In Academy City, a sprawling futuristic metropolis populated with super-powered students, the brightest intellectual minds work to complete the world's first space elevator. A towering spire able to carry its citizens into the heavens. Meanwhile Index (voiced by Yuka Iguchi), a pint-sized human library and Shinto nun-in-training, and her older teen boy sidekick Touma Kamijo (Atsushi Abe) befriend Arisa (Sachika Misawa), a beautiful street musician of unparalleled talent. Arisa's pop idol aspirations are curtailed when she almost abducted by handsome warlock Stiyl Magnus (Kisho Taniyama) and his gaggle of nymphet witch girls, then attacked by the hi-tech armed Black Crow Unit led by sultry security specialist Shutaura Sequenzia (Yoko Hikasa). Aided by their gang of super-powered high school friends, Touma and Index endeavour to figure out what the heck is going on while trying to save Arisa's life along with the world.
Few anime encapsulate the strange mash-up of contradictions that is this uniquely Japanese genre better than this feature length spin-off of the TV show A Certain Magical Index. Part high-concept science fiction, part sappy sitcom with a trite fixation on ogling beautiful girls in a state of undress, the film mixes sing-along J-pop musical set-pieces with a heady debate over the nature of miracles. Only in Japan, huh? A Certain Magical Index originated with a series of 'light novels', the Japanese equivalent of young adult fiction, written by Kazuma Kamachi with illustrations by Kiyotaka Haimura. Two twenty-four episode television seasons aired between 2008-2011 followed by this feature film and Kamachi's spin-off series A Certain Scientific Railgun (2009) which proved even more popular with fans.
Anime traditionally excels at world-building and The Miracle of Endymion is no exception. Gorgeously intricate backgrounds imbue the film with an epic scope to rival any live action Hollywood blockbuster. The action sequences are superbly animated, dynamic and exciting and the Tron-like 3D mecha designs are striking. On the one hand the film dredges up memories of inane Nineties harem anime - specifically Tenchi Muyo (1992) - surrounding its hapless high school hero with a bevy of colour-coded schoolgirls that conform to various fantasy archetypes and provide panty shots, shower scenes or else wander around in the altogether just for the heck of it. What is more the teen-pop-star-saves-the-galaxy plot is quite obviously lifted from the Superdimensional Fortress Macross (1982) franchise so popular in Japan. Yet for all its derivative qualities and blatant attempts at titillating a core audience of teenage boys, The Miracle of Endymion weaves a compelling and well-constructed mystery.
Obviously aimed at fans, the plot presumes viewers are already familiar with the characters and the strange semi-magical/semi-futuristic world they inhabit but proves surprisingly easy to follow. Director Hiroshi Nishikiori keeps things fast and furious with no room for boredom. He not only pulls off the odd dark and bloody twist (for all its surface candy-coated fluffiness, the plot does take the odd graphic turn) but some pleasingly complex motivations as characters switch from hero to villain and back again. Even the villain has a semi-sympathetic motive. Shutaura, a character not featured in the original television series, emerges an especially complex character. She suffers from a rare brain defect that left her unable to process music. Hence she has no faith in the seemingly miraculous effect of Arisa's singing. Set in a world where magic and super-science co-exist but the latter sets the rules, the storyline ponders the exact definition of the miraculous. It eventually settles on Touma's that miracles are what happen when someone pushes themselves to the limit. Which is a disarmingly poetic observation even if Touma makes it while punching a girl in the face.