Kamijo is a student in Academy City, a city that is almost entirely populated by students who are using science to develop supernatural powers. Only, Kamijo doesn’t have any. He’s a level 0. Which would be fine except he has terrible luck and keeps getting into situations well over his head and then he doesn’t run away, he tries to fight. Turns out he has a secret. His right hand essentially nullifies any power that comes in contact with him.
I’m going to be honest, if you haven’t watched either A Certain Magical Index or A Certain Scientific Railgun, watch Railgun. It’s the spin-off and is the more compelling viewing of the two series. It’s also the more traditional in terms of following group of girls with powers as they try to live normal lives but keep getting mixed up in things. In terms of concepts, Magical Index is more interesting, but makes for less compelling viewing.
A lot of the problems with Index come from the Protagonist Kamijo. He’s boring to look at at boring to follow. He’s the typical ‘I have no power but I won’t just keep my head down’ protagonist. Oh look, there’s another highly powerful girl in trouble, I best go help her even though I’m mostly going to fail. And then his power nullifies other powers. That’s all well and good, and extremely frustrating for those attacking him, but why doesn’t anyone just shoot him with a gun?
Alright, to put some order into this review I need to discuss the plot a bit more. Index is the name of a person (the young girl dressed in church robes that are held together by safety pins after Kamijo’s hand conveniently destroys the magic holding the outfit together early in the series) and she contains a whole bunch of magic books. Essentially she’s a walking library. The church (one of many church’s – there’s a lot of religious terms thrown around in overly long explanations) doesn’t want anyone to have access to these books so they wipe Index’s memories every year. Why that would be effective at containing anything has yet to be adequately explained.
So Index is on the run because her memories of people who are protecting her are gone and she quite rightly suspects the church of trying to kill her. She ends up at Academy City and somehow falls onto Kamijo’s balcony. But rather tha let her go about her business, Kamijo decided to try and save her from the evil magicians that are now chasing her. In the process he learns that Index’s memory is about to reset again and he has to stop that from happening (we’re still in the first few episodes here).
Long story short, Index gets injured and they go to one of Kamijo’s teachers for help because he can’t use magic and neither can anyone trained as an Esper but a magic spell might heal her. They do that and Kamijo undoes some magic whosit and now Index is going to be fine and not have her memories erased but Kamijo gets hit on the head by a magic feather and loses his memories.
Wake up in hospital, pretend not to have lost memories. And then… Like, we’re only a handful of episodes in. The series is called A Certain Magical Index but the story isn’t following her, although she never leaves after this, even when she serves no purpose.
Yep, the rest of the series sees Kamijo meet a girl in distress, stick his nose into her business, try to save her, usually succeed but get severely injured in the process. While some of these individual encounters are interesting, the overall narrative kind of collapses. They try to keep an ongoing theme of rivalry between the magicians and the scientists but to be frank there isn’t enough of this for it to hold the story together.
So, the main character is bland, other characters come and go, or come and hang around like a bad smell, the plot is not particularly coherent… Why are we talking about this?
Well, because there are some moments of sheer brilliance in this. Certain exchanges, battles, sub-characters and even the occasional arc just shine. This anime builds a rich world full of lore and history (though they could find a better way to explain some of it) and really it’s a lot of fun with the occasional hint of drama.
As I said at the start, if you haven’t tried this series, A Certain Scientific Railgun is a much better bet than this, but if you like things that feel both generic and different at the same time and you don’t mind the odd info dump to get you through an awkward bit of storyline, there’s certainly some enjoyment to be found in watching A Certain Magical Index.
If you have seen it, I’d be interested in your thoughts.