Academy City is more or less a collection of universities for training magic power in students called espers through the power of science and academics. However, while science may seem to be the ruling force, magic also exists in the form of sorcerers who gain their abilities from grimoires and artifacts, and swear loyalty to old religious institutions. In a world with such a focus on both magic and science, it is only natural that the two forces will collide.

Touma Kamijou is a student in Academy City, and is classified as a level zero esper due to a lack of ‘talent’. However, he has one ace up his sleeve: the Imagination Breaker, an ability in his right arm that allows it to break the ‘abnormality’ of anything it touches, including both esper magic and sorcerer magic. One day, he wakes up to find a young girl hanging on the railing of his apartment dressed as a nun named Index, and learns that she is on the run from a group of sorcerers from the Church of Necessarious. who want the 103,000 forbidden books stored in her head. Although Touma does not believe in magic, he is forcibly drawn into this hidden world as he becomes closer to Index.

Fans of action or fantasy stories with a more unique setting will likely find A Certain Magical Index very appealing.

The biggest draw in the initial stages of Index is most definitely the setting/premise because of the unique opportunity for storytelling it provides: having a clash between scientifically created magic versus traditional religious magic offers the story the chance to essentially double dip in its narrative. While most similar stories tend to follow either science or magic, Index follows both, and this sets up for an interesting conflict.

Note: this image was drawn with a dark background.

Of course, the main character would have to have some ability to help him combat these two sides, and instead of placing him with one or the other Index instead places him in neither. Touma has a unique ability, Imagination Breaker, in his right arm that allows him to nullify irregularities of any kind; in other words, he has the ability to block out both sorcery and scientifically derived magic. While Touma himself has yet to be an incredibly distinguished protagonist in the first novel, his ability is a very clever one that lends itself to the story both as a helpful and flawed tool.

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Even if Touma is mostly interesting for his ability, the other characters are handled very well. Index herself is a multi-faceted person who is explored and developed significantly throughout the story; in fact, her development is a key driver for the plot! The ‘villains’ are also interesting in that they aren’t set up as ‘evil’, and while they are an opposing force, their own characters have a much greater depth than a traditional antagonist.

For only around 200 pages, Index packs quite an emotional punch, and this is in part due to the way the characters of the story are masterfully connected. For such a short time, I hardly expected to have the amount of organic emotions that I felt while reading. While it is true that Index can feel slightly hammy and over dramatic at times, there’s a sort of charm to this effect that most definitely appealed to me.

As hinted earlier, while Touma makes an excellent plot device, in this first volume it still feels like he, despite being the main character, mostly serves as an audience window into the story and hasn’t yet become a fleshed out character of his own, unlike a few of his counterparts. I wouldn’t say that this is a major flaw, especially for a short first book in a series, but it is definitely something to consider if you are a fan of strong protagonists.

It’s also worth mentioning that while the translation is generally very well done, there are very few explanations or notes for many of the translation choices, so readers new to Japanese light novels might have a slightly more difficult time. For many of the regulars however, this is hardly an issue as much of these will likely just be understood, and from this viewpoint the translation is very well done and is still brought into English grammatically sound.

Overall, I would say that A Certain Magical Index Volume 1 can be best summarized in one word: unique. It’s not so much that the story as a whole is unique: many parts of the plot and settings taken apart could easily be pointed out as similar to other works. Rather, it feels like the way everything is tied together and executed is unique. While this first book feels mostly like a prologue to a much greater story, it creates through a world and characters a tale that seems both likable and feels ‘fresh’. I could safely recommend Index to most fans of fantasy novels in general, and am looking forward to reading future volumes.

What do our scores mean?

A Certain Magical Index Vol. 1 was authored by Kazuma Kamachi and published by Yen Press on November 18, 2014. A Certain Magical Index was an ongoing series in ASCII’s Dengeki Bunko imprint, and received a two anime adaptions by J.C. Staff in Fall 2008 and Fall 2010. Volumes 2 & 3 are currently available in English and volume 4 will release in North America later this year.

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