By Kazumi Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Released in Japan as “To Aru Majutsu no Index” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andrew Prowse.
As with the previous volume, and likely the next one, this is a giant action movie brought to the page. As such, there’s not quite as much development of Index’s main themes, though once again if you are religious you should drop this work like a hot potato if you haven’t already done so. That said, the ex-Pope showing up here and being the baddest ass who ever badassed just by kindly talking to everyone shows that it’s not just a binary “everyone with the Church is evil” thing. This also applies, oddly enough, to Accelerator, who seems to finally be getting over his “I am a horrible villain who must be punished” mentality now that he’s had his battle with Misaka Worst. In fact, he and Worst team up here, because a) he needs help in saving Last Order, and b) she finds the idea of his asking her for help hilarious. She too is an example of a bad guy who changes sides. And then there’s Touma, our theoretical hero, who just wants to punch Fiamma. A whole lot.
Kamachi said in the afterword that this was meant to be (along with 22) one book, which is likely why Mugino is menacing Hamazura on he cover despite the fact that she literally only shows up to be the cliffhanger. Also, given this is the second to last book in the first “series” of Index, there’s no major new character introduced here, though we do get a reappearance from a few older characters I wasn’t expecting – indeed, you could argue that without Kazakiri showing up, Accelerator and Touma would both be very dead right now. The plot is divided basically as follows: 1) Touma trying to catch up to Fiamma, starting with Lesser, then losing her but gaining Sasha, who fills a similar function; 2) Hamazura looking out for the forgotten and ignored, as always, while (finally) succeeding in helping Takitsubo; 3) Accelerator trying to help Last Order (this is less easy than helping Takitsubo); 4) Misaka arriving in Russia but mostly standing around, thus summing up her position in the novels since Book 3; and 5) Stiyl trying not to get killed by a still-possessed Index.
The action scenes are nice and solid here, and while I still find a lot of the magic discussion a bit boring, it at least doesn’t last as long this time. Everyone knows their function. Fiamma’s is to be smug, and he succeeds admirably, and you really do want Touma to punch him in the face, even though Touma does not achieve this (or really anything) in this book. Arguably that also applies to Accelerator, who is nudging closer to knowing how to save Last Order (magic) but can’t get to the next step. Again, only Hamazura succeeds while looking at the small picture… which also allows him to succeed when he ends up in the larger picture as well, pointing out to a dying Acqua of the Back that the REAL heroes are those who get up and return home to loved ones rather than those who accept death. It’s a really good scene, and you can easily see why he’s been added as a third protagonist, especially give that you get the sense Kamachi doesn’t know what to do with Touma at this point.
The next volume is important, as it will not only wrap up World War III, but may be the final volume of Index in North America. It’s unclear if New Testament is considered a new license or a continuing one, but in any case Yen On has not made it clear if they’re doing it. (That said, the back cover copy for 22 does not say ‘Final Volume’, so that’s a good sign.) Till then, enjoy an action-packed volume, and sorry, Mugino fans, I’m sure she’ll be in 22 more.