Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - Season 1 Parts 2-3
Asta and Yuno's journeys to eventually become the Wizard King have only just begun, and already they're facing major trials. For Yuno, his first major mission takes him, fellow newbie Mimosa (Noelle's cousin), and squad leader Klaus to escort a noble, allowing Yuno a brief return home before the mission morphs into something else entirely. Yuno and Asta then find their squads' paths crossing when they enter a dungeon to beat agents from the Diamond Kingdom to an uncertain magical treasure. The success of that mission earns both accolades and their first meeting with the eccentric Wizard King himself. But the capital proves to be anything but safe when terrorists connected to an organization called Eye of the Midnight Sun attack the castle town, drawing out captains and other prominent figures from most of the Magic Knights orders in defense of the city.
These volumes of Funimation's DVD/BD releases of Black Clover cover episodes 11-29, spanning two major arcs and some padding in between; for the second volume, the feature is the Dungeon Expedition arc, while the third volume features the Attack on Castle Town arc. The latter also finishes with the series' first recap episode, although it does have at least a bit of new animation and so is worth at least skimming through. While it originally looked like Funimation was planning to release a steady stream of 10-episode sets, the way these two break suggest that Funimation is instead releasing the sets by story arcs, as both volumes end right before a new arc begins. That makes the release pattern seem a lot more sensible, if also atypical for a longer shonen action series.
Volume 2 begins with Yuno getting the primary attention for the first time since the end of the Magic Knights qualifying exam. Brief snippets shown in the first volume suggested that he was having a rougher time fitting into the elite Golden Dawn than Asta was fitting into the lowly Black Bulls, although the overall attitude of the Golden Dawn is nearly as good a fit for him as the Black Bulls were for Asta. He gets to show off his first mission action, proving again that he's quite capable but also that he's a stick in the mud compared to Asta when it comes to being a compelling or even interesting character. Thankfully the two new recurring characters he works with carry the weight: attacker Klaus is arrogant until someone proves their worth to him, while recon and healing specialist Mimosa has a cheery disposition which seems out of line with the more elitist attitude of the Golden Dawn. The three of them are also together for the dungeon expedition, while Asta is still paired with Noelle but this time working with combat-crazed Luck as their senior.
While the organizational structure of the Clover Kingdom has more or less been established before, the Dungeon Expedition arc is the first to introduce other kingdoms and their own way of doing magic. It also introduces two new antagonists who will pop up again much later in the series and provide dramatically different challenges from the ones before. The dungeon battles produce additional and more involved examples of the combo moves that will later serve the Black Bulls well, and as before the series is at its best when characters combine their efforts. The expedition also allows Momosa and Luck to showcase what they can do and gives Yuno his big power-up.
Volume 3 starts in more low-key fashion, with Asta and Noelle going to Magic Knights HQ to report. This allows the proper introduction of Julius, the current Wizard King, who quickly proves to be eminently likable and engaging; he's basically a big magic geek who's not above also dishing out some gentle pointers even while bestowing honors on his underlings, but he also later proves why he has the title when he needs to take direct action. The gathering which ensues also gives a richer portrayal of several Magic Knights captains and their key underlings and the prejudices they carry, although Asta also earns a new rival in the affair, too. That leads to the third major arc, which puts numerous Magic Knights into action, including both Yuno and Asta, though the latter once again gets the lion's share of the attention. The key development in this part is the introduction of main antagonist group Eye of the Midnight Sun, which basically looks to be to the Black Clover setting what the Akatsuki was in the Naruto setting. Why exactly they're intent on destroying the Clover Kingdom is not even hinted at before this episode block ends, however. The block wraps with a “mixer” organized by Finral which reintroduces one female character who will figure prominently in the next arc (she briefly appeared in a much earlier episode where Finral was hitting on her) and the aforementioned recap.
