Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A Certain Scientific Railgun S
DVD - Part One
Just because the mystery of the insidious Level Upper experiments has been solved doesn't mean that life is back to normal in Academy City. Suddenly there are people telling Misaka that they've been seeing her in places where she knows she hasn't been, and while at first she laughs it off, she soon begins hearing troubling rumors about clones of her being produced. When she realizes that as a small child she was tricked into giving scientists her DNA map, those rumors start to become all too real. Now Misaka is determined to put a stop to whatever nefarious experiment is being conducted using her DNA and the possibility of Level 6 ESPers – and she just might discover that nothing in Academy City is what it seems.
How much you enjoy this second series (whose “S” subtitle is explained in episode three) may depend on whether you preferred the action-oriented moments of the first season or the humorous slice-of-life aspects. If you are a fan of Kuroko, Saten, and Uiharu, you may find this set of episodes a bit disappointing, as they appear but rarely and then mostly just to comment on Misaka's odd behavior. However if you felt that the better part of season one involved high-stakes ESPer battles, get ready for a much more enjoyable experience.
After the events of the previous season with MAR and the whole “Level Upper” incident, things appear to be back to normal for the residents of Academy City. On the other hand, almost from the moment the series starts, we can see the darker, seedier side of this supposed place of learning. Banri is in the hospital undergoing physical therapy when a criminal escapes from his hospital room. While the plot of the episode is more concerned with the girls and showing off Misaka's electromaster skills, it does throw us right into the idea that Academy City does have a dark underbelly, a theme which is almost immediately seized upon in the next episode. A rumor is circulating that there are Level 5 clones in the city, although no one is certain what purpose they serve. Around this time Misaka has a dream about when she was a little girl and a doctor convinced her that allowing him to make a copy of her DNA map would help to cure muscular dystrophy. A gullible and sympathetic young Misaka agrees...and we're left to wonder if the doctor was being entirely honest with her. This is an important moment not just in that it reveals, to a degree, the truth behind the rumors, but also the near total lack of empathy and scruples that the higher ups in Academy City's scientific community suffers from. This is a theme that will continue to play out over the course of the two DVD set and one that should make us question just about everything that we have been told about this supposedly perfect city.
Because naturally there is a hideous truth behind the rumors, one which affects Misaka deeply. It is difficult as a viewer not to understand her pain as she discovers what has been done with the information she gave in good faith (albeit as a five-year-old), and this raises the stakes considerably. Rather than gathering her friends to help her solve the problem, Misaka takes it upon herself to change things, waging a one-girl war on Academy City, something which certainly makes her stand out as a heroine. We've known from day one that she has a practical bent – the shorts she wears under her mini skirt are a clear indicator, to say nothing of a good idea. Now she feels that this is her problem rising from her actions, and so unlike most anime protagonists, she decides to solve it alone. While she won't remain that way as the series continues, her determination is admirable, and the methodical way in which she goes about it is impressive. Equally so are some of the action scenes that result – in at least one acrobatic scene we even see the play of her muscles beneath the skin. The animation isn't consistently this amazing, but when the stops are pulled out, it is breathtaking.
For viewers who are familiar with A Certain Scientific Railgun's sister series A Certain Magical Index, there is an added bonus – we have seen this story play out before in an abbreviated way. Now that we are in Misaka's story rather than Touma's there is much room for expansion, and rather than feeling rehashed, the story has increased interest. Touma himself is also something of a highlight, as watching he and Misaka(s) interact is totally different from her interactions with anyone else. In terms of those other interactions, Misaka seems to be standing up to Kuroko's molestations much better this season, and it is something of a relief to see less of her unwelcome advances.
Both the dub and the sub tracks are strong, and really quite close to each other. Uiharu is perhaps a little less squeaky in the Japanese version, and to English-speaking viewers Kuroko's dub voice may sound more natural for her age, but neither really stands out as significantly better than the other. That said, Brittney Karbowski's Misaka is impressive and worth at least giving a chance even if you are not a fan of English dubs.
A Certain Scientific Railgun S' first half is much more action-packed than its predecessor and focuses more on Misaka than on the girl group dynamic of the earlier season. This makes it an exciting and at times emotional show, particularly in its second disc, and the themes of power-hunger are interestingly played out. There seems to be only one thing that you can absolutely count on in Academy City: everyone wants more power, no matter how much they have. And they will do anything to get it – until Misaka notices what's going on.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Much more exciting and high-stakes than the first season, Misaka in action is awesome. Expands on Index very well. Less of Kuroko's harassment.
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