Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - Season 1 Part 1
In the Clover Kingdom, everyone has magic, with the nobles generally having the strongest. The one exception is Asta, an orphan from a small village out on the fringe near the remains of the fearsome demon once defeated by the Wizard King. Even so, Asta aspires to be the next Wizard King, as does his fellow orphan/virtual brother Yuno, who's vastly more talented at magic. While Yuno gets a rare four-leaf clover grimoire (grimoires define a citizen's magic), Yuno gets a seemingly dirty and decrepit one. But that five-leaf grimoire allows him to draw a sword which can cut through even the most powerful magic, and that proves to be his ticket into the least-regarded of the Magic Knight squads who protect the kingdom: The Black Bulls. Amidst a bunch of oddballs and misfits (including a discarded royal), Asta takes his first major steps towards his ultimate goal.
As shonen action anime go, Black Clover adds practically nothing new to the genre. It follows common genre set-up, pacing, plotting, and story beats almost to a fault and only offers relatively minor variations in characterizations. Its technical merits and artistic style are also very standard. Despite all of that, it has been successful enough to not only continue on into its fifth cour but also keep me following it from week to week – and usually not just out of a sense of completion, either. So what does it do which makes it successful and keeps its fans coming back?
The fact that it is generic, oddly enough, may actually be part of the key to its success. Everything about it has a familiar, comforting feel to anyone who's watched long-running shonen action series before, and its simple, mostly straightforward plots make for stress-free viewing; while it does have a very broad overarching plot which first shows itself at the end of this set, most of the individual arcs come down to basic objectives like “stop the bad guys” or “get the McGuffin before the opposition does.” Hence there's little need to remember details from week to week. On top of that, most episodes use a sometimes-cumbersome amount of recap at their beginnings in case the viewer forgets what was going on last week. If you want a show that you can just mindlessly watch while eating lunch, this one works better than most.
The series seems to distinguish itself at first by focusing on a pair of main characters rather than just a solo protagonist. However, Yuno mostly winds up being the silent partner, even with Asta's overwhelming personality figured in. Despite his vastly greater magical talents, Yuno has no presence, little to no personality, and no reason for existing beyond affirming that someone out there actually takes Asta seriously. He may have been set up to be the Sasuke to Asta's Naruto but that definitely isn't the way it plays out in execution, and that is by far the series' biggest flaw. Asta, contrarily, is over-the-top as the talent-challenged but work ethic-intensive lead, with his predominant personality trait being that he's so overflowing with intensity and energy that he shouts everything. That definitely gets annoying at times, but it's balanced out by his purity of motivation and sincerity. He also comes off better when he has other strong personalities to bounces off of, which is why the series improves markedly when he moves away from Yuno's orbit and starts associating with the Black Bulls.
The Black Bulls in some senses are very typical of the group of eccentric misfits who commonly come together in series like these, and only very gradually, as the series delves into the backgrounds of various members, does the writing show that there's a lot more to the eclectic mix that Captain Yami has assembled than what's apparent on the surface. (Exactly why Yami has consistently chosen misfits also eventually gets suggested but isn't clear within this episode span.) That exploration at least gets a start here by detailing the backgrounds of the former scoundrel Magnus and the uppity Noelle. While learning about their backgrounds makes both of them more appreciable and compelling characters, that matters much more in Noelle's case as her noxious attitude is revealed to be a struggle to maintain some dignity in an environment where she's not allowed any because of her own family's disdain for her. Seeing her start to realize that she can be accepted among the Black Bulls is one of this set's most important developments, and seeing her finally turn her overflow of power into a useful application is one of this set's highlights.
In fact, in general this series is at its very best in its most emotional beats. Though its hyper antics can get tiresome elsewhere, it nails its signature scenes, whether it's Asta simply but dramatically proving that you can't underestimate him in a fight, Noelle discovering a new spell for her power, or Magnus and Asta teaming up to defeat a powerful foe. That combo move also demonstrates the first appearance of one factor which at least sometimes gives this title separation from other shonen action fare: its key scenes are more combination efforts than just a single character going all bad-ass. While seeing a hero win mano-a-mano can be very cool, the conclusion of the battle at the village in episode 10 demonstrates that cooperative efforts for the win can be at least as satisfying.
Although the series' sense of humor is nothing special, it does a little better with its action sequences. Most of the battles in this span of episodes are on the short side, with the actual action element not lasting more than a couple of minutes prior to the battle at the village in the last two episodes, but when they happen they show at least some flair for dramatic staging and movement. The animation supporting it takes predictable shortcuts and has some rough spots (one scene showing all of the captains sitting together during the Magic Knights tryouts is especially bad), but the only place it actually looks questionable is in some CG animation of chains in the first two episodes. Character designs are actually solid beyond Yuno, with Asta's heavily-muscled build making him a striking figure when stripped to the waist; by comparison, Captain Yami and Magnus's equally-muscled builds don't make quite as much of an impression. On the female side, the fan service bait is the adult Black Bull who lounges around in her undies most of the time, while Noelle cuts more of an elegantly pretty figure and is used accordingly. Some other designs leave a bit to be desired, especially with regards to laughable hair affectations, and the manga-style shading effect commonly used under chins can be distracting. Background art is solid, and the color scheme used is noticeably richer and more vivid than normal.
The music score, while not spectacular, does its job well. It uses more folksy numbers for lighter moments and suitably dramatic orchestration for heavier ones, including ominous vocals for its setting-describing intro. Opener “Distant Future” is one of the weakest of the franchise, but closer “Blue Flame” has more impact and makes a more positive impression.
Funimation's Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack only includes 10 episodes but does have a bevy of extras, including voice actor commentaries for episodes 4 and 7. Also included is a special edition of the Clover Clips that most episodes end with, highlight clips for episodes 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9, and a 16-minute “Inside Studio J” piece which shows ADR director Cris George and three of his main vocal cast members in his office talking about auditioning for their roles in the series. It also, of course, offers the series' English dub, which is an improvement over the original Japanese dub in one crucial way: Dallas Reid's take on Asta is distinctly less grating than newcomer Gakuto Kajiwara's over-the-top performance. Christopher R. Sabat as Captain Yami is one of the least surprising anime casting choices ever, but all of the other choices are solid ones as well. If there's a disappointment, it's that Micah Solusod is being wasted on Yuno, as he'll never get to show off his fine emotional range in this role.
Overall, Black Clover doesn't do anything exceptional but it does play its shonen action cards well enough. Aside from a couple of key scenes, this is also one of the weaker 10-episode runs in the series, so it can and does improve from here.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Effectively hits emotional notes, emphasis on characters working together, Asta's English performance
Full encyclopedia details about
Release information about
|discuss this in the forum (12 posts) ||