Review: Weekly Shonen Jump #14

Black Clover gets a cover spot as it turns one year old with its 52nd installment. When Black Clover was introduced in its round of Jump Starts, it was in an unusually strong class.  I have ranted about it several other times, but I recall that it launched with Kagamigami, another strong entry (but one that only went for about 39 chapters).  Tabata's manga set itself apart with its unique medieval aesthetic, executed at a high level of detail. Tabata's style is sharp, unafraid to indulge in character designs (sometimes to a fault, leaving backgrounds lacking at times), and makes heavy use of contrast in his scenes to highlight an ongoing theme of light and dark magic.

A year on, in its 52nd chapter this week, it's easy to see the appeal of this series.  Tabata gets to open with one color page and then a splash page, and even though this series so heavily relies on its default black and white format, Tabata's eye for his character designs extends clearly through to a world full of color.  I only point this out because a lot of color pages feel stilted and unnatural when you are so used to filling out the black and white worlds of these stories with your own mental projections.  After turning the page from the colors, Tabata doesn't leave the reader wanting: a battlefield full of detail awaits the reader, and Tabata's inks in black and white alone surpass the color work being done in a lot of other stories.

wsj14coverThat kind of stunning detail continues throughout this chapter, from the swing of swords, to the splitting of earth, and to one of my favorite things Tabata draws: hair.  Hair is a huge identifier of characters in Black Clover, since so many of the characters share this sort of distinctly European look to their faces (at least, European-esque is what Tabata seems to be aiming for to further hammer home the medieval vibe).  Some characters stand out, especially Asta and Yami, but even they have distinct crops of hair that make them unmistakable.  Hair in shonen manga has a pretty high profile history of defining characters, but Tabata isn't just doing the same old spiky fair: he is taking the time to do somewhat realistic designs.  Even when the style is crazy (like Nozel's), Tabata is careful to draw its shape, the way it hangs, and its texture as if you believe that it would at least be possible with some insane amount of time and product to really see a real person's hair like that.

Hell, even in the action-packed splash page that finishes off this chapter, there is clearly a tremendous amount of attention being paid to the way that Asta's hair looks as he comes through at an extreme speed to cut down a foe.  Even the foe's hair is presented as carefully as possible to display Asta's impact.  It's not as if I expect Tabata to just forget that these characters have hair, but one look at the care he gives the presentation of his character designs down to their follicles in rollicking action scenes is enough to display how detail-oriented Tabata is as a creator.  Insanely powerful magical spells, epic sword slashes, comedic character expressions--everything that Tabata decides to put on a page is painstakingly rendered.

Even at times when I think his designs for character's faces are a little too austere, Tabata makes heavy use of close-ups to exaggerate menacing moments, moments of attack, or typical shonen moments of resolve.  In those close-ups the designs remain fairly economical, but he adds in just the right amount of clean inked lines in just the right places to elicit the right emotion.

Despite a lot of initial comparisons to Naruto given the extreme stubbornness of the main character (not to mention the fact that he's pretty slow on the uptake at times), the similarities are superficial, and these series are actually quite far apart stylistically.  Black Clover is closer to Bleach in its clear love affair with using contrast, and more similar to My Hero Academia in the highly detailed, flowing manner in which it depicts action sequences.  The last three pages of this chapter are proof that on top of all this stylistic sensibility, Tabata has a great eye for pacing his sequences in a manner that suits shonen but is also just goddamn good storytelling.

One Piece continues to build towards the next big arc, putting in the latest in what I'm sure will be many more crucial information chapters.  Things in Academia are about to get even more ugly, and Food Wars proves once again that it can do cliffhangers with the best of them.

Score: 4/5

Weekly Shonen Jump #14 Writers: Various Artists: Various Publisher: Viz Media Price: $0.99 Format: Weekly; Digital Website