It's so terrible that it belongs in textbooks. Creative writing teachers could dissect its failure. I used to like this franchise, you know. I was happy and optimistic at the start of this season, but INDEX in hindsight has been on a downward trajectory since the beginning.
- INDEX I (2008) = good
- INDEX II (2010) = often boring, but I liked the in-between episodes and the season finale
- INDEX movie (2013) = bad, but one can't read too much into that since it's a movie based on a TV series
- INDEX III (2018) = run away
Personally, I think the show's misunderstood the secret of its own success. Accelerator was a wildly popular villain protagonist, so now everyone's a villain protagonist. This could have been fun if they were juicy villains with strong dramatic foundations (which applies to Accelerator, in fairness), but unfortunately they tend to be gloating comic-book supervillains you don't remember and don't care about. (I'm not attacking comics, by the way. I like comics. What appears too often here is the kind of shallow, forgettable villain who's indistinguishable from a million other evil villains.)
Secondly, we've got a massive, bewilderingly complex web of countries and secret organisations. A typical story arc will go like this. Touma will go to Country A and find that Villain B is trying to do Evil Plan C. This leads to a big fight between Unmemorable Antagonists D, E, F, G, H, I and J. You have no idea who these people are. I'd be having to google them even when I did theoretically know their identities, since their last appearance had been in a story arc I'd watched only a week or two ago as part of my INDEX/RAILGUN-a-thon. Conclusion: I don't care. For example, Academy City is overflowing with sinister assassination groups with names like GROUP, SCHOOL, ITEM, MEMBER, BLOCK and DRAGON. We're expected to be able to tell them apart, e.g. when they fight each other. I didn't see the point. They're all the same. They're dull, smug bastards who kill people. Them murdering each other sounded like a splendid idea to me, but unfortunately the show devotes entire story arcs to this. I don't get it. The show's not even trying to create any emotional connection between us and these people. They're all evil! By the end of the series, you'll be hoping for a nuclear holocaust. (You don't want them dead because they're baddies, by the way, but because they're boring.)
Conversely the show's heroes, about whom I do care, will usually be nowhere to be seen. I decided halfway through that this show has stopped being about its heroes. Am I being unfair? Let's do a cast breakdown, more or less in descending order of (my) interest.
1. Accelerator, who's an interesting character who also happens to fit the show's notions of what it wants to be. He gets a character arc that explores his psychological problems and ideas about himself. He's a successful character. The show's quite fun when he's on-screen, killing people while gloating about it and criticising their inadequate level of villainy.
2. Touma Kamijo = actually a good man (although he denies it) and the show can't wriggle out of using him, because he's the main character. However he does get de-emphasised, to the point of being just one of the crowd in the season's second title sequence. In fairness, though, the season's making unexpected and quite interesting capital out of that amnesia he suffered all the way back in Season 1.
3. Index, Takitsubo, Last Order = genuinely good people, although even this list includes one bitey brat who's less likeable than the show thinks she is (Index) and one villain who's been instrumental in the murder of dozens, or even hundreds, of often innocent people (Takitsubo). Nonetheless these girls are, comparatively speaking, nice. The show will invariably have them captured, immobilised and/or rendered incapable, in order to motivate a male protagonist.
4. Other nice people from earlier seasons, e.g. Misaka, Shirai, Kanzaki, the Sisters, etc. = completely sidelined. Misaka's the most glaring example of this. Curiously, she does move the show's storyline forwards when she learns about Touma's amnesia... but this happens over the phone while the action's taking place on another continent. She keeps doing nothing. Eventually the show brings her into the World War III story arc, but (of course) as an evil version of herself. She's not even interestingly evil! Instead she's indistinguishable from all the other tedious, forgettable evil characters who've been cluttering up this season, so you just want her to shut up and go away. (Dropping dead would have been good as well.)
5. ITEM, i.e. Mugino, Takitsubo, Kinuhata, Seivelun and Shiage. They're professional killers who'll rub out anyone and in the past have tried to assassinate both Touma and Misaka. Then, though, ITEM gets taken down (hurrah!) and its members break up and/or get killed, whereupon Shiage turns into one of the show's three heroic leads, falls in love with Takitsubo and goes to enormous lengths to keep her safe. We're supposed to like them and accept them as heroes, even though Shiage keeps killing low-level baddies who happen to cross his path. He'll shoot people who are on their knees in front of him, for instance. (However his plot role is heroic, e.g. saving a village of Russia peasants, for instance.) Eventually, we learn that Shiage's idea of a happy ending would be to reform ITEM.
