Why A Certain Magical Index Fans Love Toumaby Kim Morrissy,
It took me about 14 volumes of the A Certain Magical Index light novels before I finally "got" the appeal of Touma Kamijou, protagonist of the series. It wasn't that I particularly disliked the character, but I didn't understand why he's been one of the top 10 male light novel characters in the Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! rankings for over ten years.
I'm far from the only person who had that reaction to Touma—in fact, my opinion is one of the milder ones you'll come across. I've seen people who absolutely hate Touma, thinking of him as a hypocritical and sanctimonious idiot who lectures his opponents endlessly about how they're supposed to live. Not only that, he's reckless to the point of stupidity, constantly fighting super-powerful sorcerers and espers without any strategy and only surviving because of plot convenience. Love him or hate him, Touma's the kind of character who leaves an impression.
Arguably, the best thing about Touma is also the worst thing about him. He's so convinced that he's an ordinary person that it takes an inordinate amount of time for the audience to figure out just who he really is. So many of Touma's actions are incomprehensible by conventional logic, but his character becomes a lot more interesting when you don't try to see him as the unlucky everyman he pretends to be. Touma is not an audience stand-in character.
In this article, I want to outline some of the reasons why Touma is such a well-loved figure among Index fans, and those reasons will become steadily more spoiler-heavy as we progress. I won't address anything past volume 16 of the light novel or episode 9 of the A Certain Magical Index III anime, so if you're up to date with the anime, feel free to chime in on the discussion.
At the very end of the first Index volume (episode 6 of the anime), Touma loses his memory in an attempt to protect the titular heroine Index from losing her own memories. However, in order to maintain the illusion that nothing has changed, Touma pretends that he remembers Index and tries to act as the person she believes him to be.
Fiction is littered with millions of examples of plot-induced amnesia, but what's particularly interesting about Touma's case is that the audience gets to know him very briefly before he loses his memories. However, they don't get to know him well enough to know if there's any big gap between the personality Touma had before and after losing his memories. In other words, nobody knows who Touma Kamijou is supposed to be, from the audience to Touma himself.
Initially, this doesn't seem to matter much. By losing his memories, Touma becomes an outsider to both the science and magic worlds represented in Index. Every character and concept introduced from that point onward is new to him as well, making him the perfect blank slate for other characters to educate about how things in their world work.
As time goes on, however, it becomes clearer that just being a blank slate does not make Touma represent the average person. For one thing, it's because of his amnesia that he feels the need to act like a reckless hero. He doesn't have a clear grasp of his own personality or the relationships he has with the people around him. Touma had no way of knowing when he first woke up that his previous self had only known Index for a few days. However, he thinks that their relationship must have been extremely close because he sees her crestfallen over the thought of him losing his memories. He decides that their relationship is worth protecting with his life because he doesn't have any idea of what else his old self used to value. It's not that his relationship with Index is a lie, but rather it's the only truth that he knows.
All of these aspects of Touma are rather subtle and don't become a focus of the story until the third season. That's the point when other characters finally work out that he has amnesia and start calling him out on it. According to Terra in episode 3, there were things that Touma used to know about himself until he forgot. It's also implied that his surname Kamijou could be read to mean "Above God," which leaves some interesting room for speculation about Touma's ultimate role. The question of Touma Kamijou's true nature becomes one of the central mysteries of the series.
Touma is a Wild Card
Within Touma's right hand lies the ability "Imagine Breaker," which can cancel any supernatural phenomenon. It is neither sorcery nor an esper ability. Although Touma is officially enrolled in Academy City as an esper, he is a Level 0 and otherwise has no powers.
The Imagine Breaker itself isn't what makes Touma interesting. After all, the power to nullify abilities is a standard feature in stories centering on supernatural battles. I also have to admit that many of Touma's earlier battles in the series don't bring out the best in his ability. The Imagine Breaker is best suited as a strategic trump card to turn the tide of a battle rather than a pure combat move, so it strains disbelief to see Touma defeat powerful enemies single-handedly with no other powers.
Later arcs puts the viewer on their toes by making Touma fight alongside allies with more conventional combat capabilities. By turning Touma into more of a wild card than the main fighter, the outcomes of battles become less predictable and more satisfying. If Touma wins, it's not because of plot armor but because of teamwork and strategy.
Touma's overall role in the series is also that of the wild card. He's not attached to any of the magic or science factions, but he's not exactly neutral, either. On multiple occasions, he states that he only cares about saving his friends and the people in front of him. His lack of consideration for the big picture means that his actions and alignment can be manipulated without him being aware of it. Aleister Crowley, the leader of the Board of Directors of Academy City, occasionally talks about how everything Touma has been doing is part of his grand plan, but Touma has no memories of ever interacting with the guy.
In the first two seasons of the Index anime, Touma's actions defuse conflicts and maintain a shaky status quo between the various science and magic factions. Eventually, however, it becomes impossible for the incidents he gets involved in to have a neat solution. As the story becomes more complex, it gets harder to predict how Touma's actions will affect the course of events, which ups the intrigue.
In other words, as the extended cast of Index gradually expands (something that naturally happens over the course of a long series), Touma becomes more interesting by extension. He's a good main character for the story he's in.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the main reason (for some) to love Touma. Frankly, he's a ridiculous character even at the best of times.
There's a term Japanese fans on the Internet have to talk about Touma: "Kamijou-san magi paneesu." It means "Kamijou-san is never half-assed." Think of it like the expression "the absolute madman."
As far as the fans are concerned, Touma is hilarious because he constantly lectures his opponents, punches both male and female villains in the face indiscriminately, and has a harem of almost cosmic proportions, all the while being dense about their romantic affections to an almost inhuman extent. If we're counting all of the Sisters (that is, the Mikoto Misaka clones), then Touma's harem has over ten thousand people in it. Surely at this point he's in the running for a world record, right? All of this is made even more hilarious by the fact that Touma constantly bemoans his poor luck and talks about how he wants "a fated encounter with a girl." Naturally, his male peers are annoyed at him.
The other thing that fans both inside and outside Japan tend to latch onto about Touma is how frequently he ends up punching girls in the face. (Bonus points if they become infatuated with him afterward.) This is made funnier by the fact that he never has gender equality in mind when he does these things. He's the type to rescue any damsel in distress, and whenever he's reminded that he once punched Kanzaki in the face before he lost his memories, he's horrified at his past self, even though he's punched multiple girls in the face since then.
It's easy to see why this distinct combination of hypocrisy and obliviousness would make Touma a hilarious but also polarizing character. The Index series tends to have a clear distinction between its humorous and serious content, but sometimes the gulf between them can be so large that the characters feel like completely different people depending on the context. Index likes to make light of its own protagonist, but that could also make it harder to take Touma seriously as a hero.
I'd say that if you're the kind of person who enjoys both the memes and the serious drama equally, you're more likely to be a fan of Touma. If not, you may have mixed feelings about him and the role he plays in the series. How do you feel about Touma and his latest escapades in A Certain Magical Index?
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