Black Clover was the last successful Jump Start series for Weekly Shonen Jump. It was picked up by the English edition of the online magazine over a year ago and has been running ever since. I’ve continued to read it, and I even reviewed the first chapter when it first came out. Let’s see how the series reads when it’s all collected.
Black Clover Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written and drawn by: Yūki Tabata
Translated and adapted by: Satsuki Yamashita
Lettering by: Annaliese Christman
In the Clover Kingdom, magic is praised and celebrated above all other things. The less you have, the more worthless you’re seen as. No one knows that more than peasant orphan Asta. Having both a poor background and no magical capabilities, he’s mocked and looked down upon by all. Meanwhile, his friend and rival, Yuno, has all the talent and magical skill in the world. Can someone like Asta, even when he’s given a unique break on his fifteenth birthday, become the Wizard King, the most respected and powerful individual in the world?
The Initial Impression
Black Clover can be described as the sum of many parts. You can see all the manga influences and tropes that had an effect on this series. For instance, this heavily cribs from the first chapter of Naruto for its first chapter–Asta is seen as a nobody and an outsider, he wants to become the Wizard King (a very important figure in his world) and the opening pages were reminiscent of the attack of the Nine Tailed Fox. But even ignoring all of that, the thing that strikes me the most upon rereading this manga is how average it is.
The story is very familiar and traditional in its setup, like seen with a lot of Shonen series. Introduce the main character and rival, get the main character to join this quirky and odd group of people, bring in the female lead, and get things going with a rather serious opponent. It’s stuff that we’ve seen several times over by now (not always in that order mind you) and it’s just not very entertaining or well executed. It doesn’t take many chances or make any big leaps with its starting story, lacking an edge or quirk to truly identify itself.
None of this is helped by the fact that it doesn’t have much in the way of characters. Its main character, Asta, is really boring and is constructed from all of the genre’s tropes: the likeable underdog, a loser who is looked down upon by the world, has a really special & unique power/trait to him, wants to be the best at something, is rather stupid, and so on. Combine that with his overly excited and constantly mugging personality, and it’s hard to really get invested in his journey when you feel like you’ve experienced it so many times before.
Hey! His hand makes fart noises. That’s something at least!
The other characters don’t fare much better. Yuno is Asta’s rival, who is just characterized as being powerful and that he believes in his friend. That’s pretty much it and he disappears after the third chapter. Magna Swing and the other members of the Black Bulls, while uniquely different from one another, just feel standard manga quirky and not particularly memorable. Everyone else, like Sekke, are generic and plain jerks that always mock Asta for being a peasant or having no magical capabilities (they do the same to Yuno, minus the magic part). They are always just there to keep mocking the lead and this gets so repetitive, especially since characters like those keep popping throughout the manga. This series really needs to buckle down and strengthen its main and supporting cast fast.
However, there are two exceptions to the character issue: Yami Sukehiro and Noelle Silva. Both of them make good impressions in the volume and show some level of depth. Yami is the leader of the Black Bulls, the least well-regarded of the Magic Knights (a special order that works directly with the Wizard King). He’s both very tough and intimidating, and has little patience for nonsense and trouble in his group. However, even with his scary demeanor, he commands great respect from the people in his group and has a nice side to him. He’s the only one of the Magic Knight Captains to see the potential in Asta and while he jokes about the teen’s dream, Yami still respects it and gives him a chance in his group to try reaching that goal. He’s a good and different kind of mentor, usually stealing all of the scenes he’s in.
Noelle Silva comes from a royal background, meaning that she has very powerful magic (water based) and comes from a higher social background. However, she has zero control over her magic and is resented by other royalty, even her own family. This left her only able to join the Black Bulls, since not even her brother, in charge of the Silver Eagles, would let her join. As such, she has very low self-esteem and tries to retain her dignity, even though it’s depressingly clear she’s bad at being a witch and she knows it. It’s this sympathetic backstory, seeing her drive to become better throughout the book, and her also rather amusing attitude towards the silliness of her own teammates that makes her such an enjoyable character to watch and see grow. We see some development by the end of the volume for her, even if it seems more deus ex machina than natural growth.
…I got nothing. That last panel speaks for itself.
Yūki Tabata’s writing is alright overall, but it’s not particularly great either. The pacing is fine for the most part, though some parts seem really rushed through (like the chapter when Asta first meets the Black Bulls). The dialogue is okay and some of the humor works, though usually it works for any other character but Asta himself. There are some odd narrational bits that occasionally pop up in the manga that are used as exposition to try to explain what is happening. However, it usually feels awkward in its placement and interferes with the artwork when it is trying to tell a scene. The magic people have seems to be all over the place in what it can do and what it can perform, like the villain in the first chapter having chains that bind people in place but can also gauge their magic level. It tends to leave some of the magic feeling less special since it feels like almost any person can do almost anything.
Tabata’s artwork isn’t too bad either. He does well with drawing layouts and stringing panels together so that they’re easy to follow and keep up with. While there are lot of blank and featureless voids, when he does draw locations, they are generally varied and well detailed. The magic is unique in its look, design, and variety, allowing for the creator to really stretch his creative side in the series as it depicts magic (it can be water bubbles, animal forms, pure energy, and more).
His characters and designs are iffy though. I find the characters to be very goofy and unintentionally silly looking, especially later on with certain characters’ hair styles or the female characters’ outfits. It’s not too much of a problem at this time, since most of the designs are reasonable (though the leader of the Golden Dawn screams villain to me). Everyone is very expressive, even if some almost carry the exact same expression throughout most of the volume. The comedy is depicted in a very over the top manner, playing off of Asta’s energy. It can be rather annoying, since he’s almost always mugging in the panels and looks like he’s constantly shouting. There are good and bad parts to this artwork, but I feel the strengths do tend to outnumber the weaknesses.
Sounds like they’re not very productive. They may need to be axed in the next round of budget cuts.
Black Clover Vol. 1 is about as standard Shonen manga as you can get it. It doesn’t have much in the way of original ideas or interesting twists, most of the characters are not well defined, and the writing doesn’t help support what it does have. It has some strengths to it, like the female lead and the art, but it’s not enough to really give it a high recommendation. Black Clover isn’t awful, it’s just purely average–but it may work for newcomers to the genre.
Black Clover is currently available from Viz Media. The series currently runs in the English edition of Weekly Shonen Jump where you can see the newest chapter of the series each week. Another series by Yūki Tabata, Hungry Joker, is currently not available outside of Japan.