6. Oh, and there's also Saiai Kinuhata. Eventually we're supposed to regard her as a fun, heroic protagonist too, even though she was (a) a member of ITEM, (b) still has that chou-annoying chou-speech chou-pattern and I was begging for her to die in every fight. She doesn't. She gets a hero role and beats a baddie. Why, why, why couldn't the show have had her chou-tortured to chou-death?
7. About forty or fifty main characters. I haven't counted, but that feels about right. They all take part in battles. We're supposed to remember that they showed up in Season XXX Episode YYY and established an alliance with Sinister Organisation ZZZ, or whatever. In short, they're nothing. Your best hope is for them to be amusingly silly, either in name (e.g. Stephanie Gorgeouspalace) or in concept (e.g. the show's bizarre reinvention of the Pope and the British royal family). They're not even as good as ITEM, whom I hate and would vote for them to get burned at the stake, but at least they're dramatically alive. The anonymous rabble, though, is just episode after wearying episode of never-ending battles between I Don't Care and Please, Just Sod Off And Die.
Have I omitted anyone? Ummm... oh yeah, there's Itsuwa. She's a shy girl with big boobs who believes that having your bra visible through a wet shirt is worse than wearing no bra at all and having your shirt flapping wide open down to your navel. (The animators preserve her modesty even during fight scenes, which is a greater miracle than angels descending to Earth.)
My journey through this show went as follows.
Ep.1 = optimistic, happy.
Ep.2 = I don't believe in Itsuwa.
Ep.3 = she's doing fight scenes in that top and she's not falling out. However I like the material about Touma's amnesia.
Ep.4 = Accelerator claims to be part of an organisation called GROUP. What? When? How? What has Hamazura got to do with ITEM? Google... oh, all this happened in INDEX II. I must have watched it. Clearly it was chou-memorable. I DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS.
Ep.5 = I still don't care... no, wait, someone's trying to take down ITEM. Good luck, whoever you are! Meanwhile Accelerator's being lots of evil fun.
Ep.6 = unlikeable people vs. unlikeable people.
Ep.7 = a likeable episode! (It's filler between the action story arcs.) It opens with a fun bit about schoolboys taking their bread too seriously, then moves on to domestic antics in Touma's apartment. Eventually a baddie shows up, though. Tch.
Ep.8 = in fairness, at least this latest antagonist's polite, honourable and gives you fair warning. I quite liked him, but...
Ep.9 = ...unfortunately the show's got so many fighters these days that the fight scenes feel as if the author's choosing combatants almost at random. The consequence, for me, is a story that feels disjointed and arbitrary, without much sense that it's trying to go anywhere with its characters. (Well, apart from Touma's amnesia. There's a good Touma-Misaka scene here.) It's as if the plot's been built around the fights, not the other way around... which I suspect is indeed the case.
The worldbuilding and theology are still mental, by the way. Saints were born with physical characteristics similar to the Son of God, so they can use a portion of God's power. To give a minor example, this might let them fly and wield swords the size of cars.
Ep.10 = this show's version of the UK is so silly that it's funny. Some girls want to break up Britain. These episodes were broadcast while the country was in the process of tearing itself apart over Brexit, so... well, yeah. Go ahead. Be my guest.
Ep.11 = I couldn't be bothered watching this episode. I quit. I eventually resumed another time.
Ep.12 = again, a fight between people I don't care about.
Ep.16 = NO NO NO NO NO! Someone chou-shot Saiai Kinuhata AND SHE'S STILL ALIVE! In a sense, though, my dismay was at least better than how I was otherwise feeling about this murky mess of killing, betrayal and unmemorable characters. The only ones who've lodged in my memory are Accelerator and the survivors of ITEM.
Ep.17 = maybe you could make this good with prequels and interquels? Set up all the characters. Maybe that'll happen in RAILGUN?
Ep.18 = I'm sticking with it through bloody-mindedness, having watched the entire franchise since the beginning, but this is actually painful. That's how bored I am.
...and so it continued. In fairness, that final story arc has some reasonably interesting fights and scenes with emotional weight, but it's still tedious and at times almost forcing your mind to wander. The only way to survive is to nitpick it as you watch and analyse it as a scriptwriting trainwreck. It bears comparison with Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, that's how bad it is.
Every so often, though, the show will do light comedy sleaze.
There's a thing you'll sometimes see in bad Doctor Who novels. I call it "Two Alien Factions". The Doctor lands on the planet Azwuht and gets involved in a bitter clash between the Azwehtaur and the Azwahteur! You can see the danger for a bad writer... but this show is more like Thirty Alien Factions.