A common refrain about the series, especially from anime watchers, is that Touma's fights go only one way: Touma makes a speech and then punch his opponents, while they don't do anything against him or do not use tactics. This leads to accusations of Mary Sueism, Plot Armor, Plot Induced Stupidity, etc.
However, the novels reveal that there are more going on in those fights, and Touma rarely wins them alone or through sheer shounen will. Rather, the anime adaptation frequently fail to convey that properly. I experienced it first hand when I watched Index III and saw what happened to Accelerator vs. Touma Round 2, or the weird things they did during the final confrontation with Fiamma (people will remember them standing on far apart pillars for some reason and Touma somehow crossing the distance by jumping, retreating back to his pillar, and never falling, as well as the weird whirlwind effect around his fist for the final punch that confused viewers as to whether or not this was a new power he got).
For the sake of clarification, here is my summaries of the fights of Old Testament, as this is what (so far) the anime has adapted.
Spurned on by a recent comment.
In the very first actual fight of the series against Stiyl Magnus (Touma's
courtship ritual comedy routine with Mikoto the night before is not really a fight), the very hand accused of being the ultimate trump card doesn't help Touma win since Innocentius can just regenerate. If Touma didn't think of the sprinklers to wet and remove all the rune cards, or if they weren't there, he would have been screwed. Another factor is that, as the narration explains, summoning Innocentius requires vast amounts of energy, rendering Stiyl's body weaker than most others, hence why Touma could knock him out.
The second fight of the volume has Touma again losing despite Imagine Breaker. Kanzaki Kaori trounces him thoroughly by relying only on her enhanced strength and speed as well as her skills in swordsmanship. Now, Touma did talk no jutsu her, which is why she apparently was hesitant to deal the finishing blow due the "difference in strength in their convictions". Touma loses, but she spares him.
The final fight is against John's Pen mode Index. If Touma didn't have Stiyl and Kanzaki, Index's Dragon Breath would have killed Touma right then and there. The attack is too powerful for IB to negate and he would have been overwhelmed had Kanzaki not deviated the blast. Touma talk no jutsu them into helping him due to the lies of Necessarius, and they distract Pendex, allowing him to get close and break Index out of her berserk state.
- Result: 2 Touma victories, by way of guile + IB and allies + IB. 1 Touma defeat, though with speeches getting him out of it alive.
Aureolus Izzard had the upper hand throughout the battle, even once erasing Touma and Stiyl's memories so that they left before Touma touched his head with his right hand. Himegami Aisa is clinically dead for a few moments, Stiyl is stripped of his skin, and Touma gets his arm cut off. Then, and the anime didn't talk about this like the LNs did, Stiyl, still alive, cast mirages so Aureolus didn't just turn Touma into red paste right after his right arm was gone, laying the foundations for Aureolus' belief that Touma was unstoppable. This is helped by Touma finding out Ars Magna's weakness (disturbing the user's concentration), and using it by breaking into a manic laugh. This turns the alchemist's belief-based reality warping against him, making him see a dragon and mentally breaking down. Of course there was the "invisible thing" involved in part, but we don't know that until 20 volumes later.
- Result: Touma victory, by way of ally, analysis of combat pattern, and a bit of IT. IB more or less useless in the fight outside of saving allies out of the reality warping. No speech, as Izzard (the alchemist) didn't let Touma a chance to talk.
Misaka Mikoto fries Touma, but it's not really a fight and he wasn't trying to win, only convince her to not go on a suicide mission. The actual fight of the volume, against Accelerator, is fluctuant: Accelerator first uses dust explosions and containers at Touma, who barely avoid them. He then tries to touch Touma to redirect his blood flow and, when it fails, Touma uses the opening to focus on rapidly throwing quick jabs with his right hand, because nothing else was a safe move. Grabbing Accelerator, or throwing a heavy punch that leaves his arm extended afterward, would leave Accelerator able to grab Touma somewhere that isn't covered by Imagine Breaker, at which point Touma is screwed. He's also trying to maintain pressure to keep Accelerator overwhelmed in a situation he's never been in before (being beaten up). However, Accel manages to get away and throws pressure wind attacks from a distance at Touma, who is overwhelmed and gravely injured. The battle is now in Accel's favor, who then amass winds to create plasma, and Touma is barely conscious on the ground at his mercy. Mikoto convinced Misaka 10032 and the Sisters to help, using their power to manipulate the city's wind turbines, disrupting Accel's plasma attack and stopping it from roasting Touma as he was still lying down. It buys enough time for Touma to get up and have the finishing blow.
