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    Review for A Certain Magical Index Complete Season 1 Collection

    8 / 10


    I must resist the hyperbole, keep my expectations low. I’ve been guilty of that before, finally getting to see a fan favourite series long after everyone else, and failing to see what all the fuss was about, long after the bandwagon had departed. For years now, the plaintive cry of “when are we getting Raildex” has been tweeted and posted on social media sites, with fans haranguing Manga, MVM and Anime Limited on a regular basis. Well it’s finally here, as we kick off the franchise in the UK with A Certain Magical Index Season 1 on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s taken on a Monogatari like mystique with fans, it too being based on a long running series of light novels in Japan. A Certain Magical Index kicked things off, and it was followed by a second season and a feature film spin-off as well. Also spinning off this show was A Certain Scientific Railgun, which also lasted two full length seasons, and a spin-off OVA. Incidentally, Railgun + Index = Raildex if you were wondering.

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    And I haven’t seen any of it. This franchise was licensed by Funimation in the US, and hence the online streams were geo-locked away from the UK. Most of its UK fans have seen the show through other means. If you’re wondering why it took so long for this 2010 show to come to the UK, you can thank Geneon Universal and the Japanese studio for that. For one thing, this franchise was subject to Blu-ray hold backs. While it’s been out on DVD in the US since 2012, it’s only this past year that the Blu-rays have been allowed out in the West, indeed Railgun has so far only seen its first season on Blu-ray in the US. The second thing is that Manga Entertainment, who most people expected to release the show, were owned by Starz, who refused to jump through the contractual hoops that Geneon Universal demanded for its properties. It took the advent of the Animatsu anime label, who work closely with Manga, but aren’t restricted by the same dictates, to finally see some Geneon titles come back to the UK. Of course since then, Starz have sold Manga, so they’re probably no longer restricted to whom they work with. Anyway it took this long for all the ducks to be lined up in a row, and for A Certain Magical Index Season 1 to come to the UK courtesy of Animatsu. They also have A Certain Scientific Railgun Season 1 lined up for release later this year. And I still have absolutely no idea what Raildex is about...

    This might help. Academy City is one of those sprawling metropolises that we often see in anime, devoted solely to education. Its remit is to educate, and develop science to the point that it manifests esper abilities in students. So it is that when Toma Kamijo interferes with a couple of yobs hitting on a cute girl in a cafe, he’s not coming to the defence of the girl. It’s the yobs that need protecting from Misaka Mikoto’s Railgun ability. So naturally she comes after Toma for spoiling her fun. Toma might not have any special abilities in the conventional sense, but he does have the ability to negate other people’s powers and abilities with his right hand, which is why he survives long enough to get back to his apartment.

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    And that’s where he finds a young nun hanging off his apartment balcony. She’s confused, she’s hungry, and she’s on the run. Her name, Index is apt given that she’s a walking repository of 103,000 magical tomes and grimoires, and there are a whole lot of sorcerers and magicians hunting her down for that arcane knowledge. But there’s no such thing as magic, at least that’s what Toma believes, brought up and educated to believe in science alone. But it turns out that his right hand can dispel magic too, when it dispels the magical vestments that this Sister is wearing. When magic and science collide, the world’s about to get a whole lot more interesting!

    A Certain Magical Index Season 1 presents its 24 episodes across 3 dual layer Blu-rays from Animatsu. It’s also available on DVD should you so require.

    Disc 1
    1. Academy City
    2. Innocentius (The Witch Hunter King)
    3. Necessarius (The Church of Necessary Evil)
    4. Perfect Memory Ability
    5. Limit (12 o’clock)
    6. Imagine Breaker
    7. The Science Cult (Misawa Cram School)
    8. Ars Magna (Golden Transmutation)

    Disc 2
    9. Deep Blood (Vampire Killer)
    10. Mikoto Misaka (Sissy)
    11. Sisters (Sisters)
    12. Level 6 (Absolute Ability)
    13. Accelerator (One Way)
    14. Weakest vs. Strongest (Strongest vs. Weakest)
    15. Angel Fall (Angel Fall)
    16. Toya Kamijo (Father)
    17. The Power of God (Archangel)

    Disc 3
    18. Replica (Imposter)
    19. Last Order (The End)
    20. Virus Code (Final Signal)
    21. Counter Stop (Identity Unknown)
    22. Golem (Stone Figure)
    23. Friends (Hyoka Kazakiri)
    24. Imaginary Number School District – Five Element Agency

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    A Certain Magical Index gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. The image is clear, colourful, and comes across without any signs of compression or noise, bar the typical digital banding that I’ve come to expect on most HD anime. It’s not present to a degree that engenders complaint though. The futuristic design of Academy City certainly comes across well, while the character designs are appealing and imaginative. The animation is fluid, and the energy and dynamism of the action sequences speaks of a high quality and high budget animation production. That said, A Certain Magical Index looks like one of those shows that were animated at somewhere less than full HD, and I never felt that the show was making full use of the Blu-ray format. There’s certainly not the detail and clarity that I’ve come to expect from current HD anime, and I would guess that there’s been some degree of scaling up involved here.

