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.

A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 19

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.

Just as Index 17 and 18 formed a two-parter, this is essentially the second part of the 15th book, where GROUP battled against ITEM and all the other dark student organizations used by various Academy City folks for Black Ops. They ended up on top, but as you can imagine, that made some people very unhappy. As a result, one of the Board of Directors is trying to deal with them, especially Accelerator. Meanwhile, Accelerator continues to be a really nice guy while insisting he’s a horrible villain. He’s rescuing abused teenage girls, triaging pregnant mothers, and saving little kids. Indeed, the little kid he saves has to literally point out what a hero Accelerator’s being to get the “good guys” to do anything. Are there any good guys in Academy City? Mikoto, maybe, but she’s not in this book at all. Maybe it’s Hamazura, who insists he’s just a thug as much as Accelerator insists he’s a villain. But what Hamazura really is, and this book cements it, is the third male lead in Index.

Introduced in this volume: Stephanie Gorgeouspalace, who bears possibly the silliest name in all of Index. Also, Aiwass, who we’ll definitely be seeing more of. There are a few more of the Aztec teens, as well. Sadly, again, Yen Press has not licensed the Index short story books, which is where we first met Stephanie. Or the Railgun shot story book, which is where we first met Tochtli, though I think she was retroactively written into the Railgun manga as well, like Xochitl was. This takes place at the same time as Books 17 and 18, when Touma is in England dealing with the British Royal Family. It ends with Touma, Accelerator, and Hamazura all separately going to Russia, where we’ll no doubt get the 20th volume. It’s also worth noting that there are only three volumes to go after this one in the main Index series… of course, we also have Index New Testament. Its sequel. Also 22 volumes.

As I said, Hamazura is explicitly called a protagonist by Kamachi in the narrative here, as if it weren’t obvious enough. He also gives the author an opportunity to do a real romance. Touma is, of course, oblivious to his 642 love interests. Accelerator is too self-loathing to even think about a relationship, and Last Order is a daughter to him, not a lover. But Hamazura, despite all the banter and pseudo-flirtation with Kinuhata (who is twelve, making this my least favorite part of the book), is in love with Takitsubo, and she with him. Of the three “threatened” relationships at the end of this book, it’s the romantic one. Accelerator and Last Order are the familial one, and Touma and Index… well, they’re the titular one. It’s also interesting to have it pointed out that, while Touma and Accelerator are part of Aleister’s BIG PLANS, Hamazura is not, and his interference with Mugino (who comes back from the dead to try to kill him some more, and even looks just like the Terminator here) could pose a big problem in the future.

Mostly this book is filled with cool fights, giving Kinuhata more to do (despite my dislike of her underage teasing, she’s developed very well in this book), an analysis of what it means to be a hero, as seen through two guys who don’t think of themselves as one, and setting up the pieces for the last three books, which are a three-parter. It’s a solid entry in the Index series. It also means we are one book away from one of my favorite Index characters being introduced. Is she the best? Well, no, she’s the absolute WORST, actually.

(Final note: I love this cover, one of the best in the entire series. The contrast is fantastic.)