A Certain Scientific Railgun, Vol. 16

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. Translated by Nan Rymer.

The beloved and sadly very out of print Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga had one of its chapters dedicated to the subject of “power creep” in shonen manga, which Railgun definitely falls under, despite its magazine technically falling under the seinen umbrella. (Dengeki Daioh’s readership is basically “otaku, of any genre”.) If you have a bad guy that you defeat, then the next villain has to be slightly more powerful, and so on and so forth till you’re eventually fighting against the biggest threat in the entire universe, and it all gets a bit silly. Railgun has that issue, but not for its villains – instead, it’s the heroines who struggle with it. We’ve already seen Misaka nearly go out of control when they tried to force her to evolve to Level 6. Now here we see Uiharu, who is supposedly a Level 1 “thermos”, force-evolving her hacking powers to literally rewrite reality in order to save the day, which… I suspect we won’t be seeing down the road.

Of course, that is not the only thing that Uiharu does in this volume. This is her arc, after all, and after spending most of the last volume on ice, she’s back in command here, showing us the same strength that allowed her to stare down Kakine and suffer only a broken collarbone. We even see her – gasp! – use her ability, rather than her hacking, in order to escape from her guards, and it’s a very clever usage as well. That said, the bad guys also know what her weak spot is. Railgun’s yuri poster child may be Kuroko, but I suspect the number of fans who think Misaka and Kuroko will end up together is zero. But Uiharu and Saten have just as much if not more subtext, and this volume really hammers it home. Uiharu is so dedicated to Saten that she’ll suffer great pains to get to her. And when told Saten has been fatally poisoned, Uiharu almost turns evil, to the point where she is literally just a cloud of blackness… until Saten, who is dying but not dead, snaps her out of it, saying that’s not the path she should follow. The Fullmetal Alchemist fan in me was recalling a similar scene, let me tell you.

On the down side, it’s not that I dislike any of the young kids who are being forced by Academy City’s evil science department to become supervillains, it’s just… we’ve seen this backstory about eight different times in Railgun alone, and it’s hard not to have the first thing I think be “here we go again”. Honestly, it’s something of a wonder that Mikoto ended up as well-adjusted as she is, and she’s the one with a super fiery temper. The other problem is that the arc doesn’t end in this book – there’s one epilogue chapter to go… which means we’ll have to wait till (presumably) 2022 to see if Saten survived (signs point to yes) and if Uiharu remains the most powerful being in the world (signs point to no). That said, this volume is quite strong and fans of the series should love it.

A Certain Scientific Railgun, Vol. 15

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. Translated by Nan Rymer.

In my last review I extolled the praises of Uiharu, whose mad hacker skills were impressive enough to break someone out of an unbreakable prison. Sadly, it turns out that she got noticed by the Dark Side of Academy City, as she’s kidnapped here. Unfortunately, she’s pure peril monkey for the rest of the volume, so it’s up to the other three members of the cast to step up. Do they rescue her? Not yet. Are they badass? Aw yiss. We get to see Mikoto, Kuroko and Saten all show off their best sides as they fight to rescue their friend. Which is not so impressive for Mikoto – it is her series, after all. And we’ve seen Kuroko be badass before, both here and in Index. The more Railgun manga we see, though, the more I remain convinced that it’s an excuse to show off Saten rather than any other Biri-biris who might be lying around. She doesn’t even have a baseball bat this time, but is amazing.

The first two thirds of the book are well done and yet will feel familiar to the Railgun reader. The bad guys here are all teenagers, for the most part, and Index/Railgun has hammered home over and over again that their lives are basically experiments for various bad adults. As a result, Mikoto gets a chance to try to talk the enemy down, which… well, doesn’t work, but hey, she tried. I like the fact that the enemies by now are expecting Mikoto to be, well, a goody-goody, and while she insists that this is Touma’s job and not hers, it’s more or less accurate anyway. Also, salt-based attacks allows for more Biblical imagery in this Bible-heavy series. As for Kuroko’s battle, well, she’s cool and clever, but the “my yuri fantasies can beat up your yuri fantasies” bit was as ridiculous as ever.

