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A Certain Magical Index Season 1 Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

14 min read

A Certain Magical Index Season 1Magic, science, politics, religion and high school antics all rolled into one sprawling series.

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, and 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 1-24.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo and the previously recorded English language mix in 5.1, both of which are presented using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. Similar to the DVD release, 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. The series in its lossless form is largely the same in a sense, but it does come across a bit louder across both tracks and in general has a more distinct approach throughout. 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 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show was DVD only before so this release brings us the twenty four episodes across three discs in an eight/nine/seven format. Animated by JC Staff, the series has a pretty solid look about it with a that helps to make the dark sequences stand out more solidly and with more detail while the daytime sequences have a lot more pop and general color to them. 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. In general, everything is a lot more solid this time around but the show isn’t the most richly designed to begin with, so it’s an increase in quality but not a significant one. 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 packaging for this release brings us an ovesized Blu-ray case to hold the four DVDs and the three Blu-ray discs across multiple hinges. The first editions of this have an O-card on it that’s replicating the cover artwork itself, though the O-card has brighter and more vivid colors to it. The front cover works the familiar image of Kamijo and Index together in the middle of the street with the street fading into the background. It’s a lot of blue and white but it works really well here, especially with the touches of yellow and skin color. The back of the case is more traditional in that we get a dark piece with some touches of electricity along the side to spruce it up a bit. The shots from the show are bright, colorful and varied while the premise is decently covered considering how much goes on in this season. The technical specs break everything down cleanly and clearly for both formats so you know exactly what’s involved and how it’s designed. While there are no inserts included in the release, we do get some artwork on the reverse side, one with a villain of sorts along the left and a small cast shot of some of the other characters along the right. The left side breaks down the full slate of episodes by number and title without separating it by disc while also listing the extras.

The menu design for this release is rather straightforward but works well enough while tying into the packaging design a bit. The layout uses a standard design with a blue color strip along the bottom that has the navigation strip that’s also used for the slimmer pop-up menu as you can’t access certain features during that. The logo is kept through the center where it adds in the season number and the disc number so we have nice continuity with the design of the second season as well. The rest of it is pretty much just a series of clips from the show which works well to set the mood with the action and character moments. The navigation is simple and easy to use and it works pretty much flawlessly.

The extras for this release are designed more for English language fans as their are several commentary tracks for ti by the English language production team that we got with the original releases. We also get clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which are found on the third 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 feature film that came 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 Kamiji, 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 segment 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.

While the first two arcs are more magical based, the next one goes into the esper/science side as Toma gets caught up with Mikoto a fair bit as her position as a Level 5 electrocutor 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. With the way it’s unfolded so far, understanding how he’s had these twenty-thousand clones made in order to try and become something more, a Level 6, discovering how the first ten thousand or so went down was certainly intriguing, especially with how Misaka is trying to stop him before anything else happens. It makes sense that based on the way it plays out, Toma gets heavily involved in it all and insists that he has to be the one to stop Accelerator since doing so would change perceptions all the more since he’s a level zero. Things do play out here as one would expect, particularly with Toma’s power, but what we get out of Accelerator is interesting as he’s the kind of “villain” where there’s more to him.

Bringing Accelerator back is a surprise, especially since they also introduce a new Misaka into it as well, the twenty-thousand and first mode, a Last Order model, that wasn’t fully grown and is basically a child with all that the Misaka’s know. She’s trying to find out how to proceed from here, not feeling threatened by him since he’s completely done with that route, but because he ends up with her for sometime, he discovers a plot being orchestrated that’s going to use her to cause a massive problem with the other ten thousand Misaka’s out there. By taking all the other cast members out of the equation, focusing on these two makes him far more accessible and you can see how he’s going to be more of a key figure in the larger storylines that exist. His time with the young Misaka is pretty much my favorite arc of the set.

One of my least favorite involves Toma after his initial encounter with Accelerator where he and a few others end up going to the beach for a forced vacation in order to let things cool down in the City. It brings in Toma’s parents a bit but it also goes off the rails quickly as an event is happening there where someone is starting a spell called Angel Fall. The whole plot of it didn’t work well for me, the introduction of the characters for it felt awkward and it came across as though it wasn’t sure what it wanted to do. The way it changes things up since it’s not real is a little much, especially where Index gets all done up in a few strips of cloth for a bathing suit. There’s some decent material here, especially in finally getting to know Toma’s family a bit and seeing why they tried so hard for him to get him to Academy City works well. But everything else was just too forced and awkward.

Similar can be said about the final arc in which we get a new arrival in Academy City with Sherry, who intends to cause quite a scene and a rift overall. There’s a certain kind of feeling that we’re just thrown into things rather than a good build up to events and that carries into this one as well. With the way it goes along, you know how it’ll happen since it’s the final couple of episodes of the season and it has to have some minor closure, but it’s the reveal along the way that I liked. In the midst of the scheming and fighting, we learn about the Five Element group, which is basically a shadow organization that sort of officially runs the city, and there’s a fear about Toma from them. They see him building up this group of friends, but to them it looks like allies, of all different stripes. Combining that with his own abilities, you can see how his friendships could be something more and speaks about how the franchise can progress overall, though more so in the books I suspect.

With the second half of A Certain Magical Index, there are things to like and things that don’t work well. I like the concept of the series and world overall, but it’s execution has been problematic at times in terms of explaining things out well and making it accessible. It has so much going on and packs enough things into a short enough space that in a lot of ways it never feels like it slows down enough to let you really connect with them. The only time in this set that I felt like I got to know the people involved was with the Accelerator and young Misaka storyline as it had a lot of time with just the two of them talking and seeing changes in Accelerator come to fruition. With this series, I can see so much potential with it but can’t help shake the feeling that it can only really be exploited within the light novels themselves.

In Summary:
Revisiting the first season at this stage is certainly an interesting experience. While I watched the original DVD release, I’ve since seen the A Certain Scientific Railgun series and the first part of the second season of this one. Going back to the beginning, especially in relation to the Misaka arc with Accelerator and having all that extended back story for Misaka really humanizes her all the more. I do find her to be the most interesting character of the series, and the most accessible, which is why the spinoff did so well. I wish Index herself was more interesting but she’s just not all that much to work with as presented here. This season covers a whole lot of material and marathoning it over a couple of days reinforces that there’s a lot to like here and it really is open ended with what it can do. I wish the original work was more of a sandbox property that explored a lot more of Academy City as they could do endless variations of it. This is a fun series that may not change the world but it does some good stuff and is pretty engaging.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, English Language Commentaries, Textless Opening Songs, Textless Closing Songs

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 18th, 2014
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p aVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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