by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 61 of
Black Clover ?
Gah. I swear there's no part of me that takes joy in picking on Black Clover, especially when I'm just repeating a lot of the same criticisms, but it really needs to give me something to work with here.
We've arrived at the climax of our most recent battle with the Eye of the Midnight Sun. Mars has made his face-turn and now everybody can gather for a united confrontation with Fana. Now that we're nearing the end of the arc, I'm even more baffled by the coincidences that have brought us to this point. We detoured into an awkwardly placed flashback to develop side characters, just so they could point us toward the same location that Vanessa happened to be going anyway, and then we just happened to arrive at said location at the same time both the Midnight Sun and the Diamond Kingdom were launching their attacks for unrelated reasons, and then Fanzell took on the Diamond Kingdom that just happened to be led by two of his former students, and then Mars became one of the good guys to help against the Midnight Sun which just happened to be led by a possessed version of his dead girlfriend.
Coincidences are not automatically bad, but how difficult could it have possibly been to connect some of these events together with even the flimsiest of reasons? Was anything planned before pen got put to paper? It's good that the series is putting its emotional character arcs ahead of logical reason (and those arcs remain fairly clear for once), but the Elmer's Glue holding the story together is embarrassingly visible. The myriad of characters and subplots aren't organically dovetailing like they clearly intended, and instead they're just uncomfortably propped against each other in a sequence of random events.
While we're talking about the emotional core of the arc, I have beef there too. Asta frequently has what I'd like to call "Luffy moments." There's a good example in this episode, where Mars is letting Fana attack him out of guilt for killing her during their childhood, and Asta butts heads with him and tells him off as a result. These are moments where the stupid bone-headed main character gets to reveal themselves as shockingly insightful, and the directness of their perspective can be transcendent in some way. "Abrasive empathy," I'll call it.
Sincerity is extremely important in making these scenes work. It can't just be that our hero is right about whatever point they're trying to make, it has to surprise the audience just as much as the other characters. You need to have some confidence that another writer wouldn't have come to the same conclusion. When One Piece does this, it's powerful because it feels new, like Luffy is saying things you aren't used to hearing from heroes. Black Clover not only doesn't feel sincere in these scenes, but it does this constantly (this is Asta's third Luffy moment in this arc alone), like another shonen cliché in the bag that's free to take and use whenever you like.
And so the Fana fight comes to an end with Mars having the emotional strength to confront his childhood friend with a hug, allowing the real Fana to return in a big Princess Mononoke finale where the doom and gloom fades to be replaced by sunshine and nature. This is where the arc's strongest elements come together, since there's at least a clear through-line between Fanzell's desire to atone for his time as a Diamond Kingdom soldier and the eventual closure for Mars and Fana's relationship.
I'm guessing we have another episode or two of falling action, since we still need something to come of the Witch Queen, but as it stands this arc has left me extremely dry. Black Clover has the ability to balance its weaknesses just long enough for the traditions of the genre to do the heavy lifting, but never for very long. This is a fantasy series that denies the audience an actual journey. The parts that are good are over too quickly, and too often the show just compensates with annoyingly loud emptiness.
Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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