Black Clover (Chapters 69-71) – Review
Reviewed by: Tom
Synopsis: Asta dreams of becoming the Wizard King, the strongest magic user in all of the kingdom. There’s just one tiny problem– Asta can’t use magic! Asta trains and trains, but unlike his best friend and rival Yuno, Asta has zero magical talent or power. However, during the induction ceremony, where young ones receive their grimoire, Asta acquires the rare five-leaf clover grimoire that gives him the power of anti-magic. With his grimoire, and his determination, Asta will battle his way to the top of the Magic Knights and show the world he can become the Wizard King!
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Asta manages to gain entry into the exclusive Magic Knights. Asta joins the Black Bulls, the team described as the absolute worst out of all the Magic Knight squads. Meanwhile, Asta’s rival, Yuno joins the most beloved team the Golden Dawn. After another run in with the Eye of the Midnight Sun group, Asta and Yami managed to help out a traitor amongst the Magic Knight Captains. Unfortunately the Midnight Sun’s plans are far reaching. The Wizard King tasks Captain Yami and the Black Bulls will the acquisition of a magic stone, one of three the Midnight Sun needs in order to obtain power that could shake the kingdom to its very core. Without too much time to relax Yami takes the Black Bulls off to find the Underwater Temple where the stone is located. Upon finding the temple, Asta and the others are forced to challenge the Temple’s priests in combat if they want to walk away with the magic stone. However their little tournament is interrupted by Vetto, one of the top fighters for the Eye of the Midnight Sun! Things take a horrible turn as Vetto crushes one hero after another. Now it’s up to Asta and the remaining Black Bulls to stand against the horrific brute.
Jumping back into the battle between Asta, Noelle, a bunch of other completely defeated people and the evil Vetto– we’re first treated to a little exposition. Basically it’s all backstory to justify Vetto’s sudden inhuman shift, as Black Clover hadn’t really yet brought the concept of demons into its narrative. It’s a little hamfisted, and on the nose, but gets the concept across. I think it’s a good twist, and because we’re dealing with magic already it doesn’t really spring from out of nowhere. I’ll be curious if more will come of these demonic individuals or if this is a one time thing to justify Vetto’s transformation.
Fin pops around the corner, watching the battle unfold. For the moment Fin seems mostly there to remind us that Vetto was initially billed as having even more magical power than the Midnight Sun’s leader. Fin writes the battle off as a loss and talks of escaping. Just like death flags, failure flags, etc. Fin’s talk of escaping, especially with his doomsday level dialogue, is little more than a ‘victory flag’ heralding that this fight is about to turn around in a major way.
Noelle addresses how Asta was able to get up again, after having been knocked down twice. Asta explains that Kahono healed him little by little with the last of her strength. It feels like a quick little throw away explanation for anyone questioning how Asta was able to get up again in the first place. It would’ve been nice if there’d been a hint of this in the previous chapter, but it’s pretty clear Tabata included this as a last minute semi-‘retcon’ to address the questioning minds of more savvy readers. Asta undermines the horrors of Kahono’s and Kaito’s injuries, sure that if Vetto can regrow his arm they can find people to heal Kahono and Kaito. I kind of wish his friend’s mutilation would spur Asta’s fight against Vetto, but I know Black Clover has a heavy tint of hope and optimism running through it, meaning a more anger fueled retaliation wouldn’t be in the cards. Asta also quickly turns back to Noelle and praises her magic and then promises to handle the rest of the fight. (Jeez Vetto is just so noble to let people turn their back on him and have a good heart to heart.)
Vetto taunts Asta, who refuses to give up, replying that it’s not actually a weakness, but a strength by having such an indomitable spirit. Vetto decides to up the stakes and launches magic at all the weekend and defeated members of the party, preparing to slay them all in one last blast.
Appearing at the last minute is Vanessa to save the day, stringing up Vetto and moving every else to relative safety for the moment. Vanessa reveals she’s only here because Asta chose to keep fighting too and promises to back him up. I like this turn of events and makes me more okay with the idea that Vetto might get defeated right here. At least it’s looking like teamwork will be Vetto’s ultimate undoing rather than Asta prevailing on his strength alone. It’s not my ideal outcome, as Vetto seems to be our biggest, darkest, most violent villain yet. To defang him so early through utter defeat feels like a short-sighted misstep. Vetto, however, easily breaks free of Vanessa’s binding magic and attacks again.
Interrupting his attack is Fin, who can’t keep hiding, not if everyone else is stepping forward (although internally he’s questioning his very sanity and chances at survival.) Vetto isn’t impressed however, calling them all ants. Oddly, when Vanessa asks Noelle if she has enough magic to protect them all Noelle says yes (wasn’t she on empty before?). Like Asta having been healed by a secret song from Kahono this too feels like a retcon as Tabata might’ve wrote himself into a bit of a corner. It’s odd though as Noelle doesn’t seem to actually do anything as the fight continues, making this line of dialogue, and subsequent retcon, feel almost pointless. Vanessa admits that ordinary magic won’t work on Vetto, so it’s all up to Asta. Vanessa and Fin will back him up and assert that they won’t let him die.
Working together Fin and Vanessa protect Asta and use Fin’s spacial magic to allow Asta to get in close enough to strike. Working together Asta finally gets a hit in, cutting Vetto across his face and tells him that his sword will be what finishes him off.
Vetto is pissed now and tries to strike back at Asta, but Vanessa yanks him back using her magic threads and saves him from an abrupt death. Noelle is amazed at their teamwork. Vetto, however, is suffering a little more than the others know. Because of Asta’s anti-magic sword, the wound left on Vetto is preventing him from healing. Vetto begins to piece together their teamwork and decides the weak link, or most important aspect of their teamwork, is Vanessa’s thread magic.
