So you want to see a review of the latest installment of the raildex universe, To Aru no Kagaku no Railgun S? Then you'll have to make it through this paragraph first.
Second paragraph now. Look around, enjoy yourself, try to find anything of interest. Alas, nothing to note is in sight. Best to carry on to the third paragraph.
Third here, and what's going on? Surely I wouldn't spend 3 entire paragraphs in an attempt to be witty?
Fourth paragraph, and I clearly would.
After enduring that horrible joke, let me save you some time and cut straight to the point. This review will consist of 4 parts: a brief introduction to the series and the raildex universe, a review of the first arc of the season, The Sister's Arc, a review of the second arc of the season, Silent Party Arc, and finally a conclusion, melding together the scores of the previous 2 reviews to create the season's total score.
Without any further stalling;
PART 1 - THE INTRODUCTION
As one should know from watching the prequel to this season, To Aru no Kagaku no Railgun, Railgun is a sidestory of the main franchise, To Aru no Majustsu no Index. And while Railgun is a mere sidestory, what makes it so interesting is it takes place in the same universe as the main series and follows the main timeline as to not create any weird plot holes or inconsistencies. Thus, the term I will use when referring to the universe of the series and the timeline of the universe is "raildex".
There are a lot of things that make the raildex universe very appealing and enjoyable. It's the kind of series that allows supernatural powers to exist but takes pride in its logical and tactful explanations for them. You'll never see someone powerup randomly or pull a super awesome ability out of thin air; there's always a reason why characters are able to do what they can.
However, what really makes the raildex universe so enthralling is its ability to portray its stories and weave them together with no inconsistencies or plot-holes. Many times, in fact, the events of one arc in Index can have huge implications for later events in Railgun, and vice-versa. There is a very detailed timeline in this universe, and knowledge of this timeline makes watching the show very fun and exciting. With this knowledge, you are able to watch an arc in, say, Railgun season 1 and know exactly what is happening at that point in time in the Index plotline. Seeing characters from Index cameo in railgun, even if they hold no real involvement in the current story, makes one feel a kind a joy one didn't even know they could experience. That kind of detail and involvement is a fantastic story telling tool that makes the universe feel so much more alive, and it does the raildex universe well.
As stated above, one of the strong points of the raildex universe is how the associative stories of each series tend to play off or around each other. But, taking the different series as a whole, Railgun and Index have completely different atmospheres. While Railgun (The first season) has a happy SOL (Slice-of-life) feel with a bit of action-adventure thrown in, Index has a much darker mood that delves into story elements that include corruption and chaos, not knowing exactly who the ultimate evil is.
PART 2 - THE SISTER'S ARC
The sister's arc is, in the raildex universe, probably one of the most important of the franchise. Not only does it setup later events, it introduces a multitude of important characters and scenarios that play their role later on in the timeline. It's one of the core pillars the build the foundation of the entire universe, and damn does it look fancy. But, one of the more interesting aspects to note about it is this is the arc where the Railgun series and the Index series directly intersect. It's no longer just a bunch of cameos and references towards Index, but rather this is an arc that both series share. While Index provided the core plot in its original telling, a lot of details were left out, such as Misaka's role in this conflict. You could tell she was suffering and that she felt hopeless, but you had no idea what events led up to that peek of desperation. Railgun's POV on this arc, however, let's us in on the juicy details.
STORY - 10
There are many ways to tell a story, but there's a specific method that holds a special place in my heart: multi-perspective storytelling. Being able to see a huge plot-ridden event from multiple different angles and perspectives really adds a sense of depth and involvement that other forms of storytelling can only dream of. Railgun S's adaptation of The Sister's Arc does just this.
Spanning over 16 episodes, the majority of this season is focused on Misaka Mikoto and how she got involved with the conflict surrounding this Arc in the Index adaptation. After being conditioned from this happy everything-will-be-okay mentality the first season of Railgun threw at us, it is quickly shattered and stepped on with the revelations this arc has to offer.
