Anime Reporter studies up to bring you my findings on A Certain Magical Index season 01. This season is made up of 24 episodes and is coming to the UK and Ireland courtesy of Animatsu Entertainment on Monday 7th September 2015.
Set in Academy City, an entire city devoted to academia and scientific advances, ACMI follows around a young student called Toma, whose life seems to be made of one piece of bad luck after another. Toma, like quite a few people in Academy City, is an esper, a person who wields a supernatural ability granted to him through scientific processes. Espers are ranked according to their powers, with only a small handful making it to Level 5. This isn’t very relevant to Toma, however, since he’s ranked at Level 0. However, Toma’s ability, while not the most powerful or awe-inspiring, is just about versatile and useful enough that it should be, (but isn’t), called Plot Device. Toma’s right hand has the ability to negate any supernatural powers or magic it comes into contact with.
Now, it’s possible that you’ve just spat out your cognac and called your butler your polish your monocle, and are now asking where the bloody hell magic comes into all of this. (I’ve decided to assume I have a somewhat aristocratic readership). I know, I know, Academy City was something I referred to as more of a haven for scientific study, but this story is also set in a world where science rests in a fairly resentful balance with magic. The two forces are kept entirely separate with each side knowing very little of the other. This starts to change the day Toma finds a small nun on his balcony. Oh, that’s another thing that’s worth mentioning here: the vast majority of the magical forces at play in this series seem to be derived from Christianity, with most magical users serving as operatives for one church or another.
This wee little nun, whose name happens to be Index, makes herself comfortable at Toma’s apartment and the two almost unnaturally quickly develop a close friendship. When Toma finds out that Index is on the run from some nefarious characters, he makes it his mission to protect her.
I’d like to say that this is pretty much the path of the series, but he actually saves her relatively quickly and then proceeds to get on with his life, (with a couple of spoiler-ish complications thrown in), until the very next strange girl enters his life that he can also protect from great evil. And another, and another, and another. For the most part, Toma’s method of saving girls is to forbid them from sacrificing themselves with a foolhardy plan, at which point he attempts to sacrifice himself with a foolhardy plan. To be honest, the vast majority of the characters feel like half-hearted stock characters just slotted into place. There’s very little reason given for why half of the characters act the ways they do and virtually every subplot starts with Toma accidentally bumping into someone who later turns out to need help only he can provide, or to in fact be at the very centre of a monstrous, earth-shattering plan. Toma’s character is given very little voice. He at first seems to find making any effort to be more trouble than it’s worth and doesn’t seem particularly noble or brave, though constantly throws himself into life-threatening situations. When asked why he does it, he at one point replies that he doesn’t need a reason to help someone. While I can understand a character feeling that way, when I heard him say it, I honestly felt that it was more likely that the writer inserted such a line to avoid having to actually come up with any motivation for his character.
The female characters receive even less development or depth than Toma and even the title character remains fairly two dimensional as an innocent and virtuous, though highly immature character. Dialogue, in particular during battles, is clunky and expositional to a truly artificial degree and plot developments are spoon fed so heavily that it can be more than a little tiring waiting for them to be explained to the protagonist so things can move on.
The action scenes are quite nice with plenty of imaginative powers and battle styles intermingling. Toma’s power as a means of negating everyone else’s occasionally makes for too many last minute saves to be taken seriously and he’s built up just a bit too much as the man who needs to save every helpless woman around him, but it could definitely be much worse.
All in all, A Certain Magical Index is a good premise. That’s about all the praise I can give it, I’m afraid. It feels like a story that was thrown together without the care and time needed to make it into something truly original and so we’re left with some interesting ideas holding together weak storylines and flimsy characters.
Still, Season 02 might just improve on some of these drawbacks, or either of its two spin-off series. I just hope they weren’t quite as rushed as this season.