“One should not think of Superman as a Peeping Tom. A biological ability must be used. As a child Superman may never have known that things had surfaces, until he learned to suppress his X-ray vision. If millions of people tend shamelessly to wear clothing with no lead in the weave, that is hardly Superman’s fault.”
- Larry Niven, “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”
So I guess I was wrong. I’m not done writing about A Certain Scientific Railgun after all. To be fair, I hardly expected there to be an OVA continuation when I wrote my climactic two-part finale (see below). But I can’t say I’m unhappy, really.
I find this scene so fascinating. The characters don’t treat Mikoto’s constant awareness of electromagnetism as a huge revelation, but it opens up a whole new dimension of understanding about the Index/Railgun universe (at least for us poor plebes who only watch the anime version—the literati need not apply).
You see, up until now I assumed that their abilities worked like an on-off switch. You either access your “Personal Reality” to break the laws of physics or you don’t, and levels determine how well you can do it. But if Mikoto’s not an uncommon case, then that means an esper’s powers are always on, all the time… What is that even like? Mikoto’s sixth sense for electricity is one thing, but for example, what does the concept of distance mean to someone like Kuroko, for whom being someplace and visualizing it is virtually the same?
To put this another way: How are these kids still normal?
Larry Niven asked this kind of question when he wrote the essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” in 1971. To put it bluntly, he wondered about the physiological possibility of Superman having sex with Lois Lane, and concluded that she would be gutted like a fish upon climax, killed by his indestructible sperm, or any number of unpleasant possibilities. In short, unless his bedroom lamp gives off the light of a red sun (don’t forget, that’s one of his weaknesses too), it isn’t a good idea for the Last Son of Krypton to get laid.
That’s the sad reality when your superpowers are so intrinsically linked to your life. Superman must always consciously choose to remain human.
In the case of Railgun, the main control mechanism, ironically, comes from Academy City. I know I’ve knocked on the institution before, but herding all the psychics into one space actually makes it easier to enforce a mundane status quo than if they were among normal humans, and free to style themselves as gods with complete impunity. It still smacks of internment, and I’m making it a point NOT to say that Academy City offers humanity. But maybe the Orwellian surveillance culture has some benefit. Maybe.
My long and sordid love affair with A Certain Scientific Railgun:
- On Crazy Lesbians and A Certain Scientific Railgun
- The Delicious Cheesecake of A Certain Scientific Railgun
- Shibuya-kei and A Certain Anime Soundtrack
- The Victim Obscured in Railgun and Denpa Teki na Kanojo
- Psychics and the Science of Sleep: Two Mini-Entries on A Certain Scientific Railgun
- Closing Thoughts on A Certain Scientific Railgun, Part 1: Wild Talents in the Brave New World
- Closing Thoughts on A Certain Scientific Railgun, Part 2: Fighting the Future (or, A Love Letter to the Electric Girl)
And if you just can’t get enough Kryptonian science, this article offers an intriguing unified theory of Superman’s powers.