Review

by Theron Martin,

Black Clover BR/DVD

Season 1 Part 5, Season 2 Part 1

Synopsis:
Black Clover Season 1 Part 5 + Season 2 Part 1

Julius has learned that one of the stones that the Eye of the Midnight Sun is after is the Sea Dragon's Temple, which located underwater in a treacherous high magic area, and has assigned the Black Bulls to the job. To even get there, Noelle must learn a new spell (with the help of a mysterious new friend), and a challenge awaits to earn the stone they seek. However, before the challenge completes the Eye of the Midnight Sun arrives, led by Vetto the Despair of the Third Eye, and he proves to be the most formidable adversary Asta has yet fought against.

Later, an attack on the border stronghold of Kiten by the Diamond Kingdom pulls the Golden Dawn into action and briefly reunites Asta and Yuto. The rest of the Black Bulls become concerned when Asta's injuries from his fight with Vetto won't heal properly, and search for a cure brings Asta's former mentor into the picture and leads Vanessa back to her past: to seek out the Witch Queen in the Forest of Witches, her former home. But the Eye of the Midnight Sun has their own designs on a magic stone they believe is in the witch stronghold, while the Diamond Kingdom sees the former's attack as an opportunity to grab the Witch Queen during the distraction, as they need her to cure their dying king.

Review:

Through the first season of Black Clover (which Funimation classifies as the first year), the release schedule for the Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs coincided almost exactly with the story arcs that were the primary focus of each volume. While that practiced continued through the first of the two releases covered by this review, it does not hold as true for the first release of the second season. For the first time, one of these sets ends on a major cliffhanger.

Volume 5 of the first season covers episodes 40-51 and constitutes the entirety of the Sea Dragon's Temple arc. Volume 1 of the second season covers episodes 52-63 and covers the bulk of the events at Kiten, the introduction of important backstory character Fonzell, and most – but not all – of the Witches' Forest arc; it comes up precisely one episode short, hence stopping right before Vanessa gets her power upgrade. In the bigger picture of the series, these parts build upon the previous introduction of the Eye of the Midnight Sun terrorist group and clarifying that Licht's mention in the previous arc about a village of high magic users that was wiped out is actually referring to elves, with the implication that some of them have either possessed or been reincarnated into the bodies of present-day humans. Connected with previous mention about gathering magic stones to regain their “true forms,” this part of the story becomes the first to suggest that reconstituting the elvish people is the ultimate goal of the Midnight Sun. Whether or not the flunkies in the organization are actually aware of that is not clear at this point. The battle against Vetto in the Sea Dragon's Temple is also the first place to suggest that another force might be involved here as well, a point which is not dwelt on at all at this time but eventually becomes critically important, as it is the first set-up for the game-changing revelations of episode 116.

In a character development sense this is an important run of episodes for elevating the power level and usefulness of many key Black Bulls. Asta naturally gets an upgrade through his half-demon form first appearing at the end of the season 2 volume, but arguably more important are the upgrades to several characters who had largely been ineffective or overlooked up to this point. One of the most interesting of these is the surprising revelation of Grey's true form; contrary to the massive male appearance she normally takes, she's actually a slight young woman, one who seems to feel more expressive and socially open in any form except her own. (There's an interesting psychological case, although unfortunately the series never takes time to examine it.) Her mastery of transformation does not get much attention beyond mimicking other characters, however. Finral shows that he can use his portal magic offensively by working together with others, while Vanessa shows that she has potent string-based magic. The biggest upgrade belongs to Noelle, who finally steps beyond just being the token tsundere by learning to control her potent magic to the point that she gains valuable new offensive and utility capabilities.

In fact, the most important thing these episodes as a whole do is to build on one of the franchise's most fundamental underlying themes: with proper motivation, even the most seemingly-pathetic individuals can push past self-imposed limitations to achieve great things. As corny as Yami's “push past your limits” philosophy comes off, it is the essence of a lot of what happens here. Though a bunch of misfits that were unwanted, underappreciated, and/or disrespected, they all achieve more with Asta acting as their motivational linchpin, including the most impressive displays yet of teamwork; the battle that Asta, Finral, and Vanessa wage against the bestial Vetto in the Sea Dragon's temple arc is one of the all-time-great displays of teamwork in shonen action series. What makes this all the more appreciable is that Asta isn't so bull-headed that he has to be talked into cooperating; more so than most other meat-headed shonen protagonists, he fully understands and accepts that he can do things he couldn't do on his own by working with others. All of this makes the Black Bulls coming together to help Asta in his time of greatest potential despair quite credible.

