What better way to spend a snow day than wrapped up in a slanket with a mug of hot chocolate and an unhealthy marathon of anime ready to launch. Catching up on some more recent titles, I fired up To Aru Majutsu no Index with great expectations, only to be sensuously teased for 6 episodes before being dumped unceremoniously shortly after. Well, at least work is still paying me whilst doing this...
Sweeping the viewer off their feet with almost instant action, there is a brief introduction to the main protagonist, Toma Kamijo, and his ongoing narration of the show. Attempting to save an innocent girl from the unwelcome advances of a group of thugs, the poor guy finds out that feisty Misaka doesn’t need any help as she is one of the strongest level 5 espers in the city. A shocking battle between the two sees an unlikely victor emerge, as the useless Kamijo discovers a previously unknown power in his right hand that completely nullifies magic. Arriving home tired and confused, a new surprise arrives on his balcony in the form of a white robed sister named Index. Inside her head are 103,000 forbidden grimoires and following close by are a society of sorcerers, determined to prise this knowledge out of her. And all of this in the first episode!
As they say, all good things must come to an end, and sadly this bustling excitement burns itself out just one quarter of the way into the show. An exciting build-up and introduction to some very sexy characters soon makes way for a vaguely interesting mess that doesn’t want to choose a form or direction. What was once an exciting epic fantasy battle slips into a dull, middle-of-the-road highschool comedy, verging on harem fluff. The dynamic between Index and Kamijo remains utterly hilarious with some decidedly perverted undertones, but this is nudged aside in favour of exploring some less fascinating side characters. For a show entitled “To Aru Majutsu no Index”, the leading lady plays a surprisingly small role.
Much of the show also spends its time dedicated to explaining in painful detail how both the scientific and magical worlds work. Giving an in-depth background to each bad guy and subsequent clarification of exactly how their powers work, the lengthy chronicles seem like a buzz kill to the intermittent fight scenes. There is also a feeling that business has been left unfinished as the final episode winds up; but the promise of closure in the second season, To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, is quickly stifled given the writers opted instead to focus on an unnecessary side-story.
Ultimately, if the show continued in the same vein as the opening arc, it probably would have been one of the best shows to come out of 2008/09. Instead, trying hard to cater for too much of the anime community, To Aru Majutsu no Index flits restlessly between comedy, action and highschool romance. It almost feels as if the series is wringing its hands apologetically as it serves up a lukewarm dose of ecchi harem, especially after the initial promise of something so deliciously sublime.
As the years speed by, animation becomes much more accomplished, and To Aru Majutsu no Index is no exception. The impressive visuals need to be watched in HD quality to fully appreciate how beautiful and fluid the character movements are, especially during the fast paced action scenes. Bold designs make use of a rich colour palette, particularly stunning in the fantastical magic battles (the ones that really tested the power of my processor). Deft use of CGI highlights the frenetic action, sending bright shocks of electricity dancing across the screen and causing monsters to evolve out of fierce flames. All the characters, whether the loli-styled flat-chested teacher or the busty tsundere come right out of familiar wide-eyed anime tradation, but little touches show that they have their own personality loving sketched into their other features.
Kicking off the first episode in style, a funky rock track accompanies the exciting bustle of the onscreen fantasy and repeatedly warms up the viewer as the opening for the entire series. After this pumping inception, the closing track is a veritable letdown. Once again, the genre confusion that plagued the plot rears its ugly head as a trashy ballad poured forth from my speakers. On the plus side, the voice acting is mostly excellent; Kamijo’s seiyuu perfectly portrays his tortured personality as he attempts to juggle some feisty females. Index is reduced to cutesy comic relief and instead transforms into a high pitched and frankly annoying brat – a big contrast to the remainder of the excellent cast.
Kamijo has a likable nature, and I instantly took a shine to his dry wit and tongue in cheek narrative that suit the jocular nature of the series. This is complimented by the child-like naivety of Index as she attempts to adapt to her somewhat bizarre situation. The comedy between the two, although decidedly ecchi in places, can be laugh out loud funny as the pair try to hide their feelings for each other. The sister chewing on poor Kamijo’s head as she doesn’t get her own way sometimes made me question how old she is supposed to be, but always through stifled giggles. If the focus of To Aru had remained on the slapstick humour, the show would have been superb. Instead, a cluster bomb of support characters means they lack any real depth for emotional attachment.
To Aru Majutsu no Index, although reasonably enjoyable, is one of those shows that I’ll probably completely forget about within a week. With no real standout plot and some lacklustre generic characters, it will probably become mixed up with the superior Shakugan no Shana in my confused memory banks. To the writers: Stick with ecchi or stick with fantasy action, I don’t care which, as both were entertaining individually, but lose their punch when messily combined.
People speak highly of To Aru Majutsu no Index and I don't get why. The action is good(ish), I suppose. There are some character things that happen. There are some plot twists that are... well, there. We get light hearted fun and occasional fan service, and on the other hand the darker parts are also there giving diversity. A variety of superpowers, secretive organizations, recurring characters, and the occasional villain of the day. It has everything a show should have. Everything should have clicked together and made for a fun view.
