Black Clover #63

Storyboard/Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara

Chief Animation Supervisors: Itsuko Takeda, Shiro Shibata

Animation Supervisors: Eri Irei, Toshiya Kawano, Makoto Shimojima, Satoru Shiraishi, Aya Takafuji, Mayumi Nakamura, Azure, Tatsuya Yoshihara

Key Animators: Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi, Toru Iwazawa, kai, kasen, Shota Sannomiya, Tarou Tanaka, nakari, Shoutarou Denhanein, meshiya, yama (Yuuki Yamashita), Gem, Pebble, Moaang, Isuta, ebakask (Yuzu Kusakabe), Kosuke Kato (pen-name), Yusuke Kawakami, Kai Shibata, Kai Ikarashi (pen-name), Hayato Nishimaki, Tatsuya Miki, Tatsuya Yoshihara, gosso.blend, Till, mol, Shun Enokido (NC), (+ likely others NC), Jiwoo Animation

     They say history repeats itself but who could’ve thought that almost exactly one year to the day that Fate/Apocrypha #22 delivered an industry defining spectacle we would be treated to something of similar ilk, perhaps with even more controversy, from the unsuspected Black Clover! There is not a series director in the business more deserving of such an epic moment of triumph than Tatsuya Yoshihara. I will spare you all the gory details of Black Clover’s miserable production but know that it was doomed from the very start. Inheriting the already bleak husk of Twin Star Exorcists’ staff a mere 5 months after it ended surely did not help the pre-production. Furthermore, losing relied upon outsourcing studios Amo and drop to bankruptcy, as well as a production desk manager (person in charge of keeping the schedule in order) that either got fired or quit after two cours.  It is fair to say Yoshihara likely took up this role in the meantime (uncredited) whist regularly serving as his own animation producer. He has always been a digital animation captain that like-minded youngsters tended to rally around, so in a way he was a perfect fit for this job seeing as his connections could land him the staff that Pierrot was not supplying from within simply due to being already depleted on so many other projects. Speaking of those connections and getting back to the main topic at hand, they were very much put to work here with a large bulk of the animation staff scouted from twitter. Be it professionals, students, aspiring animators, Nintendo flip-note artists, or whatever brilliance this is, it can be marketed as a truly global animation event much like it’s contemporary Boruto #65. However, where Boruto combined veterans and new comers for a more traditional take, this one takes the idea of wild young guns to a whole new level through the use of some experimental tools!

     Animation has always been propelled by a force where innate drawing talent is prioritized over rigorous schooling and that mentality has only increased over the years. We’re at the point where this age of digital sakuga has created an environment wherein literally anything is possible. And that is exactly what we see in this divisive episode. Any sort of coherence to the norm is defiantly tossed aside as this younger generation of artists carve their names into the annals of animation history. What struck me most, and should be abundantly obvious to most viewers is the integration of Blender, a 3D computer graphic software, introduced to the industry by none other than the leader in innovation: Ryosuke “Ryo-timo” Sawa. As shiny new techniques are oft to do it has become a tool that younger generation animators such as the star of this episode (and the whole series in general) Yusuke Kawakami picked up and experimented with to great results, adding huge dynamism to his work in Black Clover #35 for example! Here in #63 he takes it to another level. This is pure animation kineticsm augmented by the 3D environment Asta and Ladros are racing through. Very reminiscent of another iconic yet controversial high-speed chase scene, minus the Blender tool of course.  If you need any more proof of how much freedom they had look no further than the way the lava tsunami was rendered. Never before seen levels of experimentation and I think it mostly works in the context of this particularly wild scene. 

     There is an even bigger elephant in the room though- and it’s fitting I should call it that because this 69 second long, uninterrupted cut by Shota Goshozono is MASSIVE. This has already been met with a ton of animosity and it will be one of the reasons this episode will be revisited in conversations for a long time. I think it is fair to dislike it in all honesty, as it is plainly put, unfinished work. Despite the healthy schedule for this particular episode it simply was a case of being far too ambitious for it’s own good. But that ambition is something that needs to be celebrated rather than scoffed at! This was the perfect situation to try something off the board- quite literally as Goshozono and Kawakami story boarded their own sequences. The drive and passion to shake things up  shines through in practically every facet of this 20 minute long sakuga festival. I find it tragically ironic that Black Clover as a series receives so much criticism for boring visuals and being one recycled shonen trope after another, yet when it dares to be different and push the medium forward as we see here, it’s met by the masses with contempt at best and disgust at worst…

     The Blender shenanigans were far from the only highlights however. It is impossible to not be invoked by a deep sense of intrigue as newcomer Tatsuhiro Ariyoshi utilizes paint to portray Asta being overwhelmed by the demon energy. Such a raw scene and yet the warmest moment comes when we learned his mom helped him color it! Never has something so terrifying been so wholesome. 

     Sticking with the red and black theme, Asta’s plunge into the abyss was handled by the series’ regular savior Isuta. Very powerful imagery as our hero reaches for the light but is unable to grasp it– the loose drawings sustain the feeling of Asta slipping away. Isuta has been a godsend to this production from the start, often working ridiculous hours correcting the mountains of outsourced animation that comes in. To be able to see him dedicate some time to a truly memorable scene is huge treat for fans, as his work is often held back by the harsh scheduling realities.

     This episode also had a number of animators working either uncredited or under suspiciously meme-filled pseudonyms. One such individual threw Black Clover fans into a frenzy when the next episode preview a week prior to #63 teased a hyper-limited Kanada dragon, prompting all kinds of guesses and speculations as to who this mystery person could be. As it turns out, often the most obvious guess is the correct one! Kai Ikarashi whom many might be familiar with if they followed SSSS.Gridman this season found the time after that production wrapped up to contribute a marvelous scene that manages to stand completely on it’s own. He has rapidly become one of the most interesting creators the industry has to offer at the moment so it will be very cool to see where his career takes him next.

     One of the more underrated parts of the episode (perhaps because everyone is too busy staring at that beefy Asta!) is the way Gem managed to morph these crows. By her own admission she said this scene was a pain to animate and it really shows, such meticulous detail in the way they converge! Very worthy of praise from a legend like Mitsuo Iso.

     There are endless scenes I could continue to call attention to, from the way Kosuke Kato combines his evocative limited style with large sweeping smears, to the wobbly greatness in the first cut found here by Till. Dare I say Toru Iwazawa’s epic scene almost looks conventional with how erratic the rest of the episode is. No less great of course, there are some phenomenal Asta drawings and the movement in the sky battle is simply incredible. Finally, a literal blood bath– the camera panning is outstanding and sells the confused look on Vanessa’s face perfectly. 

     Black Clover #63 more than accomplished what it set out to do. It injected tremendous life into a production begging for mercy and managed to capture the frenzied state of Asta’s demon form perfectly. All while pushing the limits of new experimental techniques that, while not as polished as it could be, show a clear intention to drive innovation forward. This trend of creative young animators joining from all over the globe to collaborate on TV projects is starting to become an exciting recurring theme and as someone that has been through the highs and lows of every episode of Black Clover so far, I’m glad this series could be graced with their presence.