    The images in this review have been supplied by the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.


    You have the usual Funimation options of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with translated subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate tracks. I enjoyed the Japanese audio as usual, with voice actors suited well to their characters, the dialogue clear, and the action represented well. The subtitles are timed accurately, and aside from one spelling mistake, are clear of typos. I gave the dub a try and found an enthusiastic and quite listenable dub from Funimation. The show gets some nice theme tunes, and the incidental music works well with the comedy and drama, although one element of the music sounds exactly like the hard drive in my PVR winding down, which kept on confusing me whenever I heard it.

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    These look like the Funimation discs, with the logos replaced by Animatsu’s and the trailers also stripped back.

    The discs present their contents with animated menus.

    Disc 1 offers audio commentaries, with Monica Rial (Index), Jad Saxton (Komoe), and Micah Solusod (Kamijo) indulging in the usual disposable free-for-all on episode 3. Episode 6’s audio commentary sees ADR director Zach Bolton with Rob McCullom (Stiyl), and Cole Brown (Dr Frog) for another unmemorable 23 minutes of babble.

    Disc 2 offers a commentary on episode 14 with Brittney Karbowski (Mikoto Misaka), Austin Tindle (Accelerator), and Micah Solusod.

    The rest of the extras are on disc 3, beginning with an audio commentary on episode 23, with Monica Rial (Index, who else?), Alexis Tipton (Hyoka), and Stephanie Young (Sherry), for a girlie free for all.

    You get two textless opening credit sequences, and two textless ending credit sequences, rendered far from textless by the presence of player forced and locked subtitles for the lyrics. Finally there is the US trailer for the show.


    I’m a little bit torn on how to appraise A Certain Magical Index. I certainly enjoyed the show, had a great time with the episodes, but not unequivocally. The characters conform to the current vogue in anime tropes and clichés, with one or two occasional exceptions, a conformity that I have to admit that I’m beginning to weary of. Also, some of the narrative doesn’t quite hold water for me, a case of the plot dictating the characters. Finally when I read some of the promotional blurb regarding the show, asking us to choose sides between magic and science, I thought that was just PR, but it turned out to be an accurate presentiment. I did in the end choose between science and magic in the show, and that is to its detriment.

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    So we have a somewhat non-descript teen male (made all the more non-descript at the end of the first arc), who encounters several females of varying degrees of tsundere (warm-hearted girls who conceal their softness beneath a hard and violent shell), and adventures ensue. Toma Kamijo exists in a world of science, a future world where science helps develop and utilise esper powers, so it’s magic of a quantifiable and reproducible sort, albeit wholly incompatible with the actual magical world. Esper powers are ranked in levels, although Toma is a level 0. The odd thing is that he has the Imagine Breaker, and can nullify other powers with his right hand, and it turns out he can nullify magic as well.

    Into his life falls the diminutive nun of the English Puritanical Church (in this world religion = magic), who goes by the name of Index. While Toma may not be an esper, Index isn’t a magician, but she too has an odd ability, an eidetic memory and the knowledge of 103,000 grimoires, which makes her a target for a whole lot of sorcerers, and an immediate object of protection for Toma. She’s a pint-sized tsundere who isn’t voiced by Rie Kugimiya, but she’s just as apt to randomly launch acts of violence on Toma when she feels aggrieved, in this case by repeatedly biting him. It’s cute, and it’s shorthand for the usual character dynamics that we see in the show, although in this case it’s a little too short, as I just don’t see how the show gets from pesky annoyance to object of affection so quickly when it comes to Toma and Index’s relationship.

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    It turns out to be a bit of a mis-direction, as the sorcerers chasing Index are actually after her to help her, or so they believe, and think that they are ‘rescuing’ her from Toma. They’ve been led to believe that with all the grimoires in her head, there’s no room for her past, her identity, and she needs to have her memory erased regularly, or she will die from the stress. It takes Toma and his Imagine Breaker to prove them wrong, but there is a price, and it’s Toma who loses his memory. Again this is handled in an illogical way. For one thing Toma doesn’t have a breakdown because of it. Instead, when he wakes up in hospital (something that regularly happens in the show), he bizarrely decides to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, and fakes his way through life from that point on. For one thing he has his doctor fill him in on some gaps, but generally he just takes the memory loss in stride, and no one else seems to notice. Another time he has to have his arm reattached and it turns out to be a routine procedure, no rehabilitation required.