Perhaps this is the opinion of someone who has watched too many similar shows, but To Aru Majutsu no Index was a decidedly tedious view. Blaming a show for being derivative in anime is easy but wrong, as the world of references and structures in which anime thrives is as much of a strength as weakness. Maybe the way to describe the failure is that this is a show that feels like you've already watched it when viewing it for the first time. You should be enjoying this take in choices of style, but instead it just feels like a random combination of things that should be fun, but were never really enjoyable on their own.
It isn't that the show is particularly bad. The artwork is above average, making up for the generic writing. And yet, To Aru Majutsu no Index meanders in mediocrity. Moments of cool stuff are quickly drowned out by dull standard scenes. It isn't that the superpower thing is done badly, or that anything in particular stands to blame. At the end of the day, this show feels not only forgetable, but each scene is all but forgotten the moment after you see it.
Don't get me wrong, To Aru Majutsu no Index is not boring, nor is it badly structured, nor does it do anything terribly. Really though, this is one of the rare shows where even an obsessive completionist would be hard pressed to watch the second season. Not because the show is bad, but because it is so firmly average in the grand scheme of things. Bad at least will leave a taste in your mouth, this is a show that ends up being bland.
Writing (Story and Characters):
I suppose that if you are new to anime, then the next few paragraphs about the writing are not for you. With a fresh perspective, the writing of To Aru Majutsu no Index might seem cool. I wouldn't know. I've spent thousands of hours watching anime over the years and cannot attest to this one way or the other.
The writing in To Aru Majutsu no Index is a decidedly generic waste of time. It has everything writing should have, but none of the things that capture the mind of anyone who has seen enough anime. The superpowers are cool, but they aren't special in either concept or use. The shady organizations with ominous purposes aren't particularly menacing or clever, and feel like a million others that we've already seen. The only thing even slightly creative is the concept behind the world, yet even that feels somewhat boring.
Now the story isn't all bad. We have a few arcs that are of various quality, exploring different characters to different depths while providing us throwaway plots in order to enjoy the world and combat scenes. While not original, this is hard to mess up unless the artwork is a complete failure (it isn't). There are hints at an underlying story, but it really isn't there (maybe it comes together in the second season... I wouldn't know). We get tastes of what could become excellent, but somehow the story just doesn't get there.
While excusing the plot and waving it off as "it will all become clear in the next season" is a possibility, with the characters no such excuse exists. Most of the cast are stock characters with standard backstories that seem to have been computer generated because of how generic they are. It is supposed to fit the formula of how a show should work, but the most important part of the formulaic cast is that their interactions are automatically at least somewhat interesting, and this holds true for very little of To Aru Majutsu no Index.
Being too average isn't average anymore, it is boring. Average means that there are some bad things and good things make up for them. But if all the bad and the good are standard, then they can't even be called good or bad anymore. To Aru Majutsu no Index manages to take the most beaten path of how to make things interesting, and ends up having the reverse effect. It isn't subpar per se, which somehow makes this a greater disappointment.
Art (Animation and Sound):
Technical execution is important, and on that point To Aru Majutsu no Index manages to score rather well. Artistic flair is somewhat harder to define. Is it still artistic if it has been done to death before? That depends. Superpowers are notoriously hard to make exceptional that way; people give a lot of crap to people who try to innovate, but it is too easy to fall into the absolute standard way of doing things. And here we have a show erring on the side of caution.
Whereas the writing is annoyingly average, the animation manages to do some things very right. The backgrounds are workable, the show sticks to a color palette, the animation isn't too choppy, there isn't any annoying overuse of still shots... and yet, with superpowers, that is not enough. Even the flashiest superpower (railgun) ends up decidedly dull despite good technical execution. Only one moment with the teleporter managed to actually wow me. Still, the character designs are efficient (if a little fan servicey at times) and distinct, and there are no real big technical flaws.
Sound is where To Aru Majutsu no Index could have risen up to be great. The soundtrack is decent enough, the voice acting is somewhat over the top (which is to be expected for a superpower-heavy show), but... excluding the second opening theme, everything just feels perfectly thematic and nothing more. The sound effects could have been something distinct, but instead sound like the average soundbank for these shows. Everything is done right and it is done well, but nothing stands out. Still, above average, if lacking in creativity.
When trying to take average writing and knock it up a notch, the artwork has to take risks that were not taken in To Aru Majutsu no Index. There is the bare minimum of life in the world and everything, while above average, will not wow most viewers. The characters get more life from their voice acting than from the writing, the animation makes up for the story in various ways... but trying to sum it up, the artwork does no more than balance out the writing into something average yet not memorable in the least.
This is a show that gets boring fast, and teases the viewer with a possibility that it might get good at a certain point yet never does. To Aru Majutsu no Index has all the makings of a great and enjoyable ride, and yet ends up being horribly, disgustingly, and unfortunately not distinctly average.
Right, it's confession time for me. If you have been reading my reviews than you may have noticed that I tend to rip the anime a new one. There is a reason for this though and it has to do with the fact that I can't turn my brain off when watching anime. I can't ignore the stupid shown in the anime and this is a problem as most anime are very stupid indeed.
