A Certain Magical Index Vol. 1 Review + Overview — Index Arc — When Science & Magic Collide, A New Story (Lie) is Born

    Title: A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 1
    Author: Kazuma Kamachi
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Publisher: Yen Press

A Certain Magical Index is my favorite light novel series of all time and, even beyond that, one of my favorite franchises ever made. So, with Yen Press announcing that they have officially licensed New Testament, the second set of light novels in this series, I thought it an opportune time to re-read the first set of light novels, Old Testament. I last read these roughly half a decade or so ago, so I’d like to have a fresh memory for when New Testament’s official release rolls around.

With that said, the goal of my mini project here is to review one of these volumes a week, though there will be at least one exception we’ll get into when that time comes. There won’t be any strict outline for how these reviews and overviews will go.

Ultimately, this is all primarily for me as a way to keep track of major events and characters.

However, as this is the first article of this project, some introductions are in order. What exactly is the world of A Certain Magical Index, and what are we getting into? This franchise occurs in a world comparable to ours, save for supernatural powers. Within Japan lies Academy City, a locale of 2.3 million students who have undergone a curriculum to become Espers.

These Espers are ranked from 0-5 sequentially, denoting ability mastery. Level 0s are deemed powerless, while Level 5s possess the aptitude to rival world militaries. Roughly 60% of the population are Level 0s, meaning that Esper’s abilities, while still a standard part of daily life, aren’t something everyone can easily access.

Our protagonist, Touma Kamijou, is one of those Level 0s, but he’s a particularly unique case. While he’s labeled powerless in the scans of the city, likely the lowest Esper you can find, he was born with a distinct ability embedded within his right arm; Imagine Breaker. This skill allows Touma to negate all supernatural phenomena with his right hand.

As a result, the system scans fail to identify him as one possessing an ability, causing him to live as a 0, though he only seems to really mind because of the meager stipend he receives. After all, the money students receive depends on their Esper level, which, as harsh as it is, makes sense given how Academy City is just a business above all else.

There is much to say about Touma, notably his past and how, despite his highly ordinary appearance, he is quite a disturbing and frightening individual. But we’ll get there when we get there.

Anyway, with the opening preambles concluded, let’s dive into this first volume and arc.

index vol 1

The first scene we read is of Touma trying to escape numerous thugs attempting to attack him because he seemingly tried to save a girl. We learn a couple of things right off the bat here. The first is that aside from being a do-gooder, Touma suffers from incessant misfortune. It’s no exaggeration to say his life is built around his bad luck, but with it being such a constant day-in and day-out, he’s grown accustomed to it. He obviously hates enduring it, but he doesn’t let it consume him.

Another thing we learn is that Touma isn’t exactly a conventional hero. You see, it turns out that he wasn’t trying to save the girl from earlier. He was instead trying to save the thugs who tried to attack her. This may seem foolhardy, and it probably is, but he had enough justification for it because this girl is Mikoto Misaka, the third-ranked Level 5 of Academy City.

There are seven Level 5s in Academy City, and anyone who tries to mess with them is in for a bad time, to put it mildly. Mikoto is an Electromaster, commonly identified by her title, the Railgun, which she can produce. Mikoto and Touma have a strange sort of relationship. After witnessing his Imagine Breaker firsthand, she grew obsessed with the idea of surpassing it and defeating him. Touma, on the other hand, really couldn’t give less a shit. He has no desire to battle her, let alone at all, and always tries to run away.

Granted, there was one time he tried to fake a loss for her sake, ultimately causing more harm than good. But that’ll be a tale for if and when we ever go over A Certain Scientific Railgun, the spinoff that Mikoto is the protagonist of.

The confrontation between the two of them on this night atop a certain bridge ends with Touma negating a bunch of her attacks before morning comes by, yet there is one particular line from Mikoto you should keep in mind for a few volumes down the line:

“Hey, have you heard? They’re developing some military-grade little ‘sisters’ for me, based on my DNA, that they can use in the army. I guess the by-products were sweeter than the ultimate goal, huh?”

