I think I finally figured it out.
I didn’t really like index (I didn’t even finish it), and I really didn’t plan on watching Railgun. But people said nice things about it, and impressionable me decided to give it a shot – and what do you know, I really liked it!
But I didn’t really know why I liked it. I know why I didn’t like index (shounen-ish story with shounen-ish lead flanked by lolis that make Misaka and co look like mature women). I assumed at first it was the shedding of the serious business ‘onoes index is gonna lose her memory!’ drudgery for something more light hearted, fun and good looking. In other words, I assumed I liked it for the same reason I like Nyan Koi. Easy-going story, fun characters, comedic yuri, with some nicely rendered railgun bad assery thrown in for extra value.
And so it somewhat befuddled me that the recent string of episodes should feel acutely dissatisfying. I remember crocodile tears episode 8, stuffed with moe and yuritasticism (did I just invent a word?). It had my friend in stitches, but felt strangely hollow to me. Then episode 9, featuring great Kuroko action, some decent Saten character development that I readily appreciated – but it still didn’t quite hit it. Then came episode 10, and the switch finally connected.
Omni at Random Curiousity didn’t make much of this episode, and I can absolutely see where he’s coming from. JC Staff didn’t seem to have invested much planning on the key Saten-Uiharu scene here. Pacing was pretty bad. After giving Saten a slow, multi-episode development up till this point, the actual move up the climax felt sloppy. Saten finally uses level upper – a 10 second scene. Something goes wrong – a 5 second scene. Then cut immediately to the critical phone call, and we find ourselves thrown in an emotional vortex virtually sans buildup.
But here’s the thing: I felt it. That feeling that first got me snared like a fish on a hook, strangely absent for the past few episodes, suddenly bloomed its way back into existence. And then it dawned on me that what I truly like about this show is character dynamics. And that’s not just about Kuroko being all over Misaka, or about Saten flipping Uiharu’s skirt or about everyone being such nice pals. There are layers to the relationships in this show. At the top level is the obvious things, the Kuroko jumps on Misaka and gets whacked, the Uihara gets flustered with Saten’s pantsu talk – how we normally see them behave and interact in public. Go down deeper and you find that there’s more to it. Misaka is always tsukomi-ing Kuroko and being really nice to her other two ‘normal’ friends and sending Kuroko into fits of raging jealousy. On the other side Kuroko makes it look like the only thing she ever cares about is scheming and squeezing her way into her onee-sama’s bed. But we can tell that there is something deeper. The yuri mania and all is something external and a fun way they can normally interact, but there is something rather deep and special about what they each mean to each other, something that only bubbles into visibility in private. It’s subtle but we can feel it, during several key moments. They share a kind of camaraderie and fondness for each other that is clearly beyond the simple(r) friendship they bear the other two.
Something of the same goes for Uiharu and Saten, and bad execution aside this episode still brings the highlight back to the deeper level of the two’s relationship. Saten’s surface is the extrovert and the optimist, always laughing and teasing Uiharu when she’s around other people. But the past few episodes have clearly demonstrated that she has some deep seated insecurities – and furthermore that she doesn’t communicate them and sweeps them under the rug during normal interaction. Her breakdown this episode is a vivid statement of the intimacy she shares with Uiharu. It’s not like she doesn’t like Misaka or Kuroko – doubtlessly she considers them close friends too. But in her moment of shattering vulnerability, the person to look to for support could only be Uiharu. And Uiharu knew her friend, knew the right words to say, and was clearly deeply affected by Saten’s eventual fate. If we imagined that the person in concern was someone else other than Saten, say Kuroko, we could easily tell that many things would be different – everyone would be affected just as everyone was affected in Saten’s case, but each individual reaction would be different, and the person that would end up most deeply affected would clearly be someone else. This is precisely what I’m talking about.
And of course there are more connections. Uiharu and Kuroko have a different kind of kinship stemming from their frequent teamwork and childhood friendship. Saten and Misaka share an interesting kind of dynamic, where Saten is constantly conscious of their level gap while Misaka isn’t, where Saten respects Misaka for being Level 5 without losing her easy personality and where Misaka respects Saten for standing up and trying to do things even though she’s level 0. When it comes down to it they are all ‘good friends’, but each bond of friendship is unique, imprinted with the personalities of those involved, and this is what makes the show captivating to me. All the other appealing aspects of the show are great plus points, but it is this that really gives that crucial breath of life to the characters.
And as far as I’m concerned, great characters doth a good show make :)