- Result: Touma victory, by way of IB, quick thinking, fighting prowess, and allies. Touma did talk a little to Accel, about how he was over reliant on his overwhelming power, which falls into deaf ears. If you count the "fight" with Mikoto, 1 Touma loss and a speech.
Touma and Tsuchimikado Motoharu capture a serial killer thanks to Tsuchimikado who takes him down in one hit. The only actual fight in this volume is Touma against his friend due to a misunderstanding that he was trying to kill his father, while Kanzaki Kaori fights to stall an Angel-possessed girl from destroying the planet to kill one man. Touma is utterly trashed by his friend's superior martial skill and his father is also knocked out cold. However, Tsuchimikado only meant sacrificing himself, and blows up the Kamijou vacation home, sending the Archangel back in heaven.
- Result: Touma loss. IB was completely useless this arc except for surviving the body switch everyone else experienced. Otherwise, Touma achieved jack all in this arc. It was thanks to Tsuchimikado's long range blasting that the incident was solved. No speech.
The first fight is against Aztec magician Etzali posing as Mikoto's upperclassman, an older boy son of her school's principal. Prior to the battle, Touma calls Index on his cellphone and she debriefs him on the specifics of the magic used. The two of them fight in an abandoned construction site, and Touma avoids his beams of light, which, by missing, destroy several metal beams that held the building together. As the building collapses, Touma successfully destroys the obsidian spearhead used as a spiritual item/magic focus, and the Aztec is hit by several metal beams as the result of the collapse of the building. Touma is safe, as Mikoto (who he had ditched from their "date") arrived just in time to use her electromagnetic powers to prevent the beams from hitting Touma. No speech, Touma simply promises to look after Mikoto.
The second fight is against Japanese Magician Yamisaka Ouma looking for a way to heal the woman he loves. Yamisaka only manages to off himself via Index's poisonous Grimoires, Touma was only the straw that broke the camel's back by giving the final punch. Touma and Index agrees to help him once he calms down.
- Result: 2 Touma victory, the first one being mostly IB but also benefiting from the indirect help of allies, while the second one consisted of the antagonist punching himself. No speeches.
This is a great example of an ensemble fight. When Sherry Cromwell invades the city with her golem, Anti-Skill and Judgment turns up and get in on the action. First, Shirai Kuroko fights her and gains the upper hand, but she is injured by an earth arm made by magic and can't concentrate to teleport due to pain, allowing Sherry to escape. Then Anti-Skill engage her and her golem, though she defeat them and continues her search for her targets. Touma arrives with Kazakiri Hyouka, and Sherry tries to kill them both. Anti-Skill covers Touma by firing, and Sherry pursues a fleeing Kazakiri who just realized she is not human, while the golem slows down Anti-Skill by blowing up corridors behind them. Then, Touma, knowing he will have difficulty fighting the golem alone in the narrow corridors of the School District 7 Underground Shopping Center, asks Anti-Skill for help and they make a plan to rescue Kazakiri. They show up on time to stop the golem from crushing Hyouka, as Touma's IB destroys it. Sheerry makes another Golem, but Anti-Skill again covers Touma by putting her under fire. She escapes underground and Touma follows her, while her golem is controlled remotely and sent after Index. While Index hijacks the golem's control from Sherry using Notarikon, Touma catches up to the magician underground and, as she is about to crush him with earth, Touma uses quick thinking and remember a piece of info by Index concerning magic circles said earlier in the day and uses it to know the circle he has to negate to stop her attack. And yes, Touma talk no jutsu at her after she reveals her fluctuating ideals and break her face/illusions.
Yay everything is all solved now—Oh wait. The golem above goes berserk and would have grounded Index to a pulp when she was taking care of it just fine without Touma's intervention before. Kazakiri had to break herself at a few places to hold it off using her super strength long enough for Touma to come charging in to clean up after himself.
