Black Clover
Episode 23

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 23 of
Black Clover ?

Hey, there. Like memes? Well, Black Clover's gotcha covered!

I guess I never thought all that hard about how the monarchy of Clover Kingdom actually works, because this week spells it out clearly that Julius Novachrono may be the king of the wizards, but even he serves a regular old-fashioned king who sits in luxury and talks like an asshole. I think it's the guy's voice actor that really sells him as a nuisance, possibly a villain waiting in the wings, because his performance creeped me out. So while the royal capitol is under attack, the Wizard King remains missing in action, unable to protect the king but surely working in mysterious ways nonetheless.

This arc is wrapping up after proving to be a pretty breezy adventure. It makes sense, because these recent episodes have been less about overcoming a tough villain and more about giving us a glimpse at the larger world of Black Clover. Fuegoleon Vermillion continues his reign as the star of the show, having given Noelle her pep talk and now walking into Asta's fight with the zombie mage and ending it with a flashy bang. Fuegoleon seems like a genuinely cool guy, serving as a back-up mentor for our teenage heroes and offering a different perspective than we might get out of Yami or the Wizard King. He's the captain of the Crimson Lions, but he's not here to look down on the other squads like some of the other characters might. He honestly wants to help these kids grow.

Opposite of Fuegoleon is the villain, Rades. His story is that he was once a Magic Knight working for the Clover Kingdom, but due to the nature of his magic he was expelled for being too dangerous. His origins as a commoner certainly didn't help his argument, and as a result he potentially works as a tragic echo of what Asta could have become with a worse attitude or without a squad that embraced him for who he was. There's a degree to which Rades is sympathetic, but Feugoleon's position makes it pretty clear that he finds the vengeance childish, proceeding to burn right through his defenses. I'm still interested in the way this show creates a myriad of characters who come from different backgrounds but respond to their upbringings in different ways. There's a sense that the kingdom's treatment of Rades was unjust—framing made all the more obvious by the fact that we just met the nation's selfish king—but as far as the present conflict goes, the guy who set the whole city on fire and attacked with an army of zombies must be stopped, and a criticism of the kingdom's class structure is left as a topic for another day.

I believe these past few episodes have been Black Clover's most functional storytelling to date. The themes are explicit, and there's a lot of clear intent behind the way that various characters contrast with each other. I think the attempt to make a big set piece out of Rades's zombie attack has been the weakest element, but I can't think of ways to improve it that wouldn't upset the specific balance they're going for. It's a big enough attack that it requires all of the Magic Knights on hand to help fight off zombies, but it still gets to be a story about a single villain and his grudge. The problem is that it feels too generic in the end. It's a flimsy way to create conflict that gives the large cast something to do, and the intensity of the attack is betrayed by its vagueness. Zombies are attacking! The whole city's on fire somehow! Civilians are in distress! You get the idea.

23 episodes may seem like a lot when compared to most anime these days, and even though we're nearly halfway through Black Clover's scheduled run already, my gripes with it currently pale under the slack I'm willing to give a long-running series this relatively young. You can see the stirrings of the bigger picture becoming defined, and I surprisingly like this show's approach to classism enough to trust that it might go some cool places in the future. Frankly, I'd be happy with this as the climax of this arc since I don't need to see the show push anything more bombastic than what we've already seen, but it looks like was have a ways to go yet, so who knows.

Salt bae, tho.

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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