In this case I'm not talking about a 90 pound girl catching a multi-ton cruise missile and throwing it back. Yes, it is stupid but it is a stupid that I'll allow. It's anime. Things like this are normal here and I'm pretty much fine with it. It annoys me to be sure but I will not rant about it.
So, having explained this lets rip into this anime shall we? Just a heads up: There will most probably be spoilers. The more I hate an anime the more spoilers there will be.
ART: From the same people who brought us A certain scientic railgun and it shows. The same effort went into the production of this series and it looks pretty darn good.
SOUND: This has the same quality as the art in that it is well taken care of. Voice actors have fun and do an excellent job of it.
CHARACTERS: Main character is Toma. He considers himself a nobody and he kind of is. There is very little special about him excepts that his right hand is able to neutralize any power it touches
Index is a young girl who has a very special skill. She can memorize anything that she reads. As such her head contains the knowledge of every single magical grimoire ever written..
STORY: Toma is an average student who has an esper potential of 0. In a city where people are judged on their esper level this means that he is pretty much screwed. To further complicate his life he suddenly finds a young girl outside his room. She is Index and in her head she holds the combined knowledge of 103000 forbidden magical books. Not sure what to do with her he wonders if he should give her the proper authorities but then her keepers appear. Toma quickly realizes that these people do not care for Index in the least and decides to protect her. Unfortunately he is up against powerful mages but he has an ace up his sleeve: His right hand has the power to cancel any magic it touches.
RANT: I was aware of this series existence for quite some time but left it alone. Then I saw a trailer and... MISAKA! Oh, my God! Misaka from a certain scientific railgun was in it! This series was a spinoff that took place in the same universe as one of my favorite series. I immediately picked it up, started watching and hated pretty much everything I saw.
It took me a while to figure out why I didn't like it. Toma is a horrible main character. The reason is that although he does try to do the right thing it is the right thing that he and he alone beliefs to be right. Everyone who disagrees gets a right hook to the face. Literally in this case. It basically boils down to this: "I'm right and I'll punch you in the face to prove it!"
I really got fed up with his power as well. It is to stupid to believe that it allows him to win each and every battle he is in. I'm not talking about his power to cancel out his opponents magic. His power is limited to his right hand only and only works when touching. If the attack is launched at any other part of his body it will go through. Same with inderect attacks. Attack him directly with a blast and he will catch it with his right hand to cancel it out. Attack the ground at his feet and he'll be perforated by shrapnel.
This goes through my head at every battle and every time I shake my head if he wins. Realistically there is no way this should happen.
After watching 9 episodes:
At the beginning we have a promise of a great, fantastic story. Little bit dark, little bit painful, with good looking fights and interesting abilities. A great promise. Then, after just 5 and a half episode, we find ourselves watching a common second part of any not so good anime series. An "kawaii" girls, that does unnecessary things and is loved by everyone, but gives only cuteness in exchange, and a hero of a boy, a common one, that innocently and accidentally solves everything. Simply annoying.
However, the world it's based on is too interesting for me to stop watching, I hope it gets better.
After the whole thing:
It was a basket full of puzzle pieces that don't fit together.
I hoped we will getsome more detailed experience on the world and the abilities, some illustrated explanation during some action, but no.
The story gets distracted to new and newer characters, and leads nowhere.
There's no solution to the memory loss-problem of the main character, etc. Nothing ges solved. It's an absolute waste of time after the 6th episode.
The boy is simply a self-defined hero with "big talks" that doesn't have a big meaning. I really hated it. Annoys me a lot. Simply pathetic.
This review is 100% spoiler safe.
Now, into the fray!
Characters: The main character is a standard schoolboy in the Esper city (basically everyone there is an Esper or a scientist) who can destroy any kind of supernatural power, be it alchemy, other ESP stuff, magic or even God's blessings/curses. He's the hero type of character, just get in a problem where you have to fight and watch while he solves it in your place.
Index is the key to the first arc (yeah, 24 episodes divided in 7 arcs... just, how?), and becomes useless after the 6th episode; she'll just be there as a comical relief, but she won't be useful for anything else aymore.
Everybody else (yeah, Misaka too) can be classified as a filler character; they have a couple of cameos, maybe they'll shine for a few seconds when they do/try to do something useful, then disappear.
Plot: Kind of... There are 7 arcs, and you can say "Hey, that's the same anime i was watching 20 seconds ago!" because the main character is always Touma (exception made for a couple of episodes)
Ending: Just... what? Where did they put the awesome last minutes they could give us? Where is my ending? This surely is the biggest let down of the whole 24 episodes. Good part is, you can't have any spoiler about that, because there is nothing to get spoiled (spoilt?)
Other strange stuff: Why is the episode 18 (the one where he pretends to be biribiri's boyfriend) even there? It's just... nothing! Even the pool episode started an arc, but this was totally plot-unrelated._.
Quite enjoyable, that's it. Nothing more, nothing less, just a bit of ecchi, a bit of action and a bit of commedy. Still, where did they put my ending?
Only advised if you have nothing else to do