All right. This week it’s time to take a dive into Academy City and have a look at what makes this series so awesome.
Academy City, Japan, is at the forefront of science. Besides being 30 years ahead of the world technologically, more than three-fourths of this peculiar city’s population consists of students developing their psychic abilities as espers in various institutions. Among these students is Touma Kamijou, a high school boy with the lowest psychic rank of zero, but with a mysterious power no scientist can understand: “Imagine Breaker,” which allows him to negate other supernatural abilities.
This, however, doesn’t affect Kamijou’s life in the least as he plays his role as a regular teenager; that is, until he meets the strange Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a young girl who has memorized the entire forbidden grimoires, and now a dangerous organization is hunting Index down. With several magicians looking to harm the girl, Kamijou will defend his new companion at all costs as he discovers a strange new realm of the supernatural. -MAL
…Yeah, I’d have gone with a shorter description, but Index was one of the shows that got nuked from Crunchyroll, which is where I usually get the synopsis, sooo…
With the third season upon us, and going swimmingly, it’s high time I actually took a crack at the first two seasons. Now, it’s absolutely no secret that I love me a good action show with zany superpowers and awesome fight scenes.
(No, but really. Imagine how much more awesome this show might be in the hands of Studio Bones)
And, as we’ve no doubt caught, by now, I like to talk up the positives, first. And with them, there are some very easy ones to note. The action and the characters.
First of all, I’ll be clear. The action is not of the same S-tier grandiosity of something like a Studio Bones or Studio Trigger production. It’s not the prettiest or most stylistic thing you’ll ever see. Even compared to several other J.C Staff shows (DanMachi), it could arguably be seen as nothing to look twice at. And yet it’s all really good. Why? Because every fight has very real stakes and many of them feed on strong emotional situations.
The villains are about the perfect example of this as many of them have very personal reasons for doing what they do. They’re all stock Freudian Excuses, of course, but that’s kind of the point. Touma literally beats these delusions out of them. And many wind up becoming allies after the fact. Perhaps the best example is Accelerator, however, who is the most realized of these villains, to the point of becoming one of the three main characters. Speaking of main characters, Touma is pretty much the perfect one for this story.
The theme of dragging people into reality and making them take responsibility for their lives and actions and deal with life being hard and unfair is expertly handled. Touma is a guy whose lot in life is awful. The poor boy has the worst luck on Earth. Yet he can’t stand seeing people who have power (theoretically) greater than his own, using that power unjustly because of it. And it’s something that says a lot about him. To that end, Touma is a great character. Also: damn that boy can give a speech. He just doesn’t know how not to be cool.
I can see where some might find him lacking, however. The series does have a way of making things just happen to him. He doesn’t appear to have any real desires or ambitions of his own, besides protecting Index (and his friends, in general). But in his case, I think it actually kinda works. More so than many other stock light novel protagonists of his kind. And while several other characters might actually just kind of go along with things, you get the sense that Touma very much has strong convictions about what he’s doing. He’s not purely along for the ride because he’s a slave to the plot. Then there’s the matter of Index, who, let’s be honest, is just precious.
At least, when she’s not being a nuisance. But she’s definitely useful and not one to just sit around, doing nothing. She actually takes it upon herself to do things (when she’s made aware of a situation) and isn’t just a load. If I have any misgivings about her, it’s that the show doesn’t exactly let us see enough of the times where she and Touma aren’t arguing. Index loves him. Dearly. That much is obvious. But there are surprisingly few of these tender scenes between them that don’t inevitably swerve toward humor. And I do get why this is happening. The series is essentially trying to keep it open as to which of Touma’s many romantic options seems most viable (odd, seeing as this technically isn’t classified as a harem series, as the girls are kinda not the point… at all) Even though the creator’s even said she’s the one they’d prefer to go with, in the end. And it’s not hard to see why.
Seriously, though. I know I said he was the unluckiest man alive, but he’s probably the luckiest unlucky person to ever exist. Which brings us to the other female lead, and the girl who holds down her own spin-off – Misaka, Mikoto. Now, this isn’t about A Certain Scientific Railgun, so I’m not really going to get into all the stuff in there that helps confirm exactly how good a character she is. In this particular series, a large part of her role after her initial arc is focused on her comically pining for Touma and scheming ways to be around him. She does other stuff, of course, but after that initial arc, she gets sidelined pretty hard, barring a few minor instances. Though I guess she has her own series to offset this.
That aside, she’s a force of personality and I loved her arc in the first season. For one, it was one of the first arcs that really played up exactly how grim this series could get and how dire consequences would wind up being. It also showed us some of the depth that we’d eventually come to expect from her character, and the new season looks like it might end up delivering more of that with her. I also like how her Tsundere-ness works. She isn’t like that with everyone. At least not to the same extent. It’s pretty much exclusively Touma. And it’s because of how her character was set up.
