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A Certain Magical Index Season 1 Part 1 Anime DVD Review

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A Certain Magical Index Part 1
A Certain Magical Index Part 1
When a young woman arrives with the knowledge of 103,000 grimoires in her head, it’s not going to be an easy life for Toma to deal with.

What They Say:
Kamijo is a student in Academy City, where people use science to develop supernatural abilities. The guy’s got a lot of heart – luckily for a young nun named Index. She’s on the run from a sorcery society that covets the astonishing 103,000 volumes of magical knowledge stored in her memory. When Index stumbles into Kamijo’s life, she finds a faithful friend and protector. While Kamijo’s easily the weakest kid in Academy City, he’s got something else going for him: the Imagine Breaker, an unexplainable power stored in his right hand that negates the powers of others.

With scientists and sorcerers attacking from all sides, the Imagine Breaker will definitely come in handy, but it’s Kamijo’s loyalty to Index that will be his greatest weapon in the fight to keep her safe.

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series is fairly standard as we get the original Japanese langauge in stereo encoded at 192kbps while the English language mix is done in 5.1 encoded at 384kbps. The series is a pretty straightforward one when it comes to its sound design with its stereo presentation but it does a good job of managing things. The dialogue is generally well placed when needed and there’s a bit of depth here and there, but it doesn’t rise to anything really noteworthy. When it comes to the action, it ramps things up a bit and definitely hits a bit louder, but generally just uses the stereo channels better to make it a fuller sounding fight. The 5.1 mix bumps this up a bit, mostly by adding more volume to it, and the mix as a whole comes across decently even if there isn’t a huge difference between the two tracks. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The twelve episodes for this set is spread across two discs with six episodes on each. Animated by JC Staff, the series has a pretty decent look about it with a good mix of dark scenes and daylight scenes where we get general character time as well as action for both. The show has a real world look about it for the most part but ramps things up with the magic action and some of the bloodshed which is a bit stronger than one might expect after the first few episodes. The colors are pretty all over the map at times with some very dark sequences, which is where you’ll see more noise in the backgrounds, to some very bright and colorful city scenes that definitely stand out well. The series isn’t one that’s hugely striking with its visual design, but it has a solid approach, some good animation throughout and a transfer that does a decent job of bringing it across.

The limited edition packaging for this release is pretty decent as we get a heavy chipboard release that holds the first part and has room for the second as well. The box art uses the familiar mix of blues to give it a darker and more intense background and the front panel provides a look at Index and Toma together where he’s a bit more serious and she has her footloose and fancy free approach, along with the logo there as well. The back panel goes darker with shades of red mixing in with the blue as we get a full length shot of Stiyl and Kaori together which has a little more menace to it. The set also has a spacer box inside that’s done in grayscale where one side has the logo and the other features a large cast shot of many characters from the show.

Inside the box, we get the individual clear keepcase that holds the two discs of this part of the show. The front cover uses the same artwork as the front of the box itself with a shot of Toma and Index together against all the shades of blue. The back cover is fairly standard as we get a mostly dark panel for the background which allows for several large shots along the left that are appealing and a large section along the right for the logo and the premise of the series. The episode and disc count is also listed clearly as are the extras included in the release. Production credits are easier to read in general with the white on dark background and the technical grid covers everything clearly and accurately. The set has a hinge inside to hold one of the discs while there is also artwork on the reverse side of the cover, one where it pairs up the characters from the box art in different ways while keeping to the red and blue design. No show related inserts are included with the release.

The menu design for the series is simple but fits in fairly well thematically as it uses a lot of blues for the background where we get the magic symbol dominating it. In front of it, we get a character pairing that’s a bit more vibrant and colorful with some detail to it that works well and brings a little life to it. Each disc uses a different combination of characters so it changes things up pretty nicely. Below the character artwork we get the logo which is also just above the navigation strip which has the standard selection bar. The languages are set up to default to English with sign/song subtitles and the whole layout is easy to navigate around and use without any problems.

The extras for this release are designed more for English language fans as the first disc has a pair of commentary tracks for ti by the English language production team. We also get clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which are found on the second disc.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Kazuma Kamachi that began in 2004 and ran for twenty-two novels through 2010, A Certain Magical Index is a twenty-four episode series that mixes magic, science and the supernatural in an interesting way. The property gained a lot of popularity over the years prior to this 2008-2009 series as there were spinoffs, manga, games and more merchandise than you can shake a stick at. A spinoff series followed, a sequel series to this followed and there’s also a new feature film due out in 2013 that will only draw more people to it. While it has its fans out there, it’s not a show that really felt like it reached critical mass overseas, though it definitely has plenty of reasons to be popular.

