Review for Black Clover Season 1 Part 1
Now that Funimation are going it alone (with Sony and occasionally Universal) in the UK market instead of partnering or distributing through MVM/Manga/Anime Limited, they are playing it cautious. They’re avoiding releasing so much that they wind up competing with themselves, and they’re sticking to the fan favourites and the crowd pleasers. We’re talking fan favourites like Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia, and the sort of mass market crowd pleasers such as Naruto and One Piece. It’s the Shonen Jump titles that draw in the broadest audiences, and so it is that the next Funimation title to come to the UK is Black Clover. We’re getting Part 1 this month, the first ten episodes of a series that is intended to go to 51 episodes. In terms of episode count, we’re in Full Metal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Eureka Seven territory. Surely such esteemed company bodes well for Black Clover...
Asta and Yuno are both orphans, abandoned on the same day, found, taken in and raised by the church in the village of Hage; in a mediaeval world where magic is a commonplace reality. They could have been brothers, only they grow up as totally dissimilar. Yuno is calm, and level-headed, while Asta is brash and loud. Everyone has some magic in this world, everyone that is except Asta, who has grown up unable to conjure even the smallest spell. This wouldn’t be a big problem, except that both Asta and Yuno have sworn to become the Wizard King, the most powerful mage in the land, by becoming Magic Knights and distinguishing themselves.
No one expects much from Asta, and on their coming of age ceremony, where they get awarded Grimoires matched to their ability, it’s Yuno that gets the rare four-leafed clover Grimoire that the legendary first Wizard King had. But when it comes to Asta, he receives an unprecedented five-leafed clover Grimoire, a power that isn’t exactly magic the way everyone recognises.
10 episodes are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Funimation as follows. This is a combo release, but I haven’t seen the DVDs.
1. Asta and Yuno
2. A Young Man’s Vow
3. To the Royal Capital!
4. The Magic Knights Entrance Exam
5. The Road to the Wizard King
6. The Black Bulls
7. Another New Member
8. Go! Go! My First Mission
Black Clover gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and colourful, and brings the anime across with no visible compression or aliasing, and with no sign of digital banding to my eyes. The animation is smooth-ish, although that is down to the source rather than the transfer. This is one anime where frame rates drop to single digits at times. The character designs are pretty generic, and it seems that the majority of the budget went on the digital effects applied to the magic sequences.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. Other than the first episode, I watched Black Clover in English. Yes, you read that right. This inveterate subtitle fan chose to watch an English dub of an anime. That’s because the Japanese voice actor behind Asta, Gakuto Kajiwara, has a quality to his performance that I suspect can only be elicited by genital torture, and Asta’s Japanese voice inflicts that same torture to anyone who hears it. Give Dallas Reid credit, the English voice of Asta, for trying to match the same ‘cat through a mangle’ quality of the original in terms of loud and screaming, but he can’t even manage to be a tenth as annoying as the Japanese. The rest of the dub is passable; Black Clover is a long running show which doesn’t really shatter the budget in terms of production values, and the repetitive nature of the dub translation is typical shonen, and quickly gets tedious. The audio is fine, without any glitches or dropouts, while the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
The discs boot to animated menus.
Disc 1 has an audio commentary on the fourth episode from ADR Director and Narrator Cris George, Dallas Reid (Asta), and Micah Solusod (Yuno).
Disc 2 has more than the usual extras on a Funimation/Crunchyroll disc.
Black Clover: Inside Studio J lasts 16:44 and the ADR Director Cris George and the voice actors get interviewed.
There’s another commentary on episode 7 with Ian Sinclair (Magna), Brandon McInnes (Finral) and Jill Harris (Noelle).
Clover Clips Special Edition lasts 6:26, and offers more in the form of short and funny; extended versions of the mini-animations at the end of each episode.
Inside the Episode offers 3 featurettes covering the first nine episodes running to 3:48, 3:02, and 2:59 respectively. The Black Clover Highlights Episodes offer some behind the scenes looks at the dub actors, as well as a little social media commentary as emojis litter the screen.
