By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On.
The early Index novels tend to follow an unfortunate pattern, which luckily goes away as the series goes on. The odd-numbered books, for some reason, are significantly better and more thought out than the even numbered books. And given that this volume of Index is 4, you can guess how I feel about it. Not that there aren’t great moments in the book, or good characterization. But like the second book, it reads more like the author trying to stall while he figures out to expand his far-more-popular-than-he-expected series into a huge franchise. Also, Kamachi’s attempts at wacky humor are pathetic in every way.
Introduced in this volume: Motoharu Tsuchimikado (who appears much earlier in the anime, to better effect, as he’s sort of out of nowhere here), Touya Kamijou, Shiina Kamijou (looking like Index), Sasha Kreutzev (appearance only), Angel Gabriel (looking like Sasha). For Railgun manga readers, this takes place around when Kongou is introduced (and quickly brought down to earth). For Railgun anime watchers, the anime-original ending to the Railgun S series (with Febrie) is taking place.
The first 30 pages of this volume are almost painful in the forced, unfunny wackiness that ensues. Even after Tsuchimikado and Kanzaki arrive, things still have to wait for comedy at times, as Kanzaki’s desire to kill Touma seems less due to Angel Fall and more due to her being embarrassed about looking like Stiyl. After this, things settle down to what we’ve gotten used to in the Index novels – pages upon pages of explanation of how magic works and the various systems behind it, which is mixed in here with a healthy dose of bizarro Christianity – in case any devout religious fans were still reading Index, I suspect they’ll likely stop here.
And then there’s Jinsaku Hino, the serial killer. As with the 2nd book, the anime decided he was irrelevant and completely cut him. And, as with the 2nd book, I can’t blame them at all, as his plot *is* almost totally irrelevant, serving to pad out the page count till we see who’s really behind Angel Fall and giving us a lot of discussion of split personalities. He’s certainly a creepy psycho, but we never get any sense that he poses a real threat to our heroes, and the main thing his plot seems to have done is show us the Kamijou home and thus show Tsuchimikado who the real culprit is.
Luckily, once we find out who that culprit is, the novel takes a huge upswing, and the 2nd half is much better than the first. Touma’s talk with his father is one of the most heartwarming in the series, as well as a really depressing glimpse back at his horrible childhood. Kanzaki, when she’s not being embarrassed about Touma in general, is also very well done, showing off the fact that she was holding back against Touma in book 1 a lot. Her past is also somewhat tragic, even if she and Touma are meant to be contrasted as polar opposites. As for Tsuchimikado, there’s a bit too much heel-face revolving door here, but you at least get the sense he’s trying to be on the right side, whichever one that may be, and he does get away with a cool (temporary) exit. And I did like him pointing out that Gabriel’s disguise is really obvious to anyone familiar with Russia, as it really, really is.
Yen Press’s translation is decent, though it’s fighting on multiple fronts here. Kamachi’s amazingly wordy prose is simply hard to translate in a way that doesn’t sound like an encyclopedia threw up. Tsuchimikado’s speech quirks are handled pretty well, but his habit of giving everyone nicknames runs up against Yen’s no honorifics policy. So Kamiyan is now Kammy, and Oneechin is now Zaky. Which is OK, but tends to make them sound more like J-pop band members than Index characters.
Luckily, we’re in for a big upswing with Book 5, and the even numbered books get better from here on out. This particular book, though, suffers from a stapled on subplot and bad humor (I did enjoy Misha’s obsession with chewing gum, the most subtle joke and therefore the best). I definitely recommend it for Kanzaki fans, but honestly, the rest might just want to wait till Book 5, where we’ll be discussing another divisive plot twist.