back story and a whole raft of reasons why they were driven into a corner… Once or twice this works but by the time you get to about the fifth villain that the show tries to make you feel sorry for you are kind of over it.
If you haven’t watched either A Certain Magical Index or A Certain Scientific Railgun you would be better served with Railgun. And while knowing the events in Index help with some of the very minor plot points (and the occasional cameo from characters the show implies you should know) it isn’t necessary to the enjoyment of Railgun.
This is a fairly solid story set in an interesting world with a good cast of characters with the four girls complementing each other nicely in the centre of the story. Also, some really great fight sequences in amongst the cute girls running around a city built for Espers.