ANIME REVIEW | "Black Clover" Runs Out of Luck
Stop me if you've heard this tale before: a downtrodden boy finds out he's powerless, only to be given a chance at greatness with the aid of something magical. Crawling up the ranks with the aid of friends and allies, the newly-crowned hope of the world aims to become the greatest hero the world has ever seen. Oh, how I wish I was writing about Deku from My Hero Academia or Naruto from, well, Naruto. Instead, I've been given Black Clover, the story of a silver-haired screaming twit and his uninspired quest to become the most powerful mage in the world.
Based on Yūki Tabata's award-winning manga (that award being 2016 San Diego Comic Con's "Worst Manga For Anyone, Any Age"), Black Clover unfortunately puts its focus on the orphaned Asta (Gakuto Kajiwara/Dallas Reid), who dreams of one day becoming the Wizard King. Never learning to use an inside voice, he often declares that he'll be the best in the world and save those he holds dear from poverty, which often results in constant eye-rolling from those around him. However because he can't use magic, his odds of achieving his goal are pretty terrible.
Fortunately (or unfortunately for its viewers), Asta is presented with a powerful grimoire with a five-clover emblem, one clover more than the Wizard King usually gets. This book gives Asta the ability to use anti-magic, aiding him with smashing and slicing through just about any powerful spell thrown at him. After being drafted by the magical knight division known as the Black Bulls, Asta sets out to grow to be the hero that he has dreamt of being.
I get that a lot of popular manga and anime likes to do this whole zero-to-hero thing with their main protagonists, but I've never seen it done as poorly as Black Clover has. I don't know what it is with this anime's presentation, but every frame, action, and piece of dialogue feels like it's been ripped off from a much better show. It takes My Hero Academia's quirk-less hero, pushes him through a Naruto-like trial, surrounds him with Fairy Tail's fun and fancy-free heroes, and cements it all within a Berserk-ish setting. And yet, mixing it all up together to make Black Clover is like putting pizza and ice cream together in a blender and trying to gulp it down. It should taste good, but your stomach is telling you to rush towards the nearest toilet to purge it from your body.
It also doesn't help that the hero is probably the most annoying character in shonen anime history. Never have I seen a protagonist whose mere presence makes me wanna jump through my TV screen and punch the living bejesus out of him. Although his character has a decent amount of heart, everything else about Asta is like nails on a chalkboard. You want him to go away, but the spotlight just keeps shining on his puny frame and irksome persona.
The sad part about Black Clover is that there are far too many other characters that this show should be about instead. While clichéd at times, I do like the mannerisms and attitude of fellow Black Bulls newcomer Noelle Silva (Yuki Kana/Jill Harris), and has a dose of relatable angst when you see her attempt to keep her power under control. Magna Swing (Genki Muro/Ian Sinclair) is a hoot to watch in action, especially when he gets riled up with excitement. Hell, I even get a kick out of the Marilyn Manson-looking Gordon Agrippa, who hilariously talks so quietly that you legit need to put your ear on the speaker to hear what he has to say!
But nope, we're stuck with Asta! And a big part of the blame of what makes him so aggravating to watch falls on his Japanese voice actor. Just what exactly was Kawajira's motivation when he first walked into the recording booth? Every time he opens his mouth, it sounds like Cradle of Filth frontman Dani Filth is having a catheter shoved deep inside his urethra and quickly having it pulled out. At least the English dub is lightyears better, with Reid's performance legit emoting more from the heart and gut with each line given to him. I reckon many people who are still putting up with this anime are thanking the gods that this show got a SimulDub, that's for sure!
Of course, it's not just the fact that this anime has a poor main character that makes it bad. What truly makes Black Clover awful is how it was adapted from the manga to the screen. It takes nearly ten episodes to get through the seven-chaptered first volume of the Tabata's original creation, and that's because it's filled to the brim with pointless filler and nearly every episode opening with a long-ass recap of the previous one! You would think it'd be cool to see what it was like seeing Asta growing up to be the screeching grimoire carrier, but they somehow made it slow, boring, and reeking with "been-there-done-that" syndrome. The chibi-styled "Petite Clover" shorts that tail-end each episode are also so unfunny, that its presence makes me cringe each time.
Composed by Minako Seki (Kingdom, The Silver Guardian), the score has a good kick when it comes to encircling the fights and battles, but doesn't do so well for some of the more comedic moments the series showcases. Opening song "Haruka Mirai" by Kankaku Piero has got the usual flare that comes with starting an action-based show, but it doesn't have much that will make it memorable long after it gets replaced with the next planned theme. The same can be said with Itowokashi's closer "Aoi Honō," which doesn't do much to get the viewers pumped for the next episode.
Considering Pierrot has had a hand in crafting some great shonen anime in the past and present, one would think that a lot of care would be placed into the visual aspect of Black Clover. There are some neat little details placed within the worlds and action sequences, but I can't help but feel a good chunk of this series looks rather generic. It's not bad, but it's not as mesmerizing as something one would see in this sort of genre. Perhaps Pierrot is putting more care into Boruto: Naruto Next Generations and Mr. Osomatsu, both of which are brimming with the beautiful personality that this series is lacking.
Black Clover is not the next big shonen anime, despite how the industry is trying to push it. It pales very much in comparison to the other big wigs like My Hero Academia, Boruto, Fairy Tail, and even last year's Twin Star Exorcists. To put it as bluntly as humanly possible, this anime adaptation pushes more crap out than your average New York City-based water control treatment plant. I beg of Crunchyroll, Viz Media, Funimation, Toonami, Shonen Jump, and even its Japanese publisher Shueisha: stop trying to make Black Clover a thing, because it ain't happening in a million years!
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)/ (English dub)
Final Grade (not an average):
Black Clover can be viewed on Crunchyroll, FunimationNow, VRV, and Cartoon Network's Toonami block. It has been licensed by Funimation. Episodes 1-11 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll & VRV.
Background Noise: Ceremony And Devotion by Ghost - It's high time that Papa Emeritus and his nameless ghouls have graced us with a live album, recorded at the Warfield in San Francisco. Rocking through such hits as "Square Hammer," "Cirice," and the ever-popular "Monstrance Clock," the anti-Pope and his fiends tear through the audience with sexy energy and demonic force. Perhaps Asta could use some lessons from Papa on how to project his voice without sounding like a cat stuck in a dishwasher...