Index is an odd series. For starters, the title character is about the 4th most important character, and often disappears for entire episodes as a time. I love Index but I know she’s not a fan favorite. She reminds me of one of those characters that appears with a splash, then the writers can’t figure out what to do with them and they tend to either disappear completely or appear in tacked-on scenes to give them screen time. It’s just unusual to see it happen with the title character.
This show really succeeds when it’s in one of two modes. The first is out and out balls to the wall action, as we saw in the conclusion to the Fuse Kazakhiri arc. These episodes are incredibly violent and sometimes shockingly so, but the sheer bombast is breathtaking and exhilarating. These are eps where Accelerator and Touma can shine. Accelerator is a perfect vehicle for these bloody combat eps, given his temper and mad skills. And it’s fascinating to see Touma fight, because his skills are so unique from the others on the series. He cancels magic to fight the magical, and he punches in the face to battle everyone else. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show find so many creative ways to apply punches.
The other sweet spot is the straight-up humor. When entire eps are devoted to slice-of-life and zany comedy, they can be some of the funniest around. All of these characters are basically oddballs, and it’s fun to see them go through their paces Accelerator is the classic fish-out-of-water in any social situation, which provides a gold mine of humorous possibilities – as does his interaction with Last Order. These are also the episodes where Index tends to actually be involved in the story, which is a plus.
Where Index struggles is with anything in between these two extremes. Somehow the balance usually doesn’t feel quite right, with humor interjected in the wrong places and action never quite sweeping the audience along. I have an issue with the lack of exposition as well, something that usually doesn’t bother me so much with adaptations. The series certainly makes almost no attempt to give non-readers of the light novels any context to help understand who people are and why they do what they do. The problem arises because this universe they inhabit is so bloody complicated. GROUP, Skillout, God’s Right Seat, Amakusa Catholics, Alestair.. There are so many power centers and competing interests that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard or a memory like a steel trap. And we don’t get a scorecard – new characters or ones we haven’t seen in 20 eps pop up with little or no introduction and we’re left to figure it out ourselves. This is surely a deliberate choice, but one that I struggle with. In terms of sheer plot, the Index/Railgun mythos has to be one of the most complex I’ve ever seen.
I came back for the second season, though, whereas I tried to watch Railgun and dropped out after a few eps. Why? Well, I just love the overall premise and I really enjoy many of the characters. I think Touma is an excellent lead – one of the best male leads in the business, in fact. He’s a truly admirable guy who gets by on smarts, brute force and guts – and does have that completely contrary superpower to work with in a pinch. Index is a favorite of mine, though I confess it’s mostly because I find her so damn kawaii. Railgun is great in measured doses, and I could watch her awkward fumblings whenever she’s “courting” Touma all day long. Accelerator is a great anti-hero – and his soft side for Last Order is rather touching in it’s way.
The downside is that there are just too many characters here. Even if I knew them all, I think I’d still have a hard time caring as much when so many players are involved. That, and Kuroko – she remains one of the most insufferable and annoying characters in modern anime for me. Every time she pops on screen it’s like kidney punch. Fortunately in the “Index” side of things those appearances are rare. She’s like a bad odor that tends to follow Misaka around wherever she goes.
This whole issue of too much clutter seemed to be a bigger problem in season two. S1 was more focused – it was easier to follow the course of the plot, and there seemed to be fewer subplots percolating along to keep track of. I admire a show that has real scope and intricacy to the plot, but this season it seemed to spiral out of control more than S1. I enjoyed several eps – the Venice Arc was especially good for me, exemplifying the best of what this show can be. It started out with wonderful comedy, than segued into some terrific action that actually involved Index herself. it was beautifully drawn and animated and featured a genuinely interesting premise that was coherent and compelling. I wish they’d all been like that.
I can only assume there will be a season three based on the non-ending this season, and if there is I’ll certainly watch. This property is a self-perpetuating machine, consistently popular across multiple demographics and with a seemingly endless supply of material to draw from. I hope when that third season comes it brings a better sense of focus with it.