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.