The lioness roars.
Overview (Spoilers Below)
The Star Festival is winding down; Asta and Yuno have come across the new captain of the Crimson Lions, Mereoleona Vermillion, Fuegoleon’s hot-blooded sister. She is in the midst of scolding her squad for their weakness under her brother’s command, telling them that some special training at a nearby hot spring is in order, when Asta and Yuno get caught up in the mix. Naturally, they get press-ganged into going to the hot spring with the Crimson Lions.
Meanwhile, at a bar adjacent to the hot springs, the rest of the Magic Knight captains are enjoying a few drinks, ceasing their usual hostilities with each other to revel in the evening. Their constrained pleasant behavior is interrupted by Mereoleona, who bursts through the door with Asta and Yuno in hand. Noelle stumbles upon this scene, and soon is whisked away along with Mereoleona to the hot spring.
The “Hot Spring” turns out to be an actual volcano that Mereoleona intends to scale, along with her squad. The rock is red hot and the lava lethal to touch, but Mereoleona demonstrates the method necessary to climb the mountain, mana skin. Mana skin is a protective coating of mana skilled mages can maintain on themselves to prevent damage to their bodies. Without hesitation, Captain Yami and Mereoleona don their mana skin and soar up the mountain, while the rest of the mages follow down below.
The hike up the mountain is exhausting, with the mana skin weighing down the magic knights attempting the climb. The strain on the user of mana skin is so great that even Asta is struggling to make it to the top. Noelle, who is also climbing the volcano, runs into Mereoleona, who recognizes her and commends her on her recently acquired strength. She recounts a meeting she had with her mother, and the two share a surprisingly tender moment.
The episode concludes as Asta collapses to the ground before Mereoleona, unable to continue. Yet, as Mereoleona questions if Asta is going to give up here, the young mage hoists himself up on his sword and continues to march towards the summit.
My disdain for Black Clover is a well-known fact to anyone who reads my reviews of this show from week to week. My contempt for the show has grown to be marrow-deep, surging through my veins like a bloody tempest of nerd rage and self-righteous criticism. This comes from many, many weeks of reviewing a show that has taken every opportunity to disappoint me. From the characters, to the writing, to the inconsistent setting and generic art style, there has been no shortage of failures seemingly placed there to test my patience and torment my wretched soul.
Yet, I can concede that even after so many poor turns, Black Clover can still move in the right direction when it gets its shit together. This is by no means a perfect episode; I would consider it passable in a better series, but here, it demonstrates great improvement. Still, too much time is wasted on flim-flam; the entire bar scene could be cut and nothing would be lost except for a few forced jokes that have become the chronic symptom of Black Clover’s failing localization. However, there is a strong setup in the “Scaling the volcano” plot. Putting aside the absurdity of an active volcano being so close to the capital of the Clover Kingdom, this is a keen situation to demonstrate Mereoleona’s character and put Asta and the team in a challenging situation. This is also an excellent way to reveal the mana skin ability, which will no doubt be used as time goes on.
The centerpiece of this episode is the moment between Mereoleona and Noelle, who manages to not be completely insufferable this time around. Mereoleona’s recognition of Noelle’s development reaches through the more shallow aspects of strength and speaks to a strength of spirit that is the foundation of a good shounen theme. In addition, the flashback we see is well-executed, and I felt for Noelle more than any other time in this series before. As for Asta, though I’m pleased to see him face a challenge that pushes him to his limits, he conquers this obstacle the same way he always does, sheer willpower. And because he’s pulled this trick off literally every time he’s faced a wall, I’m not at all excited by his ability to overcome the fatigue of climbing the volcano.
A broken clock is right twice a day, so I don’t hold any hope that this is the signal of a new era of Black Clover. It’s far too invested into its faulty and shallow world to surprise me now, and if it was really going to be a good show, it would have been good fifty episodes ago. However, for this week, I am satisfied with the offering this show presents.