The best part of the entire Index universe continues with a much fuller retelling of the sad story of the Misaka clones.
What They Say:
Her Fury Will Be Electric.
Something sinister is growing in Academy City. The shadows are filled with whispers of a project to clone one of the super-powered students known as espers. High-ranking master of electricity Mikoto Misaka laughs off these stories until she comes face to face with a copy of herself. The duplicates are real, and are being mass-produced from Misaka’s DNA, making each one of them a little piece of her.
These clones – her sisters – are being systematically murdered in a series of experiments designed to turn a sadistic killer into the strongest esper in history. Misaka vows to save her copies and destroy the project, but this might be one fight she can’t win alone. High-energy battles and intense action explode in this continuation of the Railgun series from the creator of A Certain Magical Index.
Contains episodes 1-12 of season 2.
Audio: There are two audio tracks on the discs, Japanese and English, both Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mixes. For this review, I listened to the English 48khz 192kbps track. There were no noticeable dropouts or distortions during playback. While there are action scenes, most of the work was done by the front speakers without much sound being sent to the rear, though the prologic decoding does send some sounds to the rear speakers, largely limited to music.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set has twelve episodes and is spread across two discs with six episodes per disc. The quality is about what you would expect for DVD video upscaled by the player, with a generally clean presentation, though pausing and looking very closely will reveal the inevitable minor noise that will pop up. Overall, though, this is a good encode as darker scenes, especially during the fight between Railgun and Meltdowner, are not overflowing with noise or banding or other issues common to such material.
Packaging: We get what could be called “standard plus” packaging as the discs are housed in a standard-sized DVD keepcase using a flippy hinge for disc one, disc two being held on the back of the case. The “plus” comes from having a slipcase (O-card or O-sleeve as they’re sometimes called), which uses the same artwork and text as the front sides of the cover art insert. The cover art features a group shot of Mikoto “Railgun” Misaka in street clothes surround by the members of the criminal gang ITEM. The color palette is very dark and somber, with shadows and a brownish tinge being offset only by a few streaks of lightning (which can unfortunately also look like rips and creases on the slipcase). The logo is set at the bottom. On the back of the artwork we have a series of screen shots arrayed along the left side, with the catalog text on the right, with the production credits in tiny type at the bottom along with the technical grid. Inside the case, the cover artwork is reversible, if you want a change of pace from the slipcase. The reverse images are the same ones used in the background of the menus for the two discs, one a shot of Kuroko grabbing Mikoto and the other a group scene of Kuroko, Saten, and Uihara. The discs themselves have no artwork, just the logo and the designations as Disc One and Disc Two.
The menus feature the images that are seen on the reverse side of the cover art insert as noted above, along the left side. On the right side are the menu choices and there is background music on a loop. Menu load times are quick and they serve their purpose well enough.
Disc One contains an episode commentary on Episode 5. Disc Two has one for Episode 7. Both feature members of the dub production staff from FUNimation. The second disc also holds the textless versions of the opening and ending themes, as well as the U.S. trailer for the show and a selection of other FUNimation trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In order to watch this show, it is pretty much required to have seen either the first season of A Certain Scientific Railgun or the first season of A Certain Magical Index, which itself contains a somewhat abridged version, told from a different character’s viewpoint, of the major event covered (but not completely finished) by the episodes contained in this set. In the first season of Railgun, we took a trip back in time to events before those in the first season of Index, learning the backstory of Mikoto Misaka, the “Railgun” of Tokiwadai Middle School, an elite girls school in Academy City. I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the Index universe and I highly doubt anyone watching this show or reading this review will need such an explanation. With the beginning of this season, we see the same pattern that was displayed in the first season: an episode or two of fun prefaces the slowly unveiled major plot arc to be tackled. Unlike the first season, the transition into the arc is fairly quick, as it’s just the first episode, which is mainly an excuse to reintroduce to us how awesome Mikoto Misaka is, which provides a fun diversion before heading into the Sisters Arc. A connecting link to the first season is firmly established by this episode, as Mikoto, Kuroko, Saten, Uihara, and Erii Haruue all come to visit Banri Edasaki, one of the children mixed up in the horrible experiments carried out by deranged mad scientists in the first season. This is not disconnected from the new season, as we are slowly informed, piece by piece, about another experiment, one that is far, far worse.
