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A Certain Scientific Railgun Complete Season 1 Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

12 min read

A Certain Scientific Railgun UK CoverA spin-off to Magical Index which is watchable without knowing about the original series, that is good. Interesting ideas mixed with school girl hijinks before the plot is revealed? More debatable…

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:
Set up in English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0, which can be switched from the pop-up menu in show as well as the regular menu, both languages were set up at an acceptable level on my standard settings (though the Japanese dub I did have to raise the volume a little more) – Blu Ray releases always feel crisper so no problems or slowdown in either language, audio continues even when the popup menu is up, and no problems synching with the subtitles – a standard good quality Blu-Ray release.

Originally airing in 2009 and 2001, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. I had no issues with syncing in with the sound or with the video quality, again with hi-definition release the flow is always smooth and no transition issues between audio and visual with no pause back or slowdown – there was no shading with pausing for example, and the variation of colour from the electric attacks of Misaka to the later mecha battles contrasts to the gritty city visuals in a good contrast.

Spread over 3 discs, the menu is exactly the same in each of them – a few clips from the show (always introducing with a Kouta/Misaka interaction) across an oblong in the middle with the title on the top, the selections being Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras on each of the discs (majority of the extras on the third). With this release, we also have a popup menu that comes up which can be selected on your remote or in my case PS3 controller, which can revert to the main menu, switch audio or subtitle options, or scene/episode select. They all go through very smoothly but do feel that would have been nice for different clips to be used for the 2 other discs instead of the same clips. Nonetheless, very standard but easy to use menu as any of the selections just give you the sub-selections immediately, not even a transition to another menu screen, so very quick and smooth.

There are a few extras spread through the discs, the majority of them being on the 3rd disc though those are mostly just the clean openings and endings of the series, and a US trailer.

However, each disc has at least one dub commentary as well – the first one actually has two, one on episode 3 featuring Brina Palencia (Satan) and Cherami Leigh (Miharu) which is more of a fun commentary rather than seriously talking about the show. They talk about how anime work is different to commercial work (breathing, singing), and the show itself having a lack of fan service despite a lot of innuendo and skirt flicking throughout. It definitely feels more of a chat and a giggle than an in-depth commentary which are just as fun albeit not as informative.

Episode 6 we get a commentary with Britney Karobvski (Mikasa) and Alison Viktorn (Kuroko) – similar to the above one is more of a fun commentary, though they talk about the episode (Alison surprised how serious Kuroko is in the episode compared to how she is throughout the series) and how some of the terms were hard to get right.

Disc 2 we get a commentary on episode 17, with Jade Jaxton (Komoe), Martha Hannes (Yamakawa) and Kara Edwards (Tessa) which is basically the second bananas episode and as these characters aren’t in the show that much it is a personal favourite of the dub cast there due to the amount of reactions, the role they play, how it related to the original Index show, and all the unusual facts and the fact the girls appreciated the arcade references, with old-school gaming at its finest (yes, I also played the original Mortal Kombat in arcades) – as you can see, the commentaries aren’t at their most serious, but more jolly ventures to listen to.

The last commentary is on the final episode (24) involving Zac Bolton (dub director), Colleen Clinkerbeard (Terastima) and Anastasia Munoz (Kiyama) – this one focuses more on the show how it changed from a school girl series to bringing in these actual villains (which unintentionally reveals one of the problems I had with the series as will get to the review), how Anastasia is a teacher in real life and how she had to relate to Kiyama’s troubles and the fact the actors don’t see a lot of what happens beforehand so the roles they are surprised by (and the fact this can lead to shock when their character suddenly is killed for example) and the preparation Zac had to do when Index first was licensed and knowing Railgun was on the future to keep his choices constant. More informative about the show and a nice way to finish out the mostly fun stream of commentaries.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A Certain Scientific Railgun is a strange beast to review. It is a spin-off of a series released earlier in the year A Certain Magical Index, and certain things happen in the same timeline as Index. Yet it is also a show you can watch without knowing this, or seeing the original show as it definitely has its own identity, introducing the characters well (including ones in Index who are more of a focal point in Railgun, Mikasa for example is the lead and the scene in the first episode of Index when she is facing Touma, is explored from her POV in episode 4) without needing to see the original series. That said, the series itself is similar in nature, and the series definitely has its own set of problems because of that.

