Review: A Certain Magical Index (Vol 1)

(art by Kiyotaka Haimura)
(art by Kiyotaka Haimura)

For general information on this series: A Certain Magical Index entry

This review is for the first volume of A Certain Magical Index by Kazuma Kamachi. The English edition was released by Yen Press in November 2014. The second volume will release in February 2015, and will (in theory at least) be followed by the remaining twenty volumes in the years to come. In Japan, there are also at least eleven volumes in a sequel series titled A Certain Magical Index: New Testament.

Volume 1
Volume 1

A Certain Magical Index is a particularly well-received light novel series in Japan, but due to just how many volumes there are I never expected the series to receive an official English release of any kind. But reflecting on it now, perhaps tackling such an endeavor is a wise move for Yen Press–if it builds enough of an audience, that can result in quite a number of books sold. But how well does the premiere novel work to hook readers into the franchise? And how much does it offer to those who are already familiar with the popular anime adaptation?

It’s been a long time since I watched the first season of the Index anime, but my brief review could be summed up like so: The premise and setting were certainly interesting, but the (many) characters and individual story arcs were hit-and-miss–with enough misses that I didn’t care to continue with the second season (or get very far in the Railgun spin-off, for that matter). All that said, I had forgotten many of the story’s finer details when I decided to give the first light novel a read, and in terms of “compare and contrast” the main element I found interesting to note was the general feel of the story.

To put it plainly, the light novel of Index was a lot more chuunibyou than what I was expecting. Which in hindsight, is silly not to expect in a story full of super-powered esper teens, Biblical-referencing sorcerers, and a protagonist who (as he puts it) has the power to “destroy miracles and kill even God.” With all that in mind, it’s easy to label Index as melodramatic and hokey–but I don’t think that automatically devalues the story as a whole. After all, no small number of people unironically enjoy Hollywood blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy, for a recent example–and I would readily place that in the same type of storytelling boat as Index, given their “camp” nature necessitating an appreciation for “less artistic” works. Sometimes it’s fine to just read a story and be entertained, after all.

And overall I’d have to say the first volume of Index is pretty entertaining. The story moves along at a steady pace and provides the protagonist Touma with an interesting variety of situations dictated by the story’s intriguing setting. Touma is a high school student in a city that trains students to be espers with special powers, but his ability is unique in that he was born with a right hand that automatically cancels out any supernatural element it makes contact with–including, apparently, the unseen forces that enable people to have good luck. Touma’s life certainly becomes more arduous at least when a young nun named Index appears on his apartment deck, throwing Touma head-first into the dangerous hidden world of magic-users. The story’s action sequences primarily rely on Touma having to work out the mechanics that govern the laws of magic, and the plot manages to gradually develop his and Index’s characters in a satisfying manner.

Volume 1 of Index is well-translated, though there are a few stylistic choices I found a bit odd to bring over (namely how random sentences were bolded, and the ridiculously long ellipses……………………………). I did find it interesting though how cultural elements were retained without much explanation in most cases, which makes it feel like Index is being released to quite specifically cater to the anime/manga crowd. It will be interesting to see how the series fares in the West with that in mind, but in the meantime I’ll likely be picking up future installments as they release.

Cho’s Rating: Recommended

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