A Certain Magical Index III part 1 BR/DVD – Review

I did episode reviews for this series when it originally streamed during the Fall 2018 and Winter 2019 seasons, so if you want to see a more detailed episode-by-episode breakdown, look here. I decide to revisit the series with the advent of Funimation‘s release of the first half on Blu-Ray in order to give it a general overview and see if watching it all together changed my perception of the series. For the most part it hasn’t.

The return of the main Index universe series, after more than eight years off and two full side series (A Certain Scientific Railgun and A Certain Scientific Railgun S) and one retrofitted movie (Miracle of Endymion), should have been a triumphant event, especially with director Hiroshi Nishikiori and studio J.C.STAFF returning to work on it. However, the third installment instead proved to be problematic enough that a common comment about the streams of the later two series in the franchise to come out in the past year – A Certain Scientific Accelerator and A Certain Scientific Railgun T – was, “at least it’s handled things better than Index 3.” I was one of those people sharing that sentiment.

The single most overriding problem with Index III is its pacing. Events just keep happening, with little to no downtime before the next big threat rolls around, and scenes can jump suddenly between venues with little to no indication or logic behind how characters accomplished timely transport. The whole thing feels as if it is condensing a lot of source material down and/or rushing through it in order to complete the overall mega-arc involving Fiamma of the Right and everything that feeds into it in one two cour season. While the second half is arguably worse than the first half on these points, they are still evident problems here. Compared to viewing episodes weekly, the effect of it is lessened when viewed in marathon mode, as you don’t have time to stop and think as much about the weird gaps in the storytelling. There’s just too much happening at any given time.

The other problem – and this is particularly evident in these first 13 episodes – is that the franchise isn’t a stylistic trend-setter anymore. While I would hesitate to say that A Certain Magical Index initiated the trend of high school life involving supernatural battles that prevailed through much of the 2010s, it at the very least played a key role in popularizing such series. So many other series of this type have come out since the 2010 airing of Index 2 that this one now feels like just another entry in the genre. Really, the only thing going for the franchise at this point which helps it stand out from the crowd is how stupidly broad and involved the universe is. No other franchise of its type has so expansive a reach or so much going on at any given time, to the point that keeping track of all of the characters without Wiki articles for references is nearly impossible.

Of course, having such an expansive universe means that there are innumerable schemes, and innumerable groups executing those schemes, at any given time. That helps assure that there is barely a dull moment in these 13 episodes. The series brings back ITEM, the female quartet which first appeared in Railgun S, and their affiliated servant Shiage Hamazura (who first appeared in the last episode of Index II); the latter gets some focus attention in a couple of episodes of this part but will be much more important in the second half. It also introduces BLOCK, SCHOOL, MEMBER, and GROUP, leaving one to wonder if original writer Kazumi Komachi wasn’t playing some kind of word game here. The introduction of SCHOOL also brings into play Kakine Teitoku, the second-ranked Level 5, who I believe has been mentioned previously in the franchise but is only now making an appearance. Another new group, the English sorceress contingent New Light, also makes its debut towards the end of this set. Also reappearing from earlier installments are Necessarius, the English Puritan Church, the Agnese Forces, and the Right Seat of God, among others (although Vento, the one Touma fought previously, only has a cameo-level appearance in these episodes).

A number of unaffiliated individuals (or those more important individually than by affiliation) also pop up. Disappointingly infrequent in appearance is longtime fan-favorite Mikoto Misaka, who mostly just appears from time to time to remind us that she’s still around and stressing over whether or not she’s in love with Touma (she obviously is to the viewer) and does not contribute to much beyond a couple of fan service scenes. Several other familiar faces from previous series also pop up in varying capacities and levels of importance, including Himegami, Yomikawa, Uiharu, Last Order, Accelerator, Tsuchimikado, Maika, Orsola, Sherry Cromwell, Oriana, Lidvia, and Seiri, as well as couple of others that I am sure I am forgetting.

The episodes in this volume cover all of three story arcs and most of a fourth. First up is the matter concerning protests in France and the Document of C, which prominently brings into the picture Terra of the Left from the Right Seat of God, the Pope, and a brief introductory appearance by overall series villain Fiamma of the Right. This also involves Itsuwa, a busty Amakusa member, coming into Touma’s romantic orbit for the first time; she winds up becoming the most regularly-appearing supporting cast member in these episodes, with the rest of the Amakusa getting sport out of her feeble romantic efforts. The second arc involves members of GROUP – including Accelerator, Tsuchimikado, Etzali, and Awaki (aka Move Point) – contending with both other Dark Side groups and an outside invasion, though an important subplot involves the attack Level 5 Kakine and his affiliated group SCHOOL on ITEM; this is where Shiage first gets established as a potential future protagonist. This climaxes in the Accelerator/Kakine duel. Following that is a journey into the underground levels of Academy City, where Touma and the Church of Amakusa work together to fight off Acqua of the Rear, who has come seeking Touma’s right arm. The fourth arc, which takes Index and Touma to England, introduces the British Royal Family and New Light and brings back a number of former magic-side foes in an arc that falls one episode short of completing in this volume.

What all of this amounts to is a franchise standard: complicated plots involving both espers and religious elements interpreted in creative fashion. Some of it doesn’t make much sense, such as why the British Royal Family still travels by carriage (even if they are magical) and other are outrageously fanciful, such as the mobile flying base stocked with broomstick-riding witches. Character behavior gets improbably silly at times (the three British princesses all trying to get in a picture, for instance) and aggressively awful at other times (one member of ITEM does not fare well, for instance), while other characters stick firmly to their principles or are inspired by Touma. Index is more of a burden than an active participant in most of this, but that’s nothing new.
Naturally the episodes are stocked with all sorts of high-powered battles, whether magic or esper abilities are the source. These are as flashy as ever, and while the combat designs are lackluster in some cases, in other cases they can get both involved and intense; the animation is at its best in those scenes. Fan service is also a regular but not omnipresent element; its frequency and level of intensity would be tame compared to more serious fan service titles. While not especially graphic, there are a few dark and bloody scenes in places. Sadly, the visual technical merits supporting all of this can be quite inconsistent, with animation quality and modeling breakdowns being regular occurrences and CG enhancements (especially in vehicle movement) generally being unimpressive. Background art and designs for new characters fare better.

Since Maiko Iuchi is back doing the musical score, the sound of the series remains consistent with other franchise installments. The frenetic techno sound of opener “Gravitation” evokes sound and style of all previous franchise openers, while closer “Kakumei Zenya” has a more mellow sound. In between action scenes are heavy on techno, while lighter moments often use more piano-based ditties.

Funimation is releasing the series in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, with on-disk Extras including an English commentary for episode 1 and clean versions of the opener and both variations of the closer. Also included is a 24 page booklet which provides a valuable (but not complete) character guide and character art done in alternate styles (and probably by alternate artists). It also features the English dub, which brings back voice actors from previous franchise installments as much as possible. Among new characters, Amanda Lee and Marti Etheridge are particularly good fits for Itsuwa and Girl in a Dress, respectively, with other casting decisions and performances varying between merely adequate and good.

I wouldn’t go as far as labeling the first half of this installment in the franchise as bad, as it does deliver on what it promises to be. However, these episodes also show why the core series isn’t the standard-bearer of the animated side of the franchise.

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