Recap: The girls recruit as much help as possible to contain STUDY’s robot army. While the battle rages on, Mikoto infiltrates their facility to save Febri and Janie.
Jel’s Thoughts: While I never did get my rematch with ITEM, I did get the big, over the top, gloriously ridiculous ending I was hoping for. Let me just put this in one sentence for you so you can let it sink in: Saten and Uiharu pilot a giant transforming robot and subsequently launch it into space so that Mikoto can railgun it into a massive orbital warhead. That is awesome. I wasn’t sure if they would be able to top the final railgun (well second to last, you know the one I mean) in the first series, but I think this wins on sheer scale.
The emotional payoff at the end was actually decent too, as I found myself caring about Shinobu for the first time. Not too much mind you as her progression was just a watered down version of Mikoto’s, but I could appreciate her story coming full circle. It’s also always sweet to see the four girls’ unbreakable bond reaffirmed, especially now having had 48+ episodes to grow. None of the final scenes were even in the same neighborhood as the final episode of the Sisters arc in terms of quality, but they did their job and put a nice cap on everything we’ve worked up to. In fact as a whole, this episode was an incredibly entertaining way to complete the series with an appropriate bang. And now, I demand a Kongou spinoff series…
Zigg‘s Thoughts: I think this was exactly the ending Railgun needed – big, silly, incredibly over the top and enormous fun. The bombastic action was a given, but even I was surprised by how far out they went and how much fun it was. Saten and Uiharu in a gigantic mech might be the scene of the year so far and while the ultimate conclusion is basically the same one they used to end the last series (albeit on a MUCH bigger scale) it’s still just so damn cool that you can pretty much excuse that.
It’s also oddly beautiful – the black sky and lack of dialogue give it a wonderfully artsy feel, while the shot of the drained Mikoto falling into Kuroko’s arms in mid-air might be one of the best pieces of direction I’ve seen in a while. It was a beautiful reminder of their closeness, and while I sometimes lament how their interaction is mostly composed of groping jokes, there were several great bits here. Scenes such as their brief exchange when being strapped in the mech remind us that under all the perversion Kuroko really is a bestest best bro.
In fact, I was impressed overall by the amount of character work a supposedly action focussed episode dished out. Shinobu has been a frustrating figure throughout the season, but she got some good emotional payoff here, and the interventions by the Sister she ‘saved’ was a great moment. For a character whose run has been dogged by cloudy motivations and less than stellar character work, it was nice to see her come good at the end and her absolution and departure with Febri and Janie felt earned.
Elsewhere, the ‘all for one’ sequences are hugely clichéd but absolutely perfect for a rousing finale like this. Kuroko kicks butt with the best of them, Kongou and her crew go on a surfin’ safari (which I loved), and did I mention the GIANT ROBOT? Hell, I even laughed at Saten’s battle panties joke, a silly gag yet also a good reminder of the banter between the two, something which has been backgrounded a little. If I was feeling picky, there are things to critique – ITEM’s super convenient arrival for example, or the continuing rubbishness of STUDY as villains – but that would be simply churlish.
In the end, the show runners picked exactly the right moment to end on – the core four re-united and once again talking aimlessly about nothing. I enjoyed the brief montage of past and future glories – Sisters, Last Order, Touma – that remind us there’s a lot still to be mined out of this universe. The back half of Railgun may not have been the most notable part, but in delivering this fun, frothy send off with a hefty dose of heart it’s the perfect embodiment of what has made this trip so enjoyable.
Jel: Railgun S is a triumph over its predecessor in every single way. Whether it’s the writing, directing, animation, choice of fan service – whatever you want to compare – it’s clear the people involved in making the series have learned a lot in the past couple of years. What more could you ask for in a sequel?
It helps that the source material for the series is pulled from the Sisters arc, one of the strongest plot lines in the Index universe. What is particularly impressive is that Railgun S improves on it. Originally a classic good and evil tale of a hero saving the girl, Railgun S spins Mikoto’s devotion to her sisters into acts of heroism right on par with Touma’s bravery. Seeing the full story transforms Mikoto into so much more than a damsel at her wits end, enriching her character and her relationships more than at any other point in the series. It’s easily the Index/Railgun franchises’ best stretch of storytelling and one of my favorite segments of anime this year.