As story content goes, the Sea Dragon's Temple arc is a fairly standard one involving a mission by all of the Black Bulls to get a McGuffin which requires a game-like test, though the interference of the Eye of the Midnight Sun throws a wrench in things, hence setting up a climactic battle against Vetto, one of the Third Eyes (both literally and in title) of the organization. Also introduced are two inhabitants of the Sea Dragon's Temple who befriend the Black Bulls and wind up making cameo appearances again much later on. Immediately following this is the matter with Kiten, which brings Yuno back into the picture for the first time in a couple dozen episodes and gives him and the Golden Dawn a chance to show off against Diamond Kingdom troops. Following that is the matter concerning Asta's arms, with both allows for a too-long introduction of Asta's former sword teacher and leads to the Witch's Forest arc, which brings back one familiar face from a much earlier arc and packs one of the series' biggest plot twists to date in the true identity of the Salamander user among the Eye of the Midnight Sun. Along the way some of the backstories of both Vanessa and Finral are introduced for the first time, Noelle's is expanded upon, and more details about the elves are revealed.

For as serious as some parts of this story are, the series never avoids is genre-standard bursts of silliness for long, such as the former sword instructor with the uncanny ability to accidentally end up naked or the whole business with the swimsuits. As before, the effectiveness of this varies. It is also, naturally, packed with action, the quality and animation of which varies even more than in previous volumes. At the low end these scenes are almost laughable in how simply opponents get taken out and how limp the animation looks, but in high-end scenes like some parts of the battle against Vetto and especially the Asta/Ladros duel in episode 63, they are sometimes-surrealistic spectacles on a level with the most highly-regarded anime titles of the decade. (For this reason the animation grade given should be considered an average rather than anything close to a consistent value.) In regular mode the character modeling can sometimes be a bit too fluid, but this is not a consistent problem. Graphic violence is on a level with previous installments and the beach content allows for more fan service than normal, though such content is still very tame.

The music for the series primarily reuses established themes, though it mixes things up enough that key action scenes do not necessarily always use the same themes. This can be both a boon and a bane, as the dramatic orchestration and rock-flavored themes can make for rousing support to the action sequences while other themes used for action content fall flat. (Again, the music grade should be considered more an average than a consistent value.) For themes, the rap-infused hard rock sound of “Guess Who is Back” serves as the opener for all volume 5 episode and is easily one of the franchise's best, while its replacement “Gamushura,” which is used for all of Season 2 Volume 1, is far less memorable or impressive. Volume 5 closer “four” is a soulful number more interesting for visuals imagining Boelle, Mimosa, and new character Kahono as modern school students, while its replacement “Tenjou Tenge” is a livelier number that is otherwise entirely unremarkable.

The English dub maintains its cast and performance qualities from previous volumes, mostly for the better. Amongst new characters, the best performance is probably Chris Gardner's rendition of Ladros, where he seems to revel in the character's obnoxious arrogance. Megan Shipman also debuts as Grey late in volume 5 and portrays her character's neurosis about her true appearance well in a relatively limited number of appearances. The one negative is Bruce DuBose's brief performance as Diamond Kingdom General Yagos; he uses a speech affectation that makes his character mostly incomprehensible, and that probably wasn't the intent.

Extras for Season 1 Volume 5 include clean opener and closer, highlight clips for each trio of episodes, episode commentaries for two episodes, and Inside Studio J, a 17 minute video featuring the English ADR Director and voice actors for three of the characters features in the Sea Dragon Temple arc, all discussing the art of voice acting. Extras for Season 2 Volume 1 are the same except that Inside Studio J is replaced by a Twitter-based Q&A session with ADR Director Chris George and Dallas Reid, Asta's English voice. Volume 5 also as an optional Season I Art Book available. This 96-page book mostly consists of character and setting illustrations but also includes written interviews with Dallas Reid and some of the Japanese production staff. If you're a big enough fan of the series to be buying the Blu-Ray/DVD packs, the booklet is worth the extra price.

Overall, the run of episodes from 40 to 63 includes some low points (the Fonzell episodes in particular) but also some of the entire series' best and flashiest content, with at least two points also being at least slightly emotional. These parts show what the series can accomplish when it brings its A game to the table.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B

+ Fights against Vetto and Ladros are true spectacles, some characters show new merit, Noelle's upgrade
Animation quality varies wildly, humor can be very lame

