If A Certain Magical Index is a wild, unfocused exposition of superpowered fantasy, then its spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun is a slightly more grounded work that mixes in character development and an actual plot. I’ve always preferred Railgun to Index for that reason – superpowers are more fun when you care about who’s wielding them. The continuation, A Certain Scientific Railgun S, takes the same approach as the first season but moves away from the mostly lighthearted feel of the original.
Railgun S is an apt title as the new series is a tale of sisters. The majority of the show is spent building up the Sisters arc, which spans 16 of the 24 episodes, and with repercussions being felt through the remaining eight. Index covered this arc in its first season, but given the fast food, slick-ass, Persian bazaar manner with which that show handles its story, the Sisters arc only got five episodes. What Railgun S does is get into the mind of its heroine Mikoto Misaka, and show why the events unfold as they do.
While all that is great, I’m less appreciative of the fact that there’s not a ton of new material. Railgun S does provide more (and better) character development for Mikoto and her cloned “sisters” but ultimately, there won’t be any surprises for anyone who’s seen Index. I felt like there wasn’t much of an alternate perspective; rather just the same story stretched out over more episodes (albeit with better writing).
The Sisters arc eschews the girl power dynamic of Railgun in favor of a one-girl show, and takes on a somber, dark tone. It’s very much the antithesis of the core belief system shown in Railgun. This acts as a setup for the grand moral of the series, which plays out in the last handful of episodes. That becomes another tale of sisters, but with Mikoto wiser from the lessons learned in the first arc. The payoff reaffirms the idea that Railgun has always espoused: that there is power in friendship which can overcome the strongest villainy.
It does make me wonder, though, how much better off Mikoto would have been if she had involved her friends in the fight against Accelerator. Something about the show’s lesson rings false when you need to essentially rely on the deus ex machina of Touma Kamijou to defeat the strongest villain.
Whatever the case may be, I like that Railgun S never strays too far from its power-of-love, strength-in-friendship themes. We see various plots and subplots play out, good guys and bad guys come and go, but the show is ever ready to remind us of what makes these characters so endearing.