A Certain Magical Index NT, Vol. 1

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “Shinyaku To Aru Majutsu no Index” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alice Prowse.

I will admit, the moment I saw that the new series of Index books had been licensed, my first thought was “oh, is the anime announcement coming soon?”. It’s been almost four years since A Certain Magical Index 22 came out. While sales figures are never easy to come by these days, word on the street was that it was not exactly one of Yen’s best sellers. But it *is* one of Dengeki Bunko’s best sellers, and a “flagship” title for the company. And there did seem to be some genuine excitement (and hopefully enough sales to justify the cost) of the massive 2000-page Index omnibus that came out earlier this year. So sure, let’s go. We’re jumping back into Index, featuring our favorite ditzy nun, tsundere electro girl, and schlub with a magic hand. Some bad news to report, though, as none of those three feature heavily in this book. This first volume of NT (New Testament) is about the other two male protagonists.

The return of Index also means the return of the “let’s try to keep track of things” paragraph. Introduced in this book: Fremea Seivelun, Kuroyoru Umidori. Also, though we briefly saw Leivinia Birdway in Book 18 of Index, this is her entrance to the story proper – on the 2nd to last page. This book takes place on Guy Fawkes’ Day, the 5th of November, and one week after World War III. Touma has been declared missing presumed dead. From a brief cameo we see of Index, she’s not taking it well. The Railgun manga has not gotten to this point yet. Its most recent arc is a flashback, and the most recent current arc takes place around Vol. 16 of the first series. In Japan, this came out on March 10, 2011, only five months after the “final” volume of Index. The Railgun manga had just released Book 6, so the Sisters arc. And the Index anime was just about to wrap up Season 2.

World War III is over, and peace supposedly reigns over Academy City. Of course, you know that’s not going to last. Much to the irritation of Accelerator, his attempt to stop all the “darkness” of the City can’t even make it work for one week before a new group of eccentrics is trying to use him to help cause chaos. As for Hamazura, all he wants to do is go on dates with his cute girlfriend. Sadly, his cute girlfriend comes with the other two remaining members of ITEM, who are both sadists, so instead he gets chased around the worst slums of the city by goons… and runs into an old friend of his from the gang, Hanzou. Hanzou is watching over a little girl, Fremea Seivelun, whose last name is the same as ITEM’s now-murdered member Frenda. Yup, it’s her little sister. And while Fremea may just be a Level 0, it seems everybody and their brother wants to murder her.

For the most part this “new season” of the Index series plays it pretty safe, as the entire volume is essentially a massive action movie. It’s along the lines of Lethal Weapon, though Accelerator and Hamazura are not exactly wisecracking jokers. The *real* goal of the Freshman, the latest oddly-named group, seems to be having Accelerator and Hamazura, who previously barely interacted, team up with each other to get revenge on the city for killing Fremea. Their leader is a type we’ve seen before, the smug teenager who has really awesome powers derived from scientists experimenting on children, but they turn out to not be QUITE as awesome as Accelerator’s powers. And yes, surprise surprise, Touma is not dead, and shows up at the very end to save the day, stop the villain, and get kicked in the balls, in that order.

If you’ve never read Index, for God’s sake, don’t start now. But if you’re an Index fan, put away that Baka-Tsuki PDF and go buy this.

A Certain Magical Index SS, Vol. 2

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Prowse.

And so, once again, we have the “final” volume of Index in North America. Last time we thought it was the 22nd volume, then Yen picked up the two short story volumes after the fact. Now, we even get a translator’s afterword by Andrew Prowse thanking the readers, saying this is it for now, and please keep reading the manga. All it needs is “And the adventure continues…” after the final page. In other words, don’t expect New Testament unless there’s an anime. As for this volume, it’s far more of a short story book than the first one, though the stories eventually do tie together up to a certain point. It’s also a lot goofier, with Kamachi’s usual hit-and-miss attempts at humor and lots of powerful teenagers doing dumb teenage things. There’s ninjas, hackers, slashers, fixers, and those who fight using only their GUTS! That said, it’s a reasonable amount of fun, and Index fans should have no reason not to pick it up, especially since good sales might also change Yen’s mind.

