by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 74 of
Black Clover ?
Going into the Royal Knights Exam, the rules are fairly straightforward. Instead of a series of one-on-one fights, the tournament is structured in teams, and the object of each battle is a capture-the-flag type game where the teams are in charge of a magic crystal that they must protect. Your team wins when you destroy the opposing team's crystal. Teamwork is of upmost importance, and the story is taking the chance to pair up characters who wouldn't usually work together.
This introductory round to the tournament is really stiff, however. The enemy team facing down Asta, Mimosa, and Xerx (or "The Artist Currently Posing as Xerx") are exceptionally forgettable fodder characters, and whatever excitement may have been present in the source material is way undersold in adaptation. The fight takes place in a large field that offers a mixture of landscapes, so the action comes across mostly as a magical sniper battle, where our opponents hide in the woods and attack from a reasonable distance. The twist is that Xerx, who promptly takes a nap and lets Asta and Mimosa do all the work, has rigged the whole fight with his magical traps, so he wins the match with minimal effort.
Leading up to that point, this episode is really hard to get invested in. There's an opportunity to play around with the difference in competence between Xerx and the other characters—give Asta and Mimosa a few strong character moments and then pull the rug out beneath them when it turns out Xerx was in control this whole time—but the actual fight isn't interesting enough in the meantime. Even Mimosa's giant plant laser cannon isn't rousing enough to make up for her flimsy motivation of wanting to fight alongside Asta, and the episode is hampered tremendously by flat storyboarding and lackadaisical pacing.
Methinks the cast of Black Clover are too easily impressed by each other. That both sets this show apart from its sibling franchises, but also makes it feel rote and phony at times. This is the cinnamon roll shonen! Rivalry doesn't beget toxic bitterness and insecurity here! That's why Xerx is a great character to throw into the mix now, because his presence is so spiteful toward the beliefs that the other characters hold true. "Teamwork" is a joke and he doesn't respect the Wizard King, and it's amusing that so far he's proving himself right. I believe he's meant to be an anti-hero and not an outright villain (his greatest sins so far are a few pranks and a bad attitude), so I can't imagine he won't come around on these do-gooders in Han-Solo-style eventually, but I'm curious where he's coming from emotionally. He seems to know something we don't.
Not every tournament match can be a winner, but I wish our first outing for the arc felt more eventful or at least demonstrated some brevity. These opposing mages are Grade-A nobodies and Mimosa is too thin of a character to carry the story when Xerx isn't on screen to spice things up. As always, there's at least one element in play that keeps me going (I really do like Xerx so far), but this is not an especially good foot forward to kick off this tournament off.
Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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