- Result: 3 Touma victory, relying heavily on the use of allies + IB, and a bit of quick thinking and analysis of attack patterns. The first victory forces Sherry to retreat but not before losing Kazakiri who she was after, the second one forces her to retreat underground and then he punched the lights out of her, while the third is simply him showing up as a friend is holding her own so he can finally dispel the golem. Two speeches: one at Kazakiri to cheer her up and one at the enemy.
In one sequence, Stiyl Magnus and Touma face members of the Amakusa-Style Remix of Church and are separated. While Stiyl fights them while at the same time protecting Index, Touma hides because he is outnumbered. He is however spotted by Amakusa member Uragami due to accidentally moving a misplaced tool box and, thinking quickly, he throws a tube of grease inside it to debalance the attacker, using the opportunity to tackle them and taking away their weapon.
The first actual fight is Touma and Stiyl going after Tatemiya Saiji, the leader of the Amakusa, due to a misunderstanding. Touma fights against Tatemiya, who is armed with a sword, and can manage until the other trick him into believing he was going to use magic and instead injures him with his sword. Stiyl shows up, wanting to use his flaming sword but can't due to Touma being in the way. Touma tells him to do it anyway, and so Stiyl brings down his swords on both Touma and Tatemiya. The Amakusa casts a defensive spell on himself, but Touma uses the distraction to his advantage which was the whole point: he negates the flaming sword and then punch through the surprised Tatemiya's shield, defeating him.
When it is later revealed that the Agnese Forces and the Roman Catholic Church were the actual villains, Touma, Stiyl, and Index team up with the Amakusa Church. First, they suffer a surprise attack by two nuns, Lucia and Angelene, whose magics are modeled after two saints, and it's Index who saves the day by temporarily hijacking and disabling the nuns' magics, who then retreat. Touma then tries to save Orsola Aquinas alone because they are running out of time before her execution and the Amakusa were restrained by Stiyl while he himself cannot interfere in Roman Catholics' affairs for fear of deteriorating relations between Anglicans and Catholics. Touma can't even punch the antagonist properly, but then Stiyl arrives in an explosion, using a technicality to argue that Orsola is now an Anglican due to a cross he gave her earlier. The Amakusa and Index also show up, and they now all face 200 nuns. Touma take Orsola and they make a run for it as he is ill suited to fight against that many opponents. Stiyl and the Amakusa hold their own, but it's Index who shines, chanting Sheol Fear which finds contradictions in the nuns' beliefs, reducing them to a debilitating state. However, they stab their eardrums, rendering the technic useless. Soon afterwards, being overwhelmed, the Amakusa + Stiyl and Index retreats to Touma and Orsola's location, where they try to use the Grimoire which started all this, but it fails. They conceive another plan: Touma will face the leader alone while the others set up thousands of rune cards around to summon a giant Innocentius while the nuns are distracted. Touma does so, and Agnese has the upper hand in the ensuing fight: her Lotus Wand can cast invisible attacks, which Touma tries and fail to dodge, ending up gravely injured. After getting beaten up badly, he finally figures out the pattern: there is a slight delay between the command and execution of the spell when using the wand, necessitating for the user to readjust and calculate the position of the opponent in advance. Because of this, the opponent can find an opening against the user of the staff if they predict incorrectly where they will be next. Thanks to that, Touma now knows where the next attacks come from, negates them, and punch her. They interrupt their fight as the fighting of the others seem over and the nun thinks they won. She instead finds that the other nuns are hesitant now that Innocentius has been fully summoned, even though they still have the advantage of numbers. Nun in chief hesitates on how to defeat Touma and he knocks her out while she is distracted, leading to her forces to surrender.
- Result: 3 Touma victories: first one is quick thinking and use of the environment (no IB needed), second one is cooperation with an ally, and third one is complete reliance on allies to carry most of the weight while IB is a distraction (while at the same time analysing the enemies' attack pattern and planning accordingly) and deal the final blow. IMO, the final blow involved quite a bit of Idiot Ball.