It’s clear that Black Clover is another long-running anime and manga series, and the initially commissioned run of 50-odd episodes will barely scratch the surface of the story. Certainly these first 10 episodes merely served to introduce the world, the protagonists, and get the ball rolling. We meet Asta and Yuno, who are set up as a Naruto Sasuke pairing, get some idea of the world they live in, the ubiquity of magic (and Asta’s lack of it), the Wizard King and the Magic Knights. Asta and Yuno go through the rite of passage of getting their Grimoires, and take the entrance exam for the Magic Knights, and as this collection ends, their training has commenced, and we’ve just got a glimpse of what might just turn out to be the series villain, or one of them. We’ve probably still got some characters to introduce and a lot more training to get through before the story kicks off in earnest.
At this point in the series however, Black Clover just hasn’t done enough to distinguish itself. The characters are cookie-cutter, and the story is unremarkable. Yuno really is Sasuke by default. It’s simply because he contrasts with Asta that he comes off as dark, quiet and brooding, and the fact that he is naturally talented with magic in a way that Asta is not. They start off as closer friends than the ninjas did, but given the way they wind up in different Magic Knights squads, you could see Yuno heading down a dark and negative path, while Asta’s stays happy-go-lucky and positive.
Asta is another Naruto clone, the way Black Star was in Soul Eater, and Natsu in Fairy Tail. Only Asta goes to the max in terms of loud, boastful, and lacking in talent. Naruto had some innate ninja skills that he eventually learned to access; Asta has no magic whatsoever in a world replete with magic. He instead gets an odd Grimoire, and a sword that materialises to cancel magic, or reflect it. He’s got the physical strength, and an innate belief in his ambition. And he shouts... A lot... All the time... Pretty much. If you got tired of Luffy announcing that he’ll be the King of the Pirates, if you grew weary of Naruto declaiming that he will be Hokage, if your eyes rolled every time the Trotters boasted that this time next year they’ll be millionaires, then Asta might drive you to self-harm. His life mission at this point is to make sure everyone knows that he will be the Wizard King, and once they do, to keep reminding them of that fact. I’m the kind of person who deliberately gets things like that wrong to annoy, so I’ll ask forgiveness in advance if I start typing Lizard King in these reviews.
Black Clover is a typical shonen action show, complete with the recaps at the start of each episode. Asta and Yuno make their way to the Royal Capital to take the entrance exam, and the show spends its time to this point introducing the ‘thin’ characters, the savant skill of Yuno and the complete lack of talent of Asta, while recognising their shared stubbornness to become the Wizard King. You get plenty of back story for the characters at this point, revealing their childhoods, Once the exam is over and they are placed into their respective squads, we see a little of Yuno’s squad at first and the frosty reception he receives at not being a member of the nobility, but the last four episodes concentrate on Asta and his new squad, the Black Bulls. The Black Bulls are the misfits of the Magic Knights, populated by the quirky characters that are de rigueur in shows of this genre. Oddball Asta fits right in, alongside another new recruit, Noelle, a princess of the realm whose lack of natural talent has seen her sidelined by her family.
Crazy antics ensue as their training begins, and they have to deal with the other members of the squad, including a roughhouse Captain Yami who motivates his squad by offering them the alternatives of either following his orders, or dying. Asta and Noelle’s first mission at the end of this collection occurs when Yami and another Black Bull named Magna lose comprehensively in a game of poker and wind up owing the headman of a certain village. The mission is to rid that village of a plague of fire-breathing boars, but they get into deep trouble when they arrive at the village and find a hostage situation instead. Naturally such extreme circumstances result in our heroes levelling up in typical shonen style.
You can’t judge a show like Black Clover on the strength of just ten episodes. Well you can. I could say that Black Clover has the most annoying main character in anime, ever. I could say that the animation is of low quality and the character designs are derivative. I could say that the story is pedestrian and predictable. I could say that this is an utterly average show of which there are far better examples. But that wouldn’t be fair. Shows like Black Clover really only come to life some forty or fifty episodes in, once the preliminaries are dispensed with, and we get some idea of the direction of travel of the story. And it’s only around the 100 episode mark, when shows like this catch up to the manga and start throwing in filler, that you get some idea of how the animators will handle it, good filler or bad. At this point Black Clover is a show to keep an eye on (although not necessarily an ear).