Academy City, a place of high learning and high technology, becomes a battleground between the forces of magic and science as a living compendium of magical grimoires, Index, falls under the protection of Kamijou Touma, a student whose right hand can cancel out supernatural powers.
Derived from a series of light novels, Index is enjoyable but uneven: it sports some intriguing concepts that fairly cry out to be more deeply developed, but which in the end are used as little more than fuel for various magically-powered showdowns between Kamijou and various enemies-of-the-week. It’s still fun to watch unfold, though.
- Clever concept.
- Show's best ideas are only explored in a superficial way.
- Plotting ends up straying from its core characters and encompassing a much broader, less focused cast.
- Director: Hiroshi Nishikiori
- Animation Studio: J.C. Staff
- Released By: Geneon Universal Entertainment
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14 (action violence, some innuendo)
- List Price: $64.98 (DVD) (two sets, two discs each)
We built this city on rock 'n --- er, magic 'n science
Academy City is exactly what it sounds like: a metropolis devoted to learning, where everything is managed with high-end technology. Many of the students are themselves “Espers”, or superhumans gifted with various powers (a la perhaps Darker than Black). One exception is Kamijou Touma, a young fellow with something like the opposite of a power: when he touches anything magically or spiritually powered with his right hand, its powers are negated. It sounds great, until you realize it also means he gets a corresponding dose of bad luck in the process. Not fun.
Touma’s luck is at an all-time low when A Certain Magical Index kicks off, the nadir of which is reached when he looks out on the balcony of his apartment and finds a girl in a nun’s habit draped over the railing as if she’s laundry set out to dry. Her name is Index, and she’s a refugee from a secret subdivision of the Church of England. They want what’s in her head—103,000 magical texts of terrible power—and are prepared to do absolutely anything to get it. Actually, it’s not much that the texts are in her head as she is the texts, which makes things even more complicated (although only explored in a superficial way, unfortunately).
Touma doesn’t see himself as anyone’s protector, but after mistakenly destroying her robes with his right hand (she spends the rest of the show walking around with her clothes safety-pinned back together), and after being confronted by the mage Stiyl Magnus—who’s out to protect Index as well, but has a very strange notion of what “protection” is—Touma ends up assuming responsibility for her. As you might guess, it entails a lot of responsibility, not least of all because Index has the manners of an ill-behaved pet and an ungodly amount of power at her beck and call.
Warning: Heavy plot traffic ahead
You might guess from the way I’ve explained all this that A Certain Magical Index is a bit involved. It’s one of those shows where you sometimes feel like you need a traffic map to make your way through the growing welter of characters, situations, plotting and power relationships. It’s not confusing so much as it is defocusing; it leaves us with the feeling the show is going for breadth rather than depth. Just when it seems like the show’s finding a groove and properly exploring the implications of something it brings up … it switches to another group of characters. (There’s also the compulsion, typical to anime, to play a good deal of what goes on for laughs even when it’s not really needed—e.g., having Index bite Touma, like a feisty pet, whenever she gets riled about something he did.)
The most prominent example of the show’s topical bait-and-switch comes in the first fourth or so of the show. (Warning: slight spoilers.) Magnus has been erasing Index’s memory every so often for reasons that sound, and in fact are, wholly spurious, and when Touma intervenes in her behalf, he has his own memories of her—and a good many other things, too—wiped out. This ought to make for a great avenue to explore further, but instead the show shrugs it off and moves on to another preprogrammed bit of plot business, and Touma’s amnesia becomes more like a minor inconvenience than anything that really creates a problem for him.
Not all of this jumping around is bad. In fact, over time, it becomes clear the show’s real interest isn’t in the convoluted plotting it brings up, but in a clutch of themes that Touma, Index, and their friends embody. If someone is “inhuman”—like the vampire they meet, or the whole slew of clones that turn up at one point—that’s more a label placed on them by others who have a vested interest in considering them less than human, and less an objective description. I particularly liked a subplot involving a young man code-named “Accelerator”, himself a wielder of power that he doesn’t believe can do anything but destroy, and who in time finds it can be used to protect, save, and even heal.
Lost in translation?
Anime adapted from light novels always risk losing something in the translation. Doubly so when the anime in question is released in English, but there’s no corresponding translation of the novel, which leaves us to wonder what survived the jump and what got left on the floor. A Certain Magical Index clearly feels like it was adapted from not just one but several books in the series, as the plotline of the show breaks into what feel like the boundaries delineated by each volume: Index/Touma, then “Deep Blood” (the vampire girl), then Accelerator, and so on. The end result doesn’t feel so much like a single, unified show as perhaps a series of OVAs, each one with its own relatively open-ended ending.
But again, this isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. A Certain Magical Index—along with its sister property, A Certain Scientific Railgun—is at least as interested in exploring the world it created as much as it is giving us a sympathetic cast of characters to root for. It’s enjoyable to watch the show skip and switch between its castmembers as it does this, even if it also means the show feels that much less focused for it.