A Certain Scientific Railgun T
Welcome back to Academy City, where the lines of morality are often crossed in the name of science.
Mikoto Misaka (voiced by Rina Satou), the third most powerful esper in Academy City, has suffered many horrific experiences from those obsessed with research. Luckily, she has her friends to support her when times get tough. And in this city, those times are frighteningly common.
A new threat has come to destroy the fragile peace. Now, Mikoto must rely on her skills and the help of her arch-rival, Misaki Shokuhou (voiced by Azumi Asakura), to stop a looming catastrophe.
Let’s be clear. I maintain that A Certain Scientific Railgun’s (Railgun) parent series, A Certain Magical Index (Index), has been spiraling into a convoluted web of overwhelming complexity and dullness. The 2018-2019 third installment of the Index narrative was an exceptional low-point for the entire Academy City franchise. I ask that you not let Index dissuade you from checking out the other Academy City stories.
For example, 2019’s A Certain Scientific Accelerator, which had many of the same characters seen in Index, was highly entertaining and well worth a look.
However, if you want to know why I stick with the Academy City series, you need only watch Railgun.
For what is now three seasons, the Railgun storyline has outclassed, outperformed, and dominated over the Index series. It’s not hard to understand why, either.
With Index III being a clear proof of this, the Index series has a massive overcrowding problem. There were too many people doing their own separate mission. Somehow, those missions are then meant to merge into one cohesive victory. Academy City does not have a shortage of interesting and exciting characters; that is not the problem. Instead, by the time the third season of Index came around, the story was so dense that there was never a chance for a single aspect to standout. It all became muddled.
Railgun hasn’t had that problem.
Whereas Index has felt the need to give all its primary characters their required amount of screen time – time that at this point, not even twenty-five episodes a season can offer – Railgun has only ever had to worry about one person. Or, at least, there was only one person at the center of everything – Mikoto Misaka.
Throughout the Railgun series, Mikoto has been the sole driving force. With her as the anchor, her stories and plotlines have been much better balanced. It is easy to keep track of what’s happening and who’s doing what in a Railgun season. And as luck would have it, Railgun’s narratives have been solid; this series knows how to go big without going absurd. This means that Railgun stays, mostly, within the confines of Academy City. In comparison, Index likes to go globetrotting, which adds yet another layer of complexity it simply can’t hold.
Okay, so that’s a summary of why Railgun continues to outshine Index, but what of Railgun T?
First off, Railgun T was one of my most anticipated shows of 2020. Thus, I went into it with the highest expectations. That is why I am thrilled to say this series met those expectations with flying colors. Railgun T was why I like the Railgun franchise and why I will never give up on Academy City.
Something Railgun T was great at doing was building up to Mikoto, who was more than capable of tackling most problems single-handedly. She could always deliver the winning blow whenever she wanted. But the beauty of Railgun and Railgun T was, she didn’t ever need to deliver that final blow. Other characters could and would step up and claim victory.
In the first story arc of the season, one of the antagonists was a master at information gathering. According to him, if you had all the information, you were unstoppable. This mindset made him arrogant. He was one of those villains who you want to see their nuts get kicked in. Had Railgun T left this guy to Mikoto, she would have effortlessly zapped him, and that could have been the end of it. Although efficient, that wouldn’t have been satisfying.
What Railgun T did instead was have this guy face-off against less powerful espers than Mikoto. Naturally, the holier-than-thou attitude of the antagonist couldn’t see how he could lose. Therefore, he got nastier and more irritating; he needed a good smackdown. And that was what happened.
The resulting fight wasn’t one-sided; the protagonists had to work for it. But when it was over, their victory was resounding; they kicked this guy’s ass.
Of course, since the antagonist was a whiny little crybaby, he couldn’t accept defeat, let alone one as humiliating as the one he was served. He became the sort of sore loser that wouldn’t stay down. It was here that Mikoto finally showed up. There was no longer a victory to win, only a lesson to be taught.
And that’s just one example.
I haven’t even mentioned how Railgun T finally brought in a character the series has been teasing since the first season released over ten years ago. We finally learned who Misaki Shokuhou was.
Academy City works as well as it does because it adheres to the rules it set for itself rather than succumbing to the lure of easy storytelling. What do I mean by that?
According to this franchise, there are only seven Level 5 espers. This distinction is rarely given because the power threshold it implies is off the charts. Mikoto is the third-ranked Level 5. It makes sense why she might have to occasionally bail out people of a lower-ranking (even though many don’t need to rely on her assistance). It makes less sense for Mikoto to be the savior of her fellow Level 5s. Therefore, she has never been that.
This brings us to Misaki Shokuhou, the fifth-ranked Level 5. Throughout the Railgun series, it has been established that Misaki and Mikoto are not on good terms. What’s more, it’s been hinted that Mikoto vehemently distrusts Misaki and believes her to be dangerous. Railgun T illustrated why Mikoto’s opinion of Misaki was valid; she was someone not to cross.
I don’t want to give too much away, so all I’ll say is, Misaki’s Level 5 designation is something she earned.
Having been reviewing anime for as long as I have, it’s difficult for a twelve-episode anime to hold my attention through its entire run. So, you can imagine the challenge a twenty-five episode season would have at doing that. Well, Railgun T sure as hell found a way to do it.
I would love to tell you that you could casually watch the Railgun series without needing to watch any other installment in the Academy City franchise. Unfortunately, that’s not an easy thing to do. For instance, A Certain Scientific Accelerator is directly referenced in Railgun T.
You could probably scrape by and enjoy this show well enough on its own without needing to watch Index or Accelerator. Still, a few details will not make sense. Fortunately, Railgun and Railgun T are self-contained enough that you don’t need to watch the entire Index trilogy to get what’s going on. I do, however, recommend you check out Accelerator, but that’s neither here nor there.
On a more negative note, Railgun T ran into the same problem its predecessors did. This season had two primary story arcs, and Railgun T threw most of its weight into the first one.
The first of the two story arcs spanned nearly fourteen of the twenty-five episodes. What then followed was a handful of filler-esque stories that fed into the second arc. Overall, as I said earlier, there was never a point in Railgun T where I was disinterested or bored. However, that doesn’t mean both arcs were equal.
The first half of this series was utterly fantastic. I was glued to the screen thanks to an excellent blend of timing, build-up, and action; it was an incredible ride. And although the second arc wasn’t bad, it was nowhere near as good. How could it have been? The show no longer had the time to explore and craft the way it did at the start.
Granted, the second half of Railgun T was worlds above anything seen in Index III. Sadly, this season didn’t end on its stronger note.
Compared to other installments in the Academy City franchise, this aspect has continued to stand apart in the best possible way. This season was no different.
With excellent action, a compelling story, outstanding characters, there was plenty here to suck you in.
A Certain Scientific Railgun T has earned a recommendation.
A Certain Scientific Railgun T: Return of the Best
- Writing - 7/107/10
- Plot - 7/107/10
- Character Development - 8/108/10
- Production - 9/109/10
- Music - 7/107/10
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