    Based as it is on a series of light novels, A Certain Magical Index proceeds in a series of arcs, somewhat alternating magical and scientific storylines. The best character for me in the show, introduced in the first episode, but cropping up more often later in the show is Mikoto Misaka, a level 5 esper with the ‘Railgun’ ability, another tsundere with a potential affection for Toma. She’s a little more complex and interesting a character than Index, and she has a fascinating storyline, in which she’s been cloned repeatedly; her clones to provide a test for another level 5 esper named Accelerator in an unprecedented attempt to unleash level 6 abilities. Accelerator is violent, potentially psychotic, and has in a sense become a serial killer, battling Misaka’s clones one by one to the death. Misaka’s suffering from guilt because of what she’s allowed to be done to her ‘sisters’ and Toma offers to find a way to end the cycle of death, and free her surviving sisters from their destiny. There’s a wonderful return to the storyline later in series, when Accelerator meets the youngest of the Misaka clones, but when he learns that she’s a pawn in a nefarious plot, he embarks on a redemptive journey to actually save her. There’s also an enjoyable stand-alone episode which sees Misaka recruit Toma to be her pretend boyfriend to throw off a stalker/suitor.

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    There’s a magical storyline in the middle of the run which offers a little vacation time for Toma and Index, where they head for the beach, and also to meet Toma’s family, finally a daunting prospect for him without his memories of them, but someone somewhere fires off a reality distorting spell, and people’s identities are interchanged, so they appear to be completely different. Index suddenly looks like another boy from Toma’s class (which makes the swimsuit aspect a little unappetising), except his stepmother now looks like Index, his cousin like Misaka, and he can’t place who his father is meant to be. Then the Puritanical Church shows up again, with a mission to find and stop whoever cast the spell, lest world-shattering consequences occur. And we find out that another friend from school, Tsuchimikado has been a magical spy in the world of science all this time, a development for which there has been zero foreshadowing, and somewhat unsatisfying as a result.

    Magic and Science collide in a way in the first arc after the opening story, which sees an alchemist named Izzard infiltrate and take over a scientific cram school, create a pseudo-scientific religion, all to find an ultimate weapon named Deep Blood. All this mayhem and bloodshed is for the most noble of causes, and caught in the middle of this is a cram school student named Aisa Himegami, a student from the scientific world who thinks she’s a sorcerer. This is probably the weakest arc in the series, a little unclear as a story, and it makes the mistake of introducing Aisa Himegami in a way that makes you think that she’ll be a series regular. She isn’t, but she pops up once in a while in a way that had me scratching my head for ten minutes wondering where I’d seen her before.

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    Magic and Science collides in a more effective way for the final arc, when Index gets tired of waiting around for Toma when he goes to school, so she decides to go as well, and it’s where she makes a new friend, Hyoka Kazakiri, only Hyoka isn’t exactly what she appears to be. And this coincides with the infiltration of the city by another sorcerer, who this time has golem magic at her command, and a desire to foment a war between the magical and scientific worlds. She’s such a powerful presence that there’s no way that it can be discreetly hidden, and the espers have to respond to the danger that she and the golem presents. It also offers a memorable meeting between both of Toma’s potential significant others, Misaka and Index.

    In the end, looking back over the show, I find that it’s the scientific episodes, particularly those that focus on Mikoto Misaka that I enjoyed the most, while the magic centred episodes seemed a little unfocused and rambling in comparison, not quite as consistent in their worldviews. That certainly bodes well for Animatsu’s next release from the Raildex franchise, A Certain Scientific Railgun. The character development may seem somewhat random, but the characters themselves are very likeable, and on a couple of occasions succeed in subverting the tropes. Toma’s teacher Miss Komoe is at first glance a traditional Lolita character, infantile, cute, and the unsettling object of affection for a couple of her students... until we meet her at home, where she turns out to be a hard drinking and heavy smoking slob. I also like the silent warrior sorcerer character Kanzaki, wielding an unfeasibly large sword and sporting a fashion in one-legged jeans that I could definitely get behind.

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    While there are cracks in the worldview, A Certain Magical Index does create a world of magic vs. science that certainly holds the attention, intrigues and interests, and offers a wealth of story opportunities. There’s a constant overarching plot developing through the episodes, a Machiavellian conspiracy behind the scenes that subtly ties the arcs in the show together; it makes you pay attention, and it also makes you eager to find out what happens next. Given that there is a second full length season to A Certain Magical Index, it promises to be an interesting ride. Despite its flaws, there’s far more to appreciate about this show than not. It’s well worth your time.

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