So Crunchyroll has been marketing Black Clover as “The New King of Shounen.” Suffice it to say they seem pretty confident about this one. But is this one truly born of noble blood, or is it merely a pretender?
Disclaimer: I have not read the manga so you will find no comparisons to it, here.
“Asta is a young boy who dreams of becoming the greatest mage in the kingdom. He only has one problem, he can’t use magic. Luckily for Asta, he receives the incredibly rare five-leaf clover grimoire that gives him the power of anti-magic. Even though he can’t use magic, he plans to become the Wizard King.”
So yeah, the first episode of Black Clover doesn’t, in any way, depict anything that’d suggest it’s “the one true king” of Shounen. But that much was obvious. Standing out in the realm of Shounen is ridiculously hard. Like it or not, Shounen are going to be compared to the likes of Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, and god only knows how many others. Boku no Hero Academia managed to find the sweet spot by building a quirky… okay, I swear I didn’t do that on purpose… uh… a quirky world. It packed a lot of character into just the first episode as well, and it has an art style that’s just unique enough to identify it immediately. Black Clover… gets partial credit.
Obviously, it was never going to be recognized, immediately, as “the new king of Shounen.” People’s affinity for this genre is way too deep for that. It was just a marketing phrase, used to play on the goals of the protagonist. What Black Clover mainly suffers from in its first episode is just going through the motions. To a seasoned anime viewer (or, given my own experience, even a semi-moderate viewer), a fair amount of it is going to look familiar. It’s essentially just using a lot of the tropes codified by many of the aforementioned Shounen legends.
What does Asta want? To be “The Wizard King” – a title of vague importance, but is highly revered. The problem is that he can’t use magic, whereas his rival, Yuno, is a prodigy…
But I’m not one to condemn something, simply for having similar patterns to something else. So does it stand out in any other way? Not… really. It isn’t a 100% carbon copy, but Asta is so far a pretty by-the-numbers protagonist. And if I’m honest… he’s kind of annoying. Even Yuno calls him on it. “You’re loud, short, obnoxious, and immature.” It’s actually one of the funnier moments of the episode. I like Yuno. I don’t see him taking the Sasuke route or anything (thank god), but he’s definitely along the lines of that sort of title.
To be fair, I think it’s entirely possible this just came from how the episode decided to spend its time. 75% of it was essentially dedicated to making him look like as big a loser as he could possibly be. Right down to public humiliation… multiple occurrences of it. A few minutes were spent showing that he compensates for his lack of magic with physical training, which is actually a pretty interesting touch. I’m sure we’ll get to see all that training bear fruit at some point in the future. There were some quick flashbacks to show a bit of the dynamic between Asta and Yuno. But only the last few minutes were dedicated to anything actually developing. And even then, the episode basically leaves off, promising for things to actually kick off in episode two.
What about the art style and animation? It’s… fine. Not especially stellar, so far, but not awful. Not much has happened yet to be able to get a lot out of the effects animation or anything. But in terms of characters, the animation is very quick and starty-stoppy, rather than fluid. It isn’t really as lively as one would expect, which probably works to the detriment of the series overall, given its lead.
And the facial animation is just very… rigid. The best way to really describe it is that when the characters emote, it doesn’t feel like they’re emoting. It feels like a drawing of the characters emoting. They’re rather flat interpretations of those expressions. It even affects Asta. Though he’s so far the only character to really exhibit much emotional range, anyway. And that’s just a shame because based on my understanding of what people think of the manga, the art there is actually pretty great at the exact thing I just criticized the anime for. Maybe it’s just the animation style not meshing well with the art style? I dunno.
Was the series bad? Probably not. But to anyone who’s seen a lot of these types of shows, you’re not getting anything you haven’t seen before. Especially if you’ve seen Naruto. If you aren’t overly familiar with this genre, or anime in general, then there is a little enjoyment to be found. A few chuckle-worthy scenes. It’s harmless, though you’d probably do just as well watching literally any of the other Shounen I mentioned earlier.
Could it improve? Certainly. The episode wasn’t really afforded the chance to do much with its characters. The world wasn’t really developed all that much at all. And it didn’t get the chance to even deliver on its premise. So it could really impress, but I’d really only recommend giving it until around episode 3, at the most. And that’s being forgiving due to the amount of time they spent on setup. I typically prefer an anime get to the point as quickly as possible. But we shall see. Here’s hoping it improves, but to the moment it doesn’t really do much to impress.
Black Clover is Simulcast on Crunchyroll, Tuesdays at 6:25am PDT