By Dustin Cabeal
I had every intention of reviewing each volume of Black Clover one at a time, but then suddenly I had read five volumes. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this review now is to get back to reading Black Clover which has been one of the most consistently entertaining and enjoyable manga’s I’ve perhaps ever read.
Granted, it’s very Shonen in its set up, in the character’s motivations, in its pacing, in practically everything that it does. It is still one of the best damn manga series out there. Especially from Viz, you’d be hard pressed to tell me that it’s not better than more than a few of their heavy hitters and it’s because there is a charm to this story that no other manga seems to have at the moment.
If you read the first volume and thought that it was pretty average, you’re not wrong by any means. The first volume is in no way a good example of what Black Clover has become as a series. It was as if the creator knew what he had to set up and just go through it. Since getting through the setup, the story hasn’t slowed down, and so that pacing at the end of the first volume is more in line with what to expect from the next four.
In volume two, the fight continues with the mysterious fraction that’s been unnoticed. Asta, Magna, and Noelle look like they’re in over their heads and Asta starts off on the ground. Soon, though, his one defying trait is established, as long as Asta can move, he will, and it’s no bullshit. It’s not like in other manga where we read several pages of them “trying” to move. Instead, Asta continues striking at the enemy and reminding everyone of his goals, to be the next Wizard King. That might seem cheesy to some, to have him constantly remind people what his goal is, but you have to consider the context. Not only is it unheard of to go around announcing it, but he doesn’t have any magic abilities… meaning it’s like a homeless person with mental problems stating they’re going to be the next president. You’d look at them like they were crazy and that’s very much what Asta is up against all the time, but the key difference is that he’s impressive despite having no magic.
From there the story goes almost instantly into a big mission as Asta, Noelle and now Luck are sent to explore a dungeon but have not one, but two rivals. One of them is another squad of Magic Knights, and of course, Yuno is there. The friendship/rivalry between Asta and Yuno is great and handled differently than any other manga I’ve read. Yuno truly respects Asta and not in a “you’re the main character” kind of way. It’s hard to describe because of how real it is, can you define what you respect about your friends? It’s not easy, and that’s what’s great about their relationship, it’s complex and yet simple to digest.
Through the second volume we learn about Luck and see Asta’s effect on him, but there is a battle raging between the Magic Knights and the rival magic users from the next country over that are also there to claim the dungeon for themselves. This puts them up against a magic user in the third volume that has the ability to use more than one type of magic which in unnatural. We learn his backstory of being created by the government and forced to kill the other children he was raised with in order to survive. He’s very powerful, but Asta and the team come up with a way to finally beat him… kinda. As they’re exploring and checking out the treasure which leads to Yuno getting more magic and Asta getting more magic/a second sword that absorbs another magic users abilities, Mars, the bad guy breaks out and changes his abilities and fighting style. There’s a great scene in which the dungeon is collapsing, the enemy is defeated, but an injured Asta tells them to save Mars, stating that the mission was to explore, not kill. Talk about effective character development.
The third volume continues the story instantly as the two teams are summoned to the castle and meet the Wizard King. Both Asta and Yuno instantly ask him how to become the Wizard King, and he tells them quite simply that it’s based on merit. Then he invites them to meet other Magic Knights that are receiving stars which instantly leads to more character development for Asta and dives right into another treat.
With the fourth volume, there’s an attack on the city from the same group that showed up at the end of the first volume. The fight goes a bit differently, and an embattled Asta isn’t as effective this time around as he hasn’t developed his skills just yet, but he’s treated as an equal and does a lot of damage to the enemy. This is a fairly lengthy battle, and so the story takes a rest afterward, in that it slows down the story and goes back to missions. After all, they don’t know what they’re up against yet, so it’s hard for them to keep fighting the enemy.
After the big battle, Asta and three others go to a mixer to meet women, and it’s a short and yet great scene. It’s a reminder to how strong Asta is, and that’s probably his second biggest defining feature, his physical strength that sets him apart from everyone else. Everyone relies on their magic and get tired easily from using it and yet Asta can outlast people while swinging around a giant sword that no one else can lift. After the mixer, the story focuses on another member of the Black Bulls and Asta’s effect on him. Asta is essentially going through and fixing the attitude of each member of the Black Bulls one at a time which is wonderful since they’re known for having intense magic, but bad attitudes. This way it seems as if this was the captain’s plan all along with Asta.
The storytelling and pacing are wonderful. Everything after the first volume moves rapidly and is well-plotted. It’s not like a lot of other manga where you can tell there were some decisions still being made with the story. Asta is enjoyable because he’s not annoying with this goal. He doesn’t care if everyone knows his goal or makes fun of him for it, he just carries on. This is perfectly illustrated when the rest of the Knights talk massive amounts of shit about him, and he laughs it off, even acknowledging that they’re laying into him while continuing to eat. Aside from that, there’s a lot of “inner monologue” moments that are just perfect. I miss this so much in comics, mostly because no one seems to get how to use it anymore. Black Clover uses it just to show a character's thoughts for a moment to develop that character and nothing more.
The only thing about the story that I find a little meh is that there are three love interests for Asta already, maybe a fourth if you count the woman that wants to experiment on him. At times it’s funny, and the story never focuses it on for long, but it seems unnecessary to have so many. The other thing is the rivals, which is handled in the same way, but at least makes more sense to the story. Neither are great, but they’re not annoying yet either.
The artwork won me over in a big way. Not only does it look a bit different that the vast majority of manga out there, but it succeeds in two areas: action and comedy. A lot of other series succeed in one or the other, but rather both and not so consistently. Black Clover has great action sequences that aren’t drawn out or annoyingly epic battle. People don’t stand and talk forever, they just throw down and fight. What’s even better about this is that everyone is working with limits, so it keeps the fights from running too long as well. The comedy is great; there’s this gag they use with the eye’s glittering like stars and words in the character’s mouths like “WAAAH,” that are funny each time they’re used, especially when it’s Asta because it adds to the lighthearted nature of his character so much. Again, other series try both but rarely do it as well as Black Clover has managed for five volumes.
Black Clover is by far one of the best new manga series I’ve read in the past few years. On the surface level, it just looks like any old Shonen fantasy adventure, just a new flavor, and style to enjoy, but I can only name a few series that were instantly as enjoyable and consistently entertaining. Even though there’s a danger looming in the story, it’s still a very upbeat and happy world that Black Clover takes place in, which is perhaps why it stands out so much. It’s happy, and that makes the reader happy. It’s not a “get stronger to face the coming danger” style of the book, but rather, I just want to help people and be happy. That and I can’t tell you any other series that I sat down and read five volumes of like they were nothing and had to find some ounce of willpower to stop from reading more. Much like it’s lead character Asta, Black Clover is a diamond in the rough.
Score: 4/5 (all four volumes)
Black Clover vol. 2-5
Creator: Yuki Tabata
Publisher: Viz Media