Movie Reviews

Breaking Past Your Limits, With Great Episodic Storytelling | “Black Clover” Seasons 1, 2 and 3 (Part 1) English Anime Dub Review

I got sucked into a black hole these past few weeks, and that hole’s name is the English Dub of the “Black Clover” anime. Note: This show is still airing the rest of its third season, so this review will cover Episode 1 through 122, which is approximately the end of the first half of Season 3, which covers the entirety of the show’s main arc with the show’s main antagonist, the elf Licht (Jerry Jewell) and his insurgent group, the Eye of the Midnight Sun. When Season 3 finishes airing, I will write a separate review of Season 3 Part 2.

In a nutshell, “Black Clover” is a fantasy anime about a magicless commoner boy named Asta (Dallas Reid) who strives to become the Wizard King in a world where magic and class status are everything. An orphan, he’s raised by the church in a middle of nowhere town named Hage village. His rival, Yuno (Micah Solusod), who is the same age as him and who grew up in the same church as him, has the exact same goal, and the two are rivals. Their key difference: Asta was granted a cursed five-leaf grimoire (a magic book people in this world as granted that let them learn new spells and hone their power) that can only manifest anti-magic swords, while Yuno is granted a coveted four-leaf grimoire, that soon gives him access to elite-level power.

Yuno: Asta’s rival.

They seek to become members of the Magic Knights, the protectors of their home, the Clover Kingdom, and the two take the entrance exam. Yuno is offered a spot on every squad, while everyone passes on Asta, except Yami Sukehiro (Christopher Sabat), captain of the Black Bulls, the worst of the Magic Knight squads. Yuno chooses the Golden Dawn, the top Magic Knight squad, and we rarely hear from him after that in Seasons 1 +2, as the story focuses directly on Asta, who proves invaluable through sheer willpower, strength and dedication, honing his anti-magic abilities — which can slice through and cancel any spell — past their limits and making his squad better in the process.

Season 1

Season 1 starts out relatively slow, taking time to establish Asta and the Black Bulls, particularly the fire mage Magna Swing (Ian Sinclair), who was a commoner delinquent who takes a liking to Asta early on; Noelle Silva (Jill Harris), a royal girl who has a crush on Asta and who is shunned by her family because she has water magic she can’t control; Luck Voltia (Justin Briner), a battle-obsessed mage with electricity magic known as the cheery berserker and Magna’s best friend; Gauche Adlai (David Trosko), an orphaned noble who only cares about his sister, Marie (Apphia Yu), who possesses powerful mirror magic that can reflect most spells; Grey (Megan Shipman), a timid girl who wields transformation magic that also allows her to change the properties of spells and objects around her; Vanessa Enoteca (Lydia Mackay) an alcoholic witch who wields string magic; Charmy Pappitson (Sarah Wiedenheft), a young woman who has an affinity for eating, who has formidable sheep magic; Finral Roulacase (Brandon McInnis), a womanizing mage who wields transportation magic; and, of course, Captain Yami, a foreigner who joined the Magic Knights at the beckoning of the current Wizard King, Julius Novachrona (Robert McCollum), who is a big magic nerd. Also on the Black Bulls is Gordon Agrippa (Mike McFarland), who doesn’t get developed until deep in Season 2, and is unintentionally left out of the Black Bulls’ big mission during the Season 1 finale. Gordon is a habitual mumbler, so no one can hear what he is saying and as a result, he is the hardest of the squad to break out of his shell.

Noelle and Asta.

Season 1 is excellent. It sets up a larger story involving Licht and the Eye of the Midnight Sun, while never blowing the tale out of proportion. There are a LOT of characters in this show, and I won’t be able to talk about them all, and the world of the Clover Kingdom is vast. Season 1 sets up what it needs to, but it also lets its characters play in its world while everything is relatively low stakes. And it doesn’t overwhelm you, utilizing only a handful of well-developed locations for its major battles, but to their fullest extents.

I originally started watching this show months ago, and I stopped watching after episode 2 because it didn’t interest me. However, I gave it a second chance, and from their it sucked me in and never let me go, and a big part of that is because of how good its first season is. It takes simple scenarios — Asta being invited to a fancy awards ceremony in the capitol, or a bunch of children going missing in a random town in the kingdom — and it twists and changes the stakes of them in a way that, while it definitely prolongs the conflicts presented, changes them in new and interesting ways that makes it hard to look away.

The current Wizard King.

For example: The final arc of this season, which takes place in the Underwater Temple which houses a magic stone the Eye of the Midnight Sun want, starts out as a simple challenge between the Black Bulls, who were sent there by Julius, and the Temple Mages, but that all changes when Vetto (David Wald), a beastman who serves Licht and who has amazing power, breaks into the temple, forcing the Black Bulls and Temple Mages to become unlikely allies.

Then cliffhanger after cliffhanger happen, episode after episode. Just when you think one side has the advantage, either the enemy reveals a new ability, or one of the Black Bulls push through their limits to tip the scales in their favor. And this is how the show is throughout its entire run.

