Wednesday, June 9, 2010
It wasn't until I saw the line-up of shows premiering this summer that I realized, "Wow, I'm spoiled. There isn't anything that looks really interesting, or anything yuri-ish."
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun was one of the best shows to come out of the yuri-rich year of 2009. Railgun is like a pizza with a motley assortment of toppings thrown onto it that all bake together to produce a tasty pie- comedy, action, soft/social science fiction, romance, even a little mecha at the end, with a hearty sprinkling of yuri.
The story, about a group of friends living in a city mostly composed of espers known as Academy City (electricity-manipulating "Railgun" Mikoto, her amorous teleporter roommate Kuroko, who is part of the law-enforcement group known as "Judgement", Kuroko's "Judgement"-partner Uiharu, and Uiharu's best friend Saten, who is a non-esper) could have been another throwaway "teens with superpowers" sci-fi tale. But it isn't.
Part of Railgun's strength comes from the richly-realized setting. Located within metropolitan Tokyo, Academy City is a separate city unto itself, with its own technology (20 to 30 years more advanced than that of the "outside world"), laws, and not-entirely-rigid hierarchy. The slums and lesser schools are usually populated by lower-level espers and non-espers, while high-level espers go to top-notch schools and live in really nice, but strict, dorms in some of the cleanest, most aesthetic areas of town. But people who have little or no psychic ability can still do very well by being skilled in other areas, like Uiharu, who has mad computer skills, or Kiyama-sensei, a neuroscientific researcher. And Saten just...does whatever she can do, and she's fine. Plus, there's Anti-Skill, a law enforcement group composed only of non-espers who get called in if an esper abuses or loses control of of his or her power. The Darwinian principles underlying Academy City aren't ignored, but they aren't stiflingly oppressive either. (This isn't Ai no Kusabi.)
But Railgun's older sister series, To Aru Majutsu no Index, takes place in the same setting and it isn't as much fun to watch. What's Railgun's trump card?
Virtually all of the characters, down to the one-episode-special side characters and the villains, are entertaining, and their interactions keep the show moving at a brisk clip. No character falls into a simple stereotype. (Except for, maybe, the final villain Telestina- yes, that is her name- but even her cackling psychosis and disregard for human life is explained as the unfortunate result of her grandfather treating her as expendable fodder for his experiments.) Even though Mikoto is the lead, all four of the leads get ample time to shine. (I will own that when I first started watching the show, Kuroko annoyed me- especially her "pervy granny"-sounding voice. But before long, I thought that she was awesome, and her voice sounded fine to me- unique, but not annoying. Go figure.)
Not every episode is a winner (I really could have done without the beach episode- but at least it developed Mitsuko beyond the snooty "Ohoho"-ing ojousama character-type), but as a whole, the story (a sequence of smaller arcs that lead up to a much larger story arc- twice) works really well. When re-watching it, I noticed many more "plot seeds" in earlier episodes that were relevant in later episodes. And I loved the ending. In the manga, after the Level Upper incident wrapped up in volume 3, Kiyama and the issue with the kids who were comatose due to experimentation sort of...fell off the face of the earth, and the story moved on to the "Sisters" arc. But I really like how the anime provided closure on that plot thread, wrapping up the series satisfactorily while providing a good jumping off point for the "Sisters" arc, should a second season be green-lit. (If Index could get a second season, why not? :) Railgun's DVD sales are good.)
Yuri mostly comes from Kuroko's hardcore crush on Mikoto- which, imo, the anime provides more fodder for than the manga does. One little scene that sticks out to me is the ending of the "Skill Out" arc when, after Mii and Kurozuma get back together, Mikoto and Kuroko are relaxing on the rooftop where Mii and Kurozuma used to hang out and Kuroko notices where Mii wrote "Mii" and "Kuro" under an umbrella. (The equivalent of drawing names inside a heart.) This could be completely delusional of me, but it felt like a small, subtle Mi(koto) + Kuro(ko)-shipping moment, by making a parallel between them and Mii + Kurozuma. ^^;; But the best Mikoto + Kuroko scene to me was Mikoto's method of using Kuroko as her "secret weapon" against Telestina in the final episode. (And there are other, funnier moments.) There's also the eyebrow girl's crush on Saten- promisingly, they're still exchanging letters by the end. And I'm sure there are people pairing Saten and Uiharu (especially if you interpret Saten as following the "tease-the-girl-you-like" mode of behavior) as well as Tsuzuri-sensei and Yomikawa-sensei.
The bottom line: it was fun.
Overall: A- (When will someone license this on R1?)
I'll review volumes 4 and 5 of the Railgun manga together after volume 5 comes out later this month.