I haven’t done a “Role-Play This!” thing in forever, but I got inspired all of a sudden.
What Is It?
A Certain Magical Index is a series of light novels that has been adapted into an anime series. It takes place in the Academy City, a cutting edge city of mostly students, constructed to instruct people in the use of special powers. Index presents a dichotomy between the world of science (which includes special powers) and the hidden world of magic, which actually exist in a delicate balance of power.
One of the most popular characters from Index is Misaka Mikoto, a Level 5 power-user (which is as high as the power scale goes) with an exceptional talent for generating and manipulating electricity. She can do a tremendous variety of things with her power, but her signature move is to create magnetic fields to propel a coin at supersonic speeds, hence her being nicknamed “the Railgun.” A Certain Scientific Railgun is a spinoff series that stars Mikoto and delves deeper into the lives of Academy City students.
Why’s It Awesome?
Railgun is unusual among anime in that it both develops an interesting setting and tells a good story. It takes place in a near-future setting that presents “super powers” as a phenomenon that science (mostly) understands, and uses that in lots of interesting ways, both in terms of cool sci-fi stuff and how it affects the characters. The Academy City has both the Anti-Skills (a paramilitary force for dealing with dangerous power-users) and Judgment (a group of students that assist with law enforcement as well as everyday problems), not to mention plenty of people who resent the prestige that high-level power-users seemingly have handed to them on a silver platter. There are also hidden conspiracies, strange technologies that affect power-users, and memorably insane villains.
In Railgun especially this is all conveyed with a bunch of fun, likable characters. Mikoto is joined by her roommate/stalker Kuroko, who also has a scarily effective teleportation power, and Ruiko and Kazari, who remind us that not everyone in Academy City has spectacular special powers, however much they might wish for them.
The setting of the Academy City seems all but made for role-playing. It has a population of 2.3 million, of which 80% are students hoping to develop their special powers, so it’s not the slightest bit implausible to introduce new characters with their own powers.
My #1 pick for an existing RPG to use would be Smallville. With its relationship mechanics and orientation towards melodrama, it needs little or no changes to work for the Index/Railgun setting. It even allows for powered and non-powered PCs to exist side-by-side, so characters like Ruiko (who has no powers at all) and Kazari (whose power is inconsequential) are easy to put alongside Mikoto and Kuroko. About the only things I would change would be more flavor, specifically that while characters might have more than one power in game terms, for the purposes of the story they should have only one (“Dual Skills” are only a hypothetical thing in the setting) and that characters without powers in game terms can have a small, mostly useless power for flavor if they really want (again, like Kazari).
For a more traditional approach, most any superheroes RPG worth its salt should be able to represent the kinds of powers seen in Railgun just fine. (And frankly I’m kind of surprised that the anime characters page of Surbrook’s Stuff doesn’t have any Hero System writeups for Index/Railgun characters.) Hero System, Mutants & Masterminds, Truth & Justice, and so on should work without too much effort.