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.

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.