by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 44 of
Black Clover ?
The shonen genre is often an exercise in dramatic power play. Somebody's almost always stronger than everybody else, and how the other characters respond to that reality defines the story. Sometimes the heroes are the strong ones, and sometimes it's the villains. Sometimes a character's response is to never give up, or maybe they know something that the others don't, and that's what gives them the edge in battle. "Who owns this scene?" is always a good question to ask yourself when writing dramatic conflicts.
According to Black Clover, the answer to that question is nobody. Nobody owns the scene. Things just sort of happen and nothing matters.
The aforementioned "power play" has been a huge function of the Underwater Temple arc thus far. The locals underestimated the Black Bulls before challenging them to a battle royale, so we got to see the good guys show off, and then the Eye of the Midnight Sun busts in with the show constantly reminding us that The Despair is on Yami's level, meaning anybody else who gets caught up in the fight is going to have a tough time. Every instance you stack one character's strength against another, you're creating expectations in the audience that you're free to bend and contort in favor of the story's needs.
But Black Clover's never been great at having a coherent through line. It knows the tropes, but it doesn't have anything to say. It has feelings that it wants to stir in the audience, but it can never quite lay out the necessary groundwork. This episode is stronger than last week's, but only because it looks a teensy bit better and there's an underlying weirdness to its ambitions. The bulk of this episode is a team-up battle with Luck and Magna facing off with The Despair themselves, even though it's just been made abundantly clear that neither are a match for him.
So I want to try and figure out which parts of this arc I at least like in theory so far. There are clearly ideas here, it's just that none of them quite work:
- Luck and Magna teaming up against somebody much stronger than them—classic scenario. We know that The Despair is on Yami's level, and Yami's the one he's most eager to kill. There's a nice push and pull where the harder the heroes fight, the more they get in the villain's way and slow him down.
- The shifting stakes—I made a comparison to the Buu saga last week, and that remains the most affection I can offer this arc so far. I like how the arc begins with a game, something small in stakes where the heroes can strut their stuff, and then it evolves into a larger conflict where they have to team-up with their initial opponents in order to face it. After seeing the new enemy, the old man who was hosting the game adapts the rules. Now both the Black Bulls and the underwater fighters are competing to be the ones to stop the Midnight Eye and that's the new basis by which they could potentially have their "wish" granted. It's the same story thrust, but now facing in a more productive direction.
- The heroes' optimistic outlook—even though Luck and Magna are getting their asses kicked, they're smiling with enthusiasm the whole way through. This contrasts with how beaten and bloodied they get, and it makes you believe that even when they're losing, they're still winning. This battle has a series of flashbacks that explains to the audience that Luck and Magna think of each other as their earliest friend, giving this team-up more meaning. They also refuse to bow to the enemy's obsession with despair because doing so would make them feel like they're losing in their respective rivalries with Asta. Cool idea!
And now here's a list of reasons why these highlights just don't work in the grand scheme of things:
- It all sucks.
I just don't know how else to put it at this point. Everything that this show manages to do right is violently undermined by how lame the show has been. Character arcs are more like isolated story beats that make no sense in context. You never truly get to feel how close these characters are because it's just the show telling you they're close by flashing back to generic, poorly animated B-roll of them hanging out at the base. The whole "wish granting" thing is still as much of a mess as it was last week, because the stakes are so poorly defined. Either the story is moving too fast for us to really live in the characters' feelings, or it's moving too slow and giving us too many chances to ask questions we should have moved on from already.
I'm still tired of the Midnight Sun being in every arc and I hate The Despair's design. I just want to take a razor and shave his dumb fur beard off. I thought it was cool to see Asta developing his Ki sensing abilities, but I wish we could spend more time enjoying Ki sensing as a unique ability that only a few characters have instead of just watching Asta learn new skills every five seconds. This show is simultaneously too much and too little. It's full of ideas that don't fit together, and huge emotions that are just big enough to seem completely empty.
Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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