The series actually for the most part is like a school girl series, with a monster/problem of the week scenario. We are introduced to the group Judgement, who handle out of control problems around Academy City, and learn of a very powerful esper at the ranking of level 5, the highest known rank named Misaka, who is a civilian kept under hiding, whilst her roommate Kuroko, is quite…fond of her to say the least. Her introduction to two other girls in Kazari, a level 1 technological whizz, and Saten, a level 0 who doesn’t seem to mind having no powers, surprises them as she seems a normal friendly schoolgirl. Hence their surprise when she stops a bank robbery with her electric powers despite Kuroko keeps telling her civilians aren’t allowed to help.

For a lot of the opening first half, the episodes are slice of life with the occasional problems, whether actual threats of anti-organisations, friendship problems…or Mikasa trying to avoid Kuroko’s ‘affections.’ Strangely, a lot of things that do happen do have impact by the end which you don’t realise till they are showcased (for example, episode 3 has a girl named Miho who used her powers to makes girl look sillier because her boyfriend dumped her over her weird eyebrows. As amusing as this is, the character actually becomes way more important despite in the background when the big bad is revealed). Index timeline isn’t hugely important either (Toma and Mikasa have a few scuffles but for the most part, this is Mikasa’s story and the focus is on her and her friends and barring the odd cameo the Index characters aren’t needed to be known). We get to see the powers and quirks of the girls (Kuroko can teleport, Kazari is a whizz hacker and Saten…flips Kazari’s skirt when she feels like it, though again she becomes a much more important character than expected).

Mikasa also makes more friends and learns of what Judgement does more despite being far more powerful than them, she understands it is not all blowing things up and more general maintenance work – making friends like Konori for example who gets her own small arc later in the series. Another group named Anti-Skills also teams up with Judgement, which later gets us introduced to characters like Komoe, Yamakawa and Tessa, who get some fun moments especially in one episode where they are the focus. The first serious mini-arc seems to be when someone who is bullied is targeting Judgement members for not protecting the weak and setting up bombs, and this leads to the true first real plot device, something called the Level Upper, a song file which makes espers level up and get stronger than their actual level, but the people who use it fall into comas in due time. This leads to Saten downloading it as she is at level 0, and the introduction of a woman named Kiyama, someone who at first seemed to be for comic relief as her own role seemed to be stripping in public, but is actually linked far deeper with links to synaesthesia causing the comas, and is the first real villain that has a goal in mind, as we learn about her boss Gensei, when she was a teacher for orphans, and yet he wanted to experiment on them, causing the initial comas and Kiyama was infuriated that Gensei was covering it up, and she was trying to find a cure via the Level Upper system. With Saten also in a coma, it does lead to an explosion of emotions (and battles) and Kiyama whilst defeated but seemingly looks set to return, this ends the first half.

The second half after all that, though? Is almost a repeat. We get a few slice of life episodes (a swimsuit/beach episode, a school festival, Komoe as a teacher which granted was quite fun considering she is the classic tiny teacher, an episode on their dorm manager as she may not be quite the stick in the mind as they thought, and the three girls of Anti in their daily lives whilst some random cameos from Index appear, etc) with some of the episodes being more important than others (the Konori focused episode, for example, introduces a device which is a big thing in the end, as well as being a good episode, in general, showcasing her past with one of the better one episode characters of the show in Kurozama, a former gang leader). So it is the first half but instead of a problem of the day, almost like an anime cliché of the day. The actual emergence of the plot doesn’t happen until episode 20. The introduction of a new transfer student and becoming friends with the girls, we are also introduced to a woman named Therestina who is investigating the recent ‘Poltergeist incident’ caused by multiple espers temporarily losing control of their abilities at the same time. The new girl, coincidentally, seems to go into trances and hear voices whilst a certain previous antagonist looks down somehow released…this leads to friendships being questioned, a rather not shocking reveal of who the real villain is, and a very rushed way to get her involved with Kiyama when the children are revealed…and then the villain basically goes nuts, hops into a mecha, she and Mikasa have a big fight, a deus ex machina of the fact Saten is a level 0 comes into play, and the creation of the cure for the children is finally complete, cue happy ending.

