Academy City is a technological concoction of schools and colleges, covering a size almost as big as Tokyo. It’s a blend of futurism, theology and the arcane, interspersed with whirling turbines and populated with super powered individuals known as espers.
Student Tōma Kamijō has perpetual bad luck. His was a misspent youth tripping over, treading on things and stumbling into embarrassing situations. To put it another way, he’s the living embodiment of the adage wrong place at the wrong time.
Underneath his good nature, Tōma has a sardonic edge and a slacker attitude. He’s not very bright, even failing remedial school, or very gifted being a level 0 esper. Despite his shortcomings in the powers department, he’s got some hidden talent. Dubbed the Imagine Breaker, his right hand has the ability to negate any attack or ability.
Following a run in with hot-headed level 5 esper Misaka Mikoto, Tōma wakes in his student apartment to find a nun balanced on the bannister of his balcony. She tells him her name is Index and she’s fleeing the Necessarius organisation, which she herself is a member of. The reason is because of her eidetic memory or, more specifically, the 103,000 grimoire volumes she’s got stowed away in her mind.
The series is from studio J.C.Staff, behind this year’s Food Wars, and it shows as Sōma Yukihira is basically Tōma with red hair. In many ways that’s telling of the rest of the series, which plays with viewer expectation.
The most unexpected aspect is the strange plotting. It’s circumstantial and reminiscence of the randomness of real life. In TV terms, though, it plays out like a series of mini arcs made to fit the 24 episode formula. Problems can surface and be solved within two episodes of each other, and what appears to be the overarching plot is quickly resolved. There’s just too much going on and too quickly, and if the show has one major flaw, it’s this.
It’s not that all the ideas aren’t great – most of them are - it’s just the speed at which they arrive and disappear. There’s enough content for three series worth of story arcs, if only writer Masanao Akahoshi gave plotting and pace more attention. Kazuma Kamachi’s source material runs at 24 volumes of light novels, which gives a glimpse into the show’s structural issues.
Despite Index being in the title, she’s often only a secondary character with whole episodes passing without even an appearance. Sure she’s cute and funny, but dipping out of the narrative allows for more interesting characters to take centre stage, like the clones (who speak in third person) and the deranged Accelerator.
A Certain Magical Index adopts a dreamy pace, encompassing long conversational scenes which sometimes take almost entire episodes to play out. On one had it’s a romantic comedy in the vein of Familiar of Zero, and on the other it’s a dark, hard edged sci-fi more akin to Serial Experiments Lain. It might start off as one thing, but quickly morphs into something altogether different. At 24 episodes, it takes the scenic route to its conclusion, but it’s a complex, engaging and ungodly mess of a journey.
Special Features: Textless opening and closing / Episode commentaries / Trailer
A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX COMPLETE SEASON 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: HIROSHI NISHIKIORI / SCREENPLAY: MASANAO AKAHOSHI / STARRING: ATSUSHI ABE, YUKA IGUCHI, AKENO WATANABE, ANRI KATSU, KANA ASUMI / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14TH