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A Certain Scientific Railgun S Part 2 Anime DVD Review

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A Certain Scientific Railgun S Anime DVD Review
A Certain Scientific Railgun S Anime DVD Review

Mikoto has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but she’ll get by with a little help from her friends.

What They Say:
Her Fury Will Be Electric.

Sinister experiments and high-energy battles continue to rock Academy City in this series from the creator of A Certain Magical Index!

A sadistic program has been creating duplicates of the level-5 esper Misaka, then murdering her sister clones in the name of science. Now that the electromaster knows the truth about the organization, she’ll stop at nothing to bring it down – even if that means facing the power-hungry Accelerator in a fight that only one of them can walk away from. Elsewhere in the city, an adorable young girl named Febrie is brought into Misaka’s circle of friends. As they begin to learn more about Febrie’s past, they discover that she, too, is a victim of scientific forces in the city – and that’s something Misaka and the girls of Judgment simply won’t stand for.

Contains episodes 13-24 of season 2.

The Review:
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. Just as with the first part of the season, 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, again largely limited to music. A true surround sound mix would have been nice, but what isn’t there, isn’t there.

Video:
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. Natural grain can sometimes appear like noise, but it’s just the inevitable result of upscaled video. Overall, though, this is again a good encode with few noticeable appearances of noise, banding or other issues common to upscaled material.

Packaging: 
Just as was the situation with the first half of the season, we again get what could be called “standard plus” packaging: a standard-sized DVD keepcase using a flippy hinge for disc one, disc two being held on the back of the case, the “plus” coming from having a slipcase (O-card or O-sleeve as they’re sometimes called), which repeats the artwork and text of the cover art inside. The cover art this time features the central trio of the second major story arc in this half of the season: Mikoto “Railgun” Misaka in her normal Tokiwadai school uniform and teenage scientist Shinobu Nunotaba are shown flanking Febrie, the little girl who plays an outsized role in the last arc of the season. The color palette is still very dark and somber, fitting with the tone of the series. Again, 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, 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 very different in tone from each other: one is a bright and cheerful gathering shot of all the major female characters tied to Mikoto Misaka with her; the other is stark scene from Touma’s fight against Accelerator, with Misaka and her “sister” (Misaka 10032) looking on. The discs themselves have no artwork, just the logo and the designations as Disc Three and Disc Four.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
Disc One contains an episode commentary on Episode 15. Disc Two has one for Episode 19. 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)
If there is a key theme that runs through the second half of A Certain Scientific Railgun S, it is redemption. There is a lot of redeeming going on during these episodes. First off, we continue right where things ended, with Misaka clone number 10032 being slotted as the next sacrificial victim upon the altar of pseudo-scientific progress that is tended by the horror-story version of scientific researchers that seem to inhabit Academy City (for all of the scientific trappings of the place and the series, at times one wonders if Kazuma Kamachi is actually a bit anti-science or perhaps very fearful of science, considering the way he portrays researchers and frames his heroes and heroines very sharply against them, making them wielders of unscientific powers). Mikoto herself has come to a horrible realization about the limits of her powers to stop these horrific experiments, despite her celebrity status and actual raw power to do damage to normal structures and beings. So, she decides to redeem herself (here, the first example) by proving that the supercomputer Tree Diagram (whose destruction you can see in the main storyline of A Certain Magical Index) was wrong to approve of the Level 6 Shift from the start. How? By engaging in a direct fight with Accelerator herself and losing badly. While this will result in her death, it should also make the researchers have major doubts about the ability of her lesser clones to give Accelerator the challenge needed to push him to the hypothetical Level 6.