Cut to the next day, and Touma, facing a severe loss of appliance functionality because of a certain scientific railgun, meets a nun hanging on his balcony like a clothesline. Index is her name, and she’s on the run, a predicament that alters Touma’s worldview as he knows it.

This exchange is particularly vital to emphasize since it’s pretty much the crux of the volume. After an event comprising Touma trying to feed Index and her biting him (which becomes a habit), resulting in him starting to learn about her immense appetite, she tries to explain a few things.

Firstly, magic is real. Secondly, Index is on the run from a magic cabal since she possesses 103,000 grimoires, which we later learn are all contained in her perfect memory.

Quite a bit is discussed here, but the main point is that Touma initially doesn’t believe her claim about the former, given his time growing up with science and technology. However, after testing out Imagine Breaker on Index’s nun attire, an outfit comprised of magical properties, and seeing it break apart before his very eyes, he’s inclined to at least believe that something supernatural is going on here.

Toma’s also given a theory of sorts by Index regarding his luck. Since Imagine Breaker negates the supernatural, the sheer presence of Touma’s right arm may cancel out any fortune he receives, assuming the concept is a blessing from God.

I should also introduce the various church factions brought up here since they’ll be relevant for the entire series.

Christianity is divided into two general avenues; the old way, known as Catholicism, and the new way, known as Protestantism. However, the former is “split up into Roman Orthodoxism, centered on the Vatican; Russian Catholic, based in Russia; and English Puritanism, with its headquarters at St. George’s Cathedral.” We’ll get more into these factions as the volumes continue, but they’re at least worth acknowledging for the time being.

Index, still on the run and not wanting to take up any more of Touma’s time or potentially endanger his safety, decides to leave and seek an English Puritan church for protection.

Now in his remedial lessons (Touma’s not a well-performing student), he reflects on his chance meeting with Index, realizing how he truly treasured that meeting, feeling somewhat melancholic about their parting. Then, on his way back home, he encounters the Railgun once again, Mikoto Misaka.

Mikoto’s obsession with wanting to defeat Touma rears its head again, but his patience begins to wear thin at this point. Finally presenting himself in a serious combative stance, Mikoto’s taken aback, absolutely terrified of the prospect of what Touma would be like if he went all out.

This short-lived confrontation gives a slight nudge toward how terrifying Touma could be if he took his physical battles more seriously. Even a Level 5 quaked in her boots at the idea of taking him on for real.

Regardless, the two get involved in hijinks before Touma returns to his apartment, finding an injured, bleeding Index outside his door. This leads to an encounter with one of the individuals from the magic side that Index was evading. This magician, or sorcerer, rather, Stiyl Magnus, drops some vital lore regarding Index’s aberrational existence:

“Index Librorum Prohibitorum—translated, it means the ‘index of forbidden books.’ It’s a list of wicked, evil books, published by the Church, which it insists would corrupt your soul if you read so much as a little.

Even if the Church were to send out word that such dangerous books were in circulation, one of the vile tomes could still end up in someone’s hands if the unwitting fool didn’t know the title. So that was transformed into a crucible of poisonous knowledge, containing 103,000 ‘bad books.’ Ah, you want to be careful. For someone like yourself, living in a country with feeble religious views, just looking at one would cripple you for life.”

Stiyl’s objective is to grab Index under the guise of ‘protective custody,’ so her knowledge of the grimoires doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Even though Index herself can’t wield the power embedded within these countless tomes under ordinary circumstances, there will always be those who hunt her to do so.

As a result, Touma and Stiyl expectedly end up in a battle, with the latter revealing his magic name, Fortis931. These titles are essentially killer names for sorcerers, only meant to be given in times of great strife where they intend to toe the line of their meager morality. Earlier, when Index first met Touma, she gave him her magic name, Dedicatus545, but that was purely out of ignorance and recklessness.

Stiyl’s power revolves around fire bolstered by Innocentius, the Witch-Hunter King, and after conjuring a flaming sword, he assumes would automatically eradicate Touma, the latter ponders the efficacy of the Imagine Breaker.