Without delving too far into spoiler territory, our protagonist finds out about an experiment involving the murder of many individuals in the hopes of producing a level 6 esper. Misaka attempts to halt this experiments and stop the murders, but she is constantly thrown obstacle after obstacle as she desperately fights through this endeavor alone. Indeed, this is one of the first times in the entire Railgun franchise where Misaka Mikoto feels utterly powerless and unable to do anything, and the transition to this point is sure to draw emotions out of you.
Additionally, we get the perspective of Kamijou Touma, one of the main protagonists of Index, and his involvement in the arc. For the most part, it's just a better retelling of the index arc with a few details skipped here and there, but with the context of Misaka's actions, the story feels much more fulfilled. There is so much care in both perspectives in this arc that it could replace the Index version entirely. You don't have to watch Index first to understand how Touma got involved or why he cares. It's all clear as day, and was an excellent experience.
ART - 10
Done by J.C. Staff, everything looks absolutely stunning, from the character designs, background, environments, and special effects. The animation is stellar, actions feel powerful, and the climax of this arc was absolutely breath-taking. The threat above Academy City looked menacing and dangerous, and really set the atmosphere, creating a sense of impending doom. This is something the original adaptation in the Index anime failed to do, and J.C.Staff really stepped it up and out-did themselves with this scene.
SOUND - 10
The soundtrack this time around is very noticeable. We have exciting music during the fights, powerful, emotion-inspiring music during the tragedies, and another up-beat, catchy opening song Railgun is known for (titled Sister's Noise by FripSide).
The sound effects were powerful and imaginative, and didn't feel out of place at all. Many times, the sound effects actually completely made the scene. Touma's Imagine Breaker sound effect is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. You will understand why if you watch it.
Voice acting was professional and convincing. Misaka's transition from happy-going to depressed was clearly shown in her voice. I give major Props to her voice actor, Rina Satou, as that is something not many can do as well as she did.
CHARACTER - 10
Misaka Mikoto - If you didn't already know from watching the first season of Railgun, Misaka Mikoto is the third strongest esper in Academy City and the leading protagonist for the series. She's a strong character who can handle nearly anything that is thrown at her and overcome it with ease. She also has a strong sense of justice and will go out of her way to make things right.
One of the signs of a good story is seeing the characters evolve, be it personality, strength, philosophy, or even simply aging, and Railgun does this well with Misaka. She goes through a ton of character development throughout this arc, with her "I can do anything" attitude slowly but surely being crushed. It's very interesting and emotional to see our star overcoming every obstacle just to be thrown another to conquer, slowly becoming more depressed and psychotic. It's a strange kind of storytelling, one that we don't see very often, and it was done very well here.
Needless to say, yes, she gets better.
Kamijou Touma - Touma is one of the leading protagonists of Index and has a heavy role to fill in The sister's Arc. Maybe it's just me, but I find Touma to be a much more interesting character in Railgun than in Index. In Railgun, his powers are never really explained, and so he has this sense of mystery to him. From the first season, all we really know about him is he has the ability to nullify esper powers, and has occasionally saved the day in Railgun. He made cameos here and there, but his role changes dramatically in this arc.
Touma eventually finds out about the experiments going on in Academy City and confronts Misaka about it, thus evidently leading him into the conflict surround this arc. Like Misaka, he is also a strong lead character, and is the person Misaka eventually turns to in her hour of desperation.
Accelerator - The main antagonist of The Sister's Arc, the strongest level 5 esper in Academy City and best candidate for the first level 6 esper. Much of the conflict of this arc is caused by his actions. He's sadistic, twisted, and an overall badass. What's more to say?
The Sisters - The group of people this arc is named after, the source of the conflict surrounds the sisters. They are to be killed by accelerator in the effort to make him a level 6 esper. Not only do they have a major role here, the are also a very integral aspect to the Raildex universe after the events of this arc.
ITEM - A set of 4 characters who play a major role in obstructing Misaka's progress during her struggle. They're an underground organization that performs a number of dirty jobs, and have the power to do them flawlessly.
And, of course, you have the main cast from the first season, Saten, Uriharu, and Kuroko, who don't hold much of a role in this arc due to circumstances.
Overall, Misaka goes through a lot of character development, driving the plot, with many other important characters being introduced who all hold very strong and driving personalities. Not a one seems bland or generic.
