JUST FINISHED: A Certain Magical Index (vol 1-3)

Book Cover

A Certain Magical Index is a series of light novels by  Kazuma Kamachi that tell all the strange happenings that one Tōma Kamijō, goes through after meeting a girl who has memorized 103,000 magical books

and documents.  Set in a ficticious ultra technologically advanced section of Tokyo called Academy City, the series explores both the real world costs of science and technology, juxtaposed with the fall out of psychic powers and dynamic magic abilities.  If this sounds like an anime series, well there have been two, not to mention a manga, a spin off book series and a feature film.

For those unfamiliar with Light Novels, they are a Japanese version of the illustrated novel.  In length they are to be considered novellas and many tend to be collected serial chapters from fiction magazines.  A Certain Magical Index is illustrated by Kiyotaka Haimura. Due to the brevity of each volume, I decided that I’d review the first three volumes in one review, as a way to feel that I obtained enough character and plot information to give a full review.   NOTE: For those who have seen the anime, Wikipedia informs me that volumes 1-3 would be following up to episode 14, though I have yet to see the show so I don’t know how accurate this is.

A Certain Magical Index is as far as I’ve read into the series as much about Academy City is it is about Kamijo, Index and the rest of the characters.  Kazuma seems to have spent a good deal of time mixing the modern Tokyo city living with a surreal technological experience.  And the mixture works out well enough to make sense of Robots, clones, and drug addled powerful psychics flying through the air.  I absolutely feel that Academy City is the denominator that makes the entire tapestry work.  It is the lifeblood of the series, and becomes a character as much as Batman’s Gotham.  But its importance I feel is even greater than Gotham.  As the stories are heavily rooted in the tapestry as are the characters.  Despite feeling modern and familiar amongst the Science Fiction trappings, it’s impossible for any of the things we see any of the first three stories, to happen anywhere else.

Of course that is not to shy away from the main character and your chief tail through the stories, Kamijo.  Despite his ‘otaku’ leanings; being heavily into sentai, model kits and science fiction and being overly illustrated as pathetic and good at nothing, quickly we find its one of those few times that the writer plays on your stereotypes to achieve a remarkably different (and conviencing) agenda.  Where its true, Kamijo is pretty much a loser, there’s a hero locked inside this nerdy kid.  Marked as level O psychic, by Academy City, we meet a kid we assume isn’t good at anything.  Even his power ‘Imagine Breaker’ which is an ability in his right hand to stop any magical or psychic attack seems pretty silly.  A shield the size of your palm isn’t much of a shield.  And in the first scene of the story he’s being chased by thugs only to be saved by the girl whom he was attempting to save.  Of course in any great story of heroism, that despite weakness those with the drive and compassion can stand up and be a hero.  And that is where Kamijo shines.  With his Imagine Breaker and ability to get beat up in ways that would make Luffy D Monkey or Naruto groan, he proves he has the will to fight for his friends, and more importantly stand against things he personally believes are wrong.  And its only made the more potent by the shades of Grey the storys subject matters achieve.  And despite the trope of shonnen style hero getting beaten down only to stand back up, why he stands up and the positions he takes on difficult subject matter is truly what has made A certain Magical Index something special to me.

And as inspiring s komijo is despite despite unoriginal root goes, it’s a shame that most of the supporting cast doesn’t fall in line in a similar fashion.  It would be unfair to say that Kamachi doesn’t try to make her characters her own, but I where she succeeded in the main protagonist she fails in recreating that magic in any of the characters I’ve seen so far.  And it’s a shame because the way she uses the stereotypes of magical girl manga as devices she could have really done something special.  But with the title character Index being your normal ‘falls out of the sky and falls in love with the boy protagonist’ send up, only to be continued with the massively over powered bishounen of a villain who becomes an ally—its something we’ve seen many times before and it feels to familiar with little flavor of originality.  But ultimately I think in some ways it was made this way on purpose. Both to give Kamijo the sort of strength he has as a character, but also to allow comfort in the usual when telling stories with not so comfortable subject matter.

Each volume of A certain Magical Index can be read as standalone ‘novels’ or be read in order for a greater whole.  They are self-contained stories with an occational mention of earlier events.  However still its important to read the first volume, as the way it concludes sets up Kamijo’s journey going forward.

So what is this rigid subject matter, hidden behind the trappings of fire swords, and hails of electric blasts anyways?  Well the first volume is essentially about memories.  And through the action the reader is confronted with the value with important memories have on our friendships. And the choice between living without them, or dying with them? The second volume of the series focuses on love and those we’ve left behind.  It asks the question what would we do to regain the love we lost?  And when does the cost outweigh the heart?  But the third volume is the one that hit home for me.  Through the course of a cloning experiment, and these clones being executed we as the reader are posed with ‘what is life’ and the equation of science in exchange for someone’s happiness and peace.

Over all, I feel that A Certain Magical Index does a decent job at a lot of things.  But it doesn’t strike any chord that makes it AMAZING.  This holds true also for the art Kiyotaka Haimura has a great eye for clothing and the lines are crisp and clear, and shows his long career in video game art design.  But like the stories there is little I haven’t seen before that  makes me stand up and notice.

So should you try to read A Certain Magical Index?  Well for one its only available in Japanese so that might be a no go for many of you.  But aside from that I think that in deciding to pick it up, one would have to want something it offers really badly.  For those interested in Animal Rights for example I would definitely recommend at least reading Volume three, because its an amazing send up on the things we hold dear.  For those who like Sentimental questions may do better with another book despite the raw nerve it cuts.  But for those who love Magical girl manga trappings with little new to add, you should definitely read these.  They will give you want you want and so much more.

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