A Certain Magical Index Complete Season 1 Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 569 minutes approx.
One of the problems to plague many anime shows of late is the paucity of ideas, resulting in a series being padded out with endless episodes revisiting tired old clichéd set ups. A rarer problem is a show that has too many ideas but is equally ill-equipped to exploit them properly, leaving us with an uneven and unfocused disappointment.
Welcome then to A Certain Magical Index!
Set in Academy City, a world where magical people called Espers are the norm, we meet Level 0 student Touma Kamijou whose ability is the Imagine Breaker, which enables him to negate any magical spell or power with his right hand. The downside is that it also negates his good luck often leaving him in a state of disarray. One morning Touma awakes to find a young nun hanging over his balcony, as you do.
The nun is named Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Latin for “List of Prohibited Books”), a silver haired girl from the Church Of England on the run from a group of magicians called Necessarius who want the 103,000 grimoires implanted in her mind. Ever the gentleman, Touma offers to protect Index against the two magicians hunting Index down, Stiyl Magnus and Kaori Kanzaki.
Admittedly a rather typical set up that will set off many a cliché alarm among viewers but it also is a potentially fertile one, since the main protagonist has a wealth of knowledge and information, presumably about magic and the dark arts, stored inside her head making her both a valuable asset and deadly opponent. The possibilities of how this tale of what is essentially a walking library should manifest itself in drama form are numerous and offers much excitement.
Sadly the entire deal involving Index’s safety is dealt with inside the first six episodes, including the twists and pertinent revelations, leaving us with eighteen more chapters to be filled with similarly potent concepts and themes, all sprayed up the wall within two of three episodes. As for index herself, she barely features at all, becoming a supporting player in her OWN show!
Index is the creation of Kazuma Kamachi whose light novel series has been raided for adaptation here which proves to be one of the key problems of the disjointed narrative. Director Hiroshi Nishikiori and writer Masanao Akahoshi have decided to cram as many of the stories as they could into the twenty-four episodes allotted to them, and it becomes evident rather quickly how much of a bad idea this was.
It is easy to suggest this in hindsight but it would appear that a more profitable idea would have been to choose one or two stories and adapt them as twelve episode arcs – the potential is there as expressed earlier and surely the scope of the material’s fantasy elements would lend themselves to deeper exploration the time frame would afford them.
What we have instead are episodes full of info dumps and clunky exposition in between the laboured attempts at comedy and other hackneyed anime staples before the issue is resolved with a big fight that more often than not results in Touma ending up in hospital and Index chewing him out because she is hungry! Yes, for someone with a literal library in her head, this obnoxious lolicon is apparently too stupid to learn how to cook for herself! Then again, perhaps it is for the best that Index was phased out of the spotlight and Touma was posited as the central protagonist instead if she is that useless.
The stories aren’t that bad but are let down buy the hurried and uninspired execution. Opening with Index’s arrival and Touma protecting her from Stiyl and Kaori this feels like it should have been a much bigger story to explore, with the machinations of the church being exposed and key roles being misunderstood as a result. There is something palpably odd about having such a big climax moment a few episodes into the run.
From here the focus shifts to Touma being plagued by classmate Mikoto Misaka, the obligatory tsundere whose power is controlling electricity. It transpires Misaka has been cloned thousands of times over with her replicants serving as punchbags for other espers to achieve a higher level. One such esper is a nasty chap named Accelerator who later returns for a two episode arc of his own involving a premature Misaka clone who has been programmed with a deadly virus.
A shy transfer student who turns out to be a vampire killer and a bespectacled top heavy totty who isn’t human make up the pseudo harem that blights Touma’s life, completed by arguably the most ridiculous character in the show, Touma’s teacher who apparently is an adult but looks, acts as dresses like a 7 year-old!
Despite being poorly scripted, under-thought story wise and over-thought dialogue wise with its endless stream of pseudo scientific psychobabble, the visuals are strong and consistent. The animation avoids using still frames and other short cuts while incorporating good use of light and shade when necessary to counter the vibrancy of the varied colour palette. Characters designs are less inspired having come from the same old standard templates, aside from Index with her bespoke nun’s habit.
On paper, A Certain Magical Index looks like promising fantasy show for one to become immersed in, with many potential avenues to be explored by the very nature of the library stored in the eponymous character’s head. That is a far as its promise goes; there has seldom been a show to go downhill so fast and so ineptly as this one – notwithstanding the egregious bait and switch of shunting the titular character into the background for the majority of the run.
With the open ending teasing a second series, hopes aren’t high for the problems that riddle this first season to have been addressed. I’m sure it could have been worse but the biggest crime is in how disappointingly cookie cutter and unfulfilling it is.
English Language Dolby True HD 5.1
Japanese Language Dolby True HD 2.0
Episode 3 Commentary
Episode 6 Commentary
Episode 14 Commentary
Episode 23 Commentary
Textless Opening Songs – “PSI-missing” / “masterpiece”
Textless Closing Songs – “Rimless~Fuchinashi no Sekai~” / “Chikaigoto~Sukoshi Dake Mou Ichido~”
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black