by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Black Clover ?
We had the Lord Heath stuff earlier in the show, but for my money the Dungeon Exploration arc could qualify as the first proper arc of Black Clover. Barring the filler leading up to now, we're still pretty early in the series' lifespan, so it usually takes an arc like this to really give the audience an idea of what to expect moving forward. There isn't just a beginning, middle, and an end, with several storylines moving the plot forward, there are a fair few nuggets of world-building that the story can now explore thanks to this venture.
Last week introduced us to a mage who can wield two elements of magic, we've still got loads of questions about how Asta's multiple swords work, and this week wraps up the battle with Mars of the Diamond Kingdom with a deus ex machina in the form of the mysterious fairy girl that Yuno discovers while time is paused. I'm not using the term 'deus ex machina' disparagingly in this case, because I thought the fairy girl casually booping Mars's giant sword and shattering it was freakin' awesome. I don't have the slightest clue about her significance, but the amount of new story possibilities that have opened up over the course of this arc is night and day, and I'm more than happy to just roll with it. Our heroes don't get to save the day in the traditional sense, but the world gets to feel a little bigger as a trade-off.
While we're talking about Mars, I think he ends up being one of the strongest elements of this episode. We get his backstory where he's forced to fight and kill his friend, the girl from the little snippets of flashback we've been given up until now. If Black Clover really is going to hit it big with thirteen year-olds getting into shonen for the first time, then a moment like this where things get a little extra dark will likely hook them better. Though my personal favorite part was when Mars and Lotus were flying away from the crumbling Dungeon, and we see Mars thanking his partner for saving him. As cold and far-gone as Mars can appear, I like him best when he's framed as a socially awkward loner, and his emotionally distant heart-to-heart with Lotus helps drive home that Power of Friendship theme stronger than anything we saw with the Black Bulls.
With the Dungeon Exploration arc now over, it's easy to look back and create that hypothetical scenario where I watched it all in one go like I would have if I was catching up for the first time. Certain things like Luck's backstory probably would have worked better had I known I was about to be immersed in several different characters' flashbacks, and that this arc would result in both the Clover Kingdom and the Diamond Kingdom having their bonds strengthened. That theme about the value of friends was an arc for more than one character here.
I think it makes too much sense that the episode I have the kindest words for also happens to be the one where Asta is unconscious most of the time. I was rooting for the little guy early on, but at the end of the day, I think he's the weakest link in the show's attempts to hit those classic shonen beats. This episode is incredibly pleasant, right up until the end when Asta wakes up and we have to make an obligatory joke about Noelle's ripped-up clothes. It's less that the show is bad at these tropes and more that the tropes stick out like a sore thumb in a story that doesn't need them.
I'm not coming out of this arc feeling floored—if we wanted to compare the Dungeon Exploration arc to Naruto's first major arc, then it's not much of a contest—but I do feel good about the future for now. This is an arc that jumps back and forth between the easygoing shonen tone of the show's comfort zone and an intense desperation to capture the magic of its contemporaries without the personality to back it up. Since this episode manages to go pretty far purely on the strength of its tone and the relationships between characters, which has not been true for the entirety of the arc, I'd say we ended on as high a note as I could reasonably expect.
Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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