Touma didn't get into a fight at all. This is all Shirai Kuroko's volume, and she is the one who talk no jutsu her foe, to the point she lost control of her powers. Touma simply shows up to punch spacetime and rescue her from a collapsing building.
- Result: Kuroko victory
This arc, it was more of a cat-and-mouse chase, between Touma + Stiyl Magnus + Tsuchimikado Motoharu VS Oriana Thomson, but this is what little fights there were. In their first actual fight against Oriana, it is Tsuchimikado and Touma vs. Oriana, while Stiyl is at another location. She first get rid of Tsuchimikado using a spell making feel extreme pain to people who are injured. Imagine Breaker is ineffective in stopping Tsuchimikado's pain. Touma tries to close in on her, but when his cheek is cut, he fears she will use the same spell on him but to his surprise she doesn't. After getting beaten up good for a while, Kamijou gets her magic's pattern, predicting that similar attacks of Oriana's Shorthand cards will not come from the same direction and she cannot use the same spell twice. He has a easier time negating her spells and avoiding them, allowing him to get into range and punch the surprised Oriana. She is still conscious and escape.
Another fight does not involve Touma, but Tsuchimikado, still weak from the spell earlier and unable to use magic without hurting himself, being predictably overwhelmed despite his physical skills by Oriana's combination of magic and hand-to-hand combat. He manages to lie his way to victory, gambling that Oriana might have little knowledge of Eastern magic, deactivating her anti-people barrier and claiming he used a spell to contact the saint Kanzaki Kaori and have her assist them now that it is known Oriana's objective is not an anti Saint sword. To force Oriana to immediately run away instead of killing him, he force dust up in the air to reduce visibility. With unknown variables to work with, Oriana is forced to retreat and not to engage Tsuchimikado again in battle to not take any chances.
The final fight takes place in Academy City's School District 23. Tsuchimikado is incapacitated due to his injuries and activating one of Oriana's spells in the area, leaving Stiyl and Touma to face her. She at first has the upper hand, beating down the weak constituted Stiyl with pure physical skill and also overpowering Touma by her superior physical skills in combat. He tries to talk no jutsu her, to no avail. Stiyl manages to regain consciousness and summon Innocentius, giving Touma an opening. Oriana is unable to predict their attacks because of their confusing teamwork and both guys seem to gain the advantage as they beat her down. She however manages to cast another spell severely injuring Stiyl and dispelling Innocentius. Touma again talk no jutsu her, this time succeeding in breaking her spirit. However, even with that, Oriana becomes the first of many antagonists using their abilities to work around Imagine Breaker: understanding that the effects of Touma's Imagine Breaker is always the same, as in it can only negate, Oriana make use in her "final attack", an explosion of light and gravity, to make a trap against Touma after he negates the spell, resulting in the objects sucked in by the grativational force to explodes outwards violently, knocking him unconscious. Then, out of pure willpower and "remembering the efforts of his acquaintances who want the Festival to be a success", Touma goes back on his feet and Oriana and him exchange fists like in Dragonball Z, with his fist connecting and knocking her out instead of him.
However, Touma receives a call from Oriana's boss Lidvia Lorenzetti, who says Oriana was merely a decoy while their artifact was placed somewhere else in the city and it was now too late to stop them. However, the Festival's Night Parade begins, and obscure the sky with fireworks before the spell can connect with the constellations. The fireworks were Aleister's doing, so the plan would have never borne fruit anyway, while Lidvia is captured by the Anglican Church.
- Result: 2 Touma victory, first one being analysis of attack patterns saving the day yet again to accompany IB, while the second one involved teamwork, but it ended thanks to pure shonen tropes like talk no jutsu and the power of friendship, even though the enemy figured out a weakness in Touma's power. A bit unsatisfying, although the reveal that all those efforts were for naught because the plan was carried on anyway. It would have succeeded too, were it not for meddling from higher up. 2 speeches, at first inefficient then works the second time.
Touma and Index dodges assassins in Venice trying to off Orsola Aquinas, with Index redirecting the magical spells of the Magician sniper and, when another assassin comes out of the canals, uses Spell Intercept to temporarily stop his magic, allowing Touma to knock him out.
