In the past I’ve mentioned the To Aru Majutsu no Index—A Certain Magical Index in English—and how much I love the world it takes place in, how it combines the idea of scientific research and Espers with magical theories and sorcery, as part of the holy grail of genres, Science-Fantasy. But there is another series I love in that universe, the spinoff, To Aru Kagaku no Railgun—A Certain Scientific Railgun.
The ‘Railgun’ in its name refers to the spinoff’s main character and one of the secondary ones in the main Index storylines, Misaka Mikoto, one of the seven Level 5 Espers, the most powerful super-powered students in Academy City. Misaka is what they call, in the series, an Electromaster, someone who can generate and absorb electricity and use it in a myriad of ways, from throwing out Sith Lightning to generating magnetic fields. But it’s Misaka’s ability to fire a coin from her hand as a highly destructive railgun that earned her the name.
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun is not a light novel series like its parent series, but instead it’s a Manga, detailing events both before and during the events of the novels. What I love about it is that not only does it have cool side-stories but it also complements the ones in the main series and fleshes out the secondary characters. Some of these we barely see in To Aru Majutsu no Index, but in Railgun we get to know them, their fears and hopes, how their days work are and so much more.
There have been two seasons of anime adaptations and while the first one is fantastic—and introduces the spinoff’s main cast and shows you the dark side of scientific experimentation—the second one is by far my favourite as it deals with the prologue of the Level 6 Shift project and its aftermath, while also showing you what Misaka thinks and feels during this deeply personal storyline.
For those of you who haven’t seen any of the series, here’s the overview of the Level 6 Shift story arc: When Misaka was a child, she agreed to have her genome mapped, so that it may help in research to cure muscular dystrophy. As she got older and her skills grew, eventually becoming a Level 5, scientists in the city used her genome with the intention of creating and mass-producing Level 5 clones of Misaka, but the plan failed as the clones didn’t have her same level—which is logical considering it took years of effort with her powers for them to grow to that degree.
So, later on a new project came up, the Level 6 Shift, a plan to take one of the existing Level 5 students of the city and helping them reach a new plateau of power. For this, they calculated he would have to fight and kill Railgun 128 times, but with the cloning of Level 5s a bust, they calculated he would have to kill 20.000 level 2 or 3 Misaka clones for the same effect.
That’s where the Sisters come in, the collective name for Misaka’s clones. They’re trained through mental programming, hooked to a VR-like helmet that teaches them how to fight and even gives them some knowledge of how the world works. But they show an apparent lack of emotion or even care for their survival. They don’t even speak like normal people, quoting their own phrases and mentioning the intended emotion. It’s one of the major dramatic points when Misaka tries to convince them to stop the project, to live for themselves, and the clones—who are all connected together into a Hive mind called The MISAKA Network—flat out tell her that dying in the project is their only purpose in life.
This story arc has such a profound effect on the world and the characters, forcing many to grow and shift their view of the world. And it’s not just the heroes. This entire story arc is what turns Accelerator from a murdering psychopath into one of the most compelling characters in the entire Index universe.
It’s also one of the darkest plots in the saga and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S (the name of the second season) doesn’t shy away from the gritty details of the story. It shows you all too clearly what happens to the Sisters as they fight in the Level 6 Shift project—though it’s never truly gory—so you can understand and feel the pain its protagonist feels. For those who know the story arc from To Aru Majutsu no Index’s protagonist’s point of view, it adds so much more to your understanding of the plot and proves to you once more that Kamijou Touma is one hell of a guy and a great character.
Best of all, even if you haven’t seen Index, you can pop straight into Railgun and you won’t miss much. Sure, if you have seen the other series, then you’ll get more out of this one, but its focus on secondary characters and the scientific side of things—while To Aru Majutsu no Index has to balance science and magic—helps make this an experience that everyone can enjoy.
I’ve been re-watching the series all over again and it’s as enjoyable now as it was the first time. If you like Sci-fi that’s not afraid of going big with its stories and action and capable of showing you wonderful human drama and some darker subjects, then I urge you to give To Aru Kagaku no Railgun a look. It has everything, from drama to comedy and it’s a joy to watch from start to finish.