Black Clover
Episode 21

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 21 of
Black Clover ?

Well, you definitely can't say nothing happened in Black Clover this week. I came into this episode ready to enjoy it, since last week's cliffhanger was much stronger than normal for the show. Asta's feeling extra rowdy and Noelle has three older siblings in attendance between Solid, Nebra, and Nozel. There's a moment where it looks like a one-on-one fight is going to break out between Asta and Solid, but they have to stop once they feel an intense pressure coming from Nozel, the eldest brother and captain of the Silver Eagles. He seems to be the cool-headed one but in a frightening way, and I've always had an affinity for that shonen trope where a guy can be so powerful that his mere presence and mood is felt intuitively by the other characters.

So it seems the Magic Knights' ability to keep themselves in check while the Wizard King steps out has been successful, since there are so many competing personalities present. Even Nozel has to calm down once faced with the Vermillions, the family of Noelle's cousin Mimosa. We're meeting a ton of new faces, most of which I expect to see more as the series goes on, and we're treated to a family tree graphic just to make sure we're all on the same page about who's related to who. Basically, Mimosa Vermillion is the cousin of the Silva children, and we're meeting her cousins Fuegoleon and Leopold Vermillion, which makes them Noelle's second cousins? Maybe? Wait no, Noelle and Mimosa's mothers are related, but these new characters are related to Mimosa by her father, so they have no blood relationship with the Silvas at all. Is this homework? Am I doing homework right now?

The important conclusion is that Asta has another self-proclaimed rival in Leopold Vermillion, a wild-eyed kid with spiky hair who's impressed with our hero's grit and determination. This is the fine line that Black Clover chooses to walk, where its success in following Shonen Jump trappings will live and die based on how well it sells Asta as a lead. He's very Gary Stu in the sense that the story revolves around how much the other characters learn to like him, (the girls all fall in love with him, the guys all want to be his rival, etc) and my fear lies in the dubious quality of the argument the show makes for why everyone should love him. "Mary Sue" and "Gary Stu" are kind of loaded terms, especially in a genre so rife with power fantasies as shonen, but character writing makes all the difference. If Asta can continue to feel as legit as he was in last week's cliffhanger, then great! Gary Stu it up! But if he falls back into "Here's a bunch of character traits we observed from Luffy and Naruto and compiled into a checklist to run down regardless of tone," then that's less great.

There's a stark contrast between being in the room where the Magic Knights are hanging out and then cutting to outside where it turns out the entire city is on fire, and there's a crazy megalomaniac running amok with magical zombies at his behest. The royal capital is under attack, and it looks like we've got a brand spanking new story arc on our hands. Most of the villains we've met so far have been relatively collected and quiet, but this new guy's a total nutjob. By the end of the episode Asta and Leopold are charging recklessly head-first into a fight with him, while the rest of the Magic Knights split up and protect citizens in different parts of the city.

After such a slow start for the series, it's nice to see that the show has really picked up the pace in the past month or so. A new arc is beginning, and we have some strong cliffhangers back to back that keep the audience curious enough to keep watching. While the Magic Knights bicker amongst themselves, a new enemy with a grudge against the entire Clover Kingdom appears to bring them all together. (Though for how long, who knows.) The scope of this new attack is fairly difficult to grasp, since all we've seen so far are summoned zombies, and we're supposed to connect the dots between that and the doomed hellfire that engulfs the city. I think a big issue that this show faces is that the magical abilities don't always translate when we want to have a better idea of how these powers exist within a physical space. That goes for both this new villain as well as all the weird ways the knights use their elements to somehow construct maps and magical mounts.

All that said, I'm holding my breath to see where this goes. Every arc is a new chance for the story to escalate and potentially find its footing, and I'm hoping we'll see Black Clover finally pull out its first impressive arc. Immediately I'm sensing more of a pulse this time around, and since even the straightforward Dungeon Exploration arc still felt gutted and hollow, I'm going to take that as a good sign. There are a lot of places you can take a story when the cast is this large, and I highly doubt this ends with us suddenly being friends with Noelle's family, so I'll continue to wait patiently to see what happens next.

Rating: B

Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Sam Leach records about One Piece for The One Piece Podcast and you can find him on Twitter @LuckyChainsaw

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