When Science & Magic Collide: Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun | OWLS “Thankful”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  eleventh monthly topic for 2018, “Thankful,” I wanted to shed some light on a certain franchise that doesn’t ever get too much public love from me. Believe it or not, back in the day when I only had about 20 or so anime under my belt, A Certain Scientific Railgun was one of, if not my favorite anime ever. And because of its decline in publicity following the climactic Index II finale, I never really got to express how much this incredible franchise meant to me (and still does mean to me).

Here at OWLS, we are pretty thankful that we are able to come together as a community and share a love and appreciation for anime and manga. This month we will be showcasing our appreciation by giving a shout out post to our favorite manga artists, creators, production companies, and writers who produced some of our favorite works. We will be discussing our favorite works by these creators and our reasons as to why we appreciate them.

A very simple yet fitting topic for this month, I’m excited to put on the nostalgia lens and celebrate just a few of the many reasons why I’m overjoyed to have this electrifying world where science and magic collide in my life. Cause trust me–there’s never a dull moment in this city!

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A brief, spoiler-free glimpse into the massive “A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun” or “Raildex” franchise, all animated by J.C. Staff, and originally written by Kazuma Kamachi.

Been a while? Let’s briefly review!

The world of Index is one where having supernatural powers is commonplace—that is, for the 2.3 million residents of Academy City. A sprawling metropolis boasting the technological prowess of a city existing 30 years in the future, everything in Academy City is regulated and organized to perfection. Because its inhabitants or Espers must develop their psychokinetic powers, an elaborate education system dominates much of the city. Sprinkle in several hundred research institutions and it’s no wonder these supercharged Espers have become associated with the scientific community.

A poor Level 0 possessing no powers but a strange knack for canceling out others’ with his right hand, Touma Kamijou finds himself ironically disenchanted by reality when he discovers that Espers aren’t the only power users roaming the planet. One day, he finds a nun literally draped over his balcony who claims to be on the run from a group of magicians. Magicians are those who practice magical arts, usually subscribing to a certain religion, church, sect, or philosophy to guide their training.

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But Touma doesn’t care about any of that—he’s already got a bunch of classes to make up, a Level 5 “bug zapper” out for guts, and a case of rotten luck that seems to follow him wherever he goes!

A Certain Magical Index chronicles Touma Kamijou’s mishaps as he stumbles through the magical side of things and entangles himself in situations that eventually threaten the balance of the two communities vying for supremacy in Academy City. Meanwhile, the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun functions as a sister series to Index in that it follows the Level 5 Electromaster Mikoto Misaka and the trials and tribulations she faces while encountering the dark side of Academy City.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun


#5 – The Incredible Cast of Characters

Whether you prefer the diversity of Index or the raw friendship in Railgun, you can’t deny that as a whole, both series offer a fascinating cast of characters. While some are much better developed than others (such as the “heroes” vs. the “villains”), you get the sense that each character is fighting for reasons beyond their role. As the story goes along, we see the complexities of each character shine in their individual little arcs, and although you could argue that Railgun put more love into its cast (good guys and bad guys alike), all of them are fascinating in their own right, be it with their powers, their relationships to others, or their system of beliefs. So many different personalities! The cast becomes even more fun to watch when the two stories collide, but I’ll get to that here in a minute.

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#4 – The Insane Architecture & Animation

I wanted to keep this reason separate from another on this list because it truly does deserve its own category. Simply put, this is the best set of works from J.C. Staff that I’ve ever seen, especially Railgun S. Admittedly, Index season one has aged quite a bit in all aspects; that’s not to say it’s bad, but rather quite average for a mid-2000s shounen anime. Railgun, on the other hand, looks timeless in practically all areas, be it the riveting action sequences or the more down-to-earth comedic moments. With each new season comes a more vivid, dynamic vision of what these supernatural power users are truly capable of, and naturally, newer entries will look far superior to older ones. From the explosive energy of Misaka’s signature “railgun” to the mystical spells and arts cast by magicians, the animation remains a high point for this beloved franchise. As an Esper, you are only limited by what you can’t mentally compute quick enough!

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And can we give those background artists a freakin’ round of applause?? They are the ones responsible for bringing Academy City to life: towering skyscrapers, glowing lights, roving highway streets, radiant research institutions, dirty alleyways—heck, even the seemingly infinite number of CG wind turbines littered throughout the city! The clean sci-fi aesthetic matched with homely elements like the occasional brick-paved sidewalk or flower box really does make it feel like Academy City exists in the near future—a future well within our grasp. So I’m glad we’re getting more Index and Railgun, not only for the story and characters, but because I can rely on J.C. Staff for turning these sequels into top-notch productions.

 

#3 – The Intricate, Intertwined Storytelling

We all like a good cameo here and there, right?  Well, Index is FULL of them, so much so to the point that certain characters from the science side of Railgun will hop onto the magic side and have a little fun. Sometimes these visits are brief, such as seeing the dangerous Level 5 Meltdowner chilling in a coffee shop with her friends; others are extended, like when Accelerator had that whole encounter with Index and even bought her food at everyone’s favorite family restaurant Joseph’s. We love seeing our favorite characters thriving in their element, but it can be even more fun to see them out of it and even chatting with characters we know from what feels like entirely different worlds.

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The sheer level of articulation needed to not only tell each story but intertwine them on the same time line is monstrous. To keep each little side story straight yet consistent with the main plot and other happenings in the universe boggles my mind, as I’m sure it does the writers’. I mean, how do you remember that X character went into Y store at this time and saw Z AND keep this seemingly pointless interaction in-line with everything else that is slowly unfolding around us?? Having two series that bounce off of each other so well is one of the franchise’s great hallmarks without a doubt!

