Saturday, November 7, 2009
The "teen psychic" niche has been done to death in manga- but while Kamachi Kazama and Fuyukawa Motoi's Railgun manga isn't revolutionary, it's a fun, fresh take on a stale concept- with 1/2 cup snappy writing, 1/2 cup likeable characters, 3 1/4 tbs well-executed action, and a dollop of yuri. (No substitutes.)
Like the anime, the manga centers around Misaka Mikoto, the third highest-ranking level 5 psychic in Academy City, wielding the same electricity-manipulating super-powers. (Including her signature railgun.) She's still best friends/roommates with Shirai Kuroko, a Level 4 teleporter and über-competent member of the law-enforcement group known as Judgement who thinks that Mikoto is the hottest thing since fire was discovered. While Uiharu is still a Level 1 working as part of Judgement and Saten is still her skirt-flipping bff (and a Level 0), they don't play as major a role in the manga as they do in the anime. I especially miss Saten being a major player (there are a few other small changes to her character, like her immediate idolization of Mikoto, and being clearly interested almost from the outset in the Level Upper). Volume 1 mostly follows Mikoto, Kuroko, Uiharu, and (to a lesser extent) Saten's involvement in cases being handled by Judgement, from the mundane (Mikoto's frantic search for a girl's backpack that she mistakenly thinks has a bomb in it) to the major (a terrorist planting bombs throughout Academy City to target members of Judgement). By the end of the volume, Mikoto and Kuroko have figured out that a rumored device called the "Level Upper", which can ostensibly boost one's psychic ability, is the probable cause of several psychics displaying a higher level of power than Academy City's data indicates they should. Plus, Index's Touma gets a larger share of time than he has in the anime, and Kiyama Harumi hardly appears at all. (Tear.)
This volume zipped by pretty quickly as I read it. It was simply fun light reading- and that's all that it needed to be. While some of the aspects that didn't carry over to the anime seem negative in retrospect, I didn't really notice them as I actually read. It's kind of interesting to note the differences between the anime and manga versions of the same story, however- the anime has not only downplayed Touma's screen time and increased Saten and Kiyama's, it has more of a padded out slice-of-life "Judgement-case-of-the-week" feel than the manga. The anime spotlights the yuri more frequently, but from the beginning, the yuri in the manga seems to be more smoothly integrated. (Dispersed more evenly throughout instead of "Look!! An all-yuri episode with no plot!! Now an episode with a plot (of sorts) and hardly any yuri!!") I also liked Kuroko's way of expressing her feelings for Mikoto early on better- like wrapping a blanket over Mikoto after she falls asleep out of exhaustion, as opposed to panty-stealing. (Although my favorite yuri moment in this volume is probably the ice cream scene.) The anime also ramped up the sex appeal a little more (the "Undressing Woman" anybody?), but both versions are pretty low on fan service. (Subsequently, I imagined this silly little dialogue in my head-
Mikoto- Wow, I'm getting my own manga!
Kuroko- But of course. You're too good to remain a side character, Onee-sama.
Mikoto- Oh, hey look, it's going to be in Dengeki Daioh!
Mikoto- I should really keep the shorts on, shouldn't I?
Kuroko- You know your audience well, Onee-sama. But there's no need to go that far...
Mikoto- No- now I'm certain there is.)
The art is good, with appealing character designs. The action scenes are where the art really shines (although the layout and use of angles throughout the manga are both done very well), but the ordinary conversation scenes could really use more background detail at times. One detail that put a damper on the ending of the volume for me was the character design for one background character- you'll know who if you read the final chapter of volume 1; a jarring error in an otherwise well-presented series. Fuyukawa's biggest strength is the energy in his artwork and his spot-on timing, coupled with Kamachi's snappy dialogue. (This works beautifully in the scenes featuring Kuroko or Mikoto giving their opponents a verbal and physical smackdown.)
Volume 1 of the Railgun manga isn't brilliant, but still enjoyable and worth checking out.
As an aside, this panel especially amused me-
Oh, Mikoto and Kuroko, how much you have yet to learn. :P (What would Mikoto x Kuroko be nicknamed, anyway? Mikoko? Kuroto? Railoporter? Telegun?)
BGM- "Idea" by Wizard