Adapted from Yuki Tabata’s manga that’s currently ongoing in Weekly Shonen Jump Magazine, Black Clover is one of the magazine’s most recent adaptations to come screeching into the world of anime. Coming from Japan’s most successful manga magazine brings with it a certain level of expectation, keep in mind, this is the the publication that presented the foundation for many of the most successful anime, not only in Japan, but worldwide. Anime such as the big three of the 2000s: Naruto, Bleach and the still massive One Piece, as well as the current super-hit My Hero Academia. Coming from the same house as several of shonen anime’s greatest hits means that Black Clover has some considerably large shoes to fill.
We are introduced to a world where magic is commonplace and almost anyone can conjure spells, almost anyone. The central focus of the story, Asta, is a 15-year-old orphan who, along with his lifelong rival Yuno, was left at a church orphanage where they have grown up together. Both work hard to achieve the dream that they share: to be the wizard king. For Yuno, this could be a possibility as he has proved himself to be quite the genius when it comes to spell casting, however, for Asta this goal will be far more difficult to achieve as, up to this point, he has shown no evidence of magical power to speak of. Although there is hope for Asta, as he continuously puts himself through physical training until the day comes when he can attend a special Ceremony in which the young potential mages are chosen to wield ancient magic tomes. These tomes are known as grimoires. The day when both receive their grimoires sets into motion their diverging journeys to try and become the most powerful magic user in the land, the wizard king.
Black Clover presents the viewer with a new world and a good few interesting characters in these first ten episodes but a lot of the impact of this world building is lost as many of its ideas are commonplace for shonen anime. The box set does have a good stopping point in the story, after Asta’s first mission and confrontation with a genuine threat, but it will feel like familiar territory for those who have seen similar shows before. Asta, the main focus of the story, is an underdog protagonist trying to achieve his dream through hard work and determination in the face of seemingly impossible odds, particularly given his low social standing and lack of magical ability. This type of character is littered throughout the genre, even in the examples mentioned previously, as I find myself continually drawing comparisons between the series and Naruto. Such as their similar loud-mouthed, spikey-haired main characters who have a dream to become the best at their respective disciplines while being motivated through a rivalry with a brooding friend. Even the episodic introduction of the wizard king confronting the demon can draw similarities with the Fourth Hokage and the Nine-Tailed Fox battle that opens the Naruto series. His rival, Yuno, is in direct contrast as an adept magic user and, with his reserved personality, the polar opposite of Asta but we don’t really get a lot of time with him at this point.
There is also the introduction of several colourful supporting characters as the episodes progress, the standouts being brash members of the Magic Knight’s Black Bulls squad such as their leader, Yami Sukehiro, and Asta’s rival in volume, Magna Swing. These brutish characters, along with the snobbish royal, Noelle Silva, are interesting but again are stock templates to be found in many other similar anime with not enough to really make them stand out. The voice acting for the supporting cast is great, with a good mixture of personalities demonstrated. The English dub is also well done, coming from Funimation, boasting several big names such as Chris Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard and Ian Sinclair. It is, however, the central cast where the voice acting presents issues.
Unfortunately, Asta tends to voice his opinion through loud cries and screeches. Whenever met with criticism or challenge (which happens frequently in an underdog story) Asta will generally respond by yelling at the top of his lungs, much to the annoyance of other characters and any viewers who choose to experience this this program through headphones. I can imagine he would already be a grating personality in the show to some and the fact that the character has to scream the vast majority of dialogue does not make him anymore likable. I did find that Dallas Reid’s portrayal of Asta in the English dub was an improvement; it was still loud, but the shouting didn’t get on my nerves nearly as much.
Yuno, in contrast, is very stoical and as a result, is very reserved in terms of how he is voiced. The problem is that we don’t really get an impression of who he is as a character. In a flashback episode early on we get to see Yuno when he was much younger and although, quiet and shy, he shows much more personality. In the present day, he doesn’t speak much and the few lines he delivers give little away. It doesn’t help that in the ten episodes in this volume his role gets continuously smaller as he and Asta’s paths move further apart. Perhaps further down the line his personality will open up more.
The characters and their story arcs being established in this first volume are typical of so many similar anime and unfortunately at this early stage the series the creative team don’t do enough to differentiate, particularly during the recent jam-packed seasons of ongoing anime series. Although, the series does have an interesting dynamic of the class division, it doesn’t explore this enough at this stage. Nobles and commoners are held in different regard, not only in their social status but also their ability to use magic. If this can be explored through Asta and Noelle’s overarching journeys for acceptance, then it could add some extra depth to the story as well as provide some really good character interactions. As it stands, it only scratches the surface and the series seems more interested in the power level and control of magic rather than who should have it and why, which will hopefully evolve as the story unfolds.
Produced by Studio Pierrot (Bleach, Naruto, Tokyo Ghoul) the animation is as expected. Yuki Tabata’s character designs have translated well from the manga, and on the whole it is competently animated. One or two parts aside, the animation is not particularly impressive. For a story about magic, we don’t see nearly enough. With only a couple of examples, the spells shown at this stage don’t create the greatest spectacle, or at least are not animated to be so, but we are only at the very beginning of the story, so this could change.
The opening and closing themes for the series again follow suit for many action-focused anime. The opening is loud and energetic to get us excited for the coming adventure and the closing is more subdued and tender by comparison, calming us back down. Music for the series was created by Minako Seki, who was previously the composer on another Studio Pierrot fantasy anime, Kingdom. The soundtrack to the series is not bad by any means, but unfortunately is not particularly notable. Perhaps it is not given enough emphasis during key scenes, where music could really be used as a tool to better establish a sense of atmosphere and tension. Other than when given the first glimpse of Asta’s abilities in the show, and the song Pentagram kicks in for the first time, I cannot really remember much of the music through the series so far. A shame when anime like My Hero Academia really allow the music of Yuki Hayashi, to stand out triumphantly and really add to the emotion of a scene, something Black Clover could have really used in order to better earn the investment of its audience.
The Blu-ray has quite a few extras for a ten episode box set. These include commentaries on Episodes 4 and 7 as well as Black Clover: Inside Studio J in which there are interviews with ADR Director Cris George as well as several voice actors. Clover Clips Special Edition provides an extended version of the comical shorts that appear after the credits of every episode. There are also some short ‘behind the scenes’ featurettes following the the dub actors called Inside The Episode. Overall, a good few extras.
This first part of Black Clover does a good job of establishing the world and characters but overall plays it incredibly safe to the formula, with many shonen tropes being present. It has potential in its themes that it could build on and really stand out, particularly since this is another long-form series that is set to have at least 51 episodes. However, in the current climate where there is an increasing number of seasonal anime to contend with, not standing out from the get-go can be dangerous. Black Clover has the potential to fill the shoes of several shonen anime that came before it but right now, with so many alternatives, that may not be enough.