The J. C. Staff studios anime, A Certain Magical Index, is but one of many media texts adapted from a series of light novels by Kazuma Kamachi. Kamachi’s saga of science and magic also spawned a manga, video games, an OVA, and even an upcoming film. The spinoff manga, A Certain Scientific Railgun, was previously released in North America by Seven Seas Enteratinament. But A Certain Magical Index reaches American shores for the first with FUNimation’s home video release of two sets collecting the anime adaptation’s 24 episodes across four DVDs, with special features including episode commentaries, textless openings and closings, and trailers.
The anime follows the adventures of Toma Kamijo, a student of Academy City, where students devote themselves to the advancement of science and the supernatural powers of psychics known as Espers. With his poor academic performance and Level 0 Esper status, Kamijo seems an unlikely of protagonists for a series focused on high stakes battles between the world’s greatest psychics and sorcerers. However, his academic failures owe primarily to the excessive amount of time he spends aiding those in need around Academy City, and his low level status as an Esper means nothing in the face of the awesome natural ability he wields in his right hand. His right hand, the Imagine Breaker, has the ability to negate all magical and supernatural forces. Although the potential of the Imagine Breaker seems incredibly limited from a storytelling perspective, the application of this ability in the narrative is always interesting. Each new foe poses a unique challenge for Kamijo and the Imagine Breaker. In certain instances, it’s simply about Kamijo getting close enough to the enemy to touch them, while other battles find his abilities all but useless, requiring him to rely more on his wits and his friends than his ability. And the series is at its most captivating when Kamijo must team up in battle.
His friends are a ragtag gang of Espers and sorcerers, mostly female, who he had once been compelled to save from one evil force or another in spite of the often incredible risk to his person (most prominent among his companions is the titular, diminutive, English nun Index). That the group around him is predominantly female might suggest that A Certain Magical Index is a harem anime, and in a sense it is, but not in the way you’d typically think. Whereas a conventional harem finds the female cast members vying for the affections of the male lead, Kamijo is not explicitly sought after by his harem of powerful gals, although each of the girls presumes that his motivations behind befriending the others is lascivious or opportunistic at best. And this facet of the series remains constantly sidelined as Kamijo and gang fight for the safety of Academy City and its citizenry. In this, A Certain Magical Index avoids the pitfalls of the typical harem by allowing the individual narrative arcs to progress without interference from otherwise underdeveloped romances. This is the harem formula done well.
If the series has any one flaw it’s that Kamijo is, at first at least, the one-dimensional, audience-surrogate character typical of harem animes. By this I mean that he appears to be purposely imbued with virtually no personality whatsoever that any viewer might project themselves onto the character. However, once Kamijo loses his memory 5 or so episodes in, it hardly matters how personality-less he was to begin with, for he (and series writer Masanao Akahoshi, by proxy) has the opportunity then to build his life anew. In this, the series more than compensates for any of Kamijo’s shortcomings at the outset of the series.
Fans of Fairy Tail will surely enjoy this series, as there are numerous parallels. However, A Certain Magical Index tends to be considerably darker in tone than Fairy Tail. Given A Certain Magical Index‘s clever use of the harem formula, the level of intrigue bolstered by the series, and the incredible amounts of intense action throughout, I can’t wait to see what lies in store for these characters. The animated adventures of Kamijo and his friends continues in A Certain Scientific Railgun, which has already been licensed for home video by FUNimation; A Certain Magical Index II; an OVA of A Certain Scientific Railgun; as well as an upcoming film. And I, for one, will be waiting impatiently for FUNimation’s Scientific Railgun release.