Black Clover Season 1 Part 1 (Episodes 1-10) (Cert 12)
2 Discs DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Sony Pictures) Running time: 239 minutes approx.
I wonder how many anime and manga fans watched their favourite shows or read their favourite strips, thought to themselves “I could do that” then went ahead and created their own story, blissfully unaware that the template they were sticking to in order to guarantee success bordered on plagiarism? After watching the first few episodes of Black Clover, this could describe its creator Yuki Tabata.
Once upon a time, the Clover Kingdom was about to devoured by a demon when a lone mage defeated the rampaging entity, becoming the first Wizard King. Hundreds of years later, the Clover Kingdom is now a realm where magic is commonplace, with people able to perform spells using personal spell books called Grimoires.
Two 15 year-old orphaned brothers, Asta and Yuno, both with a desire to become the Wizard King receive their grimoires and train to become Magic Knights. However, whilst Yuno has a natural affinity with magic, Asta has none, until a freak occurrence causes him to summon a magic cutting sword that earns him the ultra rare five-leafed black clover which is said to represent the devil.
So far, you’ve probably noticed a hint of Blue Exorcist in the plot, with a dash of My Hero Academia for extra seasoning. When the brothers arrive for the Magic Knight Selection exams, they have to fight off other students with the captains of the various squads choosing to pick the student who impressed them the most. Yuno is courted by every squad, opting for the prestigious Golden Dawn, usually reserved for royalty and nobility.
Asta gets no interest at all for his lack of magic, until he kicks up a storm, his moxie earning him selection by the Black Bulls, the worst squad of the entire Magic Knights. Joining a rag tag group of misfits led by the unruly Yami Sukehiro, Asta’s adventures at the Black bulls HQ are as eventful as the mission he attends.
Now you should be getting vibes of Fairy Tail, more than fair since Asta resembles its main protagonist Natsu Dragneel, whilst possessing many of his personality traits, suffused with a healthy dose of Naruto’s hotheadedness and One Piece’s Monkey D. Luffy gregarious rambunctiousness – by which I mean Asta shouts every line of his dialogue whereas the others tend to have an off switch to give us (and their seiyuu) a break.
Yuki Tabata must be doing something right as the Black Clover manga has been running for three and half years (in Shonen Jump magazine – quelle surprise) and shifted nearly 6 million copies. Maybe it is because it fills a gap for fans of its now defunct predecessors who can look past the blatant similarities to see them as homage than a rip off, or it could simply be that the shonen fantasy fan base just isn’t that fussy.
It has to be said that I don’t think I have ever taken an instant dislike to a lead character as I have Asta, and it is due to the shouting. Every line, word, and utterance from him is a raucous below of some sort and it is relentless, making it very difficult to root for Asta as the underdog of the tale. His determination to become Wizard King so he can protect the Cover Kingdom is admirable, and he isn’t one for not making an effort, but he can’t he be quieter about it?
Typically, Yuno is quiet, reserved, but very confident in his abilities, and a flashback to their early childhood shows that this wasn’t always the case, and it was the smaller Asta and his indomitable fighting spirit that encouraged Yuno to toughen up. Shortly after joining their respective squads, Yuno isn’t seen again in this release but we can safely assume that their friendly rival will mean they face off as bitter enemies later on.
Raised as orphans by a kindly priest Father Orgi and Sister Lily (who Asta continuously proposes to with no luck), the brothers have a grounded backstory that plays into how they are treated at the Magic Knight exams, seen as lower class hicks, but Yuno’s rare four leafed clover puts him above almost everyone else whilst Asta’s five leafed black clover is balked at.
As part of the Black Bulls squad – and here comes the Fairy Tail comparisons again – no of this matters as they are all outliers of some kind, from the giant shape shifter, to the loli with the huge appetite, the bikini clad boozer to the weirdo in love with his angelic (very) younger sister, the snobby princess exiled from her own family to former street punk Magna, Yami’s no 1 who also shouts a lot, but apparently they are “good people”.
Visually the show wears its influences on its sleeve with the same brazenness as the writing, from the aforementioned character similarities to the Clover Kingdom being every pseudo-medieval setting you’ve ever seen in anime. The eclectic line-up of knights and students recall all of the shows referenced earlier, with noticeable additional nods to Bleach and Berserk.
The action scenes follow the genre guidelines of being a typically bombastic assault on the senses as they should, so fans are well accommodated on that front and shouldn’t feel short changed. The range of abilities usually means something fresh each time but with Asta limited to just his sword (and his loud voice) he offers little except heart and brawn.
I am struggling with Black Clover so far, being as generic and derivative as they come. However I am aware that it is due to run for 51 episodes and that One Piece – which I love – took over 30 episodes to find its groove. Therefore I won’t write this show off after just 10 episodes but will be cautious of whether it will be a late bloomer or continue to be a well made but obvious shonen fantasy bootleg tribute act it currently is.
English Language Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Japanese Language Dolby TrueHD 2.0
Episode 4 Commentary
Black Clover: Inside Studio J
Inside the Episode – Black Clover Highlights Eps 1-9
Episode 7 Commentary
Clover Clips Special Edition
Rating – ***
Man In Black