Out with the Old Testament in with the New Testament!
The world of global anime distribution was very different back when A Certain Magical Index first started airing. Back in the time of the late 00’s, most who wanted to see new anime as it aired had to settle for fansubs or waiting for a hopeful dub release, but now there’s so much more of a main pipeline between the ones who make those shows and those around the world who love them. I have no idea if that had any impact on whether or not this franchise was given a third season after almost a decade wait or its upcoming spin-off shows, but it’s definitely something worth noting from my perspective, since watching the first episode of this show back then through those makeshift means feels so alien from how speedy and convenient things are now.
And then there are times like this where I think we should be careful what we wish for.
What pulled me into Index as a show in the first place was the interesting mix between sci-fi and fantasy it had while also using that mix to show the differing ideologies by those who preferred one over the other. It definitely fell into a lot of the same clichés that many light novel adaptations did and have continued to do, but they were palatable when seeing it alongside such an novel concept and interesting characters. That and an odd but thoroughly developed world shown both through the main series and the Railgun spin-off made it a stand out even when my hopes of a third season were close to nonexistent.
Compared to the previous seasons, which focused more on a series of stand-alone stories that slowly added up to a bigger narrative, this starts bringing pieces together, expanding their world by going on a ton of trips all over the globe, and setting up the dominos in the growing fight against an organization called The Right Seat of God and their plans for main protagonist Toma Kamijo. While the handful of mostly disconnected arcs in the last two seasons was sufficient for me as long as it gave me more time with the characters I liked, seeing everything building up to a climax here made me feel rewarded for keeping up with it. That didn’t keep me from getting a bit lost in some areas, though I’m not sure how much of that had to do with my lack of exposure or this season’s method of cutting corners.
Let me say upfront now: if you’re a big enough fan of this material, you’re probably going to stick with it no matter what I say. But as much as that long wait between seasons did manage to help build up anticipation, it also seemed to put the show in a bit of a tough spot. I imagine if this had aired in 2012 or even 2014, the series could have gotten off fine with simply adapting their regular rate of 6-7 volumes of the original light novel, which would land it right at the end of the British Civil War arc (and assuming they shifted the arc after that around since it chronologically takes place around the same time). But to make this return worth it, they needed to reach a major milestone, which required cramming more story into around the same number of episodes in order to reach the World War 3 arc that capped off the original novel series and probably could’ve been better saved for a season of its own.
As a result, this season suffers from a LOT of snipping in order to fit in EVERYTHING it possibly can, which can lead to some plots, characters, and scenes being mangled, mishandled, or cut entirely. This leaves a lot of the arcs feeling so fast paced that it’s exceedingly difficult to keep up, especially when some arcs involve dumping piles of new characters into a story only for almost all of them to be rushed out. In some instances, seemingly minor lines are cut out, leading to later callbacks making no sense whatsoever. And some character arcs also take a hit, having some major moments or resolutions end up feeling rushed or jarring in execution. With some of it, I’m not sure how much of my confusion has to do with the source material or this adaptation, but neither answer is ideal.
The execution of certain characters this season is also kind of a mixed bag for me. Some characters get more focus than ever while others that seemed important early on are drifting further into the background. Toma gets more development than I think I’ve seen him get since the first couple arcs of the first season, with more emphasis placed on the mysteries surrounding his special abilities and his ethics in hiding that he has amnesia from his closest friends. Former villain Accelerator gets what is easily the most compelling character arc of the season as he grapples with his expanding powers and his morals while protecting his loved ones. And relative newcomer Hamazura (who only showed up in the last episode of the previous season) adds an extra dimension to the flawed system that everyone is forced to work in.
But on the other hand, there were some character priorities that I couldn’t help but take issue with. Almost a quarter of the season has no focus on the main cast at all, which isn’t itself an issue, but with the title character (yes, “A Certain Magical Index” is in fact referring to a character named Index who hasn’t been really relevant to the story as a person for awhile now) reduced to being the cute little sister or becoming basically a hostage/damsel for the latter half, I have to wonder if that time couldn’t have been better utilized. Same goes for Mikoto Misaka, who is constantly billed as the third strongest of the science-based characters but has her role cut down to either being asked for help by Toma (who she realizes her feelings for this season) or being turned down BY Toma when she offers help willingly. And yes, she has her own spin-off show to do things, but so does Accelerator and he basically took “MVP” this time!
Based on the news that kicked off with this season, this Certain Magical/Scientific Series is not done giving us shows this year, as the aforementioned Accelerator and Misaka both have seasons of their own shows slated for release soon, though likely with far less material to cram in. And as much of a rush job this season of the main series was, I still enjoyed it as a fan of the previous two, though I couldn’t help but notice the flaws. Here’s hoping the spin-offs spin me into a better mood.