This is the first time that I'll be reviewing a long-running series, so spare the pardon if there's any for pleasantries. But without further ado..."Please marry me, Sister Lily! I won't give up until I've hit my limits!"
"If you flip the 10, it becomes a 01!" - Some Jerk a.k.a remember how Black Clover was despised by everyone?
Black Clover is one of the many myriad of Shonen shows that Weekly Shonen Jump has been banking on imitating the success Shueisha once had since the diminishing of the Big 3 (One Piece, Bleach, Naruto), alongside many other WSJ titles that have constantly received headlines for breaking sales and adaptations that make up the modern age of the anime landscape. Unfortunately, at a time when the Big 3 were all but fizzled out of the community's eyes, there was but one mangaka amongst the many other Shonen authors who were trying to get the attention of Weekly Shonen Jump to have their works publicized...his name is Yuki Tabata. Being a sophomore into the manga industry, his first work of the short-lived and then cancelled 3-volume long Hungry Joker was not received well, and if you know anything about the intense competition of Weekly Shonen Jump: "If your manga doesn't sell well, we will take it off indefinitely without trial. We have more titles that we are ever ready to sink our time and resources into promoting new material and publicity to the large population who are always ever hungry for more." OK, shame on you for the first try. But take a look at his second work...and yet it still doesn't sell when this came out in early 2015 when it was serialized in WSJ. But Shueisha at least had a good idea that while this work started off being blantantly and averagely similar to the Big 3 in terms of the story and plot, and so they released the first volume thereafter in June of the same year. And to say the rest is history is an understatement, because even in the Oricon charts, Yuki Tabata just couldn't do enough to maintain the growing popularity of his work, only selling within the Top 25 and not even cracking the Top 10, even after the anime adaptation came out (at least for the 1st year running). It's only through the sheer talent of director Tatsuya Yoshihara and his production team at Studio Pierrot that would propel this "then infamous, now famous" work into the greatest of great oblivion with the passing of time, that Yuki Tabata finally can breathe a heavy sigh and continue developing Black Clover into one of the many modern Shonen juggernauts that we know today, selling from the thousands to the millions.
I'm not gonna say that what Yuki Tabata did here was plentiful, the story plot was rife of a roller-coaster ride of the usual Shonen tropes and cliches that quickly garnered attention as one of the worst series to be published and then through Studio Pierrot's infamous low-budget visuals, another strike as one of the worst modern Shonen shows that aired back in 2017. Heck, I probably would not want to include what Black Clover is all about, you can refer to the MAL synopsis or even Wikipedia to read it. In a nutshell, think of the Big 3 and the main MC's aspiration of "I want to be <fill in the blanks of the usual Shonen archetype>", add in a fellow rival, and there you have it. It feels just as awful as any kind of minimalistic story from the start, and the usual shenangians from some heavy power fantasy action to the occasional comedy that just doesn't feel as cohesive, and that's not to mention the immense boredom that quickly sets in if you're not the type to stick around for just "one more chapter". Not gonna lie, the first thing that everyone will remember is the crudely annoying MC that is Asta, especially in particular towards newbie VA Gakuto Kajiwara at the time when he first debuted with Asta. Try to compare the criticisms from Day 1 of the anime to now, and most people will say: "I still remember the days when people hated his voice days after his debut on Black Clover. Although I also wasn't very fond of it too, I found it very funny later, gotta love him and his voice acting now." or "I used to think that he (Gakuto Kajiwara) did a bad job with Asta...I take back what I said. His voice matches Asta completely and it's not bad at all, I've gotten used to it overtime." We've come a long way, friends. To see a rookie VA on his first debut getting flamed for all the wrong reasons, to now seeing the light that no one can replace Gakuto Fujiwara for the long-term investment.