This tragic end to the entire spinoff franchise, however, is averted when plot device/white knight Touma Kamijou shows up to stop Mikoto from needlessly committing suicide (since there is no guarantee her plan will work; they might just go ahead anyway). We already know what happens, since this all played out before in the first season of Index. What Railgun S brings to the table is a new perspective on the showdown between Touma and Accelerator and much greater depth in the scene beforehand on the bridge where Touma takes up the fight. The fight itself is also reanimated with slightly different emphasis so that it is not at all tedious to sit through it again. A bit more focus is also given on Accelerator’s role in this reprehensible experiment and here we come to redemption no. 2, as Accelerator himself begins to wonder why he should keep killing the clones, even if he doesn’t quite accept that they are real people. Being on the losing end of the fistfight with Touma appears to redeem him and also bring a little moral clarity.

As is usual with the Railgun franchise, the end of a major arc is usually followed by a brief interlude of “Mikoto and her friends” doing stuff. So we see Kuroko, Uiharu, Saten, as well as Erii and Banri appear. There follows a second, shorter multi-episode arc for the remainder of the season, which is anime-original. Here, the girls during their travels in the city come across a very young girl (she looks about 3 to 4) lying in the flowerbed of a public park. Thinking she’s a lost child they take her in, but there is no information about her other than what she tells them: her name is Febrie…and someone taught her the name “Mikoto Misaka.” It turns out she is an artificial humanoid that was created by a group of scientific researchers (again, the common bad guys) who run the STUDY Corporation. Their goal is to prove the superiority of normal brainpower over esper abilities, plotting a coup to take control over the city. In the course of this arc, we can see that it is, in many ways, somewhat lazy in construction, being highly derivative of elements from the Sisters’ arc. The underworld group ITEM makes another appearance, though this time they are not butting heads with Mikoto (except in family restaurants) and instead have their own beef with STUDY. When Mikoto needs to learn more about the underworld of Academy City, she is directed to meet with the imprisoned Therestina Kihara Lifeline, who cackles like a good caged villain should. And as part of STUDY, Shinobu Nunotaba, last seen in the nefarious clutches of ITEM, reappears. It seems she was sold to the anti-esper scientists through the underworld.

Thus the pieces are in place for redemption number three as Shinobu finally gets brought out of the darkness by Mikoto and crew, who foil STUDY’s plot. We’ve known all along that Shinobu is not an evil person (one of the few non-evil scientists in sight), so it was only a matter of her learning the lesson that Mikoto also learned earlier in the show: you can’t take on big problems by yourself. If you have friends, you should turn to them for help. This revelation helps Mikoto to dispel the guilt that has been hovering over her for allowing the mad science brigade access to her genome and she is now able to pass the lesson on to Shinobu, who can free herself from self-hatred and anger at creating the technology that allows people to create clones and artificial beings and give them functional memories. Overall, this second arc does not quite have the same emotional impact as the Sisters’ arc and when watched in a marathon viewing session felt much more hollow than when I originally saw the entire series on a weekly basis. It’s not that the Febrie/STUDY story is structurally bad. There is a fairly logical progression without too many plot holes or head-scratching moments. It also is nice that they do not, as the original author almost always does, wheel out Touma to save the day yet again. It is a group effort and I’m sure many will appreciate being able to see all of their favorite minor characters from this universe make their appearances.

So, the minor weaknesses of the second plot arc aside, the second half of the season does deliver some very powerful moments, especially in the resolution of the Sisters’ arc and its aftermath.

In Summary:
The first half ended things right before they got interesting, with things headed to a showdown between the Railgun and Accelerator. We pick up right where the dramatic climax hits, as Touma heads into battle to save the Sisters. It is probably one of the high points of the entire franchise with a much greater impact than most of what occurs in the main Index universe. The second connected story, an anime-original piece focused around a cute little girl with a mysterious connection to yet another nefarious group of mad scientists, feels a bit weaker in comparison, but does provide a stage for more ensemble work unlike the Sisters’ arc which at times became all-Mikoto, all-the-time. Much as I like the title character, part of what makes this franchise work is her regular interactions with her friends and harassing stalker…I mean roommate. For fans of the franchise and the characters, this part of the season cannot be missed, especially for the resolution of the Sisters’ arc.

Features:
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: August 19th, 2014
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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