By Kazuma Kamachi and Motoi Fuyukawa. Released in Japan as “Toaru Kagaku no Railgun” by ASCII Media Works, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dengeki Daioh. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
This volume, as the back cover tells you, marks the start of the ‘Sisters’ story arc for Railgun. Which, if you’re only following the manga, means very little to you. But this is not a manga for those who merely read the manga (though it can be read on its own fairly easily, as I have shown). Franchise manga tend to lack the surprising plot twists that original titles may have, simply as they rely on an already existing base. So if you’re buying this 4th volume of the Railgun manga, it’s already expected that you’ll have bought the Index light novels, and the Index manga and anime, and indeed Railgun’s own anime, which is namechecked here. Higurashi does this too – I’ve been coyly pretending not to know who the villain is in my reviews, but of course I do – as did all the readers of the manga when it came out. Expectations are set differently.
That said, this volume has a lot to offer. It’s rather upfront about the way that it manipulates its cast – particularly its heroine, Misaki. We start right off with her being shown a boy with muscular dystrophy, and asked to donate some of her DNA to help fight such things. Which would be fine, if she had parents who were also giving consent, or if the scientist askin g didn’t have an evil leer on his face after she agrees. No, we know we’re going to be getting into evil clones right off the bat. (Well, the cover might have clued us in as well.)
Of course, the evil is debatable – the clone on the cover actually looks rather sad and vulnerable (and mysteriously missing genitalia, in the best time-honored tradition). And indeed, when we first meet Misaka 9982, she is immediately filled with likeable traits. She’s snarky, and intelligent, and deadpan, and talks in the third person (something I wasn’t sure Seven Seas would carry over – it sounds more awkward in English, but does help to set the clones apart from the original). This is contrasted with Misaka herself, who spends the entire volume frustrated and not sure how she should feel. She’s heard the rumors before, but being faced with the actual reality is a bit much.
As we see Misaka meet her clone, and have amusing arguments with her clone, and come to see her clone as a little sister sort of figure – complete with giving her a frog badge she got from a crane machine – we know, instinctively that we’re heading for tragedy, and that this clone is going to die. Of course, the number ‘9982’ after her name might also clue us in – these clones are being created as experimental subjects, and their purpose is to die for the greater good. I suspect Misaka is not going to see it that way, however, and the volume ends with her losing it and attacking the mysterious boy who is responsible.
All of this is handled quite well. The manga flies by, and we get just enough characterization from Misaka 9982 to feel horrible about what happens. And certainly we immediately loathe Accelerator, the young man who seems to be our heroine’s new villain. Ah well, I’m sure he will simply be a minor villain… you see? There I go again, pretending that this isn’t a franchise. :) Definitely recommended.