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A Certain Scientific Railgun Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

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A Certain Scientific Railgun Season 1 Blu-rayLife in Academy City isn’t easy for those in Judgment, and definitely difficult for Mikoto. She needs to wear her big girl shorts.

What They Say:
Misaka Mikoto, a middle-school girl with an amazing and highly-destructive ability to control electricity, is one of the top level espers in Academy City, a highly developed town populated by students with supernatural abilities. Joined by her three very different girl friends – her flirty roommate and skilled teleporting esper Kuroko, Kuroko’s innocent rookie partner at the local student-run law enforcing agency, Uiharu, and Uiharu’s best friend, Saten, who has no esper powers – Mikoto encounters various strange phenomena and eccentric people through her action-packed adventures in this exciting scientific town.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors the style of the DVDs in that we get the original Japanese in its stereo form while the English language mix is in 5.1, both of which get the expected upgrade using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show has a pretty good balance on the whole between action and dialogue for what it’s trying to do and that keeps the mix moving pretty well between the two things plus the music throughout. The action pieces aren’t huge here overall, though there are a couple of bigger areas throughout that gives it a bit more impact. A lot of it is made up of smaller moments with some good overall directionality across the forward soundstage that when combined with the music gives it the proper rush. Dialogue is well placed throughout the series with both language tracks and it comes across cleanly and clearly no matter the level of the characters speaking, which is always a plus. It may not be a standout mix, but it’s a solid one that works well in this lossless form.

Originally airing in late 2009 and early 2010, the transfer for this twenty-four episode TV is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across three discs in an eight/nine/seven format where the extras are on the third disc outside of the commentary tracks. Animated by JC Staff, it has a pretty good look as we saw from the previous DVD edition, but it comes across much better here overall. Color definition is stronger in many scenes, the details are more firm and solid throughout and the overall solidity of the colors in general is stronger, making for a lot of very pleasing scenes when looking at areas such as the skylines. The show doesn’t do a lot of high motion material on a regular basis, but it has plenty across the whole season and those really look good, especially during the season finale. If you passed over the DVDs, it’s pretty much worth the wait just to get a more solid product, especially when watching on larger screens.

The packaging for this release comes in an oversized Blu-ray case that has it holding all the previous DVD releases and the three Blu-ray discs on hinges. The o-card for this release mirrors what’s in the case itself as we get a good image of Mikoto and Kuroko together in their uniforms – and showing off just a little bit underneath, against a rather bland background. The front cover puts the logo along the bottom and also gives us the episode and disc breakdown, though listing it as seven discs feels a little less than clear. The back cover provides for a look at the shots from the show along the left while the right goes for a simple premise with more about the characters and their jobs than anything else. It’s clean and easy to read and hits all the salient points. The rest has the usual with the very nicely done technical grid that breaks apart both formats so you know the nuts and bolts while the rest is made up of various production credits and logos. While there are no inserts included with the release, we do get a reversible cover that provides another shot of the two from the front and different artwork on the back panel from the previous DVD releases.

The menu design for this release is rather standard fare for FUNimation as we get a purple strip along the bottom that has the navigation strip in a clean and straightforward font while the rest of the screen is given over to various action and silly clips from the show of the various characters and situations. The series logo is kept static in the middle of it all and the clips show some decent bits, but it doesn’t do much to set the tone or theme in a more connected way for the viewer. The navigation is easy to move through and quick to setup – subtitles are locked to your language selections – and overall it’s the simple kind of menu that works well and gets you where you’re going at the top level and decently during playback as a minimal pop-up menu.

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.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
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.

In Summary:
Revisiting this season after watching the second season late last year was definitely an interesting experience. While I certainly prefer the second season as it feels more focused in telling compelling stories, what we get here is all the relationship buildup and heavy lifting to show how these young women are all friends and active participants in Academy City with a range of different issues. 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 and pretty much worth the wait for those that didn’t want to get the DVD releases as this is priced to move for you.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 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: January 20th, 2015
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.

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