by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 84 of
Black Clover ?
The most important story conflicts may have been dealt with already, but the Royal Knights exams still have one heck of a climactic battle up their sleeve with the final match, where Team P (Yuno, Noelle, and En) faces off against Team I (Rill Boismortier and two others). With Asta's crew, there was a clear effort to make teamwork a foundational element of the tournament—even if the fights themselves have been oddly bereft of any actual teamwork—but this week throws pretense completely out the window. This is a Yuno vs. Rill fight, no more, no less.
There is a certain thematic alchemy at play, as we've focused on topics like peasantry vs. royalty and characters working hard to fight their way to the top. Now that the relevant characters have burnt themselves out, the spotlight returns to the wunderkinds. Yuno and Rill are natural talents; they're not bad people like Langris, but there's still a melancholy that comes with them getting the coolest, flashiest fight in Asta's absence. This definitely feels like a counterpart to My Hero Academia's Sports Festival arc, where Midoriya's the most sympathetic fighter, yet it's Bakugo and Todoroki in the final round. But at least MHA is good at giving its whiz kids comprehensible faults and emotional issues. Rill's gifted-artist/mama's boy thing is still loopy, and Yuno is a plank of wood.
However, none of this should distract from how absolutely stellar this episode looks. These two are going all out, and so are the animators. It's nearly twenty minutes of straight flexing, as Yuno's wind spells and Rill's art magic go head to head. The animation is similar to the original Demon Asta fight, where the battlefield is abstracted to a much larger size and the two fighters practically surf on each other's attacks with balletic precision, even if the art isn't as deranged or experimental as that episode. It's easily a production value high point for the entire series.
In the end, Yuno claims the victory, but only because Rill got careless and let his magic go so wild that he shattered his own team's crystal by accident. No one truly won or lost this battle, since the two of them proved to be on roughly equal terms, and losing in the tournament doesn't mean you're out of the Royal Knights. The fight itself is a delight to watch, but the episode's final scene is its strongest moment, where the Wizard King meets with Zora and encourages him to join the Magic Knights for real. The Wizard King was on good terms with Zora's dad back in the day, and the Magic Knights' star ranking system was introduced specifically to reward people like him and move the organization away from royalty masturbation. Zora shrugs the kind words off in order to play it cool, but you can tell a heartfelt conversation was had under the surface. There's an emotional finality to this scene that's really nice.
Overall, the Royal Knights exams have been pretty indicative of how I feel about Black Clover in general. I don't think it's particularly well-executed as a shonen battle series, and having a tournament like this really highlights that this show doesn't know what to do with the genre conventions that it apes so freely. The mechanics of the story are so messy and underdeveloped, which occasionally contributes to that earnest heart-on-your-sleeve fervor, but just as often it feels curiously soulless. Regardless, Black Clover does reliably reach its peaks—moments that come close to making the grind feel worth it—and I wouldn't want to deny it that praise.
Black Clover is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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