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.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 22

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.

If this is to be the final novel of Index released in North America (something still up in the air at the moment), it’s a good way to go out, despite the fact that it also ends up killing off its main character. Still, I suspect precisely no fans believed he was dead at the time, and they certainly don’t now that we’ve had New Testament 1-23 and are starting a 3rd light novel sequence. As with the previous two books, this is a big ol’ action sequence, complete with a battle on a slowly crumbling cathedral made up of cathedrals. This time around, though, we do get more of the themes Kamachi wants in the main story, as Touma points out that writing the world off as being too evil and reformatting it is a foolishly naive thing to do, Hamazura discovers that – surprise! – Academy City’s ‘ranking’ system is fixed, and Accelerator sings out loud and sings out strong. There’s even time for some “new” characters.

Appearing on the cover are Accelerator and Misaka Worst, who ironically get the least to do in this book. New characters: Klans Tzarskij, the Russian Patriarch. “New” characters: Silvia and Ollerus, who show up at the end, both of whom the Japanese readers met in the unlicensed 2nd Short Story volume. In terms of Timeline, we end on Halloween night, which means that it’s been a little over four months since Index and Touma first met. Busy months, to be sure. There’s actually something of an attempt to show off everyone trying to save the world: Agnes’ nuns are around, Kaori swings her sword, etc. That said, in terms of action this is still very much a three-person book, with an assist from Mikoto, who gets to stop a nuke going off but for the most part is reduced to trying to save Touma and having him abandon her because he still has more saving to do.

Hamazura’s battle against Mugino ends a lot cleaner than I’d expected, mainly as Mugino is already sort of half-broken and exhausted. He appeals to the good old days when they were ITEM, and asks to reform the team (minus Frenda, who is dead, but at least he mentions apologizing at her grave for killing her). Also, it turns out his girlfriend may be the most important person in all of Academy City, as she has the potential power to move quirks… erm, sorry, skills… from one person to another. I admit I am not overly fond of Hamazura torturing (offscreen) an Academy City soldier for blackmail info he needs, but then I hate “torture works!” scenes. Accelerator manages to combine magic and science and save Last Order, though he almost breaks himself doing it, and he once again reaffirms the idea of family that’s hovered around him.

As for Touma, well, he’s there to yell at the bad guy and punch the bad guy, and he does both of those – even when the bad guy is an angel. It looks like he got through to Fiamma, though we’ll need to see more books to figure out if it stuck. Did he die? Well, no, look at the covers for New Testament 1-23. Is he dead for now? Yes. It makes for a slightly bittersweet ending to the whole arc, which otherwise is relatively happy. I’m going to assume that the first volume of New Testament will be another “Touma-light” volume, which is much easier now that there’s two other main heroes – or antiheroes. As for whether we’ll see it, that’s up to Yen Press and Dengeki Bunko. I hope we do someday.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 21

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.

As with the previous volume, and likely the next one, this is a giant action movie brought to the page. As such, there’s not quite as much development of Index’s main themes, though once again if you are religious you should drop this work like a hot potato if you haven’t already done so. That said, the ex-Pope showing up here and being the baddest ass who ever badassed just by kindly talking to everyone shows that it’s not just a binary “everyone with the Church is evil” thing. This also applies, oddly enough, to Accelerator, who seems to finally be getting over his “I am a horrible villain who must be punished” mentality now that he’s had his battle with Misaka Worst. In fact, he and Worst team up here, because a) he needs help in saving Last Order, and b) she finds the idea of his asking her for help hilarious. She too is an example of a bad guy who changes sides. And then there’s Touma, our theoretical hero, who just wants to punch Fiamma. A whole lot.

Kamachi said in the afterword that this was meant to be (along with 22) one book, which is likely why Mugino is menacing Hamazura on he cover despite the fact that she literally only shows up to be the cliffhanger. Also, given this is the second to last book in the first “series” of Index, there’s no major new character introduced here, though we do get a reappearance from a few older characters I wasn’t expecting – indeed, you could argue that without Kazakiri showing up, Accelerator and Touma would both be very dead right now. The plot is divided basically as follows: 1) Touma trying to catch up to Fiamma, starting with Lesser, then losing her but gaining Sasha, who fills a similar function; 2) Hamazura looking out for the forgotten and ignored, as always, while (finally) succeeding in helping Takitsubo; 3) Accelerator trying to help Last Order (this is less easy than helping Takitsubo); 4) Misaka arriving in Russia but mostly standing around, thus summing up her position in the novels since Book 3; and 5) Stiyl trying not to get killed by a still-possessed Index.

The action scenes are nice and solid here, and while I still find a lot of the magic discussion a bit boring, it at least doesn’t last as long this time. Everyone knows their function. Fiamma’s is to be smug, and he succeeds admirably, and you really do want Touma to punch him in the face, even though Touma does not achieve this (or really anything) in this book. Arguably that also applies to Accelerator, who is nudging closer to knowing how to save Last Order (magic) but can’t get to the next step. Again, only Hamazura succeeds while looking at the small picture… which also allows him to succeed when he ends up in the larger picture as well, pointing out to a dying Acqua of the Back that the REAL heroes are those who get up and return home to loved ones rather than those who accept death. It’s a really good scene, and you can easily see why he’s been added as a third protagonist, especially give that you get the sense Kamachi doesn’t know what to do with Touma at this point.

The next volume is important, as it will not only wrap up World War III, but may be the final volume of Index in North America. It’s unclear if New Testament is considered a new license or a continuing one, but in any case Yen On has not made it clear if they’re doing it. (That said, the back cover copy for 22 does not say ‘Final Volume’, so that’s a good sign.) Till then, enjoy an action-packed volume, and sorry, Mugino fans, I’m sure she’ll be in 22 more.