by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 104 of
Black Clover ?
We've seen defeated elves relinquish their possession of humans a couple of times now, but we still don't have a surefire way to make it happen again. This episode's point of focus is Magna and Vanessa's team battle against Rufel, the elf currently inhabiting Luck. They're giving it their all, but a large portion of their energy isn't spent on fighting, but rather trying to cajole their dormant friend back into consciousness.
Early on when the elves first emerged at the outset of this arc, Luck's body was already revealing signs of weakness in the enemies' control. It was odd that the incredibly fast and powerful Rufel would have his attacks miss, so clearly somebody else's soul was fighting for autonomy from the inside. This manifests further in his fight with Magna and Vanessa, though there's a number of elements at play between Luck's sabotage from within and Vanessa's red thread of fate allowing our heroes to barely stay out of reach from impending doom (for a while, at least.) In terms of understanding how to loosen the elves' grip, this is an important battle, and one that has been set-up prior more than most of the showdowns we've witnessed so far. We've gotten an elf to forfeit with Digit Taliss, and we've seen Yuno overpower the elf that possessed him, and now it looks like Luck/Rufel is going to be defeated by a combination of both methods.
Magna and Luck were often portrayed as especially close friends within the Black Bulls, though I never found the show's attempts to highlight their brotherhood particularly effective, and that weak backbone makes for the most disappointing aspects of this week's episode. Magna's trying to get a rise out of Luck and spends the whole fight evoking their personal rivalry. We finally have a non-arbitrary story reason for why the two of them were separated in the outcome of the Royal Knights exams, as Magna's been training to keep up with Luck's natural strength and it's easy to imagine why Luck might feel ashamed to let the gap close so much, but I was under the impression we were barely a week or two ahead of the Royal Knights being formed. I think the author knew ahead of time that Magna and Luck were going to have a big fight during the elf invasion, so we have evidence of forethought, but that just makes the lack of cohesion or emotional weight even more vexing.
This episode jumps wildly between an impressive sakuga showcase and fumbling slideshow. The standout sequence is Rufel's fight against Asta's devil form and—Oh, did I mention that Asta's in this episode? You wouldn't think he was based on the first fifteen minutes but the red thread of fate reels him in like a fish in the darkest hour. It's easy to joke about how Shonen Jump stories always find a way to make things about the main character, and this feels especially parodical. We did so much to make this about Magna and Luck's friendship, and Asta was on the other side of the world last we saw him! It's honestly kind of hilarious how quickly it's become the Asta show again and how little the series tries to make any of this feel organic.
Thematically, we're in the thick of the elven war and what it has to offer. Rufel is showing his colors just like his brethren before him; a panicked fear that he's fighting the wrong fight as he learns that humans are not unanimously the traitorous weaklings that his crusade needs them to be. I've liked this arc more than most because its premise forces the show to let interesting character dynamics and general story flow carry most of the burden, but execution-wise, this episode collapses under Black Clover's worst qualities. Magna and Luck's friendship is abysmally fleshed out, Asta's sudden appearance is contrived and thoughtlessly included, and the production values are bonkers inconsistent. There are notable moments of spectacle that are worth taking a peek at, but as a full package this episode doesn't amount to enough.
Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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