'A Certain Scientific Railgun.' You like Railguns, Gauss Rifles, and Mass Drivers...what could possibly go wrong?
Well, there are no Railguns, for one thing. It's a girl's nickname. On the other hand, what you do get is a pretty phenomenal 24 episode anime that amounts to, as best as can be described, a Japanese version of the X-men. But with better writing, a cohesive plot, and girl on girl romance. Because...Anime. Essentially, the story is about Misako, a level 5 esper (basically a psion whose powers combine Magneto and Storm, so one tough little girl), the titular 'railgun,' and her roomate Kuroko, a pigtailed level 4 teleporter in their adventures through Academy City.
- Strong Story. As mentioned, the writing for this is top notch. Almost everything every character says has some meaning, if not initially, then at some later point in the series. While this could make following certain subplots hard if you had been watching this as it appeared on tv, when watching all at once, it can be a truly incredible experience to see all the threads come together.
- Logical. While a cartoon about a city full of superpowered schoolgirls might not seem a great place to find down to Earth pragmatism, there is a decent dose of it here. From vigilant public safety and policing in the form of Judgement and Anti-skill departments, to dispossessed gangs of level zeros (people with no psionic talents), the world of Railgun holds a pretty high standard of consistency.
- Characters. There are a lot of well thought out characters to like, here. While Misako takes some warming up to, Kuroko is pretty instantly likeable, as are Mii and Uihara, her coworkers at Judgement. Even more fun are some of the periphery characters, like the Anti-skill (basically SWAT team like armed police) officers, who, while having a sort of rivalry with Judgement, always seem to come through in spades.
- Action. While there is a peaceful, story driven section in the middle (which was still good), the first and last third of Railgun are bubbling with lightning, teleportation, spikes, shooting, mecha , talent cancelling, and good old fashioned fisticuffs. In fact, one of the toughest, grittiest fistfights to be seen in any anime happens in one of Kuroko's flashbacks where, as a brand new Judgement trainee, she tries to singlehandedly stop a bank robbery, and has a harder time than she anticipated. She takes a pretty savage beating before help arrives and she prevails.
- Sequel / Prequel. This is not the first series in the 'Certain' world, but takes place before and during the anime 'A Certain Magical Index.' It stands alone pretty well, but not having seen the first series, it's certain that some of the random meaningless characters who had cameos would make more sense.
- Plot Threads Awaaaay. There are some seriously loose threads in A Certain Scientific Railgun. This is somewhat understandable, as there is a second season currently ongoing in Japan. Once Funimation gets the rights and dubs it, hopefully these will be resolved.
- No Railguns. You can't just put 'Railgun' in the title and expect a reviewer to forgive there not being any actual Railguns.
- Weaksauce Romance. There were a few romantic subplots in this series, and without exception, they all lead. Absolutely. Nowhere. Yeah, in capitals. Hardcore, nothing came of any of them. Most of the characters are super underage, so no harm there, but what about Mii's romance with the gang leader? Nothing. The Dorm Leader's romance with Daigo? Nothing. The Anti-skill and the video gamer? Nothing. Lots of nothing.
In any event, despite having more negatives than planned, this was an unexpectedly fun series. If you can get over some of the hurdles faced with this series (no railguns!) it should be worth a watch. It's a good escape from some of the frustration and dark atmosphere inherent in most mecha animes, and a fun watch in its own right.