As you can see, there are a few issues with this show – the main one being it isn’t sure what it wants to be. For a lot of it, it is content to be a fun series with schoolgirls which have esper powers, there are problems, there are solved, and to an extent, it does kind of lead to a bigger thing. However, it isn’t made obvious until it is thrown in our faces during the villain reveal episodes. The Kiyama one was a bit better as she was more sympathetic and had a little more time to reveal her motives. The Therestina arc whilst the reveal of her being Gensei’s granddaughter was a shock, the fact that we only knew Gensei as a heartless bastard through Kiyama’s arc showcases the fact the show needed to almost create a new villain to someone you wanted to punch in the teeth. The fact the climax does feel incredibly rushed in the last 4 episodes makes it feel like the show didn’t know what it wanted to be – a spin-off of Index, a school girl show with powers, or something a bit more, in the end it tried all three and feels like whilst it is separate from Index, it becomes a mess of an identity.

The thing is the show certainly isn’t horrible to watch. Far from it, it is very fun. Mikasa, who is a side character in Index, gets to be far more identifiable and unique as a character that you don’t need to know who she is beforehand. Indeed, her only real connection is a rivalry with Toma, and that is barely touched upon throughout the series bar a few fun moments and one where she unravels what powers he has when he saves her from the mad bomber. Her relationships with the other characters are all fun as well – hell, the side characters are a blast throughout. One girl I haven’t mentioned is a girl named Mitsuko, who is a stuck up princess like character who has a rivalry with Kuroko, but once she and Mikasa becomes friends during the beach/swimsuit episode (which despite the obvious potential for fan service is actually very calm, and the episode is nice to see all the girls throughout become friends) she mellows out without losing her ojou-sama like way, and is a pivotal point in saving Mikasa when she is nearly captured by the big bad. Whilst the other girls do have their annoying moments (Kuroko’s perversions, the minor angst Saten suffers during the Level Upper arc, and Kazari really being blind when Kuroko suspects her friend when she has all the reason to), for the most part, they are a lot of fun to watch. Almost all the characters who are introduced that are in for more than one episode are also fun, they all get their moment to shine, and my niggles about how the show is set aside, the actual enjoyment I got from it was basically from the elements of the girls themselves.

The battles and powers elements whilst not uncommon, did bring some creative ideas and visuals, with power-up music aplenty, they are all great to watch. Yet the fact that whilst all the relevant things done were fun individually, whether slice-of-life, comedy, action or drama, it somehow didn’t click very well when added together as a flowing narrative. It just felt the show didn’t know which direction to go in, which sadly hinders it as a truly good show despite so many good elements inside. That said, it is fun to watch, whether you are a fan of Index or not, and is at least worth a shot for the many fun characters and moments that the show generates.

A Certain Scientific Railgun is a spin-off that doesn’t need to force you to watch the original. It has its own storyline, defined characters and plot to watch through regardless. Whilst the characters side is definitely defined well, the plot itself is almost thrown right at the end of two arcs after a majority of episode of the week, slice of life, or anime cliché episodes. The strange thing is it isn’t all bad as a lot of character development, fun and not relying too much on said clichés makes it quite enjoyable. Sadly, the fact that it never gels everything together is quite noticeable and stops it from being a great show, and more of something I’d watch if it was on but not choose to watch.

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: October 5th, 2015
MSRP: £29.99
Running Time: 600 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System. (Disc 2 reviewed on PC with VLC Player)

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