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Sunday, August 01, 2021

[Review] To Aru Kagaku no Railgun
Posted by IceCreamNinja in News Articles January 07, 2010 at 09:51:49 AM

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun is the anime reproduction of a manga based on a light novel of a side story to the plot of another light novel which also was adapted via manga into an anime series of its own a year or so prior to this series’ run. Does that make this then a sequel, a side story, or a stand-alone series? Don’t answer that question, because despite To Aru Kagaku no Railgun’s pedigree, the one thing all this convoluted history doesn’t make it is good.

The series is set in what we are told in the first episode is the vaunted Academy City, home to 2.3 million people, roughly 80% of whom are students. Basically Boston without the alcohol. In this horrifying inverse nightmare world, where millions of children roam the streets unsupervised, Japanese is the new Irish, and people have developed an astonishing range of abilities made possible through that wonderful catch-all term of ESP, four students from different walks of life boldly band together to eat crepes and steal each other’s panties.

And fight crime.

There’s Mikoto, the Railgun; a level 5 ESPer with a mastery over the forces of electricity and who is considered the third most powerful person in the city. Kuroko, Mikoto’s roommate: a teleporter and, as the series makes abundantly clear, a lesbian with an insane lust for her mild-mannered friend that one can only describe as stalkerish, bordering on predatory. Oh, and two other girls whose only defining distinction really is that one has flowers in her hair and one doesn’t, and whose names escape me even after watching eight straight episodes in a row in which the two are prominently featured.

In this city of women, where male characters are a rare and endangered species occasionally seen in small groups intimidating the latest device-in-distress, there really doesn’t seem to be too much for anyone to do initially. The second episode for example is pretty much entirely devoted to the discussion of and constant attempts to remove the titular character’s panties. This particular theme seems to make an appearance quite often actually throughout the series, with characters raiding their friend’s underwear drawer, saying hello by lifting up each other’s skirts to check out which pattern they’re sporting that day, and the constant off-handed references by the group’s resident hound dog Kuroko. Perhaps this is what happens in a city where women seem to outnumber men 1.8 million to one, but I must admit, it’s not something one should really feel entirely comfortable with watching when you consider that most of these characters are in middle school.

There of course is the occasional crime, and in a city of a million ESPers, things often can get out of hand. As a result, a special group named Judgment, made up of students from all grade levels supplied with +5 Armbands of Authority, was formed. Tasked with patrolling the streets and keeping order like some sort of Soviet-era morals police, they are responsible for everything from sweeping up trash in front of the local convenience store to halting the murderous plots of a mad bomber that appears right around the time the series takes an inexplicable and uncharacteristic turn towards the serious. Apparently, an actual, legitimate, firearm-wielding police force by the name of “AntiSkill” exists and whose all-seeing presence is constantly referred to by the characters onscreen, but when they’re content to sit back and leave the apprehension of a murderous bomb-carrying maniac to a bunch of children, one gets the sense they aren’t too serious about doing their job.

Ultimately, the greatest failing of the series comes from the fact that it doesn’t seem to really know what it wants to be. At first it tries to take a light-hearted approach to everything. You have a group of girls. Sure, they occasionally fight crime, but mostly they just sit around and talk like an overpowered, perverted parody of the group from Lucky Star. When crimes do come up, it usually takes the form of innocuous robberies easily handled or, in one instance, the ridiculous case of the girl who attacked her victims with a stun gun and drew silly eyebrows on their faces with a permanent marker. “I hate all the eyebrows in the world!” she exclaims upon finally being apprehended, as I died a little more inside from having watched all twenty-four minutes of that.

After this, though, the series starts moving in another direction. A love interest for Mikoto appears, but since he’s also apparently a main character with a love interest of his own in the related series, it doesn’t seem like anything can ultimately come from this random introduction. The common past of two of the characters is then explored, and exhibits a somewhat dark incident that seems to pave the way for the gradual shift in tone over the episodes following, yet then it’s followed by more ridiculous fluff and fan service. By the time one of the girls falls into a coma, an energy fetus sprouts from the head of a defeated antagonist to go on a rampage through the city, and then the girls all celebrate its defeat by going bikini shopping is about the point where I checked out for good.

Ultimately, after watching the series blow through a veritable megaton of panty jokes, it’s pretty much impossible to take anything about it seriously, especially when they throw in something so obviously absurd and out of place as Mr. Giggles up there.

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