Going into Railgun S I was fairly confident in their ability to retell the Sisters arc It was the threat of more anime original content that worried me. The first season’s biggest weakness was the amount of filler episodes, packed with borderline skeevy fan service and lazily written slice of life stories about side characters no one cares about. Make no mistake, the final third of Railgun S sees a considerable drop in quality, but it feels like a masterpiece compared to some of the first season’s middle episodes. While the story is predictable and rather cheaply attempts to dovetail the themes of the Sisters arc, there is definitely a sense of purpose and coherence that I wasn’t expecting. The sweet and funny moments with the girls just hanging out rarely overstay their welcome, and the final burst of non-stop action in the last episode provides a satisfying conclusion to it all.
I’ll admit there were a few episodes that dragged a bit, leaving me yelling at the screen for them to get on with it already. Especially if you’ve experienced the Sisters arc from watching Index, it’s worth mentioning they spend a considerable amount of time explaining and re-explaining some of the details that you already know. In the grand scheme of things though, in a franchise this huge, those are not the moments you’ll remember after watching Railgun S. Instead you’ll remember the over the top super powers and well directed action scenes. You’ll remember the joy of rediscovering old friends and laughing along with them. You’ll remember the emotion of seeing a well developed heroine learn and grown from her experiences. Perhaps most telling, you’ll remember Railgun S as the moment the franchise finally fulfilled its potential.
Zigg: Back in the original First Impressions post I savaged Railgun S for lazy, shoddy, plot recycling and for sticking by a bunch of tired clichés that had already been run into the ground. Imagine my fear then when I learnt that most of the series would centre around a story that had already been told (very well) before in Index.
I guess what this should teach me (and you, dear readers) is that it’s all about presentation. Yes, the basic structure of much of the Sisters arc is something we’ve seen before, and that occasionally lead to frustratingly draggy storytelling or even wholesale scene recycling, but by presenting it from a fresh point of view, and by digging much deeper into both the genesis and the aftermath of the story, we’re given a much richer, deeper and more engaging narrative. It’s a story which demonstrated that good writing is still king and that attempts to integrate character, emotion and feeling into your plots can pay off in a huge way. Make no mistake, Railgun is still a pulpy, comic book adventure but by going that extra mile it pulls us so much deeper into its world and into the triumphs and tragedies of its characters. Cheap as the emotional pops may be, they’re still there, and they still get me surprisingly often.
If there’s a problem with the Sisters Arc, it’s probably that it’s so intensely Mikoto focused that it somewhat sidelines the other three in favour of the Sisters, ITEM and ultimately Touma too. It’s Railgun‘s most impessive narrative arc by miles but it does lose some of the easy-going four girls charm that the series is known for. I’ll note this isn’t through lack of trying – the story tries to frame Saten, Uiharu and especially Kuroko in useful roles, but in the end it’s the Mikoto show. It just proves you can’t please everyone all of the time.
What did please me immensely though was the spirited attempt at a genuine second plot arc. One of the major weaknesses of the first season was that once they’d tapped the manga for the Level Upper arc the show sort of descended into mush, a bunch of terrible filler and an unsatisfying attempt at a finish. In contrast here, we got an actual plot and everything!
Granted, Mikoto and co.’s battle against STUDY is hardly the stuff legends are made of, but it functions as a story and that’s all we need really. Because once again it’s proved that if you take the time to build decent characters, just hanging out with them is enough to entertain. That we get meaningful expansion on the themes of friendship, loyalty and shared problems that first arose in the Sisters arc is just a lovely bonus.
What emerged then was a show which wasn’t perfect, and often had an annoying habit of dragging, but whose highs were so consistently high that it was constantly a pleasure to watch. More so than any series since perhaps the original Index this season of Railgun hit the perfect note between pulpy shonen heroics, easygoing slice-of-life comedy and a more serious, character driven drama. That’s a tough balance to maintain and it’s an immense credit to Mikoto and company that they struck it perfectly so much of the time.
More than perhaps any other anime, I feel Railgun offers us only a snippet of our characters’ lives…and that’s a good thing. Though it’s time for us to turn our screens off, somewhere out there they’re still electrocuting, groping, bumbling and skirt-flipping their way through another day in Academy City. It’s oddly reassuring in a way. Well done girls, take a well deserved break. But come back soon. I’m missing you already.