J.C.Staff (yes, them again) seems to really enjoy magical girl animes. Today, we’re looking at their second, after Shakugan no Shana: Toaru no Majitsu no Index, A Certain Magical Index.
This is Academy City. It’s a place consisting of schools that not only attracts students from around the world, but also blurs the lines between science and magic. Using scientific findings, certain people, known as espers, have been able to manifest superpowers in themselves. Needless to say, Academy City commands the attention of the world, not always in a good way.
This is Touma Kamijo, possibly the most unfortunate person in all of Academy City. One day, after indirectly causing a blackout, he finds a girl draped over his apartment balcony. Her name is Index, and she’s fleeing from a group of sorcerers (so she claims) that wants what’s inside her head: a collection of 103,000 grimiores, memorized verbatim. And hilarity ensues. The rest of the story follows Touma and Index in various battles against different threats.
Religion and Science are the key concepts at play in this anime; when I say religion, I mean Christianity and magic. The show is divided up into arcs, not uncommon among animes; most of the arcs focus on some radical magician going off against Academy City, seen as the bastion of science, and Touma must be the one to put a stop to it all (nothing stops radical Christians than a good right cross to the jaw). Most arcs are dedicated to some kind of religious group seeking to destroy Academy City, though some involve Espers as well. By far, the best arcs were the ones involving Espers because those tended to be a little more unpredictable. The religion arcs followed a similar structure, so they were much less engaging. I stalled on season two because the opening arc was so boring. Then again, every storyline in this show has a little hump you have to get over, and they always end with some kind of epic battle and good right cross (see what I did there?).
This is where A Certain Magical Index does things a little differently. J.C.Staff likes to make intricately linked stories, especially with magical girl animes. That means episodes capitalize off of previous topics, and, sad to say, Magical Index fails in that category. Its arcs are, at best, loosely connected, and don’t flow well. I would compare it to reading a series of books, like the Magic Tree House or Secrets of Droon (man, my age is showing), or even Geronimo Stilton. To a certain extent, so long as you understand the premise, you wouldn’t lose much if you randomly dropped in and watched one of the arcs out of order.
Of course, the show is not all gloom and doom. It punctuates its serious moments with brief moments of comic relief. To do this, the show falls back on its large female cast and Touma’s established bad luck, often at his expense. In other words, the fanservice is strong with this one.
Season one: You’d better be paying attention in this season. Season one lays the framework for everything that follows, and it introduces a plot device that only barely gets touched upon yet is referred to throughout the series. They also only explain things once, and don’t explain them very well. You can infer most of what they’re talking about, but many of their explanations were complicated and hard to follow. That said, by the time the season’s over, you understand what’s going on, but that’s all on you. It reflects poorly on the show when you expect your audience to figure out some of the underlying concepts even though you just explained them.
Season Two: Season two does a lot of things right. It improved upon Season one and appears to be gearing up for a season three. Judging from rumors that came around about a month ago, Season Three seems to be on its way. That said, it’s not perfect. The beginning is kinda slow and tedious, then the rest follows pretty well.
Touma Kamijou: Touma fits the same archetype that other male protagonists of magical animes fit into: he’s a lovable idiot, but at the same time, he’s not. He consistently proves that he’s quite smart and can deal with some of the strongest characters on his own. In any other case, I’d have a problem with that because he’d be too overpowered for a main character, but it works with Touma because he never does it easily. He usually gets owned first then rallies to win it all with a nice shot to the jaw.
At his core, Touma’s not all that interesting of a character, but at the same time, that also becomes his strongest selling point. He is established as this goody-two shoes, and it works in his favor because the writers make fun of it. All in all, Touma works and he works very well. He’s one of the best male protagonists in a magical girl anime I’ve seen.
Index: Poor Index. Despite being the titular character, she takes a backseat to her own show, mainly serving as comic relief at Touma’s expense. Starting around the end of the first season, she actually starts to do things, but for a good portion of her own show, she takes a backseat to all the action. The writers poke fun at this as well, but it would’ve been nice to see her do more in her own show, rather than run after Touma (and occasionally bite him)
Mikoto Misaka: I’m not going to talk about A Certain Scientific Railgun in this review, but I can see why this character got her own spinoff. Misaka’s a side character in this show, but she’s easily the most fun to watch, whether it’s her being tsundere or electrocuting everything. Sadly, she barely gets any screen time, and for such a great side character, it’s quite a shame. But her times on screen were always a pleasure to watch
Final Verdict: I cannot criticize A Certain Magical Index for trying to take things in a different direction. I will say that it failed to capitalize on what it did differently. That with slow start-up times for each of its story arcs really undermine the show. Hopefully season three can compensate.