The franchise’s most famous story, the “Sisters Arc”, is known throughout all seasons and reiterations of the story for its complexity, and has been heralded as a brilliant story all on its own between its gripping characters and powerful, conflicting emotions. Having been told in both Index season one and elaborated on in Railgun S, the multi-lens perspective of both Touma and Misaka only proves that the writers of the Raildex franchise know exactly what they are doing, and I just can’t wait for more.

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#2 – The Battle of Concepts: Science VS Magic

Kind of an obvious one, as I like my action scenes just as much as the next guy. But beyond just visuals, Index makes it especially clear that actions are rooted in beliefs, faiths even, and this battle of concepts—of ideologies—is the real fight I’m talking about here. One of the first things that drew me to this universe was Esper power hierarchy, which rates a student’s ability from 0 to 5. This power system also influences the socioeconomic balance, where your Level 4s and 5s are practically viewed as pop stars living lavish lifestyles. (We quickly find this doesn’t apply to everyone, though.)

But just like real science, researchers are all working to push the boundaries of what humans are capable of—the ultimate goal, of course, being to produce the first Level 6. Some scientists lie in the depths of Academy City’s darkness to deceive, trap, and capture innocent children and Espers alike for the sake of their research. Although twisted, the dedication to making the process as truly scientific as possible was what won me over as a fan. Misaka’s railgun is grounded in real scientific principles, and there’s always a satisfying explanation to how an Esper uses their supernatural powers.

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Unlike science’s dedication to mapping the brain and dissecting DNA, magic is a difficult concept to unravel, which makes sense given that magic in this world and in ours is tied to myths, legends, and stories of old. Religious doctrines and artifacts are referenced left and right in Index, and although not as clearly defined as the science side, it’s always fascinating to see how these mythical ideas and religious figures translate to a medium as exploratory as anime.

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#1 – The Sprawling Metropolis of Academy City

Annnnd my favorite reason I love this franchise is for the setting itself, Academy City. In fact, if I could live in any one fictional anime setting it would be Academy City. I mean, beautiful buildings sparkle in the sunlight, shopping districts are everywhere, the weather is predicted down to the second, cafes can be found at every street corner—it MUST be the place for me! Not to mention a chance at having psychokinetic abilities and a curriculum to develop those powers?? HECK YEAH COUNT ME IN. It is essentially a utopia, a perfect place for near-perfect people. But what we find is that this drive for perfection also makes it the perfect place for underground organizations to manipulate social happenings.

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Arguably more of a character than a location, Academy City becomes the converging point for nearly every element of the story. Watching it become warped over the course of series as the climate for war increases is astounding, and it’s awesome that we’re finally getting to find out what will happen in this climactic third world war. For every conflict between religious institutions there has been an illegal experiment in some seemingly defunct laboratory. Between the Mages and Espers, scientists and magicians, and terrorists within and outside the walls all trying to maintain their hold on this sprawling metropolis, Academy City has mastered the duality of darkness. Possibilities are quite literally endless in a place that favors advancement and new ideas, and that’s why I love it so much.

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A Thank-You to Everyone Involved

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this entire franchise, specifically the Railgun side, has meant a lot to me over my years an anime fan. Yet, I never really have expressed my love for it before on my blog (maybe after I rewatch it all I’ll have something to say). And so, I just wanted to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has been involved with this massive project:

To all the writers, especially Kazuma Kamachi for the original story of Index; to artist Kiyotaka Haimura for his art in the Index light novel as well as for all the memorable character designs; to Motoi Fuyukawa for creating the Railgun spin-off manga; to Hiroshi Nishikiori and Tatsuyuki Nagai for directing Index and Railgun, respectively; to the endearing Kawada Mami on Index and electrifying fripSide on Railgun for providing their incredible opening theme songs; to all the producers, voice actors (both sub and dub), TV broadcasters, licensing companies like Funimation, Crunchyroll, Seven Seas, and Yen On for bringing over the anime and books to the states, and to everyone else that I missed—

Words cannot express how thankful I am to have had such an incredibly fascinating and intricate universe of thought brought to me over the years. Your collaborative efforts on this tremendous project have inspired a generation of young fans, myself included, to think outside the box and create our own personal realities. Thank you all!

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Afterword

Guys, I used to be OBSESSED with this franchise you have no idea. With the suddenly recent airing of the long-awaited Index III (as well as an announcement of a third season of Railgun and EVEN an adaptation of the Accelerator spin-off), there’s never been a better time to be a fan. And if you’ve held off for this long for one reason or another, now’s an excellent time to jump right on in. You’ve got novels, manga, several TV series, and even a film to enjoy at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. My personal recommendation? If you’re an anime-only person, start with A Certain Scientific Railgun season one. It introduces the world and Academy City better than Index does in my opinion. Then hit up Index’s first season, Railgun SIndex II, and the Endymion film. If you’re already a fan, then where have ya been?? Let me know in the comments, and also what your favorite entry or story in the franchise is!

This concludes my November 20th entry in the OWLS “Thankful” blog tour. YumDeku (MyAnime2go) talked about two anime they were thankful for, which you can find out what those were right here! Now, look out for our good friend and prompt-writer Lyn (LynLyn Says) with a post coming Wednesday, November 21st! Thanks for listening to me fanboy about Index for over 2,000 words (you rock!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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One thought on “When Science & Magic Collide: Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun | OWLS “Thankful”

  1. I really enjoyed the first season of this and I love the Railgun spin-offs, but as season three continues I’m finding myself increasingly wondering why I enjoyed it so much. Your post here reminded me of the things I did love about it, but also kind of made me realise that in the space between season two and now I’ve moved on a lot and so far season three hasn’t managed to bring me back into this franchise. Still, it is one of those that captured a large audience for a reason and it definitely deserves some love.

    Liked by 2 people

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