Vetto lunges at the team and another battle begins. While Fin and Vanessa are able to keep Asta out of harms way, Vetto’s now dodging Asta’s attacks. Vanessa screams that they’ll be pushing themselves to the limit. We get a brief aside about how Asta has inspired her and validated her choice to leave her hometown and join the Black Bulls. I like Vanessa’s little aside here. It’s not too long, or in depth, it’s just enough to let us know that Vanessa has been inspired and moved by Asta’s commitment. It’s great and doesn’t hamper the flow of the battle.
Finral, however, gets a much longer backstory that cuts into the action’s flow. We learn of his noble heritage and the disappointment his parents felt as his spacial magic turned out to be so much more fragile than his brother’s. In fact, they became so disappointed with him once he joined the Black Bulls they decided to appoint his younger brother as head of the house. It’s several pages long, and I don’t think at all necessary, not right here. Finral then talks about how Asta changed his outlook on life and has rekindled his resolve to try and put effort forward. He’s come to realize that he doesn’t need to beat his brother, he can’t do that, but he can assure that his team becomes the strongest brigade. It’s all a nice sentiment, but I think I’d have preferred this peppered throughout, or saved for the climax of the battle. What if Finral had mentioned his backstory earlier in the battle? Before he joined in? Then we wouldn’t need this massive info dump right alongside his internal monologue about Asta inspiring him. Or some of this could even occur after the battle has finished. Either way it’s a huge backstory dump and just bogs down what was flowing really well.
Finral screams out for Asta to believe in him, which is pointless as Asta already trusts him 100%. The battle intensifies, but Finral and Vanessa can’t hold out forever and Vetto taunts them. There’s more internal monologues about trust as Asta finally overcomes Vetto’s power and runs him through with his sword!
Asta’s got his sword through Vetto’s torso and immediately everyone is beaming. They’ve won! (Failure Flag) or have they? Vetto asks them if they believed they won and blasts Asta with some intense magic, breaking Asta’s arms and making our hero cry out in agony. He screams at Asta that he allowed Asta to bury his sword in his torso so that he could steal Asta’s weapon. He commands them to lose hope and despair. I have a problem with this twist. Last chapter Vetto had just informed the reader that Asta’s sword had sucked his magic up, preventing him from utilizing his recovery spells. For him to allow Asta to get a strike in seems mighty idiotic. If the sword sucks his magic away wouldn’t it be a pretty good sign it’d mess him up in other ways if Asta had gotten a even better hit in? As we’ll come to see this plan of Vetto’s was exceedingly short-sighted.
Everyone begins to freak out. The hope and pride everyone was filling is gone with Fin, Noelle and Vanessa all looking stricken with the very despair Vetto has been clamoring for. But Asta refuses to give up. Vanessa and the others are stunned. Vanessa recovers first and rips Asta back to safety. She uses her thread magic to temporarily repair his broken bones and allow Asta to continue his fight. There’s also some internal monologue from Vanessa about how Asta was born without magic because God made him this way because he is who he is. It’s entirely unnecessary and ads in this religious angle that feels hamfistedly included here. I think it’s supposed to speak to the idea that you can be born weak, or without the skills or talents of others, but it’s because you are who you are and you have your own strength (in this case Asta’s defiance) that shines through, but I don’t think any of this was needed.
Fin and Vanessa prepare to back Asta up for one more go. Asta gets his second sword out and now Vetto’s the one losing his shit. He can’t understand why they won’t cave to despair. Asta explains that he can’t afford to lose, not if he’s going to defeat his rival some day. Vetto refuses to lose, but quickly realizes Asta’s movements are too fast for even him to read. Vetto realizes that perhaps Asta’s sword is sucking away his magical buffing abilities and rips it free, refusing to believe that his plan backfired in favor of Asta. It was an insanely stupid plan though, especially for a villain that so easily read and came to understand Vanessa’s thread magic after encountering it only briefly. Vetto basically suffers from a brain fart because Tabata was running out of twists to keep the fight going just a little longer. This is part of what I was afraid would happen when attempting to subdue a villain like Vetto, so massively overpowered compared to our hero in his current state. Vetto basically needed to momentarily become a raging idiot otherwise Asta couldn’t possibly win. It’s a black mark (no pun intended, well, maybe a little) on what I feel is otherwise a really solid battle. Perhaps the first truly epic battle with Asta at the center.
Vetto refuses to lose but realizes that perhaps Asta is like him. But decides then, no, Asta isn’t merely a beast. He’s a demon who devours even despair. An odd comparison, but we’ll go with. Asta strikes Vetto head on, seemingly bringing about an end to their long running battle.
Going forward I don’t know that this is truly it for Vetto. The chapter ends with Asta’s strike, but there’s always room for another turn about. I’m still disappointed Vetto had to become a bit of an idiot just to hand Asta the win. It’s a shame and I hope Tabata can tighten his writing up for whenever we hit the next big battle. Otherwise though I’m fairly happy with these chapters and think Tabata’s work has been really improving over the course of this underwater temple arc. I’m definitely more excited to see where this manga will be going and how it grows over the course of the next few years. I don’t know that Black Clover will ever replace Bleach, Naruto, or One Piece when it finally goes. Shonen Jump desperately needs another “big three”, especially in the U.S. where the magazine is far less healthy. Sadly, I think Black Clover’s chances of blowing up like that sailed as it’s taken over a year for it to really grow into its own, where as One Piece, Naruto and Bleach hit that critical acceptance much earlier in their runs.
That’s it for today. Let me know what your thoughts are on Black Clover in the comments below!
Black Clover is published weekly in Shonen Jump. Black Clover’s first and second volumes released on June 7th and August 2nd, 2016 respectively. Chapters discussed today, 69-71, will be available in future volumes early next year.