Black Clover Might Feel Cliché, but It’s Still a Fun Ride

Main Charaacters Yuno and Asta with Black Clover logo

Yuno and Asta. Funimation

In October 2017, Black Clover premiered on Japanese television, and two weeks later, Funimation Productions began releasing its dub. Since the anime’s debut, it’s received multiple criticisms about its pacing, story, production, and voice acting. And to be honest, some of those criticisms are completely justified.

Normally, the anime community’s obnoxious debates over “sub versus dub” are a constant source of agitation, but that debate doesn’t exist for Black Clover. Everyone agrees: the English dub is undeniably better. And for hardcore subtitle watchers to be in full support of a dub, you know something must’ve gone horribly wrong. Unfortunately, what’s wrong is the Japanese voice for the main character. Every time Asta screams (which is almost all the time), it’s like hearing nails dragging over a chalkboard. And yeah, it really is that bad.

There are other criticisms as well. At the start, Black Clover, which is based on a manga, is a basic mashup of every shōnen anime and fantasy you’ve ever heard of or watched. Asta is poor orphan kid from a small village in the middle of nowhere who dreams of becoming the Wizard King. With a personality similar to Naruto’s, Asta continually fights an uphill battle to be taken seriously, always yelling, “I’m not done yet!” during, well, whenever he’s doing something. The Magic Knights are awfully close to Fairy Tail’s magic guilds, the magic hovering books are like those in Hunter X Hunter, the bestowing of the grimoire is like picking out your wand in Harry Potter, and the idea of the Pirate King—I mean, Wizard King . . . all of this makes Black Clover a giant pile of clichés.

Does this mean you should skip it? While some may think so, I would argue Black Clover is still worth your time. Despite his appearance, Asta has a lot more going for him than simply being a Naruto clone. In a world full of magic, Asta has none; he can’t use magic, nor does he ever gain the ability to use magic. And while this theme has been explored by other shōnen writers, none of them have designed their main character to be this way. Asta’s greatest weakness becomes his greatest strength, and his inability to use magic allows for some creative fights. I also don’t think a story has to be revolutionary to be enjoyable. Black Clover is fun, and sometimes, that’s all you want out of your media. The show isn’t trying to convey some kind of deeper meaning. It’s simply a battle shōnen, and within the genre itself, Black Clover is the new energetic kid on the block ready to have a good time and get into some mischief.

Black Clover’s anime rendition is being produced by Studio Pierrot, a name synonymous with battle shōnen. They’re responsible for bringing manga like Yu Yu Hakusho, Naruto, and Bleach to life. Like any studio producing a long-running action show, quality does drop in certain sections, but generally speaking, Pierrot brings breathtaking animation when it counts. And really, this is what you want.

Instead of simplified backgrounds for Black Clover, Pierrot has opted for an incredibly detailed look, which you can seen in scenes like the one below, giving the anime a scope not found in their other well-known series. The backdrop for Black Clover is most likely created by combining digital paintings with CGI, following the trend of other new anime like Attack on Titan.

Background of Black Clover, Sunset

An example of the beautifully detailed backgrounds in Black Clover: remains of legendary demon defeated by the first Wizard King, seen here in episode 1. Funimation

Studio Pierrot is also known for something that’s the bane of all anime fans, and that is filler. Pierrot series are simply known to have lots and lots of filler, and Black Cover seems to be no different. Instead of keeping pace with the manga at first and eventually adding in filler to stay behind the series, they’ve decided to start adding filler right out of the gate. For example, at the start of chapter 2 in the manga, Asta has arrived at the capital in order to take the Magic Knights entrance exam. This same event does not happen in the anime until episode 4. Manga readers who are watching the anime week to week will feel especially frustrated with the show’s pacing, as they know events should be happening much quicker than they are.

Normally, I would be against the idea of adding filler to a story. After all, it bogs down the plot, messes with the pacing, and can ruin the enjoyment of a show. But Black Clover is entirely different. The manga version of the story moves at neck-breaking speed, and for weekly serialization, this works quite well. You’re never waiting for the next event because something exciting is always happening week to week. When reading chapters in bulk, however, it feels like it’s moving too fast.

Slowing the anime pace a bit does two things. First, it gives animators some buffer between action episodes to have a reasonable production schedule—even Japan’s finest animation houses wouldn’t be able to produce Black Clover exactly how it’s depicted in the manga. Second, it gives the audience a chance to get to know the characters better. When characters are fighting, they’re not having everyday conversations, and I think it works to Black Clover’s advantage to let the story breathe a bit.

That said, the Black Clover manga is an absolute treat to read, and it’s my personal preferred way of engaging with the story. Yūki Tabata is an incredibly talented mangaka and a fairly new artist, with his first one-shot debuting in 2011. Although Asta’s look is heavily influenced by the style of Hiro Mashima (author of Fairy Tail), Tabata still excels at character design. Each of the characters in Black Clover has their own distinctive feel and attributes, and the sketchy quality to the manga makes you feel like you’re reading something truly done by an artist. The panel spread below from chapter 1 is a perfect example of the level of detail regularly found in Black Clover, and it also showcases the manga’s wonderful panel layout.

Black Clover chapter 1 manga spread

Yūki Tabata shows off his draftsmanship skills in chapter 1 of the Black Clover manga. Viz Media

The panels are easy to read, and they’re fun. It might be annoying for Asta to constantly be yelling in the anime, but in the manga, it’s hilarious. It gives Tabata the ability to draw some dynamic faces, keeping the reader’s eye engaged and constantly on the main character. It seems as though the manga is specifically for Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine, so it’s no wonder Black Clover consistently performs well in the weekly popularity polls. The manga is coming into its own, too—the longer Black Clover goes on, the less it looks like other shōnen stories. The later story arcs have fresh ideas and are still fun to read. Tabata has added some mystery to the series, and the payoff for those mysteries has been rewarding. Provided he doesn’t burn out, he’ll continue to improve and has the potential to reach the same level of draftsmanship as Weekly Shōnen Jump’s other well-known mangaka. This manga and artist are both worth keeping an eye on.

The anime is worth watching, too, but if you’re a manga reader, my advice would be to wait and let the episodes build up. When watched in bulk, the pacing doesn’t seem off. And if you haven’t engaged with this lovable series, give both the anime and manga a try. They may surprise you. I know they surprised me.

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