At the end of the fourth episode, something special happens
Despite getting the prerequisite "Hey, look at this cool stuff I can do now!" victory in the second episode that all shonen heroes have to get in order to become the main characters of their respective shows, Black Clover's Asta has pretty rough goings, especially early on. The little kids in Hage Village don't believe in him in the slightest, instead fawning over Yuno, who has a whole "Oh, me? I just woke up like this" vibe to performing his magic. Sister Lily seems to tolerate him, but is entirely unimpressed by the amount of sit-ups that Asta can do.
Many protagonists tend to be a "big fish in a small pond" at the start of their journeys, but Asta isn't that at all. Instead, he spends most of his time working out in a forest, trying desperately to improve the few physical abilities that he does have. He does this despite all of the mocking, and all of the embarrassment from events like the Grimoire Acceptance Ceremony where everyone seemed to be getting a floating magic book except him. And when he and Yuno head to the Royal Capital for the Magic Knights Entrance Exam, this embarrassment doesn't exactly stop.
At this point, you truly feel for Asta. Everyone has had that moment at least once - the standing on the sidelines of the middle school dance, the not getting picked for a group project while everyone else in class pairs off, the Red Rover Red Rover Send Anyone Else But You Right Over. He gets swarmed by the anti-birds, he can't fly, and he can't do any cool magic shooting stuff. And then Sekke chooses Asta as his dueling partner, because Sekke figures that he'll be able to show off against Asta, who so far has done nothing right.
And then Asta absolutely whallops him.
He rushes in past Sekke's taunts and past Sekke's protective Magnum Cannonball and with a single swing of his Demon-Slayer Sword, he absolutely crushes Sekke. It's so immensely satisfying, especially since the moment has been building up for four episodes without you even realizing it. It's not a hard-won victory after a back-and-forth battle with Sekke. Instead, it's an explosion of pent-up emotion that you've gathered watching Asta stand up for himself only using the power of his own will. It's something to cheer for, and it's one of Black Clover's greatest strengths.
Asta's powers obviously grow as the show goes on, but what separates him from other anime protagonists is this constant feeling of him being the emotional underdog. You don't really feel bad when people make fun of my beloved Luffy from One Piece, mainly because Luffy is a little crazy. It's all gonna bounce off of him eventually because Luffy is the best possible combination of naive and absolutely insane. And when people tease Goku, it's okay because Goku is very obviously the prodigy that's going to save them all from destruction anyway. And when someone calls out Deku from My Hero Academia for being a dang ol' nerd, Deku is going to find some kind of emotional loophole where Bakugo is somehow both right AND wrong for being mean.
I guess you could most closely compare Asta to Naruto, but even Naruto never reached the heights of "Your bullying doesn't affect me BECAUSE SEE HOW MUCH I AM YELLING!" that Asta has. There's a deep sadness that's become a chunk of Asta's character. Sure, he's strong-willed and outgoing and wants to protect his friends, but because he wears all of his coping mechanisms on his sleeve, you feel, well, sorry for him sometimes. And not in an overripe way, where the anime is doing everything it can to turn him into a pitiful wretch, but just as a person. No matter how powerful he gets or how cool-looking his sword is or how much acclaim he brings to the Black Bulls, Asta is still that kid that almost no one believed in.
And the way the show balances this with Asta's combat scenes and moments of emotional triumph is awesome. And while I love all of those characters that I listed before (One Piece is my favorite anime/manga franchise, Dragon Ball is a classic by which all others shall be judged, My Hero Academia often feels like a Weekly Shonen Jump Greatest Hits Collection, and Naruto tells a richly human story underneath all of the beautiful jutsu), Black Clover still feels unique to me. It isn't just adding one more "loud good guy punching and laser-ing the less loud bad guy" anime on the pile.
And it all starts with that scene with Sekke, in which Asta is given one last chance to show why he belongs in the ranks of the Magic Knights after flubbing the entire ordeal. It's a fist-pumping action moment. It's a moment of Asta defeating the negative opinions of those around him. It's a moment of the greater world opening up to the lead character. And most importantly, it's the exact moment when you fall in love with Black Clover.
Are you a fan of Black Clover? What storyline or character sold you on the series? Let us know in the comments!
Danie; Dockery is a writer and editor for Crunchyroll. You can follow him on Twitter!
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