Life in Academy City isn’t easy for those in Judgment, and definitely difficult for Mikoto. She needs to wear her big girl shorts.
This review is of both the first part, in limited edition form, and the second part, in regular edition form. Normally we review the two releases separately, but due to the backlog we have at the moment we’re looking at it as a complete series.
What They Say:
Misaka’s electro-manipulation abilities – and delightfully destructive Railgun projectile move – make her a rock star in Academy City. The techno-metropolis is packed with supernaturally powered students known as espers, including Misaka’s flirty friend and roommate, Kuroko. She uses her teleportation skills as a member of the Judgment law enforcement team, fighting crime alongside her fellow agent Uiharu.
Joined by their friend Saten, a spunky Level 0 esper, Misaka, Kuroko, and Uiharu have a blast taking on danger whenever and wherever it arises. Luckily, in a city full of super-powered gangs, mad scientists, and the occasional weird monster, the girls have no problem finding plenty of excitement, action, and adventure!
The audio presentation for this release is done with the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English 5.1 mix is done up encoded at 448kbps. The show has a pretty good mix for the forward soundstage as there’s a fair bit of action throughout the run where there’s lots going on across the screen and a good bit of bass as well with the kind of impacts that happen within the action. The forward soundstage is well expressed here as the action moves about in the stereo mix but is ramped up a bit more with the 5.1 mix in the English side. That mix has a bit more impact in general but nothing that stands out in a huge way. Dialogue for the show is pretty straightforward and clean with no problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in late 2009 and early 2010, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Each of the sets has twelve episodes and is spread across two discs for each set with six episodes per disc. The series is similar to A Certain Magical Index in its design so we get a clean look here for the most part with only some noticeable noise in the backgrounds at times. There’s a lot of fluid animation at some key times throughout the show and those stand out well as the animation goes big and the transfer captures it pretty good for standard definition. Colors are generally solid, line detail is good and the few darker scenes are without serious problems, though you can see more noise in them. Across the twenty-four episodes, there’s a good look to the show but not one that leaps out with the full quality of the production.
The packaging for this release is pretty decent across the board as we get the first part in limited edition form and the second in regular edition. The limited edition release comes in a heavy chipboard box with some dark reds for most of it and some murky blacks along the top. The front of the box gives us a good looking pairing of Mikoto and Kuroko together where you get them looking with a bit of power, but also an amusing glimpse of Mikoto’s shorts. The back cover is a bit lighter as it brings in the supporting cast of characters, though with just the right edge of darkness. Inside the box we get a single sized keepcase with a hinge inside to hold one of the two discs. The front cover artwork is nice as we get the two leads together with a very blue shaded alleyway that lets them stand out all the more while the back cover is pretty traditional with a few shots from the show along the left and a good look at the premise along the right that’s clean and easy to right. The discs production credits are tiny and the technical grid is pretty small too, but it’s all accurate and legible. The reverse side artwork is much nicer though as it spreads across both panels but offers up different places as the supporting cast of girls are in familiar locales.
The second collection is similar when it comes to the keepcase, though there’s an O-card slipcover that mirrors the artwork for that case. The artwork for this is pretty good, though it’s not exactly a selling piece for non-fans as it’s the main group of girls and a few friends meeting up with each other in front of a flower shop. It’s definitely attractive and appealing with the colors it uses and the character designs, but it’s a different kind of cover for this series that I’m not quite sure works in a way. The back cover is designed similar to the first volume and is easy to see what’s on it and how it’s setup. The case and its design mirrors the slipcover and has some good artwork on the reverse side that does a similar split with characters and locales. It’s a cover that like the first volume, would work well in actually reversing it.
The menu design for the series is simple throughout as it goes for a split screen style where the right side has the navigation along the lower portion while the background for it is full of hexagons in shades of purple that’s decent but mostly indistinct from a normal distance. The lfet side features the character artwork and changes for each volume, using pieces from the covers for example, such as where the first disc has the cover art from first DVD volume in the limited edition. Submenus are quick and easy to get to and the layout is fairly standard here with no surprises. Everything is easy to navigate and selections stick and the discs default to English with sign/song subtitles.
The extras for this release are pretty good and definitely favor the dub fans as there are several episode commentaries spread across all four discs that brings in the cast and crew for it. The show also brings in some extras in the form of the varied clean opening and closing sequences and also one of the US trailers that FUNimation created for the release.
