Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A Certain Magical Index II
BD+DVD - Part Two
The Daihasei Festival comes to its conclusion with both good luck and bad: Touma wins a trip to Italy for he and Index, but he also is forced to play Misaka's penalty game when he gets back. While in Italy he and Index unexpectedly meet up with Sister Orsola, who has joined with Amakusa, a move that has not endeared her to the Romans. After some battles and adventures there, it's back to Academy City, where trouble is brewing – not just with the Church, but also with GROUP, an organization that threatens the city as a whole...and Accelerator and Last Order specifically.
There has been a trend recently of anime being self-aware. While generally not fully metafictional, the wink and nudge to the audience can waver between being clever and smug. Although A Certain Magical Index II does not really fall into this category, this second half does include a particularly good example of the trend when Touma is in his classroom at school and his classmates begin making fun of his status as a harem lead. Again, Index isn't strictly a harem show, but the joke is well-done enough that makes us look at the preceding episodes in a different way and allows us to laugh at the fact that they contain a few very tired tropes. It is indicative of the spot-on quality that this series displays from time to time, whether in humor like this or in its view of Academy City towards the end of the series.
Before we get to that, however, the story has to finish up the Oriana storyline from the first half, with the Croce di Pietro (which translates to “Stone Cross”) threatening the denizens of Academy City. There isn't much to this wrap-up, particularly compared with the rest of the content in this set, and it really is most notable for the fact that on the Blu Ray, the sound effects and background music are slightly louder than the voices. This is only for this episode and the rest of the discs and episodes are of excellent quality. The story, on the other hand, feels like it makes a bit of a jump from the conclusion of that storyline into the abrupt start of the Italy arc, a writing issue which also appears in the final two episodes of the season. It is a bigger issue there, with episode twenty-four in particular feeling like it skips a lot of content in order to compress the story into twenty-four minutes, but it still noticeable as the festival ends and Touma heads off for Venice. That arc marks the return of Sister Orsola Aquinas and some of the other nuns from the previous half of the series, as well as a great (and probably relateable) scene of Index and her safety pins running afoul of airport security.
While Index as a whole still seems kind of confused about nuns – Agnese's new habit barely covers one of her breasts or legs and a later character looks like a bad Halloween costume for “Bondage Nun” - Sister Orsola as a character comes into her own. In part it helps that her English voice actor, Mallorie Rodak, is clearly feeling more comfortable in the role; the commentary for episode fourteen tells us that this is her first anime role, and by the end of Orsola's episodes, she's really doing an excellent job. (That commentary track also discusses how she became an actor and is worth listening to.) But this arc also shows us an Orsola who is no longer conflicted about her role and her choices, and her understated reactions now have a strength behind them that was lacking earlier on. This in turn helps to develop the character of Agnese, and while Touma is at the forefront of the battle on the Vatican's ice ships, his part in this segment is mostly physical.
The most interesting storylines of this second half, however, belong to Accelerator, the villain of A Certain Scientific Railgun S. Now freed from the Level 6 experiments, Accelerator is at loose ends, wandering around with the smallest Misaka sister, Last Order. The bond between the two is really sweet, even if Accelerator has trouble expressing his feelings about it, and things really come to a head when Last Order is abducted by Kihara. This sets Accelerator off in a frenzy, and watching him attempt to reconcile his softer feelings for the little girl with his undiluted joy at fighting and killing is interesting. This arc also introduces Vento, another oddly dressed nun with a rosary attached to her tongue ring and a burning hatred of all things scientific. Vento's role seems to be to highlight the conflict of science and religion, with Academy City to her (and, it is implied, the Church) standing in for man's hubris in thinking that he could do God's job. To Vento and her brethren, Academy City is almost a character unto itself. Its higher ups use the city as a means to control the ESPers, playing on their fears that there is no where else in the world that would accept them and their powers. This is mostly shown through Accelerator's eyes, but you can easily see how it would affect others as well. Interestingly enough, through the use of the terrorist group Zero Skill, this cycle also explores the caste system some people clearly feel Academy City employs, ranking those with higher power levels above everyone else. Even if this isn't something that had previously occurred to you while watching, it is easy to see how Zero Skill could feel that way...and how Touma, with his right hand, might not view it in the same light.
Although this is the end of A Certain Magical Index II, it does not feel particularly conclusive. Granted, this could be because so many more novels exist after this point, but it does take away from the experience of watching it. With no solid conclusion, episode twenty-four feels even weaker, and we are certainly left with a sensation of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” If there was, as of this writing, an Index III looming on the horizon, that might make the ending seem better. As it stands, however, this is a fun romp with weird nuns, superpowers, and nefarious villains that just sort of...trickles off at the end.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Each arc is interesting in its own right, focus on Accelerator and Last Order's relationship is well done. Orsola becomes a better character.
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