To a certain extent, for those who saw the first season of Index, there is no need to describe what this is. We are already familiar with it: the outlandishly immoral attempt to create a Level 6 esper by having the most powerful Level 5 in Academy City, Accelerator, engage in combat with twenty thousand clones of Mikoto Misaka. Yes, you read that correctly: 20,000. At the end of killing this veritable army of clones, the supercomputer of Academy City, Tree Diagram, predicts that Accelerator will reach Level 6, a level of ESP that can only be imagined at the moment. While these episodes are a retelling, in many ways this is a far, far more satisfying experience, as we get a great wealth of new detail and a fully formed origin story that provides much greater depth and breadth to the tale. Despite the far larger and richer mass of information being thrown at us, the adaptation team has done a very good job of maintaining a thrilling pace and a steady sense of forward momentum. While we might think we know what happened if we already saw the relevant episodes of the first season of Index, here we see how abridged and partial that version of events is in comparison.
It all begins slowly as Mikoto hears rumors of a ludicrous (so she thinks) experiment to clone a Level 5 Esper in order to create an army of mass produced Level 5s for military purposes. Tied into that, Mikoto meets a high school student from one of the most elite high schools in Academy City, Shinobu Nunotaba, who is also a brilliant brain researcher. She warns Mikoto not to get involved in a secret project which is somehow connected to the rumored cloning plan. Mikoto (and we, the audience) are fed information, piece by piece, until it becomes clear that the clones are a reality and something very wrong is taking place. The reason why Mikoto becomes so deeply concerned with the project is that she has a memory from her childhood where a medical researcher, claiming to be interested in her abilities in order to cure muscular dystrophy, asks for permission to use her DNA map (genome). Little Mikoto agrees, thinking it will help people. With the knowledge of the cloning plan, Project Radio Noise, Misaka decides to put an end to it…but discovers that the plan was abandoned as unworkable, since the clones did not rise to Level 5 in ability.
Her respite from worry comes to an end, however, when Mikoto finally meets one of the clones, Misaka 9982 (as they are all clones of Mikoto, the only way to keep them straight is by their production number, which corresponds to the place in the schedule of experiments, and thus is also the listing order of their deaths). Questioning her about the project reveals nothing, which leaves Mikoto frustrated, but what follows will drive the Railgun into a frenzy of rage and despair. For after leaving her clone, she continues to poke around and discovers that the clones have been moved to a new project, Project Level 6 Shift, which we are already familiar with from the events of Index Season 1. She rushes to the scene of 9982’s fight with Accelerator, but is too late to see anything but the horrific aftermath. In a rage, she attempts to fight Accelerator, but she is no match for him. Only the intervention of several dozen clones, who have come to clean up the wreckage (and corpse) from the experiment site, stops Accelerator from killing Mikoto. While we knew that this was bound to happen (even if you have not seen the first season of Index, she’s the title character and you already know there are many more episodes to come, so no surprise here), there is still something of a chilling moment where you wonder whether Accelerator will do some lasting damage to Mikoto.
So what distinguishes this version of the story from that presented in Index is the far greater depth of detail about what Mikoto was doing, as the main story version gave us Touma Kamijou’s viewpoint of events, which was necessarily a bit more limited, as he only comes onto the scene later. He does make his appearance here and we do see some of their interaction from Index now retold from a slightly different view, though without any change in the main details. Here, you really do have to have seen Index, since major character events, such as Touma’s unrecoverable amnesia, are not explained at all. Thus, his behavior might seem slightly odd if this were the first time you saw their meeting at the vending machine.
