Black Clover and the Shonen Formula

Black Clover is an anime that has only started airing. The second episode of the series just aired today after all. Despite this, people are already complaining about its formulaic and just other shonen series. There are also people who find the main character annoying because he yells almost all the time, which I am in that camp too, but I digress. At this moment, I don’t believe that anyone can say it’s generic or just another shonen series, because we haven’t seen enough of the series to make a judgement on it yet. Yes, it does a lot of things that other shonen series do at the beginning, but those attributes are what make a shonen series a shonen series. If you are just going to judge another shonen series for following a set formula that every other series does, then let’s just call all of them basic. Even the ones that we really like. The shonen formula is something that a show follows in the beginning. With changes in character names, abilities, the world, aesthetic, and so many other things, they are all similar in the beginning. What happens after this formula has gone through is what defines the series and makes it special

When I say a shonen formula, I think we all know what that means, but let’s recap a little bit for a point of reference. For starters, a shonen always starts with the main character. The main male or female protagonist is almost always the underdog of the series, but has a great potential for growth. One way the story sets up the protagonist is that they are thrown into a situation that is way beyond them, but they adapt to it quickly over time. Then there is the one where the protagonist has absolutely no talent in the goal they are trying to achieve, but turns out that what ability they have is completely different from everyone else.  That difference is what ends up making them special. Up next is the goal. No matter what world the story takes place in, the protagonist always wants to be become the number one of something or find an object that is nearly impossible to find. After that, there is the rival. Every protagonist starts off with their own built in rival these days. You know, the guy that wants to do the same thing the protagonist wants to do? The protagonist’ relationship with the rival is part of what makes the series special as well. With some minor details missing, these things are what makes a shonen formula. It’s changed over time, because different things work for different generations, but the core values stay the same. I’ve been watching Angelic Layer recently and that show follows the shonen formula almost as much as Black Clover does. Maybe even more so.

So are people’s opinions about Black Clover completely unfounded? No, no they are not. For one thing, Asta apparently doesn’t have magical powers in a world where everybody has them. I won’t mention the events of episode two, but that automatically puts him in the underdog position. Next, the protagonist has a goal. He wants to be the Wizard King, the number one guy with magical abilities in that world, like the hokage in Naruto. Then he has a rival, Yuno. An actual built in rival, because Yuno grew up with Asha. They are both orphans. I could say the same about Deku in My Hero Academia as well though, because that series is as shonen as a series can get as well. Deku wasn’t born with abilities like most of the population of this world, his rival is bakugou, and he wants to be the number one hero like his mentor All Might. Broken down like that, they sound similar. The different here is that My Hero Academia, while establishing the basics in the first episode too, spent more time developing Deku so we can emotionally connect with him. Black Clover seemed more interested in setting up and getting through the shonen formula first, then develop characters later. It’s not even far to compare them at the moment anyway. My Hero Academia has been given 36 episodes with more on the way, so the audience has had the chance to live and breathe in that world. Black Clover just started. We don’t even know what the main plot is yet.

The shonen formula is basic, I understand that. There is a reason why it’s still around though. It works. It gets people invested in a story and keeps pulling them along throughout its run. This formula can be applied to almost anything as well. If there is one thing that I’ve learned about shonen series these days, it’s not to judge the series by its first episodes. There is always a prologue that the show needs to get through before getting into the real material. That’s an undefined length of episodes so it can be frustrating, but then again it can be completely worth it. Better yet, even the prologue can be interesting. Sometimes the prologue can be as short as three episodes like Soul Eater or they can be as long My Hero Academia’s and be a cour in length. Perhaps it can be even longer than that like Hunter x Hunter’s prologue (the hunter exam arc). It sucks when shonen series are animated up to this designated prologue and stop. So much potential is there, like the space shonen from earlier this year, ēlDLIVE, but we never see what the show can do or any of its possibilities that is has to offer. All of that is reserved for the manga.  I hope Black Clover is given the opportunity to expand on its story.