By all means, she was supposed to be the second best in all of Academy City. Behind only Accelerator. And here she is, getting beat by a Level 0. Her confidence was, of course, a facade. Partially, anyway. Deserved, but not at all something that didn’t come with its scars. And it was one of those delusions Touma is oh-so-keen on breaking. This is why he’s the only one that rustles her the way he does. And it makes their dynamic really engaging, even if it does, at first, seem like it’s being entirely played for humor. Clearly, it isn’t.
Really, Index is a series with lots and lots of characters. And that’s not including all the clones. If I were to sit here and explain all of them, this article would never end. Honestly, I could practically do a series of nothing but individual character analyses for this show and probably wouldn’t finish any time in the next five years. But rest assured, the characters are awesome and great fun. Many of them have awesome powers, quirky personalities, or both!
But there’s a certain aspect of these types of shows that I think is vitally important – worldbuilding. Going back to a series I joked about, earlier, My Hero Academia is a perfect example of how to nail that aspect. Sure, it helps when the world is basically a copy of our own, save for the one obvious discrepancy of superpowers existing. But think about it. That’s a pretty big deal. That one factor would impact society in a significant way. Now, obviously, creative license comes into play. There’s no way to actually gauge these things, after all. But coming up with a world that feels like it could be a thing (or is at least incredibly interesting to think about) is key.
Honestly, I think the only thing HeroAca misses out on is showing us that broader scope. Because the way a place like Japan would deal with superpowers is likely vastly different from how the United States or the United Kingdom would. But I digress. The point I’m getting at is that A Certain Magical Index takes place in a vaguely similar setting, except on top of Esper abilities, there’s also the factor of magic to play with. Hence the title. And the worldbuilding is also one of the problems a lot of people have with it. A large part of this honestly comes from the show’s pacing.
Index is a show that literally never stops. There is no real downtime. Whenever it looks like there might be, one should assume something weird is going to happen by the end of the episode that kicks off the next arc. That isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. Actually, for a show of this sort, it’s kind of a good thing. But some things do get lost in translation. Because of how fast the show moves, there’s seldom enough time to really sit and take in the world. Terms and jargon are flung around constantly as well, which only serves to make things more daunting. And that’s to say nothing of all the factions in the show, both on the Magic and Science side. It’s easy to lose track of exactly who’s fighting who, and what’s going on.
What I’m saying is that the show is incredibly complex. Far more than many other shows of its ilk. It is leagues more complicated than HeroAca, for example. Which isn’t to detract anything from either show. But it’s easy to get confused with something like this. Then we take a look at the show’s spin-off, A Certain Scientific Railgun dials back the pacing a lot, and lets you get more familiar with things. But, to its credit, that show’s appeal was slightly different, anyway. So it makes sense that it’d be slower.
Now. Did I personally have a problem with this? To be honest, I couldn’t say. The first time I watched it was a long while ago. But upon rewatching the show to write this piece, I found that I wasn’t having any issue following anything. It led me to the conclusion that, as an experience, Index is honestly better on subsequent viewings, than it is the first time. Because I honestly think I walked away liking it even more after the rewatch. And keep in mind that I loved it the first time, around. It’s very good for that, in a way. You can get through the first viewing easily, purely on the “fun factor” and the great cast of characters. But rewatching it actually makes it easier to follow so you can more easily piece together what, exactly, is going on. And that’s useful information.
I won’t say much about the newest season, because… well… I have to talk about that on a weekly basis after this. But I can say that having recently rewatched the first two seasons, the newest one actually isn’t difficult to follow at all. Granted, it also helps that I have knowledge of events up through the next two or three arcs of the light novels. But it’s still quite breezy for me. That said, I think some people will be exceptionally put off by how much focus is being put on characters who aren’t Touma or Index. After all, the series is named after the latter, who is very much connected to the former. But this is a series with three protagonists. One of which is getting his own show, next year. So make of that what you will.
I also do understand the criticisms of the show being repetitive, basically always boiling down to Touma punching someone really, really hard. But I wasn’t really bothered by this because of the writing around the fights, themselves. The buildup to those fights is great. And the hits, themselves, are satisfying. Also, many of these people possess very creative ways of making sure Touma can’t just walk up and punch them. So seeing how he’s even able to get those hits in is always neat.
Overall, A Certain Magical Index is a series that’s really great fun, the first time around. With great characters and creative action. But it’s ludicrously fast pace makes for a daunting first viewing. And it could quite possibly be viewed as repetitive. If you can get through it on the fun alone, the first time, it’s liable to be just plain old Junk Food. But of the best variety. Repeat viewings are what I think makes it much more worthy of Super Effective or possibly even World’s Finest stature, on a good day. Certainly not flawless. Few things are. But great fun and a well put-together series, even if its spin-off is superior in a number of ways.
So what do you think of A Certain Magical Index? Are you enjoying the new season? Looking forward to the upcoming Accelerator spin-off or Railgun’s third season? Let me know, down below. That’s all I’ve got for ya here. As always, thanks for reading, folks. Keep up the Awesome.