ENJOYMENT - 10
You know a story is thoughtful and well-written when it can draw real emotions from the audience. Railgun's perspective of The Sister's Arc does this amazingly well. I remember feeling very down with Misaka's desperation, Angry at Accelerator's actions, and moments of pure happiness and excitement during Touma's fight. There were moments of clear danger and impending doom, moments of legitimate laughter from the comedic interactions between Misaka and The Sisters, and moments of pure awesomeness from the action of the characters.
OVERALL - 10/10
I almost feel biased by giving this arc a 10/10, but there was nothing I could find flaws in. It's not very often I give something a 10/10, but The Sister's Arc deserves it, giving the audience thrilling action, emotional and powerful revelations, and portrays the story in an exciting, multi-perspective fashion. Clear character development can be seen in the main character and it is done so beautifully. I'm not a huge fan of the Railgun series, but this was the single best piece of animation from J.C.Staff I have ever seen. This was, unquestionably, the single best experience I have with the raildex franchise, and it deserves every bit a praise it can get.
PART 3 - SILENT PARTY ARC
If The Sister's Arc was the star of the season that everyone likes (and rightfully should), then the following original filler arc, Silent Party, is the retarded half-sibling who drags down the entire season with every word muttered.
STORY - 4
Oh boy, where to begin? The best way to describe this arc is "painfully average". We have one of the weakest plots I've ever seen, one of the worst antagonist organizations ever (with an even worse, half-assed motivation), characters who act completely out of character, action scenes that make no sense in a series that takes pride in its logical universe, and cameos up the wazoo (possibly the only salvation of this arc). I don't even know how to approach this without being spoilerish, to be honest. I'll do my best.
The biggest fault of this arc is that not only is it completely unnecessary, it's just plain horribly written. Skipping the character flaws for now, what we are left with is a empty plot filled with inconsistencies. Setting aside the details, we have an "evil" organization that wants attention, so they make an army of mechas (Fueled by loli hair) to do diabolical activities with. Misaka and friends meet one of said lolis, find out she'll die in a few days, and try to find a way to save her. In doing so, they meet said "evil" organization, attempt to foil their dastardly plans, everyone and their grandma joins in on the fun, and the day is saved! Also, Cameos everywhere they can fit. There you go, saved you the trouble of enduring this yourself. You missed nothing.
ART - 9
The art is still visually stellar, though being a filler, there's a little less attention to detail the previous arc had. The animation is not quite as crisp, but that's just a nitpick. Nothing to complain about here.
SOUND - 9
Still the same sound track, new opening sequence that's still catchy and upbeat, though the timing and selection of the background music wasn't quite as noticeable as the previous arc. It was, however, by no means bad.
Voice acting was still superb, no complaints.
Sound effects are still fantastic and nothing seems out of place.
Overall, very good quality.
CHARACTER - 5
Misaka Mikoto - The strong, independent, powerhouse of the series who just went through a huge ordeal in the previous arc is now some wussy friendship enthusiast who can barely stand her own against a tin can with an attitude. What happened?
The whole reason why she was fighting the conflict in The Sister's Arc alone was because she was fighting an enemy who was unknown and dangerous. If she asked for help from her friends and got them involved, chances are their lives would have been endangered with a high chance of one of them dieing. Fast-forward to this arc, where nearly the same thing happens, and what does she do? She forgets all reason, tells them, and then the yall decide to play hero and save the day!
Now, I understand that this arc was attempting to portray a certain message that Misaka learned from her previous ordeal, but they went about this in all the wrong ways. She was completely out of character for nearly the entire arc, being shown to be significantly weaker than she actually is and doing things she would never do. For example, there was a point in the arc where she was thrown into a fight with her friends nearby, and during the chaos a metal pole was about to fall on one of them. She then starts controlling the bar so it won't fall on her friends, and it shown struggling to keep it up. What? During the previous arc, we saw her completely rip a section of a train track from the ground, bend the bars, and thrown them all as an attack. Ugh, just, nevermind.
Her personality and actions are just a series of deus ex machina writing with no real consideration of her actual character. That's a pretty good summary for every character in this arc, actually.
