20 Aug 2017
Season 2 of A Certain Magical Index sees us returning to the world of Academy City, and the continuing trials and tribulations of carefree guy Touma Kamijou. Touma possesses the power of Imagine Breaker in his right hand, allowing him to negate any supernatural power with his touch. He is confronted with a series of intricate plots and nefarious villains, thus we get to see this power in action - which essentially amounts to a guy on a massive power-trip punching women very hard in the face.
Indeed, it’s these countless showdowns with various antagonists which defines Index’s general tone and feel. All are prone to theatrical monologuing, proclaiming loudly, and at length, just how powerful they are. They announce exactly how their power works… only to then see it quashed, and for them to subsequently be defeated. This was always a problem back in Season 1, but it seems to be amplified further here as Touma essentially acts as a one man army. Punching his way through Academy with nothing but sheer force of will to keep him going.
Then there’s the titular character Index, who surely deserves a place on any Top 10 list of the most annoying anime characters ever. This white-robed young nun sticks to Touma like glue and seems to exist almost soley to berate him for talking to other girls, or for seeing her undressed (which happens inordinately often). Oh, and did we mention she's a little… bitey?
In this second season, Touma and Index are thrust into a murky plot of warring church factions, and coded messages. It’s heavy handed stuff, and if you can tell your Roman Orthodox from your English Puritan then you're golden. Otherwise, you might quickly find yourself drowning in the series’ increasingly complex web of arcane lore. What’s interesting is that following the shaky initial arc, we return to the hustle and bustle of Academy City and a breezy slice of life tone more akin to spin-off series A Certain Scientific Railgun. Index herself is relegated to the status of a side character - almost as if the writers realise how annoying she is - and instead we get to spend time with the Railgun herself: Mikoto Misaka. Indeed, many of these subsequent episodes could have been cut straight from A Certain Scientific Railgun.
That said, there are a few notable changes. Whereas Misaka has real agency in Railgun, here she's largely just reduced to a one note character, permanently flustered by her crush on Touma. There’s a bizarre story arc later on in the series where Touma and Misaka become embroiled in a school sports festival, in which the loser will have to ‘do whatever the winner asks of them’, and we can already see where this one is leading… We then get introduced to both Misaka and Touma’s parents, and suddenly we’re in some bizarre rom-com set-up. It’s a refreshing relief from the unrelenting action, and gives the show some much needed space to breathe. Unfortunately, the show spends its final ten episodes or so on two of its most convoluted plots - highlighting that Index’s many sub-stories are both a blessing and a curse. They bring variety, for sure, but it means the show lacks the clear focus and narrative drive that makes Railgun such a joy. Instead delivering an uneven consistency and a pick-n-mix feel, where you never know if the next story arc is going to be an absolute gem or a stinker.
With Manga UK’s release of Season 2 of A Certain Magical Index coming out the same day as Season 2 of A Certain Scientific Railgun, it’s interesting to compare the steps made in visual fidelity in the three years that separate their original air dates. While Index is a very good looking show, it’s clear to see the steps JC Staff and the anime industry as a whole made in those few short years. 2013’s Railgun series really leaps out from the screen in terms of the crispness and detail evident in both its background art and character designs. The art in Index, by contrast, still harks back to other earlier shows like Shakugan No Shana.
All in all, while A Certain Magical Index is certainly not a bad show, it leaves a lingering taste in the mouth of ‘almost, but not quite’. When stacked up against its spin-off, it comes off the poorer on almost every front. While there’s still plenty to enjoy in this second season set, it’s mostly confined to a couple of really strong individual arcs. Still, it remains a good sight better than most of its magic high-school imitators, and that can only ever be a good thing.