Welcome to a special anime report! We mentioned this a little in our recent Fall ’17 Half-Term Report, but now Black Clover has had time to get off the mark, I felt it was time to compare these two titles as they vie for the number one spot in the anime industry. With a backstory containing star-studded beginnings, identical protagonists and, oddly, Naruto, this is a story worth getting into while it’s still young!
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Anime is a huge arena, but there isn’t anything that wields such force in the industry as the action series. Classics such as Astro Boy, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and more recent long-running epics such as Dragon Ball and Naruto have come to define what Japanese anime means for many people around the world.
Since the turn of the millennium, these epics have predominantly come in the form of action manga adaptations. These series – such as Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul, and even more recently ONE’s Mob Psycho 100 and One Punch Man – with incredibly branching narratives and a love of fantasy action sequences are, deservedly, the new big-ticket item for many anime production houses.
Last year, the latest major action manga adaptation began, with the much-anticipated adaptation of My Hero Academia. A hugely popular comic series in Japan, the manga started in 2014 and continues to run, while also having spin-off manga and a videogame release! The first season was met with acclaim, nonetheless here at The Culture Cove, and after an equally strong second season this summer, leading towards next year’s season three, My Hero Academia has firmly established itself as another potentially long-running action series a la the manga’s original inspiration, Naruto!
However, as My Hero Academia was revelling in the popularity of its second season, there were rumblings under the anime surface. As season two drew to a close, those rumblings begun to cause ripples on the surface – there was a major anime adaptation about to begin. Not just major, but one of the most anticipated action manga adaptations in years! Studio Pierrot, the creators of many long-running anime hits, none less than the aforementioned Naruto, had acquired the rights to one of the biggest action manga out there. It’s name was Black Clover, and its first season has reached as much hype as My Hero Academia.
Some believe this rough-edged kid is better than it’s clean-shaven cousin, while others believe that it is simply an imposter, keeping the audience occupied before the huge MHA continues next year. These are two series linked from birth, who are now following each other into the global world of anime with the shared ambition to be the biggest series of its time. Here, we take a look at many of the similarities that have made these two not just great in their own right, but one of the most compelling stories in anime going forward.
A JUMP Start
For those unaware, the manga industry in Japan is huge, varied and fast as lightning. Audience specific magazines are released weekly, focusing on not just one major series but showcasing a collection of stories, one chapter a week. The biggest manga magazine, undoubtedly, is Weekly Shounen JUMP. Targeted at the Shonen audience – traditionally a young male audience – JUMP is not only one of the longest running manga magazine, originally released in 1968, but is by a strong margin the best-selling manga magazine in Japan.
JUMP, unsurprisingly, has an awe-inspiring roster of manga comics in its history. Hugely historic anime series such as One Piece, Gin Tama, Hunter X Hunter and Haikyu all started as manga series in the JUMP stable, alongside Culture Cove favourites such as Food Wars and Nisekoi! Of course, this was also the birthplace of the aforementioned Naruto.
In July 2014, My Hero Academia began its serialization, and quickly established itself as a fan favourite. In February 2015, Black Clover started, and has followed a similar path to success in the ultra-competitive manga magazine. It is worth noting that despite it’s popularity, the Black Clover manga is still dwarfed in terms of its popularity by My Hero Academia. However, both have followed nigh-on identical paths, particularly in terms of time but also in terms of success from page to screen.
Same story. Different worlds!
What immediately makes these two shows assured rivals in even the most casual viewer’s eyes is the incredible similarities in their core story. In their essence, both stories follow an nigh-on identical pattern: kid with zero talent uses pure ambition to learn the skill integral to the world he lives in, in order to achieve personal ambition to be number one in said skill. This happens through a mixture of inter-hero battle training and group missions against a growing tree of villains.
However, it is necessary to point out the drastically different worlds these two identical stories take place in.
