by Rebecca Silverman,

Black Clover

GN 8

Black Clover GN 8
The Black Bulls are playing the High Priest's game in the Underwater Temple in the hopes of securing the magic stone before the terrorists do, but it looks like they weren't quite fast enough. The bad guys have already arrived, and they've challenged both the Temple and the Bulls! Faced with their toughest enemies and without the help of their captain or high priest, the remaining mages must manage to take down Vetto of the Eye of the Midnight Sun – no matter what.

As a shounen fantasy action series, Black Clover is obviously derivative. There are clear elements of both the story and art that seem lifted from Fairy Tail, The Seven Deadly Sins, Dragonball, and several others, to the point where if you didn't know better, you'd think mangaka Yuki Tabata wasn't even trying.

But that's where you'd be wrong.

Despite its cliché and heavily borrowed elements, this eighth volume proves that Black Clover isn't about what elements you use so much as how you use them – and Asta and Noelle are the best examples of this. While both male and female leads could simply look like your average “dumb but earnest guy” and “ojou-sama” characters, with this story arc and especially this volume, they're proving themselves to be more realized, nuanced characters who have a lot to offer the story. Yes, they're still stock characters at their bases, but in practice they've become their own people.

Noelle is perhaps the best example of this. Previous to her meeting with Kahono, the High Priest's granddaughter, Noelle suffered from not just low self-esteem, but a total lack of faith in both her magic and her ability to use it. This came in large part from the bullying she received at the hands of her siblings, who saw her as a failed member of the royal family and made very sure that she knew it. Kahono, however, pointed out that those are not the people who should matter to her, and with Asta's unwavering support, Noelle was able to realize that she needs to find her worth in people who actually care about and respect her. Since she can't trust herself, she needs to trust others who have faith in her abilities. This is a major revelation for her that shapes her evolution in terms of both how she uses her magic and how she views herself. When she joined the Black Bulls, she thought that she had been offered scraps rather than a seat at the table. With the help of her friends, Noelle can now see that just because you aren't at the head of the table doesn't mean you can't find yourself seated in a pretty good place. It's a realization that's not so common for her character type, and while it does cement her growing affection for Asta romantically, more importantly it makes her feel like she really belongs with her squadron – and before she can try really acting on her feelings, she needs to feel like she deserves to have them.

Noelle's burst of self-confidence is mirrored by Asta's adherence to Yomi's overall creed: surpass your limits in the moment. While it's a common enough rallying cry, Asta really takes it to heart, and his overwhelming belief in what he does and who stands alongside him ultimately shapes the fight. This is not just in terms of how he performs, but rather how he inspires others, such as his somewhat lackluster companions Vanessa and Finral. He's also not above using unusual methods to fight (although to be fair, anything he does with his anti-magic reads as “unusual” to his enemies), and one of the best parts of the volume is where villain Vetto says, for the roughly four-thousandth time, to scream in despair. Asta opens his mouth as if he's going to—and then chomps down on Vetto's hand instead. It's a moment that sums up just why this type of shounen action series is so much fun. There's not giving up, and then there's not giving up in a way that makes a statement.

Of course, the book retains the issues that have been plaguing Black Clover since volume one. There's very little that feels original about the plot, world, or characters. Although Tabata works increasingly well within the constraints he's imposed upon himself, there are still moments that are so familiar that they jar you out of the book. Art can also get excessively crowded in terms of sound effects and speed lines, which can make some of the panels difficult to read, even the larger ones. There is an interesting theme about “foreigners” developing that might change things up; this began when Yomi's past was introduced and it's beginning to look as if the kingdom was actually colonized by the mages who presently live there, driving out or killing an earlier group of indigenous residents. If Tabata continues to develop that thread, it could mark the moment when Black Clover begins to really stand on its own two feet, so it bears keeping an eye on.

Black Clover isn't a perfect series, but it's also far better than it ought to be given its material. Despite its remixed feeling, it manages to work with its strengths to overcome most of its weaknesses. It isn't anything new, but sometimes a good story doesn't have to be—all it has to do is draw you in enough to want to know what will happen next.

Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-

+ Good use of its rehashed elements, nice development for Noelle and Asta, Gray reveal is fun
Still feels highly derivative, art can be difficult to read due to crowded panels

Story & Art: Yūki Tabata

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Black Clover (manga)

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Black Clover (GN 8)

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