And then there’s Saten, who discovers that Uiharu has been kidnapped and begs her friends to have her come along and help. This proves sensible, as while Mikoto and Kuroko both pursue leads that turn out to be false, Saten does what she does best – play detective. She’s questioned for the fallout of the battle between powered folks that happened around her, and, due to various plot-related reasons, this is done in the very prison we’d seen before… where, as it turns out, our enemy is really based. Sadly, they have the world’s dumbest prison guards there, and as a result Saten is able to break out pretty easily. Of course, getting to where Uiharu might be requires jumping between two buildings that are not that close together, and Saten is, as she reminds us, a Level 0. Does she make it? Of course. She’s fighting for her girlfr— erm, best friend!

Again, I suspect Saten is in this story, along with Hamazura in the main Index series, to remind us that Academy City’s “Level” system is complete and total bullshit. That said, I’m fairly sure she’s not gonna rescue Uiharu all on her own. This is shaping up to be another big arc, so we’ll have to wait a month or two… or ten… to find out what happens next. (And with the Index novels now seemingly over in North America, we’re not even getting to tide ourselves over with the main series.) Still, this was an excellent volume. If you take away anything from it, think of Saten, leaping between those buildings and making it – bear-ly – due to the power of conviction and borrowing other people’s technology.

A Certain Scientific Railgun, Vol. 14

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. Translated by Nan Rymer, Adapted by Patrick Sullivan.

Out of the ‘core four’ heroines in Railgun, Uiharu Kazari has probably gotten the least amount of focus time. She’s the hacker friend of the bunch, and would be the weakest esper except that Saten is a Level 0, and Saten is also outgoing whereas Uiharu isn’t. But we’re past the events of Index 15, where Uiharu stared down a dangerous Level 5 in order to protect a child (and got a broken collarbone for her troubles), so we know that she’s made of sterner stuff. As a result, she gets a bit of the spotlight in this volume of Railgun, though true to her character most of the “spotlight” is spent offscreen. A prison is trying to boast of its impregnability, and asks students to try to infiltrate it and free a prisoner. There’s a big cash reward, so Saten’s in, and Mikoto’s pride is tweaked, so she’s there as well. But how impregnable is it really?

The volume opens with a lovely series of scenes where Uiharu takes Saten out on a date to try to cheer her up as she’s been down lately, and Saten admits (though doesn’t specify) that she’s upset about Frenda’s disappearance. (As with most yuri relationships in Railgun that don’t involve Kuroko, there is plausible deniability here, but the entire chapter reads as REALLY yuri if you ask me.) The majority of the volume, however, shows off the huge cast of Railgun that we’ve met over the last few volumes, as they’re also trying to get into the facility – along with some “new” characters, who readers of Index will recognize from the New Testament novels but we’re seeing in the timeline for the first time, who run the gamut from goofy to helpless to dangerous – well, actually, the goofy and helpless girls ARE the dangerous ones.

Everyone is busy using their powers to break into the facility, fight the robots that try to stop them, and get taken out by various scientific marvels, but it’s Uiharu who (we see, after the reveal that the contest is over) comes up with the best plan – hack the robots, hack the cameras, hack the security and waltz away with the prisoner. It’s a good reminder of how lucky we are that she’s on the side of the angels, and there’s a very amusing joke where she talks about donating all her winning to charity because after all, she can always hack into a bank for money anytime she wants. Unfortunately, there was a new “villain group” of students at the event, all of whom are traitors of some sort, and they’ve decided that their plan really needs someone like Uiharu in it. I smell a kidnapping coming up. In the meantime, let’s hope the wait for the next volume of Railgun isn’t as long as this one was.