Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Series Reviews > A Certain Magical Index 2 Episode 1 – Talking Us Blind

A Certain Magical Index 2 Episode 1 – Talking Us Blind

J.C. Staff is a workhorse of the anime industry. It very rarely pushes the limits of the medium, but it’s known for skilled adaptions of its source material—which means if the source material is good, the resulting anime is a faithful and effective representation of some of the best stories currently on the market. That also means that while J.C. Staff is a place to look for great direction, story, and voice acting, it’s not a place to find flashier offerings.

To Aru Majustu no Index (A Certain Magical Index) is a flagrant exception to this rule. I don’t know if J.C. Staff understood the goldmine they were sitting on (in the last year, over five million copies of light novels were sold, equal to all the copies that were sold in the previous five years combined), but they pulled out all the stops in production quality, making it perhaps the most gorgeous and detailed show the studio has ever done. The series was popular to spawn a spin-off series based on one of the better-liked characters, which has also received an anime adaption produced with a similar budget.

Given all this, a sequel was all but inevitable, and we get one this season. Unfortunately, for all the glorious animation, the story keeps all the same problems that the first season produced.

The absurd level of detailing in the backgrounds is only one marker of visual quality. I’m expecting to see some battle sequences later in the show which will be nothing less than astonishing

The setting is the rather generically named Academy City, a center of education where the majority of the residents are students attending the many schools throughout the city limits, and basically everyone else is there to support them. It is also the premiere center of studies into espers and psychic powers, and many students come specifically to develop their talents. Espers are rated in a system from 1 to 5, based on the power of the ability and the precision with which is wielded.

Enter Touma Kamijou. A rated level 0, he is actually in possession of the “Imagine Breaker” ability, allowing him to negate any psychic (or magical, or any other unusual) ability his right hand touches. (The tests can’t measure this, and thus his ability isn’t classifiable in their system.) He is also plagued with misfortune, which is probably why he walks out on his apartment balcony one day to find a girl in an odd religious habit hanging over the ledge.

According to Wikipedia, Index is supposed to be 14 or 15 years old, but I went through the entire first season thinking she was half that. Her looks, voice, and behavior all back my interpretation more

That girl, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, is on the run from her masters at Necessarius, a branch of the Anglican church which deals in “necessary evils” like the use of magic. Index is the physical repository for 103,000 magical texts deemed too dangerous to allow in general circulation (understandable, as merely reading one of them can kill the unprepared), and she’s tired of being cooped up in protective seclusion.

From there, Touma is thrust into every magical incursion the otherwise technology-obsessed Academy City experiences, and a few purely scientific threats as well. Nearly all of these events cause him great physical harm, and nearly all of them lead yet another girl to fall in love with him. Alongside Index, the most prominent of these is Mikoto Misaka, a level five esper and the third most powerful in the city, with control over the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition to being the best-developed character, she’s the one who rightfully earned her own series (entitled A Certain Scientific Railgun, as one of her favorite tricks is to electromagnetically accelerate coins to super-sonic speeds).

Misaka is probably the most popular character of the series, and with good reason. The number of scenes she gets is one of the best ways to determine the quality of an episode. Here it’s just the one

I’ve spent quite a bit of time covering the basics of the world, and I’ve really only just scratched the surface. That should tip you off right now that Index is not a show friendly to first time watchers. The opening episode here takes some steps to ease you back in to the basic character dynamics, but aside from a quick reminder of exactly where the action left off last time, there’s no background offered whatsoever. If you didn’t follow at least the first series, you’re going to be lost very quickly.

One of the problems with the first series, in fact, was that it was too busy introducing new characters to really focus on the main ones (after the first arc, Index becomes almost incidental until the final one of the first season), instead steadily increasing the cast—and thus the harem—surrounding Touma. Each arc also tended to increase the levels of politicking and skulduggery from the various factions, from Necessarius to Academy City to other religious bodies to some possible ancient conspiracies, all seeking to increase their influence in various ways. So, even if you did follow the first series, there’s still a decent chance you’ll need to consult Wikipedia regularly to figure out what the heck is going on.

