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Friday, 3 November 2017

Black Clover E4+E5: The Magic Knights' Entrance Exam & The Path to the Wizard King

Black Clover 
Episode 4 + Episode 5
The Magic Knights' Entrance Exam & The Path to the Wizard King.
A Comparison with My Hero Academia S1E4.

You know what? It's getting pretty boring just reviewing these episodes and saying the same thing over and over again, so this time around, we're going to be doing something a little different: We're going to be comparing entrance exam arcs.

Because episode four and episode five of Black Clover are not dissimilar to episode four of My Hero Academia: They both involve the formerly-powerless-and-still-massively-disadvantaged underdog protagonist and their rival both taking part in an entrance exam to gain admission to the institution of their choice. While they both appear to fail the exam, it's later revealed to them that they passed through unconventional means.

The big difference is that one is an effective episode that not only has tension and a decent story arc, but also organically introduces several new cast members and sets us up for the style of teaching we'll be seeing going forward, and the other is Black Clover, a show that would be the worst anime of the season if this weren't a terrible, terrible season.

Let's start with the length: It's a pretty obvious place to start, because while My Hero Academia only uses up one episode for its entire exam arc, Black Clover strings it out over two, despite the fact that the pace of Black Clover's manga is lightning fast. This fits the pattern we've seen from Black Clover before, with small moments being turned into lengthy, drawn out ones, and in this case it means that we spend about forty minutes just repeating the same motions over and over again: Yuno takes a test, then Asta takes a test, then the captains comment. Yuno takes another test, then Asta takes another test, then the captains comment. Asta fights someone and easily wins, then Yuno fights someone and easily wins, then the captains comment. Yuno is picked by everyone, and Asta is picked by nobody, and everyone comments.

This could be effective if it was a bit more smoothed and streamlined, or if it served any kind of thematic purpose, but all it does is continue to hammer in points the show's already made: Yuno is great and everyone admires him, while Asta is cripplingly overspecialised and people mock him (even though he is, by the standards of this world, disabled, and however bad ableism is, you at least don't usually get crowds of people openly mocking someone for being in a wheelchair everywhere you go, it's a little more subtle than that). Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

This reaches its absolute zenith when, having already re-shown Asta's battle with Bronze-Dude in its entirety in the 'previously on' segment, the episode proceeds to start by showing Asta's battle with him again, once more in its entirety bar for a few shots swapped out to show Yuno watching, in the most hack-handed and half-hearted 'and now for Yuno's side of things.'

My Hero Academia, meanwhile, actually cuts out what might be interesting story elements in order to keep the time down: We see Deku in the exam, struggling to beat any robots, and eventually saving Uraraka, but we only see Bakugou, his rival, for a single shot -- because while Bakugou screaming and killing robots would be fun to watch, and his interactions with the other people in his test group might be compelling, we already know how it's going to turn out. The story has thoroughly prepped us for the idea that Bakugou will definitely pass, and so it decides we don't need to see that.

Similarly, we don't see Bakugou getting accepted, nor do we see Iida or Uraraka be accepted -- it is taken as read that they will be, and attention does not need to be lavished on that fact. The focus remains squarely on Deku, as he's the only character whose success is (in-universe, at least, out-of-universe we know he'll succeed somehow) not assured.

Note that I mention Iida and Uraraka here, because the exam arc of My Hero Academia isn't just an exam arc: It also introduces two more members of the central five-man-band of the story, and it makes the most important of them, Uraraka, a prominent part of the story. In contrast, Black Clover really doesn't properly introduce us to anybody except Yami, the captain of the Black Bulls, with his character being sketched out in such broad, boring strokes that his presence in the episode feels more like an imposition than anything else.

Ultimately, Black Clover's exam arc doesn't aid the story at all: It is a two episode long 'point A to point B' scenario to show how Asta gets into the Magic Knights, but it doesn't effectively introduce anyone, it's not interesting to watch, and it doesn't give us any plot information that could be useful going forward. It is an empty, shallow arc that provides us with nothing of worth and is more just irritating than anything. My Hero Academia's exam arc, meanwhile, does a lot with a much more limited amount of time: It shows off UA's slightly madcap style of teaching, it gives us our first look at Deku's use of One For All, it introduces two major characters, and it effectively caps off Deku's arc about whether he's suited to be a hero, freeing him up to have a new arc about how to be the most effective hero he can be (Asta, meanwhile, already knows he's suited to be Wizard King, and there's no arc there).

Also, Black Clover is dull. It's just dull.

In conclusion: Go watch My Hero Academia, I'll see you in two week for more glacially slow magic knight shenanigans.

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