Recap: After witnessing the horror of the Level 6 experiment and surviving her encounter with Accelerator, Mikoto tries to come to grips with her experience.
Jel’s Thoughts: I’m rather pleased to say these past two episodes have been some of the best character development we’ve seen in either Railgun or Index. Her tsundere-ing all over Touma aside, the Mikoto we see in each series is pretty different. In the first season of Railgun she is carefree and confident, but in Index she’s troubled and desperate. Now that we’re really getting into the plot of Railgun S, the writer is doing a pretty great job of bridging the gap between the two.
The encounter with Accelerator was a good way of exposing her vulnerability. Up until now Mikoto has pretty much been nigh invincible, but if you think about it she’s pretty much got zero defense and hardly any battle experience. Sure she’s fought some street thugs, a brainless tentacle monster, and a psycho scientist in a robot suit, but those never felt like much of a threat. She’s also presumably never seen anyone flat out murdered in front of her before. So I thought it was a nice touch that her attacks were barely under her control until she finally composed herself enough to power up the Railgun. They did a great job handling her demeanor throughout the rest of the episode as well, getting just the right balance of despair and defensive cheerfulness as she tried to hide what happened.
The rest of the cast gets some quality character building as well. Shinobu’s anecdote not only reinforced the Sisters’ capacity for humanity, it also showed us she’s not nearly as crazy or evil as she may have appeared. Kuroko’s legitimate concern and Saten’s insightful choice not to press Mikoto on what happened were sweet counterpoints to the heavier first half of the episode. It was actually pretty funny to see everyone not buying a single word Mikoto said at the restaurant, but not so comically out of place that it didn’t fit with the overall mood.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the supporting cast will be used for the rest of the series. From what I remember in Index Mikoto tackles the problem completely on her own, and that is pretty much her intention at the end of this episode. So I’m curious how the others will factor in beyond “no questions asked” emotional support. If I had to guess I suppose it would be possible they find out and help her without her knowledge, but that would be a really tight rope to walk without opening up more plot holes. I’ve been liking what I’m seeing so far though, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle it.
Zigg’s Thoughts: I’ll keep this brief as I’m mostly going to echo what Jel has said. This is another fine episode, less immediately impactful than the previous one but just a finely paced and arguably better in its use of carefully judged character moments. There’s a perverse thrill in seeing the previously unstoppable Mikoto run up against an enemy that’s as far above her as she is above normal people. I’m also reminded that as completely loopy as it is, Accelerator’s ability to control vectors is a totally awesome comic book style gimmick power, and again his sneering, crazy eyed villainy helps sell how EVIL the plot is. The appearance of the army of clones is also a great moment and their take-turns speech is a good reminder after the adorableness of the first clone that there’s still an extremely creepy underbelly to all of this.
If I’ve got a criticism it might be the bluntness of some of the emotional trauma they try and subject us to in the second half – Railgun has never really done subtle too well – but it’s a testament to good moment-to-moment writing that while Shinobu’s dream sequence should be the corniest thing ever, it instead comes off as surprisingly heartfelt. It’s also helped by good dialogue, decent voice acting and fantastic animation, with the emergence under the sky a great example of how top-notch art can really help sell a scene. It’s more powerful because we share MISAKA’s wonderment at the scene before us. I’ll also give the show credit for resisting the temptation to plunge too far into ANGST – there’s some despair sure, but Mikoto recognises she’s got to pick herself up and keep going through the motions of her everyday life, a refreshingly realistic take on the situation. There’s small but vital character moments from the other main three as well and their meeting in the restaurant was a delightfully low key way to end quite a heavy episode.
Going forward I’m intrigued as to what shape this arc will take. It seems to me that this is a plot that could comfortably tick along in the background while filler or otherwise occupied the main episode thrust, so maybe we’ll get some of that. I’m fine with this, as it’ll give the story a chance to breathe and for details to emerge gradually. The other point of concern is the climax, because as portrayed in Index Mikoto is essentially a bystander in a battle between Touma and Accelerator. That won’t fly here so I’m interested to see how they’ll twist established continuity. For now though I’m reassured that Railgun‘s newfound high level of quality was comfortably maintained.