This is the story of Touma Kamijou who believes that he the worst luck possible. He lives in a world in which a sizable chunk of Tokyo is taken up by “Academy City” a place where people gifted with special psychic abilities come to train their powers. Touma himself is ranked a a Level Zero, meaning the official tests reveal that he has no special ability whatsoever. Except that he actually does posses an ability called “Imagine Breaker” which cancels out any other special ability that might be used on him. One day while getting ready to go to mandatory summer school, Touma goes out to his balcony to air out his mattress and finds a girl with white hair, dressed like a nun just hanging on the railing. In the process of trying to figure out who the mysterious Index (the girl’s name) is, Touma gets caught up in a struggle among church magic-users (aka sorcerers), which is especially difficult for a citizen of the scientifically-based Academy City to accept. A pair of these sorceres are chasing Index for some reason, and Touma decides that he needs to help her out. He finds out early on that Index holds the contents of 103,000 grimoires in her mind, but her real importance to the sorceres takes him longer to discover. Eventually the mystery of who and what Index is and why the sorcerers are chasing her is uncovered and the book ends with Touma and Index reunited, but both having been changed by the events of the final confrontation.
I really wanted to like this book because I am familiar with the graphic novel series that follows one of the side characters, Misaka Mikoto, and in which Touma makes some appearences. If I had not already had some familiarity with the world of the story, I think it might have been difficult to follow because the workings of Academy City are not explained in a lot of detail. The book instead focuses on the relationship between Index and Touma. The instant connection between two people and the sense that one must get involved in the other’s trouble without really understanding why does not play out well in the novel format. I think that this difficulty lies in the lack of characterization and setting context. Touma is a completely unoriginal bored teenager trying to find somethign interesting and good in his life when he encounters Index, who is unlikable and bratty because she automatically seems to expect that Touma will understand her while she seems to make no effort to understand him. She also has an unexplicable habit of biting Touma when annoyed with him.
Touma’s other interactions with other characters are equally dull without a better sense of where and who they are. His brief exchanges with Misaka seem random and have little conenction to the main plotline. The only two characters who do have some intersting feature are the two sorceres who are chasing Index. When Touma uncovers the twist aboutThere are soem complexities to their characters and motivations that make them more interesting as characters, btu their clases with Touma are less than satisfying. About halfway through the story Touma discovers the truth about why the sorcers are after Index, and his reaction is standard indignance of his own behalf and on that of Index (totally conventional).
The other problem I have with this book is that there are some strange formatting decisions made. Some text is bolded to suggest special meaning which takes away from the mystery, and thoughts are usually italicized, but it can be hard to tell who is thinking what (a problem also present in some dialogue exchanges).
There are some redeeming features. The action sequences are interesting and well done (meaning they are easy to imagine and follow). The book is also not lacking in plot movement. The fast pace might be one reason why some badly needed exposition is lacking, but the story does move quickly. Volume 2 is now out and I intend to get a hold of it in hopes that some of the problems noted above smooth out.