Introduced in this volume: Balbina, Gunha Sogiita, Tabigake Misaka, Ollerus, Silvia, Kuruwa, Seria Kumokawa, Stephanie Gorgeouspalace, Misaka 17000, Misaka 18022, Misaka 14333, Misaka 15110, Misaka 10090, Misaka 12053, Misaka 19009, Misaka 11899, Misaka 16836, Misaka 10501, Misaka 19900, Misaka 12083, Misaka 10855, Misaka 17203, Misaka 19488, Misaka 15327, Misaka 13072, Misaka 17403, Misaka 10050, Misaka 10840, Misaka 12481, Misaka 18072, Misaka 19348, Misaka 17009, Misaka 15113, Misaka 14014, and Misaka 18829. (Sorry, I had to.) This takes place over the course of the entire series, and even prior to it, but in Japan it was released between Vol. 16 and 17. As you can see by the list above, leaving out the Misakas, there’s a lot of major characters who make their debut here (including some we’ve seen “debut” in English in Books 19-22, or the Railgun manga). That said, three make the most impact: Gunha, a Level 5 who gets by by essentially having Shonen Champion power (I’d say Jump, but if you look at him he’s clearly more an Akita Shoten boy); Ollerus, a somewhat distracted young man who also proves to be the most powerful person in the book; and Seria Kumokawa, a 3rd year at Touma’s school who also appears to be one of those powers behind the throne sorts.

There are some definite high points here. Uiharu gets two stories showing off her masterful computer skills, though the end of the second one implies she is fine with destroying data to avoid letting the hackers win. We meet Mikoto’s dad, and he’s pretty much exactly as you’d expect, being the sort of man who can casually threaten to bring down Crowley should he so choose. Touma and Index are absent from the book, and Mikoto’s only in one story, so this is definitely focused on the minor characters. The main “plot” involved a group of 50 “uncut gems”, who seems to be kids with powers that are unaffiliated with a country, and everyone trying to find and control/kill/do whatever with them. The best scene in the whole book occurs when Seria decides to have all these “gems” retrieved by Misaka clones, leading to an action scene we only here about via the Misaka Network, equal parts badass and funny.

It’s not a long book, and as a final volume of Index the 22nd book works better, but I’m pleased Yen went back and picked up these two books. Who knows, if Japan can get over the disaster that was the third Index anime and do more, we may see New Testament someday. Till then, don’t get your jeans slashed, don’t get into a hacking battle with Uiharu, and don’t piss off Academy City so much you get yourself super killed.

A Certain Magical Index SS, Vol. 1

By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Prowse.

Despite its name, and despite the fact that Yen On is releasing it after the main Index series, this is not particularly a short story volume. Instead, it’s four interlinked plot threads, which are presented as distinct chapters – he’s done this before. In Japan this came out between the 13th and 14th volumes of the main series, and it takes place there as well, with most of the cast worrying about what seems to be an inevitable war with the Roman Orthodox Church (which, to be fair, does happen). I am happy that we are finally seeing it here, though I will admit that a lot of its events would have had more impact if it had come out in its proper place. In particular, this volume introduces one of the main protagonists of the series – though honestly you’d never know it from the book itself, as he doesn’t even appear till 4/5 of the way in, and gets taken out by Touma like garbage. Which melds nicely with the book’s themes.

Introduced in this book: Shiage Hamazura, the aforementioned third protagonist. Sasha is also seen here as herself, rather than in “I am possessed by Gabriel” mode, though thanks to the Russian equivalent of Laura Stuart she’s walking around in a fetish outfit. We also meet Komaba Ritoku, though he sadly has the misfortune of running up against Accelerator, so he’s killed off here. He shows Accelerator the picture of a girl he’s trying to protect – his sister? Well, he’s dead now, so we will never know the identity of this mystery girl… well, unless Yen licenses New Testament. This volume also helps to solidify GROUP as part of the dark side of Academy City, and shows that they can grumpily work together when they want to – though they don’t here, as Accelerator and Musujime Awaki get their own separate fights.

There’s silliness at the start (how does Touma manage to pat Aisa on the back and knock her bra off?), which also leads to one of the few deliberately funny jokes in these books which usually try to be funny and fail – Touma’s heartfelt “I’m going to start studying English!” is a big LOL. Most of the book is introducing us to Skill-Out, a group of Level Zeroes trying to wreak havoc. Later books show them off as well, but, as Touma yells at Hamazura, they could have chosen to protect the weak (and indeed we see Komaba was doing this), instead of basically being a bad biker gang with explosives. We also meet once more Mikoto’s mother, the self-proclaimed “bisexual-disaster cougar”, who is also there for humor (not as funny) but also to possibly pull Mikoto out of Academy City due to impending war. Fortunately for the Railgun’s romantic prospects, Touma manages to impress her mom enough that she decides to leave her there. And, of course, Touma gets to punch the villain, in this case Hamazura, though notably instead of “breaking that illusion” he says Hamazura can break his own illusions himself.

So overall, this is very good setup for books 14-22, and you might want to go back and read those again if you have the time. Next time we’ll get the second SS book, which I understand is far more of a short-story volume than this one was, although I imagine they’re probably all interconnected as well.