Black Clover Season 1 Part 5 + Season 2 Part 1 – Review

Through the first season of Black Clover (which Funimation classifies as the first year), the release schedule for the Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs coincided almost exactly with the story arcs that were the primary focus of each volume. While that practiced continued through the first of the two releases covered by this review, it does not hold as true for the first release of the second season. For the first time, one of these sets ends on a major cliffhanger.

Volume 5 of the first season covers episodes 40-51 and constitutes the entirety of the Sea Dragon’s Temple arc. Volume 1 of the second season covers episodes 52-63 and covers the bulk of the events at Kiten, the introduction of important backstory character Fonzell, and most – but not all – of the Witches’ Forest arc; it comes up precisely one episode short, hence stopping right before Vanessa gets her power upgrade. In the bigger picture of the series, these parts build upon the previous introduction of the Eye of the Midnight Sun terrorist group and clarifying that Licht’s mention in the previous arc about a village of high magic users that was wiped out is actually referring to elves, with the implication that some of them have either possessed or been reincarnated into the bodies of present-day humans. Connected with previous mention about gathering magic stones to regain their “true forms,” this part of the story becomes the first to suggest that reconstituting the elvish people is the ultimate goal of the Midnight Sun. Whether or not the flunkies in the organization are actually aware of that is not clear at this point. The battle against Vetto in the Sea Dragon’s Temple is also the first place to suggest that another force might be involved here as well, a point which is not dwelt on at all at this time but eventually becomes critically important, as it is the first set-up for the game-changing revelations of episode 116.

In a character development sense this is an important run of episodes for elevating the power level and usefulness of many key Black Bulls. Asta naturally gets an upgrade through his half-demon form first appearing at the end of the season 2 volume, but arguably more important are the upgrades to several characters who had largely been ineffective or overlooked up to this point. One of the most interesting of these is the surprising revelation of Grey’s true form; contrary to the massive male appearance she normally takes, she’s actually a slight young woman, one who seems to feel more expressive and socially open in any form except her own. (There’s an interesting psychological case, although unfortunately the series never takes time to examine it.) Her mastery of transformation does not get much attention beyond mimicking other characters, however. Finral shows that he can use his portal magic offensively by working together with others, while Vanessa shows that she has potent string-based magic. The biggest upgrade belongs to Noelle, who finally steps beyond just being the token tsundere by learning to control her potent magic to the point that she gains valuable new offensive and utility capabilities.

In fact, the most important thing these episodes as a whole do is to build on one of the franchise‘s most fundamental underlying themes: with proper motivation, even the most seemingly-pathetic individuals can push past self-imposed limitations to achieve great things. As corny as Yami’s “push past your limits” philosophy comes off, it is the essence of a lot of what happens here. Though a bunch of misfits that were unwanted, underappreciated, and/or disrespected, they all achieve more with Asta acting as their motivational linchpin, including the most impressive displays yet of teamwork; the battle that Asta, Finral, and Vanessa wage against the bestial Vetto in the Sea Dragon’s temple arc is one of the all-time-great displays of teamwork in shonen action series. What makes this all the more appreciable is that Asta isn’t so bull-headed that he has to be talked into cooperating; more so than most other meat-headed shonen protagonists, he fully understands and accepts that he can do things he couldn’t do on his own by working with others. All of this makes the Black Bulls coming together to help Asta in his time of greatest potential despair quite credible.

As story content goes, the Sea Dragon’s Temple arc is a fairly standard one involving a mission by all of the Black Bulls to get a McGuffin which requires a game-like test, though the interference of the Eye of the Midnight Sun throws a wrench in things, hence setting up a climactic battle against Vetto, one of the Third Eyes (both literally and in title) of the organization. Also introduced are two inhabitants of the Sea Dragon’s Temple who befriend the Black Bulls and wind up making cameo appearances again much later on. Immediately following this is the matter with Kiten, which brings Yuno back into the picture for the first time in a couple dozen episodes and gives him and the Golden Dawn a chance to show off against Diamond Kingdom troops. Following that is the matter concerning Asta’s arms, with both allows for a too-long introduction of Asta’s former sword teacher and leads to the Witch’s Forest arc, which brings back one familiar face from a much earlier arc and packs one of the series’ biggest plot twists to date in the true identity of the Salamander user among the Eye of the Midnight Sun. Along the way some of the backstories of both Vanessa and Finral are introduced for the first time, Noelle’s is expanded upon, and more details about the elves are revealed.

For as serious as some parts of this story are, the series never avoids is genre-standard bursts of silliness for long, such as the former sword instructor with the uncanny ability to accidentally end up naked or the whole business with the swimsuits. As before, the effectiveness of this varies. It is also, naturally, packed with action, the quality and animation of which varies even more than in previous volumes. At the low end these scenes are almost laughable in how simply opponents get taken out and how limp the animation looks, but in high-end scenes like some parts of the battle against Vetto and especially the Asta/Ladros duel in episode 63, they are sometimes-surrealistic spectacles on a level with the most highly-regarded anime titles of the decade. (For this reason the animation grade given should be considered an average rather than anything close to a consistent value.) In regular mode the character modeling can sometimes be a bit too fluid, but this is not a consistent problem. Graphic violence is on a level with previous installments and the beach content allows for more fan service than normal, though such content is still very tame.

The music for the series primarily reuses established themes, though it mixes things up enough that key action scenes do not necessarily always use the same themes. This can be both a boon and a bane, as the dramatic orchestration and rock-flavored themes can make for rousing support to the action sequences while other themes used for action content fall flat. (Again, the music grade should be considered more an average than a consistent value.) For themes, the rap-infused hard rock sound of “Guess Who is Back” serves as the opener for all volume 5 episode and is easily one of the franchise‘s best, while its replacement “Gamushura,” which is used for all of Season 2 Volume 1, is far less memorable or impressive. Volume 5 closer “four” is a soulful number more interesting for visuals imagining Boelle, Mimosa, and new character Kahono as modern school students, while its replacement “Tenjou Tenge” is a livelier number that is otherwise entirely unremarkable.

The English dub maintains its cast and performance qualities from previous volumes, mostly for the better. Amongst new characters, the best performance is probably Chris Gardner‘s rendition of Ladros, where he seems to revel in the character’s obnoxious arrogance. Megan Shipman also debuts as Grey late in volume 5 and portrays her character’s neurosis about her true appearance well in a relatively limited number of appearances. The one negative is Bruce DuBose‘s brief performance as Diamond Kingdom General Yagos; he uses a speech affectation that makes his character mostly incomprehensible, and that probably wasn’t the intent.

Extras for Season 1 Volume 5 include clean opener and closer, highlight clips for each trio of episodes, episode commentaries for two episodes, and Inside Studio J, a 17 minute video featuring the English ADR director and voice actors for three of the characters features in the Sea Dragon Temple arc, all discussing the art of voice acting. Extras for Season 2 Volume 1 are the same except that Inside Studio J is replaced by a Twitter-based Q&A session with ADR director Chris George and Dallas Reid, Asta’s English voice. Volume 5 also as an optional Season I Art Book available. This 96-page book mostly consists of character and setting illustrations but also includes written interviews with Dallas Reid and some of the Japanese production staff. If you’re a big enough fan of the series to be buying the Blu-Ray/DVD packs, the booklet is worth the extra price.

Overall, the run of episodes from 40 to 63 includes some low points (the Fonzell episodes in particular) but also some of the entire series’ best and flashiest content, with at least two points also being at least slightly emotional. These parts show what the series can accomplish when it brings its A game to the table.

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