BiriBiri is Back! – A Certain Scientific Railgun OVA Review

When I first heard there was going to be a Railgun OVA, I was disappointed. Yeah, you read that right. Unlike other fans, I was not looking forward to this. Ever since episode thirteen of the original series, I’ve been waiting impatiently for J.C. Staff to cut the filler crap and move ahead with the actual story, as laid out in the manga. The last thing Railgun needs right now is more pointless fluff. Being the pessimist that I am, I was steeling myself for more holodeck swimsuit antics and Pizza Hut product placement. Fortunately, I was wrong.

In a nutshell, this OVA was exactly like one of the better episodes of the TV series. There were lightning-lesbian antics, an urban legend-based mystery that needed solving, a personal crisis for Mikoto and the Power of Friendship™ to help save the day. Hell, you could stick this in the middle of the show itself, and it would be nigh-indistinguishable from a regular episode. This is both a good and bad thing; although this OVA is guaranteed to entertain the hardcore Railgun fans like myself, it also suffers from all the same flaws that made the original show such a hard sell for more casual viewers. This half-hour of Mikoto-filled goodness encapsulates everything that is right and wrong with the franchise as a whole.

Read more after the break.

What I Liked

Holy crap, there’s a story: In this OVA, Mikoto is plagued by a rampant, untraceable feeling of unease… like someone (or someTHING) is watching her from the shadows. As this feeling becomes worse and worse, her paranoia slowly begins driving her to madness. The worst part is, she doesn’t know if these chilly feelings are real or figments of her imagination caused by stress. Her friends, concerned for her well-being, try to track down the culprit with a questionable urban legend called “Someone Is Watching” as their only lead.

Those of you who have watched the series know that this is typical Railgun fare: a threatening mystery, an urban legend and lots of technobabble-filled detective work. This particular mystery is made especially poignant by the social commentary it provides: Kuroko posits that Mikoto’s feelings of unease may be caused by Academy City’s surveillance state, and Mikoto’s own descent into madness seems to be a metaphor for the psychological damage caused by an overbearing and omniscient government. This doesn’t lead to any profound psychological musings, but it’s still a much more mature plot than you usually get in this kind of moe show.

Mikoto and friends: Every character was in top form. Mikoto was her usual bighearted/buttkicking self, with just a dash of tsundere thrown in for good measure. Kuroko’s juxtaposition of crazed lesbian pervert and insightful Judgement officer was endearing, as always. Even Saten and Uiharu, admittedly the dullest of the main characters, managed to bring a smile to my face. The camaraderie between these girls is the heart of Railgun, and seeing them together again reminded me why I fell in love with this series in the first place. It was like watching a reunion of old friends. Given how flat and uninteresting most anime protagonists are these days, it’s nice to see some girls with a little personality.

Action! Mikoto uses her electric powers to fly.

No, seriously. It was friggin’ awesome. As always, Railgun delivers fantastic action scenes, beautifully animated by J.C. Staff. Granted, there wasn’t as much butt-kicking as I would have liked, but Mikoto’s big flying scene almost makes up for it. Almost.

What I Hated

Friendship, Destroyer of Worlds! When Mikoto is at her lowest, Saten decides to encourage her with a friendship speech. Because, as we all know, friendship is a super special awesome force that can cure the gravest of ills with its happy happy joy joy pink flower giggle bubble power! Friendship forever!

Okay, maybe her speech wasn’t quite THAT contrived. Still, it had me groaning pretty hard. I mean, Saten is usually brazen, but not tactless. In many ways, she’s Railgun‘s most complex and thoughtful character. Why does she need to spew these hamfisted platitudes to cheer poor Mikoto up?

To me, this represents a failure by the writers. Railgun‘s slice of life moments are entertaining when they focus on character-based comedy and meaningful relationship issues. This kind of grade-school tripe is beneath them.

Repolarize the technobabble matrix: Like any good mystery story, this OVA drops all kinds of hints (both obvious and subtle) as to the identity of the culprit. The viewer is invited to guess the true nature of Mikoto’s troubles, be it a mysterious esper or the psychological effects of stress. Then, the truth is revealed! It turns the culprit was… a machine.

But not just any machine! This is “a device that amplifies electromagnetic signals, causing her subconcious to involuntarily process magnetic and electromagnetic information at a specific wavelength she finds most unpleasant. This exploits the unique sensory perceptions of electric-type espers, causing them to feel like they’re being stared at!”

Well, after realigning the bio-neural gel packs and depolarizing the multitronic relays in my secondary computer core, I’ve discovered that explanation is the technobabble equivalent of “a wizard did it.” Sure, they dropped a vague “Mikoto can sense electronics” hint at the beginning of the OVA, but let’s be honest: that was a total asspull. Nice job ruining a good mystery with lazy writing, guys.

Overall Thoughts

Final verdict? Pretty positive, actually. Considering I was expecting more fanservice and less meaningful story, this OVA was a pleasant surprise. It was still dragged down by Railgun‘s standard vices, such as an overuse of technobabble and hamfisted friendship speeches, but the good far outweighed the bad. Overall, this was an enjoyable half-hour diversion and has sated my appetite for another season of my favorite moeblob-filled science fiction show. Make it happen, J.C. Staff!