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.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 20

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. Translated by Andrew Prowse.

I talk a lot when reviewing Durarara!! that Narita likes to write books that set up plot guns on the mantelpiece than then books where the guns are all fired. To a certain extent, the next three volumes of Index are Kamachi doing the same thing, as all the back and forth of the last nineteen volumes between the Magic and Science sides has led to World War III, with Russia and Catholic Europe fighting against Academy City and Protestant England. Of course, the war is merely a front for Fiamma of the Right, but you could say that about a lot of real-life wars. This book is also notable for trying to feature the three male protagonists equally, all of them somewhere in Russia: Touma and Lesser are trying to find Sasha Kreutzev before Fiamma does; Hamazura is trying to get someone to help Takitsubo but ends up pinned down by a group of privateers; and Accelerator is trying to save Last Order but is hampered by the worst possible person coming to stop him. Literally.

There are an awful lot of folks introduced in this volume who are only in this arc. The two who seem to warrant mentioning further are Elizalina, a young woman who has an alliance of various states right next to Russia which are totally not the Baltics in the same way that the Roman Orthodox Church is totally not the Roman Catholic Church; and the “Femme Fatale”, who we know very little about from this book, but we’ll be seeing more of later. Ah yes, and Misaka Worst, of whom much more just below. Meanwhile, Lesser is attached to Touma here as the author knows that he works best when bouncing off someone else, and also that her type (the tease) hasn’t really been used around him before. Of course, she reckons without Touma’s complete lack of interest; I don’t think he’s ever really calmed down or had two days to run together since the start of the series to think about which girl who wants to bang, if any. In any case, Touma fails at his main objective, and is also guilt-tripped by Fiamma. Fortunately…

There’s Accelerator’s plot. I have to be honest, the concept of Misaka Worst is excellent. From the meta of describing herself as the “Third Season” of Misaka clones (though given how bad the anime’s Season 3 was handled, that joke gets a bit dark) to the concept of her being the repository of all the negative feelings the other clones have (which is why she gets to be something other than ‘deadpan’) to the scientists of Academy City creating her as the ultimate Accelerator-stopping weapon as they know he’s resolved to never kill another clone, so he has to other kill one and break or let himself be killed. He avoids killing her for the moment, but breaks anyway, in a truly epic primal screamfest of despair and fury. Fortunately, Touma shows up, not only to punch sense into Accelerator by telling him to stop getting hung up on “good and evil”, but also to stop himself from getting caught in in Fiamma’s bullshit and realizing it’s OK to save Index even if it means admitting he lied to her about his memory. Oh yes, and to reset Last Order’s fatal sickness with his right hand, though she’ll get worse again fast.

I didn’t mention Hamazura, but then he didn’t really get to do much except show how the “powerless” guy can also be cool and save the day. (Speaking of which, a mother and her kids are saved by Touma, and then later saved from a different crisis by Hamazura. I was bummed Accelerator didn’t save them as well.) That said, Vol. 21 promises he’ll get more to do; Academy City sent Misaka Worst to stop Accelerator, and now we get Mugino, who unsurprisingly is STILL not dead, being flown to Russia just to destroy Hamazura. Oh yes, and there’s the real Misaka as well, who is frustrated at Touma being in Russia saving the day without her and decides to hijack a plane so she can see what the fuss is about. If nothing else, this means we’ll get a lot more women in the next book… and also possibly a much higher casualty count.

If you’re interested in reading Index 20, the series is likely review-proof for you. But this was a good volume, light on the fanservice (Lessar’s pathetic attempts are pretty much it), heavy on the action, and filled with war being hell. The war continues next time.