Another major introduction into the story is what could be considered, in a way, a sub-plot that involves the introduction of ITEM, a group of powerful espers who work as a criminal gang in the underworld of Academy City. While Mikoto cannot attack and defeat Accelerator, she can go after the immoral scientists who are running the project and attempt to drive them out of business. When she starts getting too successful, they hire ITEM to eliminate Railgun. They are probably one of the groups fairly up to the challenge as they include the fourth-ranked Level 5 in Academy City, Shizuri Mugino, known as Meltdowner, whose offensive and defensive abilities, involving manipulating electrons into beam energy that can be used for attack or shielding, are a match for Railgun’s. When you add in bomb-throwing Frenda and AIM field reader Takitsubo, they nearly take down Mikoto in one of the final research facilities that Mikoto wished to destroy in order to derail the project, though Mugino’s arrogance and jealousy of Mikoto being ranked one notch higher on the esper roll leads her to change to a one-on-one showdown that a nearly-exhausted Railgun manages to escape from with her life.
If there is a major difference between these episodes and much of the first season of Railgun, it is that these become almost a one-girl show in comparison to the somewhat greater ensemble feel to much of the first season. After the opening episode, Saten, Uihara and even Kuroko somewhat fade into the background as Mikoto tackles alone the problem of the horror that she inadvertently created by allowing her genome to be used by a group of greedy and unscrupulous scientific researchers. While her friends make it known that they are there for her and Kuroko is only too eager for Mikoto to confide in her, they are largely relegated to the background as Mikoto faces off against the researchers and then their hired guns of ITEM. Mikoto’s isolation from her friends reaches its peak near the end of this set, as she decides upon a drastic measure for ending the project, since the researchers merely scurry away when attacked and re-emerge later, like cockroaches. As Tree Diagram, the supercomputer of Academy City, is involved in the project, she decides to destroy it, even though this is probably what would come closest to “treason” in Academy City and would certainly force Kuroko and all of Judgment to come after her. Of course, we all already know what happened to Tree Diagram thanks to a certain little annoying nun and an unlucky boy’s efforts to save her, as the timelines of Index and Railgun begin to join up over the course of this season.
Railgun is an action franchise and action is what we get for most of this set, though that does not mean that the Sisters Arc is lacking in strong emotional pulls. Mikoto is the center, our viewpoint into the story, a center that is in a world of hurt, filled with guilt and a feeling of responsibility, even though no one could rightly blame her for what transpires. She is also the moral center of the story, something desperately needed since Academy City has to be one of the least ethical and most unscrupulous places imagined. One wonders whether the original author has a heavy suspicion of science and scientists, considering how much evil we see them do in this world. For every researcher that grows a heart and a conscious (Harumi Kiyama in the first season, Shinobu Nunotaba in this one), there seems to be a legion of criminal psychopaths, especially the entire Kihara family. The almost hokey traditional morals represented by Mikoto (and Touma in the main storyline) form a wall against these, a wall that’s necessary for the audience as well, since if it were nothing but a universe of unscrupulous “villains,” one might well throw up one’s hands and say “to hell with the entire story and everyone in it.”
The fight against what really is evil will continue in the next set, as Mikoto now has to find a new way to put an end to the cruel murders of her clones.
Arguably more popular than the main story of the Index universe, we get the first half of the second season of A Certain Scientific Railgun, which gives us the full story behind events first seen in the first season of A Certain Magical Index. This is a far superior retelling, as we see things from Mikoto Misaka’s much more personal perspective, along with a much deeper and more detailed backstory, answering all of the little questions one might have had after the first version, told from Touma Kamijou’s viewpoint, was finished. Largely a one-girl show displaying Mikoto’s attempt to put an end to the horrific plan to turn Accelerator into a Level 6 esper by having him murder 20,000 clones of herself, we see the struggles she underwent and the emotions she felt as she learned more and more about the consequences of a small decision she made as a child. We have more to come as we haven’t even reached the climax yet.
English 2.0 audio, Japanese 2.0 audio, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Textless Songs, U.S. Trailer, Trailers.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: July 1st, 2014
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL-32S5100 32-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Sony Bravia DAV-HDX589W 5.1-Channel Theater System connected via digital optical cable.