In conclusion, give Black Clover a chance to become its own thing. Right now, with only two episodes out, the series has not been given the chance the do that yet. Unless you read the manga, who knows if it just follows the general arc based shonen formula or breaks them off like Hunter x Hunter and Fullmetal Alchemist did. Give it a few more episodes before complaining about it. The show may even surprise you. I hope it surprises me too, because I am not a big manga reader. I haven’t touched manga in a while. Have fun everyone.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Merlin says:

    I think people may dislike it as a shonen anime because it feels not just cliche, but by-the-numbers unvarnished cliche on steroids. Its delivery in the first episode was clumsy and boring, so it feels like a worse example of a formulaic approach. And it’s even annoying, because Asta is annoying and obnoxious. When he keeps pushing as that nun is rejecting his confession, as if he can simply power through the defeat of her refusal and get the victory of her acceptance, that is what seals the deal: annoying. Combine those together and… yeah, lots of hate coming its way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      I’m there in the Asta needs to stop yelling camp 100%, but after seeing Mineta in My Hero Academia be….Mineta…..Asta could be a lot worst in a lot of respects.

      Otherwise, meh. It’s only a first episode of a longer story. Hard to judge things by chapter one, even if it is that cliche.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karandi says:

    The thing I think people need to remember is that most shounen take a while to get going. Admittedly, some of the delivery and direction of the first two episodes of Black Clover haven’t been great, but it has got everything it needs to become a pretty good story at this point and only time will tell whether it gets there. Still, some people aren’t willing to wait and that is there choice.
    I’m wondering what my opinion of Bleach would have been if I’d watched that week to week. I wonder if I ever would have become such a fan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Scott says:

      I guess in this day of age of getting airing anime immediately and other things that are just “speed, speed, speed”, not many people are willing to wait at all.

      Yes, that is an interesting question.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Karandi says:

        It really has changed how we view and respond to stories.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Jon Spencer says:

    My only problem is with all the yelling. If it wasn’t for that I think it would be a fun series to watch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Scott says:

      100% in the “Asta needs to stop yelling” camp.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. magicconan14 says:

    Right there with you in the “Asta needs to stop yelling” camp. Even though I had the volume off while I was watching (spoilers had alerted me to how much Asta yells), you could tell he was yelling at least half his lines in ep 1 alone…then again, as a rough percentage, how many lines has Eren screamed? (I’m not a Shingeki no Kyojin fan, but according to what I know, Eren’s pretty bad about it.)

    Angelic Layer was one of those shows me and my family used to scour the library for DVDs of when internet streaming wasn’t a thing, so my memories of it are very fond. Admittedly, when it’s brought up, Angelic Layer often gets matched with game subgenre counterparts (e.g. Yu-Gi-Oh) and not fantasy adventure (e.g. Black Clover)…but I can see, with the tournament structure, why you’d think that way.

    I also agree with the opinion you had on Eldlive (on my anime list, I’ve noted it “has the trappings of a hit, but doesn’t use them”), although that may be my old Reborn burnout speaking…

    I’m still churning through fall debuts so I may find something to replace it, but for now, I’m being patient with Black Clover and despite my complaints about “shonen formula” affecting it, I’ll keep watching.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      It’s kind of half and half on Eren. Either he yells, or he’s silent and whimpering.

      Oh, don’t take that bit about Angelic Layer in a bad way. I’ve been loving the hell out of it. Episode 7 is everything a shonen series should be. It’s still formulaic though.

      Fair enough. I will see where I stand with the show in a little bit.

      Like

      1. magicconan14 says:

        I wasn’t meaning the thing about Angelic Layer in too much of a bad way either (my language was quite neutral in that part of the comment, so that was my fault) – even after watching a lot more shows after it, I still think it’s unique and one of the better shonen out there too. Still, if you ever get to writing your thoughts about the show, I’ll be sure to tune in.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Scott says:

        I’ll get to it eventually. I’ve been watching it whenever I have the chance too, which isn’t very often recently. I feel like I have too many things on my plate right now…

        Like

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