The tournament arc is well-worn trope in shonen manga for a good reason. It provides an excuse to introduce new characters, underdeveloped characters with strong hooks can be brought in without a lot of backstory, popular side characters can have the spotlight and it allows for “red vs. blue” matches where the heroes can fight against each other without the melodrama of, say, Civil War.
We enter Black Clover Vol. 14 in the middle of a tournament arc, this one to decide which characters will become Royal Knights, the elite Magical Knight who work directly under the Wizard King. The action picks up immediately in the middle of Yuno, Noelle and En Ringard’s battle against Noelle’s abusive older brother Solid and his teammates Alecdora and Dmitri. It’s actually a big moment of growth for Noelle, who has become a much deeper and more interesting character than the book’s ostensible star Asta.
We quickly move along to the second round of the tournament which finds Asta, Mimosa Vermillion and the mysterious Xerx paired against Mimosa’s narcissistic brother Kirsch and his teammates Sol Marron and Magna Swing. The first fight is a typical good guys vs. bad guys pairing, but the second and more interesting match is mostly a red-vs-blue affair. Kirsch is the outlier here, as even his teammates don’t care for him and his holier-than-thou attitude, but after his loss and some harsh words from Xerx, Kirsch has a change of heart. This is a really fun section; it’s got a great fight scene where we get to see Asta and Magna face off, something that would never happen outside this sort of story.
The high point of the book, however, is the match between Finral and his brother Langris. We get a lot of backstory on Finral, who is one of the more interesting members of the Black Bulls. The fight itself is really exciting and has a great segue into a match between Langris and Asta that ends the volume. It’s a lot of action packed into one book.
Black Clover has never had the most interesting plots, but it’s full of engaging characters and the action scenes are top-notch. Having a tournament arc is a great way to highlight the strengths of the book; without the need for much plotting beyond a friendly competition, the characters and action sequences are front and center.
The catch to all this praise, and there is a catch, is that Black Clover has so far failed to stand out in any way; it’s the C+ student of action manga. The action sequences are incredibly well-done and there are some interesting designs and powers among the supporting cast, but the title hasn’t done anything to make it a must-read. Asta is as generic as action heroes come, and there’s really nothing here that isn’t done better in similar books like Fairy Tail or One Piece. It’s not a bad book, it just hasn’t done anything to make it a great book yet.