Another set of Black Clover episodes has arrived and after the previous set primarily consisted of filler and smaller stories that didn’t really feed into the larger narrative, the series looks to be finding its place in the main plot moving forward with Part 3. The eleven episodes in this part cover virtually all of the manga’s Royal Knights arc. Asta and many of his fellow Magic Knights choose to participate in a tournament to decide who will join the Clover King’s new Royal Knight squad. A group made up of the Clover Kingdoms most elite magic users who are to be tasked with taking on the kingdom’s greatest threat, the notorious faction known as The Eye of the Midnight Sun.
As is a fairly common trope in shonen manga and anime, the Royal Knights’ selection exam is the series’ version of a tournament arc. In Black Clover’s iteration, however, instead of one-on-one combat, it’s in the form of squad battles consisting of randomly assigned teams of three competing in a tournament bracket. It’s a relatively short arc in the series. In total the whole arc only consists of twelve episodes (21 chapters in the manga), and while not displaying any particularly explosive visuals in the episodes of this release, the combat strategies implemented and abundance of new character interactions is where the real value of this concept pays off for the series. In reality, the tournament acts more as a vehicle to explore the series’ vast and varied cast and showcase Yuki Tabata’s wide array of character designs. It gives many of the series’ smaller and previously unexplored characters a chance to shine.
Several characters who have been briefly touched on are made focal points, with those who are unfamiliar with them given insight and explanation of their pasts and abilities, thereby also informing the viewer. Characters such as the exuberant young captain of the Azure Deer Magic Knights squad, Rill Boismortier. An incredibly upbeat and optimistic character in the current day story, but when his past is looked into, there is a great deal of unexpected trauma and instability. Then there is the exploration of the complicated familial relationships of Finral and Mimosa which continues to deal with regular themes of the series such as issues of class and acceptance. Black Clover may struggle with many aspects of its storytelling but its continued focus on its characters and their growth is worth praise. The tournament arc emphasises this by leaning heavily into its characters’ development rather than being overly combat-focused as would typically be expected.
The standout character among the range explored is the new red-haired, sharp-toothed addition who joins Asta’s squad in the tournament: a mysterious and disrespectful stranger going by the name of Xerx Lugner and voiced by Hikaru Midorikawa and Johnny Yong Bosch for the Japanese and English dub casts respectively, both having a wealth of acting experience in anime. Voicing many characters rife with attitude and insolence, they effectively display the character’s sometimes twisted delivery of dialogue, while also grounding his more sympathetic moments.
I mentioned previously that this set covers almost all of the episodes of the Royal Knights arc. It actually ends one episode short of the complete arc, which concludes with Episode 84 (the first episode of Part 4). While this ends on a good cliff-hanger, with the grand finale of the tournament to follow, it appears that this missing episode is where the next big animation showcase for the series occurs. While this structure is typical of Studio Pierrot, where they adjust their schedule to put more time into the animation of the bigger conflicts such as with Episode 63, they are certainly becoming much more consistent with the regular animation of the series as well. While I am sad that we don’t have another episode of standout and experimental animation, the series is producing a far better level of animation on a regular basis and I eagerly await what is to come from series director Tatsuya Yoshihara and his team in the opening episode of the following set.
For the first four episodes of this set we have the same opening and closing songs from the previous release, being “Scribbled Pages” by Kankaku Piero and “My Song My Days” performed by Solidemo. From Episode 77 onward we are treated to a new opening with “JUSTadICE” by Seiko Omori and a new closing song with “The Path of Blooming Flowers” performed by Charm Park. “JUSTadICE” is a guitar-driven pop track with some frantic female vocals. The tone of this new opening really lends itself to some of the chaotic and foreboding imagery that is shown, which also seems to hint at dark things in store for the Magic Knights in future episodes. The closing song “The Path of Blooming Flowers” is a adequately cheesy pop track mainly accompanied by stills rather than actual animation, where the characters mostly look like they are in a 90s boy band music video mostly staring into the distance.
I am happy that we have gone past the filler and with these episodes the main thrust of the series is beginning to move forward. Although it can be seen as another side venture to a degree with a tournament taking place, it has a clear goal in mind with an aim to take on the series’ main antagonists as well as some underlying plots and foreboding for what is to come later in the series. Black Clover continues to explore its expansive cast throughout the tournament battles which, while not presenting themselves with the greatest flair, have proved interesting with the different Magic Knight group dynamics at play. I’m still a little confused with the varying episode numbers in these home releases, particularly since they seem to cut off arcs at odd points, but Black Clover looks to be slowly sowing the seeds of a bigger plot that should hopefully come to fruition soon.