Black Clover & The Power of Mediocrity

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The following covers the first 9 volumes of the manga/52 episodes of the anime (the water temple arc because that’s what Hulu has available).

Black Clover feels like a series perfectly engineered to be someone’s first Shonen. It’s premise is the mix of all the then popular Shonen series. A spunky, short protagonist with special powers that makes him underestimated by everyone like Naruto, along with a more competent rival (which My Hero Academia also does), a loose magic system that allows the author to create any scenario they want like Fair Tail, and lofty goals to be the best there ever was, like well, One Piece, Naruto, My Hero Academia, Pokémon, Bakuman… I could go on forever (there already seems to be a problem in that goal considering the position Asta wants to be Wizard King, yet there is a king above him who rules the land. Seems extra complicated, but maybe it goes places I’m not aware of yet).

That makes it sound like a bad thing, and it would be if the author Yuki Tabata doesn’t clearly have a passion and joy for what he is drawing. What he’s drawing is a manga that follows a boy named Asta. Asta was born without magic in a world full of it but has the dream of being the Wizard King. This is easier said than done considering his childhood best friend, Yuno, turns out to be a magical prodigy. This does not dissuade Asta, however, he works hard to join the magical knights just in time for sinister threats to arise and make their move.

It’s nice to enjoy a series that is just simple fun. It is not perfect by any means. In fact, many of its flaws are very apparent, but the whole show has a solid, quick pace, that allows all of the bigger issues to kind of slide by on your way through. This is most evident in the Magic Knight trials and how magic works in the univese.

The Magic Knight tests/trials are the world’s attempt to show how one is recruited by showing off a mage’s power and abilities. It’s a very simple process of having one of the leaders of a Magic Knight band like you and want you to be part of their team. It’s incredibly straightforward and easy to understand. Just like the magic system.

Shonen is well known for its magic systems. Nen from HunterxHunter, alchemy from FMA, and devil fruit from One Piece are all intriquet, complex system that play off of each other in interesting ways. The magic books in Black Clover do not. It seems like when you are of age you get a book and that’s your magic. There is some additional work like flying on a broom or the like, but overall that is it. There isn’t any way to gauge power, or say that certain powers have weaknesses or anything. It’s just straightforward and that’s not bad.

For an example of what I mean it’s best to look at Dragon Ball Z. I know that sounds crazy. Looking at an outright Shonen classic in comparison to, what might be, a flash in the pan series. But it’s pertinent. Dragon Ball Z has a power level system, but doesn’t have unique powers overall. Everyone can kind of do the same thing, or they have a single gimmick that separates them. Most fights are not as strategic. It’s just straightforward. Black Clover is similar. That straightforward approach allows the series to just list off elements and move on. It doesn’t need to waist time explaining how every detail works because it doesn’t matter. That’s not the story the author wants to tell. It wants to be quick and satisfying. It accomplishes that.

But here is where the disclaimer about how far this is talking about comes in because I can see that changing for the worse. Since everything is simple that allows for expedited action. However, at the end of volume 9 Asta is crippled and said that he might be done fighting and they come up with a plan to help him. I haven’t read to see how that goes, but healing him or solving major problems too easily is where many manga (and all stories) fall short. In simple fights it is easy to just wave magic away as being very emotionally connected and quick, but when it comes to solving large character issues that takes it too far.

For an example of that it is best to look at My Hero Academia. In that series Deku also gets a similar prognosis. He might lose his arms if he keeps overextending himself. With that information he doesn’t look for a way out he looks for a new solution. His solution is using his legs more to fight. It’s a simple, yet brilliant solution to his problem that uses the established mechanics to do it. Black Clover doesn’t have that yet. Doesn’t mean it won’t, but going with accessibility over complex leads to those kind of outcomes.

Now I say all of this, but I really mean the manga. The anime on the other hand…

Anime adaptations have really entered a golden age around 2012-2014 with FMA Brotherhood, Hunter x Hunter, and My Hero Academia. Those are all incredibly faithful, evenly paced (with the start of FMAB as a noteble exception) high quality experiences of those stories. That makes it all the more painful when watching the first handful of episodes of Black Clover and being both bored and annoyed.

The biggest issue is how both the sub and dub are terrible. Asta being the main culprit, but everyone kind of suck. The reason Asta sticks out however is the fact his dialogue is mostly screaming. That is a problem in the manga too, but you can skim that to get to the good stuff. In the show you just get earful after earful of it that makes it unbearable. On top of that they say characters names, technically right, but wrong to me. Asta is (A-sta) to me, not (Ah-sta). Similar ones I got to were Fuegoleon (Fuego-Leon) not (Fue-gole-on), or Nozel as (Nozzel) not (No-zel). I’m sure all of these are technically correct. I just hate them personally.

Though, I can overlook a not great dub of sub of a show if the story is enjoyable. Despite being the same story everything is dragged out so much. They make every single chapter an episode almost. Adding details that are not relevant all along the way. The only changes (they could have always been there, but I forgot) is seeing the woman with the three brothers early on, and why we don’t see Noelle at the Trials. There could be more changes to flesh out the narrative that are fine but take away from how snappy the story is on its own.

An argument for that is to spend more time with the characters. That is a fine enough reason. They are all pretty flat. Simple ideals and motivations, but very understandable, and likable enough to root for. However extending scenes, or adding scenes that don’t convey any more about a character than has already been shown on the page is unnecessary.

Though, now that I think about it, it reminds me more of the problem with Warrior Nun. Warrior Nun dragged because it spent time where it did not need to. Black Clover does the same, but the manga has the benefit of being at the reader’s pace. The anime does not. The anime must hit every note and then some to fill out the running time and make it additionally satisfying. Just like Warrior Nun however, since none of its ideas are really new spending time on them is kind of a waste since it’s predictable. But since the manga is at a reader’s pace that makes it easy to move past any section the reader doesn’t care about as much.

I feel like there is a world where I could find Black Clover incredibly insufferable. In fact there is one. It’s called the anime, but I’m referring really to the manga. It is shallow, has no new ideas or things to say, and feels like it is drawn and conveyed with so much heart that I don’t care. It feels like the direction Fairy Tail could have taken. Instead of holding more closely to a One Piece type of storytelling, Black Clover is going it’s own way, and can do so with ease because of its simplistic setting, characters, and magic. It is generic as Hell, but also a lot of fun.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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