Until that recap episode arrives, this is a relatively tight run of episodes for the franchise. Except maybe for the mixer episode, the downtime episodes don't seem like frivolous wastes of time, and even that episode serves its purpose by showing how irregular most of the Magic Knights are and effectively setting up another upcoming story arc. (It also allows us to see Noelle dressed up as a waitress, and she's quite cute that way.) The in-episode recapping does get excessive at times, with nearly five minutes of one mid-run episode being recap from the previous episode and recap from before the eyecatch, and battles do have an almost slavish devotion to shonen action constructions, with reversals following reversals and plenty of brash declarations, but that is mostly balanced out by all of the creative uses for magic that are on display and the franchise's continuing main strength: a flair for battle dramatics the equal of any major shonen action title. These blocks also continue their gradual fleshing out of significant supporting characters, with Luck getting the feature treatment during the Dungeon Expedition arc and quite a bit more revealed about Charmy (although not her background yet). The occasional inserts of silly frivolity seen in the first volume are also pervasively present here.
Technical merits are consistent and reliable outside of fight scenes, which can vary dramatically. Those can be anywhere from heavily dependent on shortcuts to fully and fluidly detailed with a lot of movement and loosened visual standards, depending on the particular fight; parts of the fight against Mars in the Dungeon Expedition arc fall into the latter category and use a style similar to what will later be seen in some of the Eye of the Midnight Sun battles. Designs for new characters are distinct and attractive when they're supposed to be, ranging from “girl next door” style of modestly pretty for Rebecca to the gorgeous Mimosa. Background design shines most in the eccentric design of the dungeon, and the richness of the colors continues to be a feature. These volumes are a bit bloodier than the first but not any more so than a series like Bleach.
The musical score also continues to do its job well, whether it's in the more dramatic fight scenes or the sillier moments, though it still isn't a stand-out effort. These volumes each also see a new set of opener and closer take over. In the former case, the opener upgrades in episode 14 with the lively, rock-themed “PAiNT it Black” and then upgrades again on episode 28 with “Black Rover,” which is ambitiously-animated in places and a better song. Episode 14's new closer “Amazing Dreams” pairs a good rock song with wholly unimpressive visuals, while episode 28 newcomer “Black to the Dreamlight” is a good J-pop song with visuals primarily featuring a wistful-looking Noelle and the (very appropriate) implication that she's trying to sort out her feelings about Asta.
The English dub retains all of the established cast, with Dallas Reid's interpretation of Asta continuing to prove to be more tolerable than the original Japanese performance. Among new roles, Robert McCollum, Bryn Apprill, and Trina Nishimura are all excellent fits as Wizard King Julius, Mimosa, and Eye of the Midnight Sun member Sally (the crazy one who keeps going on about dissecting things) respectively, but there isn't a bad casting choice anywhere.
For extras, both volumes provide English audio commentaries for a pair of episodes on the first disk and a new roughly nine minute “Black Clover: Inside the NEW Studio J” segments on the second disk, with the one in volume 2 features voice actors and the one in volume 3 featuring technical staff. Both volumes also feature highlight clips for each batch of three episodes and a six minute long Clover Clips Special Edition, with the one in volume 2 about the “secret of the Golden Dawn” and the one in volume 3 about Black Bulls Captain Yami's encounters with various other Magic Knight Captains. (The “Clover Clips” at the end of each episode are also retained.) Both also have clean versions of the new openers and closers relevant to their volumes.
Across episodes 11-29, Black Clover still comes across too much like a cross-breed of Bleach and Naruto to truly establish its own identity in the shonen action realm, but with things like some emphasis on combo moves and a much greater emphasis on romantic inclinations it's finally starting to make some progress on that front. Rewatching these episodes for this review did remind me of one thing which appears here but hasn't since: how Noelle basically powers up Asta's sword at one point. Given that I don't think that trait has appeared again since then, I'm guessing that it's been cast aside. Even so, these episodes are entertaining enough to (mostly) not waste your time.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Some exciting battle sequences, diverse and attractive character designs, creative use of magic
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