Firstly, I’d like to apologize for delaying this for a week, but I was a little ill recently and not fully with it. I want these to be as good as I can make them so hopefully you’ve enjoyed your week without Unnecessary Science and are ready for me to poke holes in another popular show, Railgun.
With a name like Toaru Kagaku no Railgun (A certain Scientific Railgun) you might expect the underlying science to be fairly well thought out. And to a certain extent it is! Looking back on the series, and even the original series which spawned Railgun as a spin off, a lot of the Esper powers are fairly well grounded.
For any of you who aren’t familiar with the franchise, the shows are based on a series of light novels by Kazuma Kamachi. Set in a world where religion and science factions fight a secret war, known only to the upper echelon of society, children are born with supernatural abilities on both sides of the divide. The story occurs mostly in Academy City, with a student population of almost 80%, and is told from the side of the Espers, ignoring a lot of the religious ‘’magicians’’ found in the first series, Toaru Majutsu no Index. Railgun specifically follows the adventures of a student from the original series, Mikoto Misaka, and her friends in Judgement.
A girl with the power to freely manipulate electricity, Misaka, is a level 5 Esper (ranked 3rd in Academy City) and a fairly good fighter too. Of course, I’m taking these powers as an accepted part of the world. I’m not going to complain that ‘’real people don’t have powers’’ or I’d never stop! So looking purely at the scientific aspect of the power… it’s pretty good! She can shoot electricity of course and short circuit technology as you’d expect, but the really impressive bit comes with her manipulation of metals. This is an often overlooked aspect of electricity based powers in a physics sense, as electric currents come with corresponding magnetic fields. Almost without exception. So it makes sense that she could develop magnetism powers too! Controlling iron dust swords or levitating iron bars (iron was used because it is ferromagnetic and thus this could work). Obviously you’d need huge amounts of energy to do a majority of these things, but it is possible, especially as her maximum output is (a frankly ridiculous) 1 billion volts. In fact things are often contained in magnetic fields in laboratories on a daily basis.
However it’s not perfect. Some aspects have been overlooked for the sake of plot or coolness, as I’ve come to expect from anime (not that I’m in any way complaining!). Her ability to hack computers just doesn’t make sense! Hacking is not something that can be done simply with electricity in most cases. If it just involves an on/off switch then sure it’s possible, but complex code would only be short circuited by any significant electric signal. And this isn’t all. Sadly, her Ultimate Move, the Railgun for which she is nicknamed, would have some serious drawbacks. The move itself is eminently possible, and is in fact a possible military weapon design (though not practical in most cases), however, it sends off the projectile at such force that the recoil would shatter bones. Going back to Newton’s 3rd law (this thing just keeps coming up), every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So whatever she sends out she has to take as well and unfortunately for her, momentum can’t be dispersed via electrical means (at least on this scale). So the Railgun would be, in every sense of the word, a finishing move…
The other character which puts these series so high up on my top 10 list, though not a major part of Railgun he does have his own show in a sequel and other spin off, is Accelerator. Not only is he a great character by literary standards, he also has a power which (whilst more than a little overpowered) is scientifically worded. Another self-explanatory name here lets you know that he has the power to accelerate things. But it’s not just this! He can in fact change the vectors of anything which comes within his zone of control. As a science nerd I completely lost my mind when he first appeared and was explained!! I love him and he is the only character I have cosplay for…
Getting back on track, this power is more than a little broken as it means that literally nothing can touch him if he doesn’t want it to (with a few spoiler exceptions), regardless of the power behind it, sorry Railgun. To explain a bit further, a vector, like velocity, is similar to a speed but it has a specific direction. So, by turning slightly while running at the same pace, you are altering your velocity without changing your speed (which has no set direction). So not only can he stop attacks, he can send things back at you FASTER than you originally sent them!
But such an overpowered ability is, sadly, not actually feasible. Even if you assume that he can somehow complete the equations, which would otherwise require a supercomputer, in his head as he claims he can, to actually change the vectors would require energy. Where would he get this energy? ”Energy cannot be created or destroyed”, only converted from one form to another so basically his power breaks the biggest fundamental rule of physics on which everything else is based! No wonder he’s so OP!! But damn he’s cool… Possibly my favorite character in anime history, in case you couldn’t tell.
So to summarize, these series are much more scientifically literate than a majority of anime, which makes me happy, but still not entirely accurate. Then again, who wants that?! That makes things way too dull and predictable, though an element of realism is appreciated here and there.
I think this is partially as a result of their original publication as novels. It required things to be more thoroughly thought out and less reliant on visuals and tropes. Though thankfully there is plenty of that in there too! I can’t go without my tsundere fix for too long! (Looking at you Mikoto Biri-Biri Misaka).