The series takes place in an alternate Earth where a sizable city exists just to the west of Tokyo called Academy City. Hosting some two million plus students, it’s a vast area that has numerous schools from elementary up through college level where anything and everything is explored in depth. Research facilities are all over the place and lots of people interested in many, many different things. One of the main studies tends to be on the more superhuman side of the population where esper abilities exist and are well studied and regulated to some degree. It’s treated as a science to be dealt with and not out of the ordinary. We don’t see too much of the espers in this first half of the set, but there are some seriously powerful levels here and there that we hear about and get some glimpses of. Academy City is certainly at the cutting edge of things, but it also still feels like a lot of school shows in a way, just because of the uniforms and the like. There’s less in-school time in this series though, even though they’re surrounded by so many educational facilities.

We’re introduced early on to Toma, a student who in many ways doesn’t quite fit in with many of the others that are there to either study their psychic/esper skills or the magic side. Because of his low level of power, he’s rated as a zero and that keeps him from feeling like he has a proper place, made worse by the way it seems like he has a fair bit of bad luck early on. But his luck changes when while at his apartment, he cleans out his futon only to discover a young girl hanging over his balcony. The girl, introducing herself as Index, is on the run from some mysterious individuals who have been chasing her. Toma’s the good guy at heart and as much as he doesn’t want to get wrapped up in all of it, he can’t help but to feel like he’s responsible for her on some level and does what he can to protect her. What’s intriguing about Index is that she claims to be in possession of 103,000 grimoires in her brain, which occupies 85% of her mind. Her main memories, which takes in everything in great detail, represents the remaining 15% of her mind. Over the course of the first few episodes we see the struggle as Toma comes to grips with some of this, but also discovering that the people after her are from where she’s from in London as a part of the Anglican church’s magical division. And in the end, it’s for her benefit.

The story of the first half is interesting since it works to introduce us to the varied concepts that are at work here and accepted, though Toma seems less inclined to believe in magic in a way, but that may just be my perception of his attitude and the way he questions things. With his mindset to protect Index, he has to deal with the way some of those from the Church come looking for her, which brings us Stiyl and Kaori, and they have different approaches that shows off two different kinds of power. But what I liked about them is that while they do go kind of hard on him at first, it shifts to a point where they realize Toma may be good for her, but still have to do what they must and reveal the trick of her mind that has been going on for several years at the least. The need to reset her yearly is strange and nonsensical in some ways, but a lot of what they deal with rides on faith.

What becomes fascinating as it goes on is what we learn about Toma. While he’s rated low, he’s more than just a good guy as it turns out he has a bizarre power in his right hand called the Imagine breaker. It’s not magic, it’s not science and it’s not a psychic ability, but it allows him to in essence cancel things out. It should give him some good luck in ways, but it’s largely worked against him. What we see here is that when he’s brought into orbit with Index, it introduces him to other people where his power really shines. While we see a big impact when it comes to Index as he uses his power to help her at one point, it also has a significant impact on him as well as it causes him to lose his memory. And unlike other shows where it would be just a short-term thing, all signs point to this being something that will go on for quite some time.

And that memory loss hits halfway through this set, but it’s also a memory loss that he tries to hide from everyone, faking that he remembers his life prior to the loss. Because of the way things get settled, he ends up in a sort of normalized relationship with Stiyl and even works with him on a job, one that introduces us to a former “partner” of Indexes named Izzard who has been trying to solve her problem from when he was with her three years prior. It’s an intriguing series of events as we see how he took over a cram school and had two worlds existing within it at the same time. The magic side gets explored well as time goes on but it hints at other things as well, such as his research into vampires while not explicitly stating that vampires actually exist. It’s an approach to try considering what Index was suffering, but it’s also amusing since it’s a problem that was solved while he was away.

The set does start in on a third arc as well here, though that carries over into the next set. While the first two are more magical based, this one goes into the esper/science side as Toma gets caught up with Mikoto a fair bit as her position as a Level 5 electocture esper comes into play, largely because Toma can’t keep himself out of other peoples affairs. She’s going through some troubles that slowly come to light, mostly because of how Toma deals with her, but it gets confusing along the way as it starts to introduce numerous clones of her that are pretty dead personality wise, as well as her younger sister that feels like she’s manipulating a lot of things. The arc doesn’t finish in this set and unlike the first two, something about this one just felt very off in terms of structure and presentation, making it very hard to get into it.

In Summary:
A Certain Magical index is a sprawling property that does a great deal of things across all the novels, manga and other various adaptations as well. It’s easy to see why it’s popular and has appeal since it brings together so many different things under one trapping and looks to really work them in an interesting way together. The downside for me in a way as the character of Index herself since it’s just such a cliché, albeit one in a seas of other ones here. Thankfully, it tends to focus more on Toma as it progresses and that works for the best as he has an intriguing power that can be used as a deus ex machina that doesn’t feel like it hurts as badly. The series has a lot to offer but it’s one that I’m still having a hard time really grabbing hold of because of how varied it is and the way the footing feels weak at first. I’m certainly intrigued and with so much more material out there, I can see myself really getting into it as it progresses.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary for Episodes 3 & 6, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: December 11th, 2012
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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