Based in the world of A Certain Magical Index, the arrival of the twenty-four episode series A Certain Scientific Railgun was one of those rare series where a semi-sequel ends up proving more popular than the original. I had enjoyed Index on some level with what it offered, but I disliked the kind of random and chaotic nature of how Academy City worked. What I did like was the story arcs that involved Mikoto Mikasa, the Level 5 railgun of the city who is quite powerful and has a certain sense of justice about her that helps carry her through her days where she helps out and works with Judgment to do the right things in the city.
With this series, the focus on Mikoto and Kuroko is pretty regular throughout, but it also knows how to shift between the two of them and to draw in others even during the more important arcs. The series does start off by focusing heavily on those two though and the kind of awkward nature of their relationship where Kuroko is just so wound up over her Sissy in Mikoto and is all about her in so many ways that it would be creepy if it wasn’t done so well and fun. Kuroko’s an intense character with her obsession over Mikoto, and Mikoto barely tolerates it in some ways, but there’s a kind of understanding between them and they really do make each other better along the way. Seeing them interact with each other in the first couple of episodes as well as their friends makes it clear the kind of relationship they have and the good that does come from it. It’s a solid introduction to them if you hadn’t seen A Certain Magical Index.
While this is a basis for things, it’s not the primary focus of it as there are a lot of things going on in Academy City. The series does some good standalone smaller stories that brings in the supporting cast well and there are some good stories that highlight the way the city operates and some of the dynamics of those with powers. The early material is fun, but it also starts to bring in some of what the first half of the series is all about by showing how there’s a growing rash of people that are becoming involved in a drug of some sort called Level Upper which helps people unlock their abilities even more than they already have. And those that are Level 0’s are able to finally do something, which makes it incredibly tempting to be sure. But Judgment can’t let this go on and there’s some deeper issues to it as it unfolds, where those that take it start falling into coma’s and more. The larger aspect of it is kind of wonky when you get down to who is involved and the result of the work, but the why of it is pretty compelling and definitely creates some good reasons why they went this direction.
This arc takes up a good chunk of time and definitely has some worthwhile material to it as it works the characters over. Of course, it also makes it easy to do a big swimsuit and silliness episode after that. But the show wants to work some good time with the cast throughout, giving everyone like Rukio and Saten time to shine and show off who they are. But they also get drawn into stories as well, along with others, such as the shorter Big Spider arc which introduces us tot he SkillOut group, people who have been hunting down espers and causing a whole lot of trouble in a particular part of the city. It brings Mitsuko into things a bit more and explores her connection to them and provides for some good fun, but it mostly just helps in that it’s a shorter arc in itself that again points out the tensions that exist between those with powers and those without, and even the lower level people that are threatened by others.
When the series moves towards its final arc, it’s one that it prepared for since early on in the series as we got the nods towards the various small earthquakes that were happening. These have gotten more intense and now there’s a growing issue about it as it’s determined to be something involving multiple espers that infect other espers which are causing it. Unfortunately, a lot of the school age kids are calling it poltergeist moments because of how it happens and that’s causing a ripple effect of making more kids susceptible to it. That has one of the many groups that operates in the city trying to slow that down and sets Judgment to do so, but they withhold a lot of information that could help in discovering the truth about what’s going on. It connects back nicely to some of the prior events and arcs of the series and it obviously lets the main group of girls really come out heavily involved in it, especially with Mikoto and her power level, but it’s largely an ensemble piece and one where there are some divisions that come into it as they all approach the problem differently. While things end a little too cleanly for my tastes and I wish there was a longer epilogue, overall the show comes across well throughout this arc as it used elements from the others and lets the characters play key roles without seeming out of place.
With very little male influence here, at least in terms of good guys and friends, A Certain Scientific Railgun gives us a variety of young women with a variety of powers and backgrounds that deal with life in Academy City. The show does play to plenty of standards and there aren’t exactly a lot of surprises here, but what it does present is a solid, engaging and very fun work with characters that stand out well. While Mikoto is a big part of it, she’s not a constant and everyone gets their chance to shine, which is a big plus. And to my continued surprise, I really like the relationship between Mikoto and Kuroko, even if it is over the top. It’s just silly and fun. Overall, the series offers up some good story arcs, plenty of engaging single episode stories and a cohesive narrative overall that in a way reminds you of how anime used to be with this kind of storytelling. Definitely worth the time and investment.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Select Episode Commentary, Clean Openings, Clean Closings
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 16th, 2013
MSRP: $64.98 / $59.98
Running Time: 300 / 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.