Well, hello there, Satan.
Overview (Spoilers Below)
Asta has fallen to the might of Ladros, the exceptionally powerful Diamond Kingdom mage with the power to absorb magical power from other mages’ attacks. But all is not lost. Asta, on death’s door, sinks into a strange, hellish realm in his own mind and comes face to face with none other than the Devil himself. The Devil, it would seem, has been living within Asta as the result of his five clover grimoire, and is eager to find his way into the realm of the living. Asta fights back against the Devil’s influence, but the infernal parasite is just too strong and is able to seep out of Asta’s soul and into the waking world.
Asta is renewed with powerful demonic energy that manifests itself on the left side of his body, encasing his arm and face with black skin, and giving him a demonic wing to boot. Ladros and Asta proceed to fight, taking to the skies and chasing each other across the landscape with their immense magical power. While this occurs, the Queen of Witches explains that her magical enhancement of Asta is what has resulted in the release of Asta’s inner Devil, which up until now he’s been able to keep under control.
Their fight is epic in scope, but at its end, Asta defeats Ladros once and for all. Asta refuses to kill Ladros, preferring to make him atone for his crimes, and returns to his normal self once the battle is over. Everyone is still wounded, however, and the Queen of Witches arrives in time to take advantage of the situation. Using her blood magic, she binds the fallen mages to a cross. In a grim turn, she uses the blood magic she cast on Asta earlier to possess Asta like a puppet and unleashes the Devil within him once more. With Asta under her control, she gives him a terrifying order, to kill his friends with his anti-magic sword, one by one. Brutal.
Well, this episode certainly has a lot to unpack.
After a good fifty weeks of reviewing the weekly offerings of Black Clover, I can honestly say I have never seen an episode of this show quite like this. Being that this was “The big one”, the kind of episode that usually warrants more hands-on attention from the show’s creators, I was certainly expecting something better than the usual fare. Heightened animation is usually the order of the day for this kind of episode, like when Asta fought Vetto and blew all the budget for the season in one go.
Boy, oh boy, did I figure this one wrong.
This week’s Black Clover is one of the strangest, most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. The kind of episode that would make “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” blush. Did they change the animation for this episode? They sure as shit did, but they pushed it so far into the realm of artistic creativity that they did a full loop face first into the ground. Words do not do it justice. The fight between Ladros and Asta is eight minutes of motion that, at times, can barely qualify as finished animation. The eye can’t understand what’s going on, the mind cannot make sense of it. The two chases at each other at unfathomable speed through landscapes that fade to black, or red, or beige, or whatever the animators feel like coloring it at the time. All sense of anatomy is lost. Characters stretch and tangle with each other in a mess of color and lines that can only be described in one word: vomit.
I can respect ambition. I can respect animators trying to bring something a little more surreal to the table. Something that challenges our notions of what can and cannot be done in a shounen anime. Yet ambition without mastery means very, very little, and here is the perfect example of that. I was happy to see an episode that was interesting enough to be worth criticizing but was saddened to see just how much of a fumble this animation was. At the very least, it’s worth seeing just for the spectacle, but I can’t in good conscience consider it to be quality.
And, you know, that’s disappointing, because the latter half of the episode where the Queen of Witches possess Asta is pretty terrifying. Her betrayal, though obvious, was chilling, and its nice to see this show take itself seriously for once.
This episode was an absolute train wreck, but it wasn’t boring. I’ll give it that much.