by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 69 of
Black Clover ?
We're continuing to trickle our way through the Star Festival, as it's revealed that the woman Asta couldn't recognize last week was actually Charlotte Roselei, captain of the Blue Roses. She almost looks like a different person when she's not in her knight's armor, and she's out of her element when out in public wearing a dress and getting unwanted attention from men. For the majority of these cases, she's more than ready to break out her briar magic and whip them into shape, but it's a much different story when her dear Yami is wandering around the festival in the buff.
When Charlotte and Vanessa cross paths and start fighting over Yami, I was kind of in shock. "Are we really doing this again?" I asked myself, flabbergasted. We just had Yami vs. Jack last week, so are we really going to jump into another petty rivalry episode? The answer is a frustrating yes and no. Bless Viz's new Shonen Jump archive, so I can meticulously track adaptation choices as I watch along, because there's a little bit of filler this week that skews the episode toward more dumbness, but there's more going on at the core of the story this time. There are really only two "fights" between Charlotte and Vanessa, a cosplay competition where the punchline is that neither of them dressed particularly sexy (that's the filler) and a drinking contest where the punchline is that neither of them can hold their liquor. The cosplay part was weird because I felt like I was being prepped for a montage with a variety of costumes, but it only went for one round.
For the most part, the whole premise is undercooked. Both characters start to headbutt over Yami, but neither of them are open about being into him so they have to pretend they're defending their squad's pride by fighting. The phony antagonism the show tries to string out of them is really dull, let alone how un-invested I am in who ends up with who. I suppose it was fairly evident that Vanessa liked Yami, but there was always a hint of platonic admiration that balanced it out, so the sudden cat fight is disappointing. We passed our love triangle quota a long time ago! Why are we still doing this?
The real centerpiece of this episode is Charlotte's flashback, where she fell for Yami for the first time. When she was young, she had a curse put on her that was set to engulf her castle in a briar trap when she turned eighteen. Then the dreaded day came, and her determination to become so tough and strong that she could stop the curse wasn't enough, so it was Yami who cut through the vines and suggested she learn to ask other people for help every once in a while. It's here that we learn the condition to break the spell this whole time was "have your heart stolen by a man," and promptly the briars vanish.
There's a romance trend in Shonen Jump that's walking a tricky line. Love-smitten women's stories are so commonly about consolidating feelings of vulnerability, where love isn't a bad thing, but in a world where toughness and independence are glorified so much, it often feels like female characters are being robbed of something when they fall in love, and their arcs are about unlearning that angst. The broad lesson is pretty gender-neutral, but in practice there's always an emphasized contrast between the female characters who are constantly wrestling with other peoples' perception of them and the male characters who just shoot from the hip and don't worry about that stuff. The Charlotte flashback is interesting because it makes a convincing case for why developing this crush would hurt so much. She didn't get to choose what being happy looked like. She wanted strength to be what made her happy, but fate stepped in and said "Just kidding, it's love. Sucks to be you."
I think there's something compelling in this that might go over better in a different kind of story, because in this form it's going to hit the roadblock that all these Shonen Jump series do, which is that they're written by male authors and aimed at a mostly male audience. Any sincerity that exists in this subplot is going to get recontextualized by gender dynamics that infer men are naturally awesome and intuitive, while women are insecure and overthink everything until their problems are solved by men. At the same time, the bittersweetness of Roselei's circumstance is very specific, and it does work on an emotional level to some degree. The genre's gender politics are certainly compromised, but if I defended Pudding in One Piece, I can defend Charlotte Roselei too. I liked this section a lot.
The bulk of this episode is really snoozy, opting not to move the story forward as we instead watch two women fight over a dude. I'm a little disappointed that the origin of Charlotte's crush on Yami is so similar to Vanessa's, but I think I like her story more because it successfully captures that sense of ironic fairy tale tragedy. The vagueness of it, told through silhouettes and disembodied voices, actually makes it a better story. This is not a great episode, but there's a nugget of something really cool within it.
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