Season 2

Season 2 gently nurtures the show’s main arc of the Clover Kingdom versus the Eye of the Midnight Sun to critical mass, with the series finale triggering their endgame that carries over to Season 3.

The show often has enemies come together to fight for common goals.

Season 2 starts off with Asta’s arms poisoned by Vetto’s dark magic, which forces Vanessa to travel back to her homeland to find a cure, which leads to her being captured by her mother, the Witch Queen (Jamie Marchi). At the same time, the Eye of the Midnight Sun and the Diamond Kingdom decide to attack the Forest of Witches, making the Black Bulls and the Witch Queen unlikely allies. She heals Asta, and we’re soon retroactively introduced to a character that was instrumental in Season 1; Asta’s swordsmanship teacher Fanzell Kruger (Eric Vale) of the Diamond Kingdom, which ties in well with the show’s Diamond Kingdom arc, that involves Fana (Jeannie Tirado), another high-ranking member of the Eye of the Midnight Sun. It gets complicated, but it’s easy enough to follow, and the action is good.

Just about everyone in this show eventually gets their own character journey. Finral’s is with his little brother, Langris (Clifford Chapin), the Vice Captain of the Golden Dawn who is borderline psychotic and who usurped him as head of the family, wielding powerful spatial magic. Vanessa faces her past and unlocks her true power — a cat that can alter fate. Yami doesn’t so much have an arc, but we do learn more about him and how he established the Black Bulls and why he intentionally made it a place for misfits. Everyone else shines by either breaking through their limits, or by doing well in the Royal Knights Selection Tournament, which takes up a good portion of this season, and is a means by which to select a squad of the kingdom’s finest warriors to put an end to the Eye of the Midnight Sun. The last part of the season focuses on the Royal Knights’ assault on the Eye’s hideout, as well as an unexpected battle in the capitol.

Zora Ideale, master of trap magic.

This season introduces a two new members of the Black Bulls — Zora Ideale (Johnny Yong Bosch), the son of the first commoner Magic Knight who uses trap magic; and Henry Legolant (Stephen Fu), a slickly noble who absorbs mana to stay alive, is the original owner of their hideout, and has the ability’s to turn it into essentially a giant Black Bull mecha. Both prove their worth in tandem with the team.

I can’t say I liked Season 2 as much as Season 1, but it was a proper follow up to everything it set up. I do feel, however, it drags a but too much, and while we see plenty of Licht’s elves who are the core of the Eye of the Midnight Sun, they often become a little too one-note in their motivations — which makes sense when you see Season 3, but it does make them a bit irritating and repetitive. Part of what made me finish this season, and the Eye of the Midnight Sun’s endgame arc, is an overwhelming feeling of “I’ve invested so much time into this show, and we obviously know Asta and his friends are going to win. Can this final fight just be over already?” Plenty could have been cut out with no ill effect to the overall narrative.

There are elves in this show.

Season 3 1/2

There’s very little I can talk about this season without spoilers. But suffice it to say, while it takes a good while to get to the finale of the Licht arc — about 20 episodes into this season to be exact — when you get there, it’s well worth it, and there’s a sense of finality to it. I started the very next arc — the aftermath of the climatic battle that started at the end of Season 2, and it really feels like a new season is beginning halfway through Season 3, which is why I made Episode 122 the cutoff point for this review.

Verdict

It’s really difficult to assign a final verdict to this show’s first 3 1/2 seasons because of how much ground it covers. Production-wise, it is pretty standard, even lacking at several points, especially where CGI is paired with traditional animation. It’s voice acting does the job for me, but the performances are the definition of standard. This is a dub here you’ll recognize the same handful of voices you’ve seen in a million other dubs before. And its arcs range from doing the bare minimum, standard, good, great to absolutely captivating.

Yet this show mercilessly hooked me and dragged me through 120 episodes over the course of a week like it was nothing. I just couldn’t take my eyes off it, because when this show is good, it’s really good. It’s main character has an annoying shrill voice but I absolutely love him because he accomplishes miracles through sheer determination and willpower, and the show sets up its own internal logic so beautifully that when a character has a breakthrough, it is legitimately shocking and impressive.

The Black Bulls’ fight with Vetto in the Underwater Temple is one of my favorite fights in the show.

Only the first season of this show is on Hulu, where I started watching it, and I loved it so much I got a Funimation account just for this show (though I’ll probably cancel it when my free two-month trial is up).

The absolute worst thing you can say about this show is that it’s boring sometimes, but honestly, I appreciate the times it is slow, as they are often strategically-placed between major arcs to give the viewer some time to catch their breathe.

If you don’t like fantasy anime, I don’t know if this’ll change your mind about the genre, but if you like these types of shows, you’ll absolutely love “Black Clover”.

It’s magic is never giving up.

“Black Clover” Seasons 1-3 1/2 gets a 9/10

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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