Review for Black Clover - Season Two Part One
I think it’s a mostly Western thing, to sort out television into seasons. In the US you used to get up to 26 episodes a year in some shows, although that’s shrinking now as television drama moves online. In the UK you might get as few as six episodes a season, although 12 or 13 aren’t unheard of. But there would definitely be a block of the year set aside for filming, occasionally overlapping with a chunk of the schedule for when the show was broadcast, and then you’d get a few months hiatus before the next season started filming. You could often tell the difference between the seasons, as the cast might change, the story might go in another direction, sets would be updated, and even the show runners might change. There was a meme that you could tell which season of Star Trek - The Next Generation you were watching by Beverly Crusher’s hairstyle.
When it comes to anime, especially the long running anime shows, seasons are more of a formality, and indeed, when it comes to their release in the West, just a convention applied by local distributors to make it easier for collectors to organise their shelves, and retailers to sort out which discs to put in the bargain bucket, and which to sell at full whack. Now that Season 2 of Black Clover is here, it’s picking up where Season 1 left off with no seams or bumps indicating any sort of change, except of course in the theme songs, which tend to change every dozen or so episodes anyway.
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.
12 episodes are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment as follows.
52. Whoever’s Strongest Wins
53. Behind the Mask
54. Never Again
55. The Man Named Fanzell
56. The Man Named Fanzell, Continued
58. The Battlefield Decision
59. Flames of Hatred
60. Defector’s Atonement
61. The Promised World
62. Bettering One Another
63. Not in the Slightest
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 was briefly tempted to try the Japanese again, as when Asta’s arms were all trussed up, the character became practically subdued, reduced to Brian Blessed level bellow. That temptation quickly vanished when he was cured, and decided to make up for his depression with extra ebullience. I’ll keep sticking to the English, although I haven’t the slightest idea what Charmy’s voice actress is saying. Thankfully she’s just comic relief.
The discs boot to animated menus.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Funimation Now and there is a commentary on episode 56 with Alexis Tipton (Marielle), Katelyn Barr (Dominante), and script supervisor Bonnie Clinkenbeard.
Disc 2 has some featurettes, beginning with Black Clover: Fan Questions Answered by Cris and Dallas, which lasts 11:21.
There are three Inside the Episode featurettes covering episodes 52-61, running to a total of 18:09.
Episode 62 gets a commentary with Cris George, Anthony Bowling (Phati) and Chris Gardner (Ladros).
You get the Clover Clips Special Edition (2:52), and the textless credits.
I’m still enjoying Black Clover, but with this collection of episodes, the cyclical nature of the story-telling is starting to get tedious. There will be a stretch of episodes replete with silliness and a little bit of drama. The drama will slowly be ramped up during this arc, before things will shift into high gear for the conclusion, with a twist, and a big battle sequence spanning a few episodes will ensue taking us to the end of the collection. That happens once more at the start of season 2, and given the way that the story has been unfolding, it’s becoming more and more inevitable that those big boss battles will be against the Eye of the Midnight Sun group who have been the mysterious ‘big bad’ in this show.
This collection begins with the consequences of the last such battle, as the Diamond Kingdom took the chance to sneakily attack the Clover Kingdom while Asta and most of the Magic Knights were dealing with the Midnight Sun elsewhere. Asta’s still injured when he gets back to the capital, but he’s still eager to help, even if both of his arms are bandaged up. But the Golden Dawn magic knights, featuring Yuno have the situation well in hand. It’s a useful start to remind us that this show began with Asta and Yuno as rivals, both aiming to become the Wizard King, and we do need to regularly catch up with Yuno and see how his adventure is progressing.
When Asta does finally get to a magical doctor, it’s bad news, as it turns out that his arms have been cursed, and with a hex so powerful and complex that no one in the kingdom has the knowledge to lift it. Facing the future without the use of his arms, Asta is briefly depressed, but his never surrender attitude quickly reasserts itself. More importantly, he learns just how much of an effect that attitude has had on his friends, when they agree to help him no matter what. The first step seems pretty simple as Noelle and Finral go looking for Fanzell, a former Diamond Kingdom soldier who defected, and who wound up training Asta before he and Yuno left Hage for the capital. That makes for a couple of interesting flashback episodes in this arc where we get to see an ‘untold’ story.
Meeting Fanzell reveals a possible solution to Asta’s ailment, the Queen of the Forest of Witches. That’s an idea that the other Black Bulls knight, Vanessa already had, given that she was a witch who fled the forest. She’s putting her life in jeopardy by going back to ask the Queen to help Asta, but it’s even more of a danger for the others, given that men aren’t welcome in the matriarchal society. The Queen’s powers are much in demand it turns out, as while Asta and his friends are there, the Eye of the Midnight Sun and the Diamond Kingdom both decide to attack the Forest of Witches. A big, collection ending battle ensues, although we do get plenty of character development and a few more hints about the Eye of the Midnight Sun group as well.
Just when you think it’s all over, there’s an unexpected reversal, it turns out that Asta has a 9-Tailed Fox spirit living inside him... kind of, and he gets a power-up in the middle of battle that no one had anticipated, before the penny drops and we’re left on the kind of cliff-hanger that makes you want the next collection sooner if not soonest.
Black Clover has a ‘seen it all before’ outlook that won’t help its longevity or its prospects of ever being a must own anime. For the big battle at the end of this collection, it even shifts animation style into the abstract and impressionist, in the way the Sasuke versus Naruto fight went at the end of the first Naruto series. If you can live with that degree of aggressive homage then Black Clover is a watchable show, but if your tolerance for obvious unoriginality is too low, then Black Clover might trigger too many alarm bells to enjoy.