A Certain Magical Index
Depending upon your viewpoint, this could either be one of the best anime series since FullMetal Alchemist, or this could be a complete and dismal failure of an anime series.
Sure, it's got some fascinating stuff in it, full of new and exciting ideas, it has a wonderful and thought-provoking science versus religion subtext, it has some amazing production value and overall is filled with the kind of stuff that makes me go "hrmmmm"..., BUT, it's also tripping all over itself to try and be something it's definitely not, which is a well-directed anime series.
There's a lot to learn in this weird world the characters inhabit, and they spend an awful lot of time trying to teach you about it -- in fact, battles between characters come to a dead stop so that the character can explain to the other character what he's about to do. It's as if these battle happen outside of time where they've got all this extra space to draw diagrams and give long winded speeches about what type of magic or psychic power they are about to employ.
That said; stick with it.
Magical Index takes place in "Academy City", that is supposedly located just west of Tokyo. It's inhabited mostly by students (hence the name), but these students aren't normal, they almost all exhibit certain psychic abilities or powers and are graded on levels depending upon their skill or upon how much of a natural gift they have. Now if that wasn't enough, it also turns out that in this world filled with kids with powers, there's something else going on as well -- magic -- the ability to use runes and incantations to summon supernatural spirits, events, or abilities -- that's also real as well.
So, within the first 30 seconds of the first episode, we're introduced to our protagonist, Toma Kamijo, who doesn't have any magical or psychic power.... except that his right hand is able to suck it all up. And by that I mean his right hand negates *any* supernatural ability, even the psychic powers of those much stronger than him. This allows him to survive attacks that would leave most people, well, fried.
He pretty much keeps to himself, except that he keeps getting himself into trouble, and only his hand allows him to escape unscathed. But one day, a girl in a nun's outfit winds up on his balcony, she ended up there because she was being chased by someone, and that's where the fun/chaos starts. You see, this girl named "index" has a photographic memory -- and as a result has memorized some 100,000 magical books which the Church has kept hidden -- which makes her a hot commodity among other practitioners of magic.
She's a kind of an idiot savant as well, as she'll start spewing data at the strangest times -- but what starts to make the show interesting is that as the magicians (who eschew science), meet up with the Espers (who gained their powers via science), there's an on-screen culture clash, as religion/magic essentially goes to war with science/psychics. And as more and more is revealed about this world the characters inhabit, the more deep the mysteries become about who some of these people are and what's really going on behind the scenes.
While it has a clunky start, it does get better, although, as stated above, there's way too much prattling on about how stuff works during the battle sequences, which never makes any sense and kind of removes the viewer from the action. I understand they are trying to world-build but at the sake of action, it may not be the best way to direct the series.
I always prefer the MacGuyver approach -- either explain before the action or explain after the action -- but not during the action!
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, May 2013
Below: Scenes from A Certain Magical Index.