Black Clover
Episode 81

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 81 of
Black Clover ?

Coinciding with Langris' onslaught against his brother last week, Team G technically won the match because Team E's crystal got destroyed in the process. Elsewhere on the map, Leopold came this close to taking the enemy's crystal, but it looks like this is a day for the bad guys instead, which brings us back to the Black Bulls' stare-down with Langris. This episode rewinds a few moments to show us exactly how Asta and company managed to fly across the battlefield so quickly (Charmy catapulted them with her sheep), though I was wrapped up in the moment enough that I didn't think twice about it at the time.

This tournament is certainly going in a few unexpected directions now. Langris has gotten on Asta's naughty list, so our hero is demonstrating an uncharacteristic anger. The Wizard King is not opposed to letting these kids get a quick and dirty fight out of their system, but he also wants to keep everything within the confines of the exam. Since Asta and Langris' teams would be facing each other in the semi-finals anyway, their match is getting moved up to now, which seems weirdly unfair to the other teams waiting for their fights! I'm trying to think of another shonen anime that's done something like this. The Wizard King's just like, "Well, shoot. The emotions are running high now. Gotta keep that momentum going!"

So because Asta went and got all hot-headed against Langris, who's still digging his heels into the ground with overcompensating douchebaggery, his teammates have to get whisked into an unexpected battle as well, and this is where we get a lot of new Zora content. It turns out Zora's distaste for the Magic Knights comes from his dad, who was a peasant like Asta who managed to get in to the club with hard work. Zora's dad revered the Magic Knights and relished the opportunity to fight alongside them, but when he eventually died, Zora overheard his teammates mocking him for not being a wealthy noble like them. The idealistic vision of who the Magic Knights are supposed to be—compassionate warriors fighting to protect the weak—was ground into the dust. It turns out that this special group of heroes is inescapably tied to wealth and nepotism, even when it pretends not to be.

Langris makes an especially good antagonist for Zora, who rises to the challenge with a strong appetite. Langris is everything Zora could possibly hate about the Magic Knights, and by the end of this episode, Zora goes from looking like a bitter prankster to a genuinely swell dude biting back at the establishment's failure. It's not that the idea of the Magic Knights is bad, it's that vile people are constantly allowed to make a mockery of the name. This is an angle that Black Clover has always lightly explored, that the people who are supposed to be the good guys are low-key responsible for many of the world's problems, and I hope it can keep pushing these ideas. Even if someone like the Wizard King truly is a stand-up guy, is there a chance he's been complicit in some of the kingdom's ugliness and simply hopes to plant the seeds of progress in a new generation? Or perhaps he's secretly been scheming to fix the system from the inside? This thread has to go somewhere.

Things are getting much more intense in the Royal Knights exam, and this episode offers a healthy variety between the more atmospheric action and the flashbacks fleshing out Zora's story. Once again, the class themes are among Black Clover's greatest assets, allowing characters of different backgrounds to coexist meaningfully and sewing some honest-to-goodness world-building into the narrative. Thankfully, this tournament seems to have finally found its pulse.

Rating:

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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