The variation in the two worlds boils down to past versus future. In My Hero Academia, the aforementioned skill is superpowers. Taking place in modern Japan, specifically in a superhero high-school, MHA is a modern, clean-looking anime series with a myriad of colourful character quirks.
On the other hand, Black Clover takes place in a medieval, pure fantasy world that revolves around magic. Again, the lead fights from the bottom in order to reach his dream of becoming number one, but the earthly, countryside setting creates a noticeably darker setting for the story.
Which is better? Well, it depends on personal taste, and whatever side of this question you find yourself on is probably the biggest indicator to what your favourite series is.
The Lead Characters – From Zero to Hero
Meet Midoriya and Asta, the lead characters in MHA and BC respectively. As mentioned before, the stories are very similar, and that leads to two absurdly similar leads. Both Midoriya and Asta are unique in their worlds for having none of the skill from birth – Midoriya is the only ‘quirkless’ child in his class, and Asta is the only person in his countryside village that can’t use any magic. Still, both of them dream of being number one – the number one superhero and the Wizard Knight, respectively.
Both of them are seemingly on the outskirts of normal society, but still have ambitions like anyone else. In a way, they try to portray the inner thoughts of the majority of young viewers who, like the leads, feel like they need to work harder than everyone else out of a perceived lack of talent. Both work as decent story-drivers, but more than anything are excellent role-models for a young Japanese audience.
Midoriya and Asta are of similar age, and are even of similar height, both smaller than most of the other characters in their shows. The biggest difference is that Asta is definitely a louder character (to the dismay of many), but considering that despite the different worlds both of them excel through absurd physical strength, you could almost swap them into each other’s shows and there would be no need to change the stories whatsoever!
The Rival – Friend or Foe?
This comparison is probably the most interesting one you can do between MHA and BC.
It is worth noting at this point that I am writing this only ten episodes into Black Clover, and as such this could change as the story develops.
To continue the main character’s similarities, both of them have a set rival, someone from their younger years who is trying to achieve exactly the same thing as themselves. For Midoriya in My Hero Academia, this person is Bakugo, a loud-mouthed, overly-aggressive and particularly powerful former bully of Midoriya’s. Bakugo, with Midoriya in the top class at their superhero college, continues to despise Midoriya and his success, despite Midoriya making no effort to reciprocate the rivalry.
In Black Clover, the type of rival is drastically different. While Midoriya’s competition comes in the form of a bully, Asta’s rival is his kind-hearted older brother Yuno! Both children were orphans from birth and Yuno, as they got older, took on the more responsible role of the two. Despite this, Yuno was a weak child, and Asta regularly saved him from trouble. As such, the two brothers have a rock-like bond, full of love and respect for each other. However, both of them have the same ambition, to be the Wizard King, and despite wishing each other the best of luck, neither wants to lose to the other.
It’s interesting that two incredibly similar tales take unique angles on their rival. Bakugo is a relatively unlikable character, whereas for many, including me, Yuno is the better person of the two brothers! Also, it’s worth noting that while Bakugo is in the same class as Midoriya, making the two of them constantly around each other, Asta and Yuno have been completely separated in BC, joining different squads at completely different sides of the magic spectrum. It will be interesting how this plays out, from their point of view.
There are often similar shows, and there are often shows in similar genres that are forced to compete for each other’s fans. Very rarely, though, is there such similarities as there are here.
While My Hero Academia has got to the anime scene first, Black Clover is the dominant force still in this anime cycle, as it looks to close the gap on its cousin. While, for now, the two series are avoiding each other – Black Clover S1 started just as My Hero Academia S2 finished – with Black Clover reportedly running for 51 episodes, and My Hero Academia about to hit that mark when S3 begins in April 2018, these are two action anime on a major collision course. They will likely run side-by-side next year, and it will be then, on a level playing-field, that will determine which series becomes the new king of the Shonen anime in Naruto’s absence, and which will forever be the gimmick, the bridesmaid to the groom, the ageing prince stood behind anime’s new king.