April 13, 2014

A Certain Scientific Railgun 1-12

In keeping with the blogs policy of being on the cutting edge of the Anime scene, we concluded that we ought to actually get around to watching this show from 2009.

A Certain Scientific Railgun was well received  by American fans when it came out  and was successful enough in Japan to have spawned a sequel last year. It is apparently a spinoff/side story to an earlier light novel series called A Certain Magical Index about which I know nothing. 

The series is set in Academy City, a recently incorporated, planned metropolis just west of Tokyo (in present day Okutama perhaps?). The city has been set up in part as a high tech development region; a sort of government subsidized Silicon Valley with additional heavy industry. Its main purpose however, is as an educational mecca. Academy City is a vast collection of junior high schools, high schools and colleges with different specialization's (including nearly all of Japans most prestigious academies) and its atmosphere and infrastructure are both intended to be highly conducive to learning and developing the special talents of Japan's youth. 


...and developing boondoggles like wind turbines...inside a city.

Note that we are not being whimsical or abstract when we say "special talents". Some years prior to the events in this series, ESPer abilities were scientifically confirmed to exist latently in certain people. Intense study revealed ways to exercise and thus improve these abilities. A single person can have one ( but only one) of the hundreds of known talents. However, they are rated on an ability level that goes from 1-5. This seems to be an exponential scale and frequency dwindles rapidly with power. There are less than a dozen level 5's in the entire city. Since these abilities are psychic in nature, improving them is largely a mental discipline. Thus, schools are a good means of pursuing this research. The schools pursue an intense, broad spectrum education since few ESPer abilities have any marketable use and in any event, this many educational institutions in close proximity foster a critical mass that the powers that be no doubt hope will become a high capacity Japanese genius generator. 

  The educational theme extends to certain city services. 

First some cultural background:
 Japanese high schools often have student councils with a great deal of responsibility. They manage the basic janitorial duties of their school, do a good deal of the scutt work in organizing field trips and school activities, assign students to do groundskeeping and equipment inventory and divvy up their budget between various clubs and school events. In some high schools they even provide (through the Home-Ec classes) the cooking staff for lunch and to a very limited extent, discipline (well...hall monitors).There are faculty advisors overseeing this of course, but they only get involved if necessary.The idea behind this affront to the sensibilities of the NEA and DoED is that high school students are young adults and should have organizational skills, be acclimated to work and be given increasing responsibilities. In a high school setting this can work pretty well.

In Academy City they've applied this concept of high school students administering things to the whole metropolis...thus dystopia. 

OK, not quite: In addition to the individual school's councils, there is an inter-school student council that coordinates members of various school's councils to deal with student related concerns throughout Academy City. One can assume that this council co-ordinates, festivals and spelling bees but those activities don't lend themselves to a crime drama so we never see those committees. The manifestation of the inter-school council the audience encounters is JUSTICE...a city-wide network of STASSI glorified hall monitors with limited ticketing and arrest powers. While this seems at first glance to be whacked, remember that this city is overwhelmingly (80%) populated by students, most of whom are teenagers trying to develop their super-powers. Having as much discipline as possible meted out by peers helps to minimize the social dynamic of having a bunch of super powered kids being disciplined by mostly unpowered adults.  The city does have a regular police force as well as a frighteningly well equipped SWAT team in case the teenagers decide to rumble. 

Everything in the city is geared towards technophilia and academic achievement. Students with good marks are local celebrities, but "good marks" has come to mainly mean having an unusual power. Universities, corporations and eclectic individuals have descended upon the city to study the abilities of those with talent and Academy City is as much a scientific observatory as a learning center. This is most harshly expressed in the fact that those who cannot manifest any ESPer abilities are not held in particularly high regard. They are the level 0s and are termed "Human Errors" by medical professionals and while not actively discriminated against they are considered 'broken'. However, if they keep their non paranormal grades up they are allowed to stay in the cities schools. 


Among the more famous people in this odd town is our heroine...

Mikoto Misaka: 



...She is one of the few level 5 ESPers in the city. Her ability is to control electromagnetic forces. She can generate electrical fields, magnetic fields and using the latter propel arcade tokens at mach 3. This latter ability has resulted in the nickname 'Railgun'. She is a top student at the prestigious Tokiwadai Girls School and has become something of a local celebrity, which she finds a bit annoying. She's a fairly reserved and modest person, who responds to her schools alarmingly brief uniform skirts by wearing hiking shorts beneath hers. Mikoto is not part of any student organization and seems to be given somewhat wide latitude to develop her powers which are of considerable interest to the scientific establishment. She is decent, level headed and sane. This latter characteristic is somewhat surprising given that her dorm-mate is....
Kuroko Shirai:



Kuroko is an extremely skilled (high level 4) teleporter and a student at Tokiwadai. She is smitten with her dorm-mate and periodically attempts to romance Mikoto despite constant rebuffs. Kuroko is the vector by which Mikoto gets pulled into any number of adventures, you see she's a field agent for JUDGEMENT. She takes great pride in her job and is considered quite conscientious, though she in fact has been becoming increasingly overconfident of late and in any event has numerous other character flaws. She is currently acting as mentor to her rookie partner...

Kazari Uiharu:



...who looks up to her a great deal. Uiharu is a level one ESPer and her ability seems to be to grow flowers out of her head. This power is of no discernible utility in the scholastic or law enforcement fields so she must get by with determination and wits. She is very good at research and data acquisition and is normally Shirai's support, but she is increasingly being trusted with field work. As she is a mere level one, she is a student at Sakugawa school, which is not particularly prestigious. The school does not provide dorms for it's students and Uiharu lives in a nearby apartment with a classmate from Sakugawa...

Ruiko Saten:



 
...who came from a not terribly affluent family that pretty much put everything they had into getting her into an Academy City school where she could develop her abilities and move up in society. Despite much effort, she appears to be a level zero. This bothers her a great deal more than she lets on. She's quite smart, she just has no super powers in a city full of ESPers being groomed to be the leaders of tomorrow. Despite her brave talk she is becoming increasingly desperate to get in touch with the powers she is sure she must have. Saten frequently assists Uiharu in research, though as she a level zero this is in an unofficial capacity. Saten is quite astonished to find out that Mikoto Misaka is not at all the pompous prima donna she had imagined.

**********

This is actually a pretty good teenage superhero high-school cop show thus far. The adventure elements are well thought out and the show is developing nicely. Misaka, Uiharu and Saten are thoroughly likable, decent characters...and Kuroko is fun to laugh at. 

The show has a lot to say about what happens when one defines worth too narrowly and how credentials of any type can be given too much weight to the exclusion of other qualities. 

 Funimation's dub is pretty good. Allison Viktori's version of Kuroko is a rather annoying.... which is exactly as it should be. The rest of the cast are also very nicely realized with Brina Palencia doing an especially fine job as Saten. 


These 12 episodes were quite enjoyable and I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest of it.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 11:08 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 Uiharu's power doesn't have anything to do with her head piece (though she may be using her power on it, an idea I've considered a couple of times). Her power does get revealed in the second part of the first series, and it is useless for police work.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Sun Apr 13 21:58:07 2014 (+rSRq)

2 Mikoto is a great character and deserved her own series.

If you are a Saten fan, the next series, if they do Liberal Arts City as hinted, is for you.

To show you how forward thinking the creators get, there will be a quartet of "students" in a booth at a family restaurant ("Joseph's", I think) that actually figure prominently in the second series. They will only appear for an instant, with no comment, at the end of the Level Upper arc.

Posted by: topmaker at Tue Apr 15 20:03:41 2014 (2yZsg)

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