A Certain Magical Index Anime Review
Written by: ClayDragon
Imagine a city dedicated solely for education and research. A city where psychic powers based on scientific principles are commonplace, and new scientific advances are made every day. Touma Kamijou is an inhabitant of such a place, called Academy City. Unfortunately, Touma has no special powers whatsoever and a bad luck streak ten miles wide. As such, this causes him to be labelled a Level 0 Esper – someone with absolutely no psychic talent. The only thing he has going for him is his Imagine Breaker, a power inside his right hand that can cancel out any supernatural attack. Oh, and his roommate – a hyperactive, perpetually-hungry nun.
|These door-to-door preachers are getting more and more desperate.|
The story starts when Touma finds said young nun on his balcony, who was being chased by unknown forces. The nun, named Index, has a photographic memory and has stored the contents of over 100,000 magical books – grimoires – in her head. It turns out that Science isn’t the only power in the world, and Touma finds himself and Index thrust into the middle of some very complex battles between the factions of Science, Magic and Religion.
|"Can you open your mouth? I kind of need my hand back."|
I suppose I’d better get the negative points of the series out of the way first, so I’ll start with my biggest gripe. Index’s plot…really isn’t that good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still interesting and it’s not a complete write-off, but there are a large number of problems with it. For a start, every story arc is very self-contained, and some seem quite repetitive. The usual train of events goes something like this: an enemy appears in Academy City, Touma clashes with said enemy, beats them up with his Imagine Breaker whilst showing them the error of their ways, and then the villain is never heard from again.
There is an exception to this rule – enemies who genuinely see the error of their ways tend to turn up later in the series as allies – but for the most part it gets a bit tired. Most story arcs also suffer from at least one plot hole and/or unanswered question. In fact, even after watching both seasons, I still had a huge amount of questions that were never answered. Part of this problem is the fact that there are loads and loads of characters, and there are so many groups and factions that it gets very hard to figure out what’s going on.
For example, in Academy City there are at least four organisations dedicated to keeping the peace: Judgement, Anti-Skill, GROUP, and Hound Dog (and there are even more that don’t feature in the anime). What’s the difference between them? Damned if I know. Who’s affiliated with each group? No idea. This is the type of show where you need a huge pinboard and lots of red string in order to keep track of who’s doing what.
|"Why is everything so complicated?"|
On the other hand, there are a lot of things that made Index worth watching. The high point of the series is definitely its characters. Most of them are likeable and believable, and the best characters aren’t sidelined like in some other shows. The two best characters, Mikoto Misaka and Accelerator, get an entire arc dedicated to them, and they’re so popular that they each got their own spin-off series.
Accelerator in particular is one of the most powerful characters in the series, with the ability to manipulate any vector around him, which makes him immune to pretty much any attack thrown at him. He’s also the biggest example of character development in the series, as he goes from a battle-hungry psychopath to an atoner that wants to protect those close to him. Unlike some examples, this change of heart doesn’t cause his appeal to decay in the slightest, and he’s still a brilliant character regardless of whether he’s a straight-up villain or the anti-hero he later becomes.
Mikoto Misaka is, like Accelerator, one of Academy City’s Level 5 Espers. Unlike Accelerator, she’s a normal schoolgirl who simply wants to live her life as best she can. Of course, this doesn’t go as planned due to a number of reasons, mostly involving experiments and clones (long story). Despite this, she gets on with her life as a student – with a little help from Touma (on a side note, I totally ship those two together). A large number of the best scenes in the series stem from when Mikoto and Touma interact with each other, and it’s these moments that highlight the best part of the series – namely, the interactions between the characters feel real and believable, and simply seeing them on screen with each other was enough to make me smile.
You may be wondering why I’m talking about two secondary characters instead of the titular character, but that’s because there isn’t really much to say about Index. She starts off being a key player and vital to the plot, but as time goes on she has less and less relevance to the story until it gets to the point where you wonder why the show’s named after a character who doesn’t do much anymore. However, she is adorable, so she has that going for her. Touma is more interesting in that he’s always eager to help whoever he meets and ready to stand up for what’s right. He certainly wins the award for the nicest Shonen protagonist, as the guy has the biggest heart out of any anime character I know. His development is maybe the most subtle, but when you compare his personality at the end of the series to that of him at the start, the difference is noticeable.
Even the secondary characters are interesting and memorable, especially Mikoto's clones (known collectively as the Sisters). Despite the fact that they first show up in a very serious arc, they manage to infuse a fair bit of humour into the story, partly due to their...unique way of speaking. Although they get less focus later on, the two most prominent Sisters – 10032 and Last Order – still have enough appearances to keep viewers entertained, even more so when they interact with each other.
|Take a drink every time one of the Sisters says the word 'Misaka'. You'll be dead within a couple of episodes.|
The music is another highlight, as each track fits the mood of the scene perfectly, and there are enough pieces of music to alleviate the feeling that you’re only listening to the one track again and again. Similarly, the openings are all very good, especially the first opening of the second season. Visually, Index hits all the right notes, as each scene looks very detailed and pretty, with special mention going to the birds-eye shots of Academy City.
Speaking of Academy City, I should probably point out that the world of Index is very well-built. A lot of effort was clearly put into making the city feel as real and lifelike as possible, and the setting captures the imagination very well. If you can look past the info-dumps at the start, Academy City and the wider world of the series are one of the most detailed, interesting worlds I’ve seen in a series.
Overall, A Certain Magical Index is a mixed bag. It has a lot of potential, the characters are varied and interesting, and it’s presented incredibly well. Sadly, the plot lets it down severely. I watched all 48 episodes of the series, and I still have far too many unanswered questions. I’m aware that the light novel series is still ongoing, so there is potential for a third season, but as it stands there is still too much left unanswered. Also, the second season builds up to a huge, climactic showdown…and after it’s over we have two episodes focusing on Touma and Accelerator, and then it just…stops.
If you want to just sit back and watch some urban fantasy and Shonen elements mixed together, then by all means give Index a shot. The plot can easily leave you feeling locked out of the loop, but the characters alone make it worth it. I should also point out that this series kept my interest to the point where I went out and started buying the light novels. A Certain Magical Index has a lot of potential, and I plan to keep my eye on it for quite a while. On a side note, you can check out my review of the spinoff A Certain Scientific Railgun here.
|Just a normal day for Touma.|
Good Things: Interesting characters.
Pretty visuals and nice soundtrack.
Accelerator and Misaka are just awesome.
Believable relationships and character development.
Virtually limitless shipping potential.
A detailed, interesting world.
Bad Things: Convoluted plot with pacing issues.
The titular character loses focus as time goes on.
Too many unanswered questions.
Do you have a suggestion for an anime I should review? Let me know in the comments, or submit it to ask.fm/ClayDragon! Thanks to Ranulf, who requested this review!
|Best name for a cat I ever heard.|
ClayDragon is currently studying Physics at university, and is constantly bewildered by it. The main method of contacting him is his Gmail account at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has an ask.fm account at ask.fm/ClayDragon. When not playing games or reading, he can be found with his head in his hands whilst trying in vain to understand quantum physics. "It would be nice if they made a Season 3..." says ClayDragon wistfully.