He lacked any knowledge of the potential facets of its existence. All he knew of was its capability to negate the supernatural and, if Index’s theory was correct, the negation of his own fortune, by extension.

But then that begged the question, would it work on magic? In the face of hellish flames, Touma would have to find out right then and there. Much to Stiyl’s bafflement, the seemingly typical high school boy you could find anywhere stood unharmed. It was then that Touma realized it was foolish to worry about magic since Imagine Breaker broke apart Index’s magically protected robes, the Walking Church.

In the eyes of Touma Kamijou, simultaneously the most unique ability yet non-ability-user in the world, science and magic were one and the same.

Regular magical attacks would never cut it, so Stiyl elects to utilize scattered Runes around the vicinity instead, essentially trapping Touma’s right hand into a cycle of useless negation. The one who informed him of this knowledge was the heavily injured Index, somehow awake. Yet, she was not really herself, as her expression and voice were robotic and void of emotion.

She introduced herself as part of “Necessarius, the Church of Necessary Evils, the 0th parish of the English Puritan Church.”

Regardless, Touma had his hands full enough with the previously forced-upon circumstances, choosing to jump down from his dorm floor to seek safety. He was perplexed and concerned, unconsciously choosing to run away by preparing to call the city’s police force to handle the ongoing conflict. But even though no one would blame him for turning away, he felt compelled to stand his ground and protect Index.

Plus, in hindsight, magic was not so dissimilar from science. Touma wasn’t academically intelligent and never truly understood the technicalities of the abilities he contended with in the past. But when thinking about daily tools and tasks, like using a cellphone, he didn’t need to understand the device’s inner workings to call someone or send a text. This same general, albeit admittedly amateurish philosophy, could apply to magic thanks to Imagine Breaker putting differing avenues of the supernatural on a level playing field.

The problem then morphed into how Touma could possibly dispel countless Runes, but he found a rather inventive solution. Riding back to his floor via the elevator, he turned on the fire alarm, causing sprinklers to spray, making the ink of the papers the Runes comprised of muddled, ruining their efficacy. With Stiyl now knocked out thanks to a good old punch from Touma’s right hand, the battle was over.

After some conversation between Index and Touma, they end up at the residence of the latter’s teacher, Komoe Tsukuyomi. You see, for Index’s injury to mend without altering the authorities, magic would need to be used, but as she reveals, apparently, no Esper should use magic since the alterations made to their body throughout their ability curriculums deem it non-feasible.

Magic is for those without talent. It’s comprised of an entirely different set of rules than science.

This lack of usage also applies to Touma Kamijou since, despite being a Level 0, he still had to go through the curriculum, meaning his brain was injected with the drugs needed to birth power.

Summatively, no student in Academy City would work as a candidate, yet there was a loophole here. Teachers. They did not undergo the curriculum and had no abilities, so they were normal humans, meaning they could use magic.

Komoe is a rather odd one, to say the least. While she’s highly intelligent, she has the appearance of a grade-schooler. That’s neither here nor there, though, since the priority now was to heal Index. Needless to say, there was much disbelief and intense confusion as Komoe helped prepare the steps to create a magic circle to heal the still emotionless Index, with directions given by that same nun.

Komoe obviously did not believe in magic whatsoever. Still, with Touma now gone since, unknowing to her, his Imagine Breaker would interfere with the spell, she found it best to listen to Index so as not to irritate her and her wounds by extension. The process consisted of summoning a representation of an angel, using various objects in the apartment as symbols for greater forces.

Now back to her usual temperament and with a cold, Index was back to normal. Komoe would not be able to use magic again, though, since not only did she chant thanks to knowledge by one of Index’s Grimoires, a mentally dangerous tome, but Japan was a country of relatively low religious faith, so there was a low affinity so to speak.

The next day, with Komoe stepping out, Index discusses the interweaving of politics with religion, birthing conflict, and division, hence the numerous denominations of Christianity. As for Index herself, she’s part of a unique sect of the English Puritans, the Church of Necessary Evils, Necessarius, a group officially charged with punishing those who use magic wrongfully.