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Production Info:
Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara
Series Composition: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Scenario:
Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Jun Kamiya
Kanichi Katou
Momoko Murakami
Storyboard:
Amenoichi
Isuta
Shunji Akasaka
Tasuku Aku
Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi
Yasuyuki Honda
Shigehisa Iida
Takashi Iida
Shinji Ishihira
Masashi Itō
Toru Iwasawa
Jun Kamiya
Hirotsugu Kawasaki
Ichizō Kobayashi
Akari Kojima
Toshihiko Masuda
Yukihiro Matsushita
Tokuyuki Matsutake
Kazuo Miyake
Taisuke Mori
Tsurumi Mukoyama
Ryū Nakayama
Rokou Ogiwara
Masashi Ōmura
Yūsuke Onoda
Takahito Sakazume
Yuzo Sato
Sōichi Shimada
Yoshihiro Sugai
Takaya Sunagawa
Masayuki Takahashi
Ayataka Tanemura
Tatsuya Yoshihara
Episode Director:
Isuta
Matsuo Asami
Takashi Asami
Shigeki Awai
Daisuke Chiba
Yoshito Hata
Ryohei Horiuchi
Shigehisa Iida
Shintaro Itoga
Kenta Katase
Seung Deok Kim
Kenichi Maejima
Toshihiro Maeya
Fumio Maezono
Yoshihisa Matsumoto
Tenpei Mishio
Yoshino Miwa
Shinji Morita
Tsurumi Mukoyama
Toshihiro Nagao
Rokou Ogiwara
Masahiro Okamura
Yūsuke Onoda
Takeyuki Sadohara
Kouji Sasaki
Akira Shimizu
Yoshihiro Sugai
Ayataka Tanemura
Yûji Tokuno
Yoshizo Tsuda
Mihiro Yamaguchi
Tatsuya Yoshihara
Unit Director:
Isuta
Shunji Akasaka
Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi
Shintarou Douge
Masashi Itō
Toru Iwasawa
Tokuyuki Matsutake
Tsurumi Mukoyama
Ryū Nakayama
Masashi Ōmura
Takahito Sakazume
Yoshihiro Sugai
Takaya Sunagawa
Tomohisa Taguchi
Ayataka Tanemura
Tatsuya Yoshihara
Music: Minako Seki
Original creator: Yūki Tabata
Character Design: Itsuko Takeda
Art Director: Yuki Maeda
Art: Yuki Maeda
Chief Animation Director:
Shunji Akasaka
Nami Hayashi
Yoon-Joung Kim
Ikuko Matsushita
Ran Nakatani
Hiroshi Numata
Sayuri Sakimoto
Chiaki Sato
Shiro Shibata
Keizō Shimizu
Makoto Shimojima
Hirokimi Shiratori
Takaya Sunagawa
Kosei Takahashi
Itsuko Takeda
Mifumi Tomita
Animation Director:
Tomoyuki Abe
Shunji Akasaka
Hideto Akita
Kae Anzai
Kenji Aoyagi
Makoto Arashiro
Mari Asada
Shigeki Awai
Jong Min Cheon
Sayuri Ebara
Masayuki Fujita
Mami Furutoku
Hyeon Ji Han
Jung Y Han
Junichi Hashimoto
Ichiro Hattori
Kenji Hattori
Masumi Hattori
Nami Hayashi
Beom Seok Hong
Saori Hosoda
Kazuyuki Ikai
Tamako Ikake
Ei Inaba
Eri IREI
Toru Iwasawa
Sachiko Iwata
Hyun Su Jung
Nijimi Kakitsubaki
Ill Ku Kang
Emiko Kataoka
Hiroaki Kawaguchi
Toshiya Kawano
Gi Nam Kim
Hae-Sook Kim
Jin Young Kim
Ju Seok Kim
Kyoung Hwan Kim
Yoon Joung Kim
Yumiko Kinoshita
Yūki Kitajima
Kyung Nam Ko
Ichizō Kobayashi
Yukari Kobayashi
Shiro Kudaka
Aki Kuki
Jong-kyung Lee
Kyoung Ah Lee
Qing Li
He Lun
Kaoru Maehara
Ying Xing Mao
Hirokatsu Maruyama
Ippei Masui
Hiroshi Matsumoto
Kazushi Matsumoto
Hideaki Matsuoka
Tokuyuki Matsutake
Hyeon Sook Min
Shinichiro Minami
Juji Mizumura
Tomoka Mizusawa
Etsushi Mori
Hiroyuki Moriguchi
Taihei Nagai
Yoshiko Nakajima
Mayumi Nakamura
Ran Nakatani
Katsuyoshi Nakatsuru
Ryū Nakayama
Aya Nasuno
Takuya Nishimichi
Motohide Nishimura
Shinya Nogami
Reiko Nozaki
Taeko Ōgi
Masashi Ōmura
Noriko Otake
Hye-Ran Park
Sang Won Park
Kaori Saito
Kazuya Saitō
Konomi Sakurai
Miho Sekimoto
Keizō Shimizu
Makoto Shimojima
Satoru Shiraishi
Hirokimi Shiratori
Shin Hyung Sik
Yoshihiro Sugai
Takaya Sunagawa
Shinichi Suzuki
Kazuharu Tada
Aya Takafuji
Kosei Takahashi
Naoki Takahashi
Shinya Takahashi
Itsuko Takeda
Akira Takeuchi
Eri Tokugawa
Kumiko Tokunaga
Eiichi Tokura
Mifumi Tomita
Takenori Tsukuma
Masahito Wada
Min Wang
Du Weifeng
Xiao Wei Wu
Yu Meng Xie
Kurika Yamagata
Keiko Yamamoto
Shunryō Yamamura
Jouji Yanase
Tong Zheng Yang
Kuniko Yano
Hajime Yoshida
Tatsuya Yoshihara
Masaru Yoshioka
Yuka Yoshioka
Jian Yu
Yi Zhang
Yun Zhang
Sound Director: Hajime Takakuwa
Director of Photography: Tomoyuki Kunii
Producer:
Maiko Isogai
Naomi Komatsu
Masahiro Sugasawa

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