The To Aru series has been enduringly popular, but I never felt much desire to pick them up. There was something old-fashioned about the designs – especially Touma, with his early-2000s spiky anime hair. But more and more things made me inclined to check it out. Probably the main one was a huge poster in Akihabara when I was there last year, with lots of much cuter characters than I expected to see. Another was the fact that I got into the mobile game Million Arthur, which had its scenario written by Kamachi Kazuma, the To Aru light novel creator.
I’m glad I gave the show a chance...but I have to say, overall I was disappointed.
One thing I can say clearly: Index is totally adorable. Probably the cutest female character in any anime I’ve picked up since The Idolm@ster. Her stubborn, childlike and impetuous personality is adorable and the fact that she’s a nun is hilarious. I could probably do without the show’s endless fanservice and how much she ends up whoops! naked again, but she manages to stay on the right side of annoying with her clinginess over Touma.
So, other than having a nun involved, what is the story here? Well, the series is set in a near-future world where both magic and advanced science live side-by-side. Magicians make use of magic, while Espers have impressive powers through either scientific experimentation or by impressive natural talent.
In the university-oriented
lives Touma, the boy with the old-fashioned spiky hair who also has a bit of a
tedious power, the same that makes everyone think so highly of the central
characters of Gakuen Alice and...well, Twilight. Academy City
Touma can nullify all other powers, be they magical or scientific. His right hand, for whatever reason dubbed the Imagine Breaker, stops powers from working, reveals magical tricks and apparently also saps kinetic energy from anything magical that’s moving at speed – though I think that might just be for effect.
Into his life comes Index, a cute young girl and a nun who is essentially a tool for the Anglican church. With the power to memorize vast amounts of information – in a strange robotic mode – she has been implanted with over 100,000 mystical grimoires, which she carries in her mind. This makes her a valued commodity to the church as well as a target. Oh, and her clothes are magically enchanted, so if Touma’s Imagine Breaker touches them, they fall off. Oh my! Et al.
I like the concept, especially the elements related to the Church, even if that’s common in anime and manga – from Hellsing to D.Gray-Man. But To Aru does a whole lot wrong, which is partly why I got bored and took a very long time to finish watching.
For one thing, it seems like the writer gets bored of Index, and for most of the second half of the show she’s stuck at home while Touma interacts with more interesting characters like Misaka, or ‘Railgun’, who has a long line of sacrificial clones designed to power up the extremely powerful Esper named Accelerator – until Touma intervenes.
Rather than concentrating on even these two main girls, the plot bounces around – now Touma has to deal with a magic spell that swaps people’s appearances; now all the psychic energy in the city has coalesced into a big-boobed girl who Index has befriended; now we’re following Accelerator as he gains a human side through bonding with a cute loli version of Misaka.
It’s too much, and other than some vague guff about Aleister Crowley floating upside-down in a giant tube orchestrating everything, there’s no sense of an overarching plot here. The result is that the tension is very low, and the usual tired setpieces of Touma having to pose as Misaka’s boyfriend or walking in on Index changing a million times gets old very fast.
There’s charm here and I probably will watch the rest. The first episodes remain very engaging and most of the storylines that involve the Church were enjoyable. Misaka’s story, especially with the moral question of her clones, has some brilliant moments, but I wish it could have been better-integrated into the existing plot or a completely separate anime. The problem here was that the series felt like it was a new spin-off with every new arc, rather than part of one coherent world, and that was why for all I found the eponymous character adorable and liked most of the other major players, I didn’t feel at all engaged by To Aru Majutsu no Index.