The show references Christianity constantly, but either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about any details of the faith. This short-skirted battle nun from the show’s opening? I know nothing about her, but I can guarantee there will be absolutely no irony about her presentation

The biggest problem, however, is also a far simpler one: Touma is absurdly obnoxious. He doesn’t find it sufficient simply to defeat his antagonists, but to chew them out for the various stupid things they do in order to serve their causes. Touma is remarkably self-righteous, refuses to accept that there could be any reason to compromise or make regrettable sacrifices for a goal, and just about always has his honor-before-reason shtick win out in the end—but that just means the author is willing to twist the plot into knots to make Touma correct. It’s annoying the first time; five times in you’re waiting for him to just get on with the punching.

The contrivances to make Touma always right is an almost equal pain just taken as plot points. Only once or twice in the first season did he face someone who was evil in the traditional sense; the other situations all involved theoretically good people trying to achieve good goals through awful means—which often include killing Touma, for reasons that aren’t even necessary. One particularly egregious example involved someone working to solve a problem that had already been solved in the previous arc; the fool just hadn’t learned about it yet. (Adding insult to injury, his method wouldn’t have worked anyway.)

To be fair, Touma does have many legitimate reasons to be angry most of the time, but that’s primarily thanks to contrived situations as well

This episode is no exception to that. The villain of the episode is a Shinto practitioner who is trying to find a cure for a cursed patient, and hopes to extract one of the books in Index’s head to help with that. Some stunning fight sequences later, he manages to read Index’s mind and access the wanted tome, only to realize that he’s not skilled enough to absorb it; the mere process of reading it cripples him. Only after Touma has defeated him, and learns his story, do both realize that Touma’s ability will probably work on curses too. Problem solved.

Imagine four or five plots like that, stretched out into multi-episode arcs, and you have the basic structure for the first season. One of the reasons I greatly preferred Railgun (the spin-off series), after it got through its rather fan service-heavy introductory episodes, is that the lack of Touma and his need for pontificating material let the show have actual plots with real villains and some degree of normal dramatic tension. (The very creative use of Mikoto’s abilities, along with those of other espers, was also a definite plus.)

Given how often Index gets kidnapped, one would think Necessarius would devote some more resources to directly protecting her

Railgun also covered some of the issues with social stratification in a city where everyone’s esper abilities are constantly monitored and those with powers are both envied and hated by those without them. That is, the conspiracies and plots were grounded in real human drives and emotions, and genuine conflicts of interest. There was some actual thought, it seemed, on what a setting like Academy City might be like and what sort of social and ethical problems such a city might face.

All this was completely lacking in the first season of Index, and there’s no indication here that the second season will be an improvement. What we have, instead, is one of the most lavishly produced shows of the season, devoted to a crappy hero and a plot far more confusing and convoluted than it needs to be. It’s great for eye candy, but not much else.

The episode ends with Kaori Kanzaki, a Necessarius agent, beating the crap out of English knights trying to enter Japan. There’s absolutely no reason given as to why yet

It’s a pity, really. If anything, the animation looks to have taken some steps forward over Railgun, which as a show was a couple steps better than Index in visual quality. I suppose, if all you’re looking for is a beautifully produced action show (and Samurai Girls is too misogynistic for you), Index might fit the bill. If you saw the first show and didn’t have any problems with the elements I described, rejoice, for the second season is more of the same.

However, for those like me, who were not hoping for more of the same, and wished for Index to take some narrative hints from its spin-off, this first episode is not reassuring. I would still prefer the pitfalls of this show to that of Samurai Girls, but at least the latter is honest enough to admit its flaws (even if it celebrates them). This show preaches, and does it poorly, and still expects you to like it.

With animation this good, I really do want to like this show. See the scarring the blast of mystic energy makes on the ground? That stays consistent throughout the rest of the episode

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