The grimoires she possesses could theoretically cancel out and counter any spell thrown toward the Church’s way, making her a vital asset. Ironically similar to Touma’s Imagine Breaker, a trump card capable of the same general feats, he never had to work for it, which begins to haunt him. Touma reaffirms his desire to stand by Index, and the two grow closer as they converse.

Later, we learn that Index has no memories from the previous year and all prior to that point, an integral piece to the puzzle regarding her conundrum.

One night, as Index heads off to the bath, Touma encounters a companion of Stiyl, Kaori Kanzaki. A legendary katana-wielder so far beyond Touma’s battle skill that their encounter couldn’t be considered a fight. She was one of the top ten sorcerers in London.

However, she reveals crucial information regarding Index’s past. Kaori and Stiyl used to be friends of Index, but her memory has to be erased on a yearly basis because, supposedly, 85% of her brain is occupied by the memory of the 103,000 grimoires she possesses. Plus, her perfect memory, known as Perfect Recall, doesn’t allow her to empty her hard drive, so to speak.

In a fit of rage-filled, sorrowful desperation, Touma calls out Kaori’s and Stiyl’s apparent abandonment of Index’s well-being, but Kanzaki’s having none of it. She and Stiyl care more for Index than Touma could ever understand, and the two tried their damndest to be there for Index following her memory erasure. Perhaps even aid her in remembering that which she should not.

However, it was not to be. In fact, to free up her memory space again, her memories would need to be erased once more in roughly three days.

Yet, even in light of these revelations, Touma’s resolve doesn’t waver. He admonishes Kaori’s dutiful yearnings as nothing more than obligation, never taking that necessary extra mile to truly care for Index.

““If you were just a little stronger…” He gritted his teeth. “If you weren’t frauds who could actually follow through with your own lies…if you were scared of her losing her memories…then you just needed to resolve to give her even better ones the next year…! If she knew how much happiness lay ahead of her, losing her memories wouldn’t have to be so scary. No one would have to run away anymore! That’s all you needed to do!!”

Kaori’s fundamentally taken aback, staggering in shock from a powerless punch by Touma, who collapses in exhaustion and injury.

Touma awakes back in Komoe’s apartment three days later, with Index nursing him back to health. Thankfully, the teacher wasn’t around. Touma grows concerned with the time limit of Index’s next scheduled memory loss, that being sometime tonight, so he starts to get his priorities back in order. Well, at least that is the case before he gets an in-person visit from Stiyl and Kaori informing him of the exact remaining time: 12 hours and 38 minutes.

The two gave off callous, cruel airs, a collective act meant to better outfit their roles. Of course, this Index didn’t know them, so the veils seemed authentic. Yet, they were crying inside.

In Index’s final remaining hours, she lay asleep, unaware of the state fate forced her to be in the next time she woke. Her body was unwittingly preparing itself for the process. And a phone call Touma received from Kaori rubbed salt in the wound. Even when Touma mentioned the possibility of using the science side’s technology to look into ridding this problem at the root, Kaori ultimately scoffed at the notion. Not only did she not trust the capabilities of this side, regardless of her lack of history or effort in trying to understand it, there was practically no time left before the scheduled memory erasure would take place.

With no choice left, he called Komoe at the baths in a last-ditch effort to gain insight from someone knowledgeable in neuroscience and mind-related abilities. Yet, it was too late since the sorcerers were now back. It was midnight, and they were making preparations for the memory erasure to take place. Part of Touma felt resigned to Index’s fate now, with so little time left, and an earful from Stiyl about his frail heroics didn’t help matters.

But perhaps in a feat of mercy, Kaori manages to convince Stiyl to give Touma his last ten minutes alone with the girl, partially as insurance so he doesn’t interfere with a ritual out of rampant regret.

Now alone once more, Touma’s mind began to work in overdrive. That claim about 85% of her memories being full; was it actually accurate? Choosing to forego pretenses, he calls up Komoe again, asking about the validity of this scenario that he, Kaori, and Stiyl were presented with.

And as he suspected, the claim of someone’s memory being too full was bogus. The Church fed Kaori and Stiyl blatant, outrageous lies, all to keep Index tethered to a constantly rewound leash. The grimoires were too valuable.

