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.
Despite its name, and despite the fact that Yen On is releasing it after the main Index series, this is not particularly a short story volume. Instead, it’s four interlinked plot threads, which are presented as distinct chapters – he’s done this before. In Japan this came out between the 13th and 14th volumes of the main series, and it takes place there as well, with most of the cast worrying about what seems to be an inevitable war with the Roman Orthodox Church (which, to be fair, does happen). I am happy that we are finally seeing it here, though I will admit that a lot of its events would have had more impact if it had come out in its proper place. In particular, this volume introduces one of the main protagonists of the series – though honestly you’d never know it from the book itself, as he doesn’t even appear till 4/5 of the way in, and gets taken out by Touma like garbage. Which melds nicely with the book’s themes.
Introduced in this book: Shiage Hamazura, the aforementioned third protagonist. Sasha is also seen here as herself, rather than in “I am possessed by Gabriel” mode, though thanks to the Russian equivalent of Laura Stuart she’s walking around in a fetish outfit. We also meet Komaba Ritoku, though he sadly has the misfortune of running up against Accelerator, so he’s killed off here. He shows Accelerator the picture of a girl he’s trying to protect – his sister? Well, he’s dead now, so we will never know the identity of this mystery girl… well, unless Yen licenses New Testament. This volume also helps to solidify GROUP as part of the dark side of Academy City, and shows that they can grumpily work together when they want to – though they don’t here, as Accelerator and Musujime Awaki get their own separate fights.
There’s silliness at the start (how does Touma manage to pat Aisa on the back and knock her bra off?), which also leads to one of the few deliberately funny jokes in these books which usually try to be funny and fail – Touma’s heartfelt “I’m going to start studying English!” is a big LOL. Most of the book is introducing us to Skill-Out, a group of Level Zeroes trying to wreak havoc. Later books show them off as well, but, as Touma yells at Hamazura, they could have chosen to protect the weak (and indeed we see Komaba was doing this), instead of basically being a bad biker gang with explosives. We also meet once more Mikoto’s mother, the self-proclaimed “bisexual-disaster cougar”, who is also there for humor (not as funny) but also to possibly pull Mikoto out of Academy City due to impending war. Fortunately for the Railgun’s romantic prospects, Touma manages to impress her mom enough that she decides to leave her there. And, of course, Touma gets to punch the villain, in this case Hamazura, though notably instead of “breaking that illusion” he says Hamazura can break his own illusions himself.
So overall, this is very good setup for books 14-22, and you might want to go back and read those again if you have the time. Next time we’ll get the second SS book, which I understand is far more of a short-story volume than this one was, although I imagine they’re probably all interconnected as well.