Review for Black Clover - Season One Part Two
What is there left to say about Funimation, a company that seems to have burned every bridge they’ve crossed in the UK. They’ve tried distributing (successfully I might add) through the UK’s local anime distributors. They’ve tried distributing through the big name studios like Universal and their new owner Sony. They’ve tried going it alone. What that means to UK anime fans right now is that what used to be a Funimation glut is now a Funimation drought, with only the biggest name titles, the biggest sellers regardless of mediocrity likely to come to the UK. It’s also taking an age to sort out, as the big 3 UK distros decide which titles they’ll pick up. My Hero Academia started off at Universal, the second season came out through Sony, and the movie and the third season finally ended up at Manga. All the Anime released part 1 of Twin Star Exorcists last autumn, and the rest of it will only come out this summer in relatively short order. You’ll notice that both titles are of the long-running, Shonen Jump ilk, the guaranteed sellers. Funimation tried going it alone with Part 1 of Black Clover last August, but it’s only now through Manga Entertainment that we get Part 2 of the first season. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten what the show is about. That turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as I’m compelled to re-read my review, and get a timely reminder to watch the English dub for the sake of my sanity.
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.
9 episodes are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment as follows. Funimation’s release of Part 1 was a combo release, but Manga have released the BD and the DVD collection of Part 2 separately.
11. What Happened on a Certain Day in the Castle Town
12. The Wizard King Saw
13. The Wizard King Saw, Continued!
15. The Diamond Mage
18. Memories of You
19. Destruction and Salvation
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. 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.
I gave another episode a try in Japanese, and unfortunately (fortunately?) the character of Asta was unconscious for half the episode, and groggy for the other half, so I couldn’t really tell if the screeching had been toned down.
The discs boot to animated menus.
Disc 1 has an audio commentary on the twelfth episode from Aaron Roberts (Klaus), and Rob McCollum (The Wizard King), and Garret Storms (Sekke).
There is also an audio commentary on episode 15 with ADR Director Cris George, Dallas Reid (Asta), and Justin Briner (Luck).
Disc 2 has more than the usual extras on a Funimation/Crunchyroll disc.
Black Clover: Inside the NEW Studio J lasts 17:42.
Clover Clips Special Edition lasts 6:37, 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 episodes 10-18 running to 3:09, 3:09, and 2:58 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.
Black Clover starts to find its feet in this collection of episodes; or rather it finds someone else’s feet, as the major story arc in this boxset lifts a plot point from Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. It’s not such a big deal as it pans out in a different way, but the similarity is noteworthy. But once again, I have to say that judging a long running series of this nature on the strength of the first few episodes is pretty unrepresentative. It took Naruto up until the Chunin Exam arc to really give an indication of its direction of travel, while for Bleach, it was the end of the Soul Society Arc that revealed what its tale was all about. That’s about 60 episodes, and the same is true for shows like One Piece and Fairy Tail.
About now, Black Clover is in the process of introducing and developing its characters, building up the world, and getting the major plot arcs in motion, even though we won’t know for some time which will be important, and which are just disposable. For example, in this collection, we might just have found the Gaara equivalent, the ruthless villain who by bonding with the hero through mortal combat will eventually turn into his strongest ally (All of Goku’s friends in the Dragon Ball franchise fit that description).
Leading on from the previous collection, we continue to follow Asta as he keeps on training with the Black Bulls Magic Knights, and we keep an eye on Yuno doing the same with the Golden Dawn. Their previous escapades have caught the attention of The Wizard King, and as this collection begins, he decides to test them further, giving Asta a challenge during his day off, then Yuno has an escort mission which takes him into trouble, and gives him cause to revisit the orphanage. Both these incidents earn them credit in the Wizard King’s eyes, and it also earns them a more serious mission.
For a magic dungeon has appeared, and it’s up to the Magic Knights to plunder that dungeon for magical treasures, avoiding the traps. The Wizard King assigns Yuno along with Klaus and Mimosa of the Golden Dawn to the mission. But he also assigns Asta, Noelle, and Luck of the Black Bulls, so the rivalry is immediately expressed between the two groups. To make matters worse, Diamond Mages from a neighbouring kingdom have also entered the dungeon, and they challenge the Magic Knights for the treasure. So Asta and Yuno’s respective teams wind up having to work together.
It’s odd that Black Clover is getting this kind of treatment, smaller volumes than usual, 10 and 9 episodes apiece so far, as it’s hardly the pinnacle of its oversubscribed genre. At this point it’s better than Bleach, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. It is yet to make an impact that challenges the likes of Naruto or One Piece or Fairy Tail, let alone something like My Hero Academia. For me, Black Clover is the new D. Gray Man. Once it’s playing, nothing’s motivating me to turn it off, and it is entertaining, in English, but the only reason it’s on my TV to begin with is because I have to review it.