My first foray into the premiere season of "A Certain Magical Index" was a mixed experience. The world of Toma Kamijo, turned upside down by his introduction to Index, a nun whose brain contains the knowledge of over 100,000 magical tomes (a direct reference in show to the very real Index Librorum Prohibitorum), showed strong promise, but as is the case with a split release, the build up to a finale to come, along with pacing that often felt wishy-washy, left me feeling a bit sour on the series as a whole. In this second volume release, the saga begun over twelve episodes reaches a conclusion after twelve more, 25-minute episodes. Starting with the episode, "One Way Road," the series throws its characters towards an inevitable showdown with Accelerator, a mysterious figure introduced in the last few episodes of the debut volume.
Sadly, the second half of season one suffers from some of the same negative factors that turned me off of the first half. Yet, with the world already established in the first twelve episodes, the issue this time is not pacing and story development that feels like its going nowhere; its an incredibly ambitious writing staff attempting to tell a story that is truly fascinating but isn't allowed enough time to breathe. The solution is simple: longer episodes or a few more in the first season run. The world presented to viewers is one that strikes a steady balance between pure action, character development all wrapped in a world crafted by original mythology interspersed with real bits of history. The obvious, specifically the use of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, is supplemented by the introduction of elements ranging as diverse as Japanese cosmology to Aztec gods connecting to the stars and planets above. Those with a firmer grasp of Catholicism will find deeper meaning the series, naturally, as that particular faith is a narrative backbone to numerous characters and events. The bottom line, is for every moment of frustration due to basic structuring, the storytelling in "A Certain Magical Index" won't be written off as hackneyed nor lacking ambition.
On the technical side of things, this volume obviously contains the same, mediocre animation style that plagued the first volume. The color choices remain an anchor point from the series taking a far too melancholy tone, but with the increasing inclusion of real world religion and mythology, as well as the moral issues that have a chance to peak their heads from time to time, on a purely aesthetic level, a more realistic, less "fun" approach to art design (not to mention slicker animation levels in general), would help mask the series' inherent flaws. It also goes without saying, the English dub remains irritating to the ears and the subbed, original language track is the preferred viewing method.
Obviously, since the series proper consists of two, 24 episode seasons, not everything is wrapped up in a tidy package here. There are some very nice plot twists that pay off earlier than expected and much to my own surprise, the concluding episodes are both satisfying and actually leave me appreciating the season as a whole much more than my initial introduction provided. Toma's journey feels quite epic from where we met him and although the character has much more potential, he transcends his base level purpose of providing viewers with an avatar (well, an avatar with an extremely powerful magical ability connecting him to this fantastic world) to experience this unique world through. I still contest, on a single viewing there is too much to take in, to the point of minor confusion at times, but both as a separate package and combined with the preceding episodes, the second volume of "A Certain Magical Index" proves to be a worthy viewing endeavor.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports a very subdued color palette that is accentuated further by a very soft level of detail. Compression artifacts virtually non-existent and technical hiccups sometimes evident in animated transfers don't rear their head.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 dub has a generally strong feel to the overall mix (music can be overpowering and grating), with dialogue issues relegated solely to the quality of the dub itself. Surrounds are used to moderate effect, but overall things don't feel shortchanged by the lighter usage. The Japanese stereo track is far more evenly balanced, but lacks the extra "oomph" provided by the dub. English subtitles are included.
Commentaries on a few selected episodes on the first disc, as well as textless opening and closing songs and a trailer gallery makes up the entirety of the bonus features department.
The second volume of "A Certain Magical Index's" debut season does fulfill the shaky promise of its first 12 episodes. As a complete package, "A Certain Magical Index" should prove to be worth an anime fan's time (or for anyone desiring a dash of classic mythology and religion in a modern, fantasy backed setting), despite narrative hiccups and disappointing art design. Recommended.