Misaka Mikoto: Possessing the Spark of a Main Character

Not that long ago Narutaki and I were having a discussion about a phenomenon she likes to call side-character-itis.  It is the tendency for fandom to latch on to certain side characters and completely obsesses over them to the point where they almost seem resentful whenever the main characters take the center stage. Hinagiku Katsura from Hayate the Combat Butler is a prime example of this. At times parts of the fans base seem genuinely surprised they are not watching a show called Hinagiku the Combat President. Shonen fighting shows tend to have this phenomenon as well as they often have generic protagonists to keep the story flexible. They offset the bland hero by making the side characters very vibrant.  The problem is while fandom often gets obsessed with these more exciting side characters they are rarely strong enough to carry a show on their own. Often what makes them work as a side character is what keeps they from standing on their own as a main character.

I recently decided to re-watch some episodes of A Certain Magical Index during lunch at work and one of the poster girls for side-character-itis pops up immediately: Misaka Mikoto. Whenever a new episode of the show would come out it seemed the fan base interest was directly tied to the amount of the Railgun in any given episode. In fact she was such a popular character she was spun off into her own series. But interestingly enough she was strong enough to support her own show. So what separates the main characters in waiting from the merely flashy supporting cast? What separates the Fraisers from the Joeys? I won’t say that Misaka Mikoto has all the answers to that question. But she is a good place to start thinking about which characters can cut the mustard.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #127

Taking another item from our Seven Seas review pile I am so glad to be able to recommend one of their books without the qualifier “as long as you into this rather bizarre fetish.”  A Certain Scientific Railgun is a fun spin-off from the main A Certain Magical Index universe. Unsurprisingly Mikoto Misaka turned out to be one of the most popular characters from A Certain Magical Index but what was a little shocking is she got spun off into her own series. The Railgun series revolves around her involvement with the student run police organization called Judgement in the city-wide psychic school known as Academy City. Although she is not officially a member of Judgement Mikoto often gets involved with cases due to her roommate Shirai Kuroko. The first major story arc involves a mad bomber who is targeting members of Judgement but that soon leads to a much bigger mystery of a strange item called the Level Upper. Supposedly the Level Upper can exponentially increase your psychic power but it may have sinister side effects as well.  For better or for worse the Railgun series focuses entirely on the science side of the Index universe. Considering how certain people tend to dislike parts of the magical side this might be a strong selling point for the series. The stories are light and fun with Mikoto infusing any story she is in with her energetic and strong-willed self that made her popular enough to get a spin-off in the first place. Saten Ruiko and Kazari Uiharu are good supporting cast who are colorful enough to be distinct without being too loud even if they occasionally come off as the most interesting refuges from all girls slice of life manga. Shirai Kuroko’s over the top crush on Mikoto Misaka is silly enough to either make you chuckle or groan whenever she is on the page depending on if you enjoy her shtick or not. The series wears is yuri undertones on its sleeve. They are strong enough that they are mistakable but not enough to turn anyone away from the story. If you have watched the anime the stories are pretty similar but the manga is all killer and no filler. We there are some breathers most of the time we jump from plot point to plot point pretty quickly. You can tell that the anime threw in quite a good deal of filler material or extra complications to the story. You still get to know the girls of Railgun but they remove most of the slice of life manga feeling that the anime added. So if you liked the anime but wish they just got on with it then this is the version for you. The art is pleasant and captures the characters and action well. Overall it is a welcome addition to Index universe. It just makes me wish that someone would license the light novels but considering the light novel market in the US I realize that is tantamount to asking a company to go out of business. Such misfortune.

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society was the obvious next title to watch once I finished 2nd Gig. I didn’t realize it would take place two years after the ending of the second season with the Major (mostly) MIA from Section 9. A conspiracy involving missing children, dying elderly, refugee suicides, and a hacker called The Puppeteer combine with the Major right in the thick of things to once again take us on an intense ride to an unexpected end. Both Battou and Togusa are stepped up a little in this movie, which is only a good thing. The scenes in the hospital with Togusa’s daughter are great. And I gave a big thumbs up to the last moments of the film with Battou and the Major looking out the window together. After finishing this I more than ever want a Stand Alone Complex 3rd Gig.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #106

I picked up Solanin on a whim really but I had a good feeling about it. I want to call it a coming of age tale, but have to state it’s the coming of age that occurs in your 20’s after you leave college and are thrust into the “real world.” The story follows Meiko who quits her boring job and spends the next couple of months deciding just what she wants out of life. In the middle of all this is her long-term relationship with musician Taneda and her many college friends who are going through all these questions, too. Each character is in a bit of holding pattern; knowing who you are and what you want to do with your life doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone and Solanin shows what a road it can be. I have to say that I recognized these people, the relationships, and their questions about where to go. It also touches on Japanese youth culture and the difficult economy of find a job, making it all the more relevant to American 20-somethings these days, too. The art has a bit of an indie-feel to it giving it even more duality. While I did find the climax to be a little too melodramatic, convenient for the story, it doesn’t take away from the truth found in these pages. The emotions, reactions, and thoughts seen through the characters of Solanin are utterly genuine and honest. Plus, the ending felt quite right without a concrete conclusion but still a step forward. It just might be one of the best things I’ve read all year.

hisuiconIf there is one thing I know too well it is the feeling of doing just well enough that you are not in deadly peril but light years away from happy. The first half of this book should resonate with anyone who has felt trapped in their own life with plenty of ambition but no real plans. The quiet desperation of being lost is powerful and probably familiar to anyone over 20 today. But the book is not all dark emotions and hopelessness. There are moments of happiness and progress with everyone moving at their own pace, some people doing better than others. But everyone is changing if not always growing and it is sort of amazing to watch. Half way through the book there is an event that comes off a bit like a plot point in an otherwise seemingly organic story. This can be noticeable to some people but I don’t think anyone should let it detract the from the powerful effect it has on the story and themes. This is a beautiful story that really needs more people to read it. I think this is a book that will resonate with many older manga fans and can even be given to people who don’t read manga at all. It is a universal story that reaches beyond the medium.

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