Shounen is the most popular genre of anime by a country mile. Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Attack on Titan, One Piece, Bleach, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Haikyuu!!, My Hero Academia, the list goes on and on. What is it that makes shounen so popular?
Could it simply be because people love rooting for the good guys, safe in the knowledge that the hero will always win eventually?
Is it because audiences enjoy stories with feel-good themes of friendship, perseverance, heroism and belief in oneself?
Or could it simply be because shounen anime are the most similar in terms of style to our native western media?
It’s hard to stand out as a shounen these days. It’s not enough to be ‘just another shounen’ when the market completely saturated by great quality anime.
I’m happy to report that Black Clover is not ‘just another shounen’ – oh no. It is, in fact, THE shounen of 2021. At least in my mind.
What is Black Clover?
Black Clover is a shounen which began airing in 2017. It’s based off of the Black Clover manga series by Yuki Tabata, which is still ongoing with chapters being released weekly on Viz. There are currently 4 seasons of 50 episodes each (apart from Season 4, which is 16 episodes) which is over 60 hours of content to get through.
It takes place in the Clover Kingdom, where each individual person is born with a predetermined about of mana (magical potential energy) which can be used to cast magic spells. Each person is born with a magic attribute which determines the kind of magic they’re able to use – for example, water magic, spatial magic, recovery magic, etc. Whilst most people have only a small amount of mana and are limited to only rudimentary spells, some people have enough mana to become magic knights and protect the realm using their abilities. The most powerful mage in the kingdom is crowned the Wizard King.
Black Clover’s protagonist, Asta, aspires to become the Wizard King, despite being one of the only people in history to have been born with no mana at all, meaning he can’t use magical spells of any description. He does however gain the ability to use anti-magic, which nullifies any magic spell he comes into contact with, which is enough to earn him a spot as a Magic Knight. The rest is history.
Beautifully animated action sequences
90% of what Black Clover’s all about is watching super powerful mages duke it out with all manner of broken spells and power moves. Magic in Black Clover is real magic – I’m talking summoning huge elemental dragons, ripping through the fabric of reality, creating alternate dimensions – stuff that makes the magic in western franchises like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings look like children’s party tricks. The power ceiling in this show is totally ridiculous, but c’mon, this is anime and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Unsurprisingly, these set piece battles and duels are supremely animated, truly a sight to behold.
Asta is a breath of fresh air
There are two surefire ways to identify a shounen protagonist: look for the character with A) the most outlandish hairstyle or B) the most unique and/or overpowered ability in the show. In that way, Black Clover is just like any other shounen – Asta’s anti-magic ability is flat-out overpowered and makes him nigh on untouchable to all but the most powerful enemies – but it’s how and why he’s so overpowered that makes Black Clover stand out.
Asta becomes as powerful as he does because of one thing – hard physical training. Sure, his anti-magic swords are pretty broken in a society where people’s only weapon is magic, but he needed years of physical training to become strong enough to even pick up the damn things, never mind actual use them as weapons.
The world of Black Clover is a very deterministic one. Your strength as a magic user is pretty much determined at birth – you’re either ‘blessed by mana’ or you’re not, ‘aint nothing you can do about it either way and you have to play with the cards you’re dealt. But whilst most people rely on their innate magical abilities to get by, Asta relies on good ‘ol fashioned elbow grease to get where he wants to be and that’s what’s most inspiring about his character. He refuses to accept his place in the world – as a magicless loser in a magic-centric world – and spends his time focusing on the things he can control instead of fretting about the things about his situation he can’t control.
Aside from his anti-magic abilities, Asta is actually a very average person. He’s not the fastest character in the show, or the most intelligent, or the most anything really – even Captain Yami has him beat on physical strength.
Asta’s power isn’t something stupid and immaterial like destiny, the power of friendship, or just believing in oneself – it’s making the best of your situation and utilising fully the tools you have at your disposal. As cheesy as it sounds, I think that’s an awesome and valuable message that we could all do with being reminded.
And besides, even if Asta is a little overpowered (which I’m not disagreeing with) Asta manages to do it WITHOUT becoming a brooding, emo edgelord, unlike some shounen protagonists I know *cough cough* Eren Jaeger *cough cough*.
I love Asta, but pretty much every character in Black Clover is interesting in their own right – particularly the Black Bulls squad members who all have their fun little quirks that make them entertaining to watch. In fact, I struggle to think of a character that I didn’t like (apart from one, which I’ll get into later). My personal favourites are the womanizing Finral, Luck the Cheery Bezerker and the stoic Captain Yami.
For a show with so many characters, I expected more than a fair share of filler episodes elaborating on their backstories, which is really a pet peeve of mine. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find only a moderate amount of flashback segments, usually only where it was relevant to what was happening in the story and almost never taking up an entire episode. Kudos to the writers for that.
Having said all that…
Yuno is a terrible character and adds nothing to the show
I know it’s terribly unprofessional to complain about a particular character, but never have I known a more bratty and dislikable co-main protagonist than Yuno. He almost never speaks, and when he does speak, he comes across as arrogant and condescending. He’s a complete douchebag to Asta the majority of the time, despite apparently having a lot of respect for him – but you wouldn’t know it without an inner monologue telling you it was the case – behaving more like a tsundere than a grown ass man.
But you know what the worst thing is about Yuno? He is the walking embodiment of a Mary Sue. He happens to be insanely gifted at magic from a young age seemingly without having to try, he happens to get a legendary grimoire and he happens to wipe the floor with pretty much every opponent he comes up against without breaking a sweat. (Spoiler) He is even a prince, for crying out loud.
The writers are so desperate for us to respect Yuno as this really powerful and influential character, but instead, he comes across as a know-it-all with a superiority complex who’s just too powerful and ‘blessed by mana’ to bother exchanging more than a few words with anyone else.
Oof, it ruffles my feathers and not in the good way.
Black Clover: 68 hours well spent!
I can sum up my feelings about Black Clover in one sentence: even though there are 170 episodes of Black Clover to get through, which is almost 70 hours of viewing in total, those four seasons absolutely flew by. There could have been 500 episodes and I would have happily watched every single one, and still come back for more.
I enjoyed Black Clover far more than I ever expected to – it’s got great characters, a solid concept, a protagonist you can root for and a feelgood message to take away with you.
I was so disappointed when I found out that the show was going on hiatus in the middle of Season 4 – I’d watched nothing but Black Clover for 3 weeks solid, I didn’t know what to do with myself – but I live in hope that once the manga ends, Pierrot will finish the show as well. It would be so cruel to leave the anime on a cliff-hanger like this forever, right in the middle of an arc. At least let us see Asta’s Devil Union form first before you pull the plug!