When we tackled the first volume of A Certain Scientific Railgun, our enjoyment of its setting and characters were tempered a little by its assumption that readers were already familiar with the world of A Certain Magical Index (which is currently unavailable in the west) from which this series is spun.
Despite such misgivings, come the end of that opening volume we were at least comfortable with the main aspects of A Certain Scientific Railgun and more than a little familiar with its characters - perhaps more importantly, after skirting around its first major story arc with some scene-setting subplots, we seemed all set to get down to business in this second volume.
Thankfully, this is exactly what transpires, as volume two throws us straight into the heart of its story surrounding "Level Upper", an urban myth that proves to be anything but which allows even the weakest espers in Academy City to boost their powers significantly. The side-effect of this, however, is that the user of Level Upper eventually falls into a coma with seemingly no way of reversing its effects - an issue which ups the urgency of Judgement's investigation into the source of this product. While Kuroko Shirai and friend-cum-roommate Mikoto Misaka focus their hopes on a specialist doctor named Harumi Kiyama to give them answers about how Level Upper works, little do they realise that much of the information they seek is far closer to hand than they could have imagined - indeed, even the creator of Level Upper itself is hidden in plain sight.
As this story progresses, so this volume of A Certain Scientific Railgun impresses on two fronts. Firstly, we're treated to a couple of fantastically realised action components to the series, both of which are well thought-out and wonderfully illustrated - a compliment that can be paid to this volume as a whole on account of its largely good-looking, consistently on-model artwork. There is, however, more to this volume than simply throwing around its characters esper powers (impressively though it succeeds in doing so), as it also has a little heart to it - this is largely brought to us by the sole "level 0" in the group of friends around which the series revolves, Ruiko Saten. Saten's struggle with a mixture of her own desires, guilt and peer pressure underpin the entire volume, culminating in a genuinely tear-jerking and moving scene between herself and Uiharu, proving perhaps that investing some time in its characters during that first volume has finally paid off.
Essentially, most if not all of our criticisms and concerns about the first volume of this manga are blown away by the second - okay, it still enjoys the odd moment of needless fan service thanks to Kiyama's lack of decorum and dress sense, but that aside it doesn't put a foot wrong as it throws together humour, action and emotion against the backdrop of a strong story which has more than enough momentum to keep your attention into its third volume. Add to that its great artwork and characters, and A Certain Scientific Railgun is definitely a series on the up that is most certainly worth checking out while we eagerly await the release of its third volume.