Kuroko - Misaka's friend, roommate, and a powerful level 4 teleportation esper who works for Judgement, a police force manned almost entirely by espers. She has the hots for Mikoto (mostly used for comedy), but is surprisingly reliable and a great fighter. She doesn't change much at all in this arc, thankfully.
Uriharu - A level 1 esper who is friends with Misaka and is partnered with Kuroko in Judgement, she's fantastic with intel and data-mining. However, for the purpose of this arc, she is the single best super-hacker ever to walk the earth.
Saten - Friends with Uriharu and Misaka, she's a level 0 esper with a fun personality. She's an ideal character for a SOL anime, but holds almost no presence in an action-adventure aside from being a damsel in distress. However, for the purposes of this arc, she is the single best mecha pilot in history, putting all Gundam pilots to shame, despite it being her first time. Lol.
Febri - The super-cute artificial loli who Misaka and friends stumble upon. She drives most of the plot for this arc, as much of the motivation of the protagonists stems from her.
STUDY - The antagonists of this arc who aren't even trying to be subtle with how evil they are. They have the ability to create 20,000 loli fueled mechas that can be beaten by a random citizen with a broom. Neat. They are also apparently funded quite well, as they can, in addition to mass-producing 20,000 mechas, build a super complex missile that can be found orbiting the earth. Every time the mutter a sentence they have to adjust their glasses, and their motivation for these terrorist acts is... because a random scientist they overheard made a snarky comment towards them. Clearly, they are the darkness incarnate.
Overall, the characters in this arc are a complete joke. There's no consistency with their actual design with their actions being solely for the purpose of driving the plot (sometimes in weird and pointless ways).
ENJOYMENT - 5
I'll reiterate what I initially said about the story: the best way to describe this arc is painfully average. There's was little to no depth in any of the scenes, the pacing was significantly slower than what should be allowed, actions that make no sense (such as Misaka having trouble fighting one robot and then being able to effortlessly cleave through an entire army, Misaka and Kuroko being able to breath and talk in the ozone layer, etc.) plagued the arc, and the plot was barely worth watching.
OVERALL - 6.4/10
The only reason I was able to endure this without quitting was because of the occasional cameos from ITEM and Index characters. It was really hard to watch this directly after the masterpiece that was The Sister's Arc. It's really a shame, because what could have been one of the best anime seasons of the year got dragged down pointlessly. Save yourself the trouble and don't watch this arc unless you want to be bombarded with mediocrity and deus ex machinas.
PART 4 - CONCLUSION
While I can't say I enjoyed the Silent Party Arc, and it no doubt takes away from the season's potential, it was by no means a a bad experience. The quality and enjoyment of The sister's Arc completely overshadows the following arc and is, to this day, one of the best experiences I've ever had watching an anime. I highly suggest, if you have watched Index season 1 and/or Railgun Season 1, to watch the first 16 episodes of Railgun S.
I do not recommend watching the last 8 episodes, but as much as I ranted on it, it's not horrible. Just painfully mediocre. If it were a standalone arc outside of Railgun S, then I may have seen it in a different light. However, as it stands now, it has to be judged in the shadow of the towering colossus that is The sister's Arc, and simply can not meet the large expectations that story set for the rest of the season.
As much as I'd like to just ignore the existence of Silent Party, it's there and it won't go away. No matter how much I loved The Sister's Arc, both arcs have to be taken into consideration when rating the season as a whole.
The Sister's Arc lasted from episodes 1-16 and the Silent party Arc lasted from episodes 17-24. Because the first arc lasted for 2/3 of the series, this will be a weighted score.
The Sister's Arc:
Story - 10
Art - 10
Sound - 10
Character - 10
Enjoyment - 10
Overall - 50/50 = 10/10
Silent Party Arc:
Story - 4
Art - 9
Sound - 9
Character - 5
Enjoyment - 5
Overall - 32/50 = 6.4/10
To Aru no Kagaku no Railgun S:
Story - 20 + 4 = 24/30
Sound - 20 + 9 = 29/30
Sound - 20 + 9 = 29/30
Character - 20 + 5 = 25/30
Enjoyment - 20 + 5 = 25/30
Overall - 132/150 = 88% = 9/10