Later, Touma has the help of the Amakusa to infiltrate the La Regina del Mare Adriatico and free Agnese Sanctis and her Agnese Forces. They use explosive ships to attack the fleet and provide a distraction for Touma, Index, and Orsola as well as nuns liberated earlier to go onboard. They are confronted by other nuns working on the ships, but the Amakusa show up and fight them while Touma, Index, and Orsola proceed ahead to deactivate the fleet's core regenerating the sustaining magic as IB has no lasting effect on any singular ice ship. They arrived at the flagship and are attacked by ice golems, and Touma leads them away from the girls, making passages in the ship for himself using IB. He meets and confronts Bishop Biagio Busoni, this arc's villain, who overwhelms Touma with a cross summoning spell (it makes the target suffer the weight of a cross on them) as he is unable to cancel it all and fight Biagio in a confined space. Touma tries to retreat but is cornered and trapped, Biagio pinning him to the ground using his magic and crushes him with several cross attacks. Believing Touma to have died, Biagio leaves. He later meets and easily stops Orsola's attacks, and then Agnese rebels but both are unable to beat Biagio and he constrains. Touma arrives having survived to dispel Biagio's hold on Agnese and Orsola and then beat him. He learns they need to destroy the room they are in, in which the core is located, and it will destroy the fleet. Biagio activates the weapon, not having actually been unconscious, eliciting pain from Agnese as she is the "sacrifice" to activate the fleet's magical superweapon. Touma makes Orsola take her and flee and battles Biagio again, who is a lost cause so Touma don't bother convincing him of changing viewpoints. This time, Touma can dodge the crosses and uses his left hand to disrupt a cross just as it was cast, debalancing Biagio enough that he can punch the crosses on his chest, which serve as both a foci for his spells and the core cross holding the fleet together, thus their destruction crumbles the fleet away.
- Result: 2 Touma victory, the first one consisting of Index doing all the job and Touma dealing the finishing blow, while the last one was more or less all on his own, surprising a distracted opponent and then at the end a little bit of cleverness by using his other hand in an unexpected way. 1 Touma loss when he first fights Biagio, who didn't even bother checking if he truly was dead. A bit of Bond villain stupidity there.
The fight against Vento of the Front should actually take into account that the Imaginary Number District had been activated. As a result, Vento was taking constant damage with the AIM diffusion fields frakking her up. Anyway, when they first meet, Touma is forced into an extremely disadvantageous battle in an enclosed space against Vento of the Front, as he is forced to defend himself as well as protect the unconscious civilians and Last Order from Vento's attacks, who is at an advantage as her wind hammer has better effect in short range. After receiving a few attacks from her, Touma manages to determine her attack pattern, using the chain pierced on her tongue to trace the trajectory of the attacks she conjures using her wind hammer. However, with so little time, he is still in a disadvantageous position due her pattern being confusing. He makes Last Order leave and then tries to launch a desperate attack as Vento threatens to kill everyone inside the restaurant, but she suddenly cough up blood and retreats. He later meets up with Mikoto and Index, and they are all confronted by Hound Dog. Touma and Index escapes while Mikoto face them. En route to break Kazakiri Hyouka out of her Artificial Angel state, Index explains the nature of Vento's Divine Punishment magic to Touma, but states that she has no idea of the exact structure of FUSE Kazakiri's angelic structure. Knowing that Hyouka is composed of AIM, Touma calls Mikoto, even while she fights (though she is under no difficulty) as she is one of the most knowledgeable person he knows in order for her to help Index to figure out Hyouka's structure. Index then separates from Touma in order to find the source of the angel and disable it. Touma goes for round two against Vento to protect Hyouka from her since she considers her an heretic angel. They battle and Vento figures out she should attack the surrounding unconscious civilians to divert Touma's attention, however they are protected by shields made by Kazakiri, proving she is still inside herself somewhere even in this state. Touma can fight with no worries, while Vento is repeatedly injured by the suppresive force produced by the Imaginary Number District as she continues to suffer internal injuries from using magic. She reveals her life story and why she hates science and Touma attempts to talk no jutsu her, but she remains stubborn until the end even though she knows she is on the wrong path. He finally knocks her out.