With all that being the case, the Church must’ve altered Index’s body in some way for this yearly erasure to occur, as was stated. Her current state was induced and programmed by the Church. And since it was tied to magic, an inherently supernatural force, Touma had one last option. Imagine Breaker.

He thought of where Imagine Breaker hadn’t yet touched her for it to take effect, with a possibility presenting itself, the inside of her mouth. He dug his fingers in there. And, almost too suddenly, Imagine Breaker took effect.

Index’s state altered drastically. She was now back to her emotionless visage and tone, called John’s Pen Mode, and somehow able to cast spells, a feat Touma was told was impossible. Yet, that was just another lie by the Church. This was an embedded protection instilled within her changed self, meant to eliminate any who learned the falsities plaguing her memory erasures.

In the face of the onslaught of powerful spells Index threw his way, Touma couldn’t help but laugh. This was what he was yearning for with all his heart. As long as he could defeat Index, the manner would be settled, and Index would never be subjected to these yearly erasures again.

Kaori and Stiyl eventually stumbled in, astonished by the scene before them, but Touma didn’t waver. He shouted out his resolve and how the Chruch strung along a dehumanizing lie to tether Index to them indefinitely. This was also the chance the two sorcerers were waiting for. Stiyl called out his magic name, and so did Kaori, Salvare000, putting forth everything that comprised their desire on the line.

There was no time to waste; Touma ran forward, staking it all on the ability in his right hand, Imagine Breaker. And while he did manage to reach Index and cease her forcefully imposed aberrative state, a certain feather spawned by Index’s rampage, almost angelic in sight, collided with Touma’s head.

It was then that while laughing, Touma Kamijou died on that night.

The next day, Touma was in the hospital, and a letter from Stiyl explained Index’s new status quo. She was safe while still possessing the knowledge of the 103,000 grimoires. John’s Pen mode was destroyed, though it’s unknown if she’s incapable of using magic entirely. Regardless, following a certain interpretation of an order given by the English Puritan Church, Index has been left in the care of Touma Kamijou for the time being.

Things weren’t all peachy, however. After all, Touma Kamijou did die, in a sense. After being told of Touma’s circumstances by his doctor, Index entered his room in the hospital. Touma looked fine, but he didn’t recognize her.

In fact, nothing about Index, even tangentially so, was familiar to him. As it turned out, the cells containing Touma Kamijou’s memories were destroyed when that feather collided with his head. It wasn’t simply a case of amnesia. His memories were gone. Index tried talking to him, eeking out those lost memories, even admitting her love for him, but it was to no avail.

At least, that was the initial belief.

Touma revealed that he was completely fine. After touching his head with his right hand, Imagine Breaker canceled out the effects of the damage caused by the feather. His memories were wholly intact. No harm whatsoever.

Index was overcome with emotion, notably angry at his short-lived deceit, and left the room. When the doctor then entered Touma’s room, though, the authentic reality was made readily apparent.

Reality wasn’t so convenient. Touma Kamijou’s memories were gone. That fact was undeniable. He just did not want to see that girl’s smile falter.

Still, he felt as if he could actually remember. When the doctor asked where they could possibly reside, Touma answered:

“My soul, right?”

And that is the end of A Certain Magical Index Volume 1. In all honesty, while it may at least partially be due to hindsight, I love this volume. Not only does it establish the existence of the magic and science sides brilliantly without making it an overly comical emphasis, but it stellarly sets up the core characterization of Touma Kamijou.

It also demonstrates how Imagine Breaker isn’t a win-all button, as seen by the effects of the feather still remaining and his beatdown by Kaori.

Further, it sets up a masterful hook. Touma Kamijou is now determined to live a lie as the previous Touma Kamijou. This initial choice demonstrates how frightening Touma is, but we’ll see more of that as we progress. The only person in the world aware of his predicament was his doctor. So, there’s plenty to look forward to.

In the second volume of A Certain Magical Index, we’ll dive into the Deep Blood arc, where magic remains at the forefront.


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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.