Overtime, we get to see the extensive character cast of Black Clover, and I'm still going to rely on my gut feelings here: each and everyone of them feels like cardboard cut-outs that are worth surmising to invoke the feelings of just blantantly plagarizing from other Weekly Shonen Jump works, and that's where Yuki Tabata can be faulted with trying to make do of the cliches and tropes of the Shonen genre that worked well at the time. The problem is with his way of execution of character traits that we've seen way too often to try lifting inspirations from one source to another, so much so that it becomes overbearing and full of cringe. Let's say Asta's rival Yuno. He's a skilled Wind Magic user, blessed by the gods to have magnificent power for OP prodigy powers, and as indicated by the magic books known as Grimoires: he's the four-lead clover magic user. Now tell me if any of those traits are lifted whether in and out of context of similar characters you might have seen throughout your read list of Shonen lookalikes. But as further evidenced, it's with the passing of time that helps distinguish each and every character to their types and whatnot, giving us the audience enough time to digest about what makes them tick and work, and appreciate them for their presence to the different progressing story arcs of the main series.
You know me, I'm very critical when it comes to studio productions, and Studio Pierrot to me, stands as one of the worst studios to ever exist, even if they adapt works that often lose out on the quality of the source materials that fans so desired to see on the small screen. Black Clover is no different with the stigma that Pierrot productions tend to have, and for 1001 good reasons. But once again, like I've said at the beginning, it's thanks to director Tatsuya Yoshihara for helming this long-running project that has seen its fair shares of highs and lows. Black Clover might've started on the wrong foot for being the similar case towards Studio Deen at being decades-old studios with variable quality, for the test of time stands between the production staff team to stand in the gap and make their efforts worth it, and the payoff was certainly worth it in the long-run that was only destined to run for the full length of a year, that subsequently got lengthened and amounted to 3.5 years worth of time that increased the hype with some episodes having the Asta trademark of "I will hit my limits!" that expressively shared the experience of sticking in the long-run. AND BOY, DO THOSE EPISODES DELIVER with at best 9-turned-10/10 ratings that even trended on Twitter. YES, Black Clover IS BIG in both Japan and the West, and with Crunchyroll being the biggest benefactor that this show has garnered the No. 1 top spot in 80+ countries, you can't certainly lie at where Black Clover is now with the insane popularity. To that I say, great job Pierrot for making me love a show that I now endear as one of the many Shonen long-running series that I can recommend.
Even the music can't be understated. For as many as 13 sets of OSTs within the 3.5 year long run of Black Clover, we've definitely heard some "diamond in the rough" gems that we've gotten used to overtime, with many songs that really stick out to be the series' representatives when it comes to recognizing that it originated from Black Clover. Sound director Hajime Takakuwa certainly did wonders at what he does best, but for this one I have to give props to the many artists that have contributed cult-classic songs, from the OPs: Kankaku Piero's "Haruka Mirai" to Vickeblanca's hit songs "Black Rover" and "Black Catcher", and EDs: Itowokashi's "Aoi Honoo" to Faky's "four". These are just some of my top favourite songs from Black Clover, but there's just too many to list them, because most of them are bangers in their own right (with some just being decent at best).
Like what @Goober-fish has said: "Whatever the case may be, Black Clover is my ultimate guilty pleasure and I wave that 10 with pride." And I reverse the words of some jerk that said the sentence at the beginning: "If you flip the 01, it becomes a 10!" Black Clover may have started with being a score of 01, but looking at it now, it's definitely worthy of the 10 score in every possible way: the story that got better overtime with the characters, the insane Pierrot animation quality and right down to the fantastic OSTs that we are graced with to our pairs of eyes and ears.
Never have I thought that I will return from a hatred of a stigma to loving them for Shonen shows, and even if I or you have never watched the Big 3 before, Black Clover is EASILY the best recommended entry show for anyone wanting to dive into Shonen shows...that's if you can last all 170 episodes in one go. Thanks Black Clover, now it's no longer just a guilty pleasure, and I'm an addition to wearing that 10 with pride.