- Result: 2 Touma victory, although both times it has more to do with an anti-magic field being up at the time severely weakening his opponent. Still Touma managed to figure out how her magic worked even if he couldn't properly act on this knowledge. One speech, which gets Vento enraged even though she is not convinced by his words.
Touma doesn't do much: he shows up to rescue Misaka Misuzu, using a bulletproof glass he found to defend himself against gun attacks by by Komaba Ritoku's Skill-Out gang before knocking individual members unconscious. With this strategy, Touma is able to push through and sneak inside the facility and rescue Mrs. Misaka, knocking Hamazura Shiage out in passing, hurting him so hard with the glass his nose piercing comes out, although Touma loses the glass shield at the same time. He and Misuzu escapes as a firefight ensues between Accelerator and Skill-Out, but they are later intercepted by Hamazura. Touma and him fistfight, while Touma talk no jutsu him about how what it means to be a Level 0, before winning the fight by being a superior fighter.
- Result: Touma victory, with IB being of no use and simple reliance on a weapon (of sort) other than his fists and discreet sneaking. The final fist fight comes down to pure ability, as we were already aware Touma does very decently against one opponent in a fistfight. One speech.
The first fight is a team-up between Touma and Itsuwa of the Amakusa-Style Remix of Church against Terra of the Left. In a display of strategy, Touma intended to draw Terra's attack and Itsuwa would get in range to attack him. But Terra realizes that he is dealing with the Imagine Breaker, and, acting accordingly, swings his flour blade towards Touma's chest, forcing him on the defensive and making him slip and fall. Itsuwa engages Terra for a while, but he manages to deal with her attacks with his Execution of Light, until he forces her to dodge by falling to the ground. He almost gets her with his blade but Touma blocks and negate it in time. Then Terra instead of attacking Touma destroy a wall to have it collapse on them, forcing Touma to drag Itsuwa to get away. Terra comments that IB is not very impressive and admits he is mostly not fighting seriously in order to enjoy himself and figure out how his spell can be improved. Touma and Itsuwa try to attack him simultaneously, but he stops Itsuwa's spear, dodges Touma's fist, and again swings his blade at his body, avoiding his right hand completely. Strangely, the blade does not cut Touma though it still hurts him and he negates it, making him think on the implications of Terra's power and how it might work. Terra explains his power, confident that they can't plan against it, but Tsuchimikado Motoharu shows up, confident he can beat Terra using origami and a gun. Before they can engage however, the Avignon Cleanup Operation starts and Terra uses the confusion of the bombing of Avignon by Academy City bombers to retreat.
Terra is fought again at the Palais des Papes, where he forces Touma and Itsuwa on the defensive, each defending/saving the other, until he makes the ceiling collapse, which forces Itsuwa to use her spear to hold it and not have debris fall on them, making it easy for Terra to knock her out now that she's defenseless. Having mulled over Terra's power, Touma throws him a rock, then his wallet, and the way Terra reacts tell Touma his guess is right: Execution of Light can't be used on multiple targets. Him and Terra talks a bit in a lull in the battle, about Terra's motivations, which Touma refutes but Terra doesn't care. Afterwards, with his newfound knowledge, Touma is able to throw off Terra's rhythm by throwing Itsuwa's spear, confirming his hypothesis on his power, and then defends himself against a flour blade with Precedence over human flesh by using a rifle as a child. Terra of the Left is surprised and assumes that Touma has gained more power, but Touma points out he is wrong and knock him out.
- Result: Touma victory, where Touma benefitted from the help of allies and thinking about how the magic works. Meanwhile, Terra is a villain who quickly adapted to IB and managed to avoid it. One speech.
Touma is absolutely trashed in his arc. The first fight is when Acqua of the Back first shows up in Academy City and beat him to a bloddy pulp thanks to his status as a Saint. After a bout in the coma almost the entire volume, Touma sneaks out of the hospital, going to assist the Amakusa-Style Remix of Church and Kanzaki Kaori who have been the ones fighting him. He manages to block Acqua's last spell with IB, and, with him and Kanzaki restraining his movements, Itsuwa can deliver the killing blow with Saint Destroyer.
- Result: Really Amakusa's victory. They and Kanzaki pulled their weight almost the entire volume, Touma only shows up at the end as support.