A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 1

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve read this one in fan translation. Twice. This was before it was licensed, and there was a very good reason for that: I never, ever thought this would be licensed. The main series is 22 volumes + two short story volumes, and the ‘sequel’ is 11 volumes and counting. And while I knew Yen On was starting, I hadn’t suspected this. But here we are, with certainly one of the most demanded light novel series of all, now out in the West to supplement the already popular Railgun series that spun off from it. What’s it like to read, particularly for a fan who’s already possibly seen the anime it’s based on?

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First off, I want to try an amusing experiment, based on the fact that this has one of the casts from Hell.

Introduced in this volume: Touma Kamijou, Index Librorum Prohibitorum, Mikoto Misaka, Stiyl Magnus, Kaori Kanzaki, Komoe Tsukiyomi, “blue-haired guy”, “frog-faced doctor” (the latter two have no official names). For Railgun readers, this takes place during the “Level Upper” arc.

There’s no question that this volume is absolutely tailor-fit to be a franchise. This volume wastes no time in stripping Index naked, there’s a typical “everyman” hero who’s actually super amazing but has fairly low self-worth (though compared to Hiroyuki from Accel World, Touma is an egotist). There’s a grumpy tsundere who shouts at the hero, though due to his nature she doesn’t hit him; instead the job of physical abuse goes to Index. Oh, and there’s a 35-year-old teacher who looks 12, chain smokes, and wears bunny footy pajamas. If you can get past the cliches, what you have here is a novel that examines the different “rules” of magic and science, and what would happen if they crossed paths. If your answer was “lots of cool fights and near-death experiences”, step to the top of the class.

It’s worth noting that when I first read the fan translation, I felt the style was overly complex and verbose, but put it down to translation issues. No, as the Yen Press version makes clear, Kamachi’s style is overly complex and verbose. Certain phrases are bolded, which appears to not signify anyone is shouting, but merely to note that something important has just been said or revealed. There’s also some expletives, which surprised me, but fit the emotions of the speaker. As you’d expect for a first novel, some of the characterization is still forming. Index is quite snarky in her first scene, and doesn’t really become the Index we know till she is healed after her injuries (specifically, as they walk to the baths, she seems to spontaneously become Index in front of our eyes). Even for someone who is “pretending to be a villain for her sake”, Stiyl is over the top in his attempts to kill Touma. And given how insanely popular she became, it’s surprising how little Mikoto appears in this first book, serving merely as a plot device to show off Touma’s abilities.

It’s hard for me to judge how well this would read to a new reader, since I’m so familiar with it. I think the translation reads as smoothly as it can given the author, and that fans of anime will certainly enjoy it. That said, it’s a slow start, despite all the battles, and you really need to be prepared for a lot of talking and explaining – yes, even more than the average. If you’re interested in seeing why the series really took off, I’d wait till the third volume, but this is certainly a solid beginning.

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