Asta may not be able to use magic, but that’s not going to stop him from trying to become the Wizard King!
Ever since he was little, Asta has dreamed of becoming the next Wizard King, but becoming the greatest mage in the land seems unlikely considering his lack of magical ability. Still, Asta and his fellow orphan, Yuno, make a pledge to see who will become the Wizard King first. Although it first appears that Asta won’t receive a magical grimoire, he ends up with a one-of-a-kind five-leaf clover that gives him the power of anti-magic and the power to join the fabled Wizard Knights.
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Black Clover’s first two volumes trade heavily on tropes which will be familiar to readers of many of Shonen Jump’s other prolific series, and how much you enjoy this volume will likely come down to how willing you are to embark on (another) journey following a plucky-underdog in his quest to be the best along with a gang of misfits. The premise here is definitely workable, but there isn’t too much here that really grabbed my attention in watching Asta struggle to get his grimoire, struggle to join the Magic Knights, and then go on various adventures with his group to save the day a couple of times. The overall setting in the Kingdom of Clover that Tabata-sensei develops isn’t particularly mind-blowing either, but I liked that the elements of the world, from the quest to become the Wizard King, to the various groups of Magic Knights, were set out relatively quickly and clearly to ground Asta’s struggle in proper context. That said, I can’t deny that I enjoyed watching him overcome the odds time and again when looked down upon, and that I enjoyed watching a plucky underdog overcome the prejudices laid against him in a number of exciting battles.
I wouldn’t say that Black Clover stumbles too hard in terms of its storytelling, but the main reason why the tropes used here don’t particularly stand out is because the characters they are applied too aren’t really that interesting or well-developed in this early-going. Asta is easy to cheer for because of his obvious perseverance through all odds, but the problem is that this is really his only defining quality aside from his determination to protect the weak. These are two pretty nondescript character traits, and I definitely felt that more was needed from him to really hold the story together in an interesting way. Asta is also defined by his rivalry with Yuno, his powerful friend from the orphanage, but Yuno is pretty sparsely developed as well and doesn’t have any other real personality traits aside from believing in Asta’s abilities. I would have liked a more compelling reason to really care about their rivalry given how much of a role it takes in grounding Asta and Yuno’s respective motivations, but there just isn’t any interesting backstory introduced here to create that. Again, there isn’t anything offensively wrong here, but it’s definitely difficult to make an argument that the main characters in this story, as well as their connection to the overarching plot, are anything more than serviceable.
While Asta and Yuno remain relatively static and without any real defining character traits, I did appreciate that the rest of the cast were suitably interesting. The Black Bulls are funny to witness as a bit of a motley crew especially in counterpoint to Yuno’s Golden Dawn squad, and this felt like a perfect fit for Asta’s scrappiness. While some of them are one-note characters at first, I enjoyed seeing them bounce off each other in funny ways and characters such as Yami, Magna, and Vannessa added a lot of flavour to the proceeding as Asta gets introduced to the crew. We are also introduced to Noelle, a semi-stuck-up royal who becomes the female lead of the story as the other newbie to the Black Bulls. Unlike with Asta and Yuno, I was really happy with the way that her character was developed in exploring her fears about controlling her magic. Noelle ended up being the best developed character in both volumes, and this helped add some extra tension to several of the battles and was an interesting ongoing plot thread that helped to add a bit of depth to a story that was lacking where the main characters are concerned. The second volume also sees side-character Luck developed briefly in an interesting flashback sequence that was worked relatively well into Asta and Noelle’s little dungeon-crawling mission, and I definitely hope that more of the characters get this type of treatment going forward.
The beginning of Asta’s adventures with the Black Bulls in these two volumes are the backdrop for a number of cool action scenes that do a pretty good job of creating some excitement to go along with the story. The common thread of all of these scenes is that they typically end with Asta saving the day with his anti-magic sword, but I liked that they were just creative enough in using the various magical powers of the cast to keep the proceedings interesting. A highlight was a battle between Asta, Noelle, and Magna against a gang of magical bandits attacking a village because of the way that the dramatic stakes were set quite vividly. This, like others such as Asta’s entrance examination, and a dungeon battle which ends the second volume, are well-paced and snappy enough without being too short. Even though the battles more or less tended to end with Asta saving the day with his sword it definitely felt good to see him win them as an underdog because of his determination, and I think what Tabata-sensei did well in these volumes was create a plausible sense that Asta could be beaten without getting too unrealistic. The action is perhaps the strongest part of Black Clover, and I’m eager to see how things will progress as the scale continues to increase with Asta mastering his powers.
Black Clover’s art is generally good, but it does have some rougher moments as well. Tabata-sensei relies heavily on line-work to give the setting more of a gritty feel, and this works pretty well in enhancing the rougher feel of this magical world. The action scenes are also a highlight, and I was pleased that they were clearly portrayed. I didn’t have trouble following the action, and I thought that the art did a good job portraying the different types of magic being used with a level of detail which emphasized these uses without getting too cluttered for the most part. The one bothersome thing that I did notice was that the art occasionally felt flat, and this was notably the case in some of the panels showing the characters’ faces head-on. However, I did like that the characters expressions were well-emphasized, and this helped to add a bit of extra emotional emphasis to a few scenes especially when Asta’s determination was concerned.
Just as I noted at the beginning of this review, how much you’ll get out of Black Clover will likely depend on if you’re willing to read another fairly archetypal shonen underdog story. The general backstory isn’t anything too special, and the main characters Asta and Yuno are not the most developed in the early going especially compared to other cast members such as Noelle. However, the action is pretty good, and there’s definitely something to be said for watching Asta’s sheer determination overcome his latest challenge. While the tried and true plot elements used in these volumes still work relatively well, it’s tough to say that Black Clover offers up anything particularly new for those who have been here before, but those who are haven’t made the journey yet will definitely find things to like about this series.
Black Clover Vol. 1 & 2 were translated by Caleb Cook and published by Viz Media on June 7th, and August 2nd, 2016. Authored by Yuki Tabata, the series is ongoing in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. Volume 3 will be published in English on October 3rd, 2016.
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