I promised a post explaining more about magic and politics and here we go. My schedule is freed up from the Soul Eater thing and I have room to breath I recently put Black Clover on hold for a bit because I wanted to read some works that are a bit more substantive as I return to my writing. Usually calling something “lacking in substance” is viewed with the same cringy and repressed excited that a public disciplining of a naughty child is. Not particularly so in this case because while I can say I don’t really care about the plot or characters (Lord Litch and Luck exempt) or world of Black Clover I can definitely say I don’t hate it. It’s more akin to a yappy young sibling standing atop his bed with a plastic sword and paper crown. Spunky, misguided and not concerned with the details to realize the ambitions it set its eyes on. At the same time bundles of fun wrapped up in an earnest package.
You’ll quickly learn to just ignore all the iffy parts that don’t really make sense if you keep with the series and just grow to enjoy the ride in much the same way you eat popcorn knowing it’s not filling the stomach but sure is tasty.
That said Black Clover’s butt is on the paddling block today because as much as I enjoy it, it makes a good lens from which to view bad world build practices and how to avoid them. My more regular readers (assuming those exist) will probably note this is going to be an extension on a vlog I did on the series in which I talk about how Black Clover’s geopolitics are make no sense.
Mainly in this vlog, I talked about how you cannot have Feudalism and also a world of Magic individuals because while it works on an aesthetic level, in reality, it would have collapsed long ago. This indeed extends to other oppressive systems of rule like Capitalism and coming off the heels of my Soul Eater post, Lord Death’s exclusionary rule.
Right now I’m going to establish one general rule that is not that hard to understand but runs deep is going to pervade this entire post:
The reason that oppressive political systems like Feudalism and Capitalism can’t just be mixed with magic without forethought is because, in real life, Power is easy to centralize and maintain.
At this point, the readership splits into two camps. The “Yeah obviously” camp and the “Huh” camp. To which I say “Hi how ya doin’ my dear Huhs? The Yeah obviouslys are gonna leave now and you just sit down and chill why I explain Kay~”
Black Clover and Feudalism: Or Why You Can’t Just Give Everybody A Magical Book
As stated before this is going to be something of an extension on the vlog video above. Feel free to enjoy that.
When humans collectively leveled up from Virgin hunter-gatherer society to Chading it up in the Agricultural Revolution an important shift happened. Because the main source of food now changed from running around for it and instead we could grow and store food, the land in which we picked became a drastically commodity. Food and water being kinda sort of mandatory to survival whoever had the most of it held a degree of influence in the community.
If say that guy didn’t like you come Winter season and your crops just so happened to be ravaged you’d best be kissing the dirt at his feet for some potatoes.
Humans not being ones to understand that Epicurus was right developed a bartering system to resolve such matters. So maybe he asks you to give him one of the horses you painstakingly raised for his farm in exchange for some food or something. Or maybe he has you turn over some land or work his fields etc. You get the picture, he can basically strong arm you because you lack the basic necessities to live. Eventually, his wealth of livestock, crops, land, workers (slaves) and such accumulates and he can build a big ole house called a castle. Say that God gave it to him or something and declare himself lord and collect taxes because he has a military and you have a backhoe.
Cut and dry. Here’s where just giving literally every single person a magical book ruins that.
In Black Clover, every person regardless of who they are can use magic in some capacity. It adheres to general elemental magic generally speaking and ranking up your abilities unlocks similar utility spells like being able to make detailed 3D maps and bind other people. Where this gets kind of iffy in a Feudalism sense is that even low-level magic is usable for everyday tasks. In the first episode, a random background person is shown using a grimoire to dig with a backhoe and Yuno waves his hand to chop along in fours for firewood.
Neat. So how did anyone gain power over anyone else in this world?
Remember beyond the basics needs of life humans don’t really need things like large-scale governmental structures. What magic effectively is, is the refusal of work. Why gather flint and dry leaves to spark a flame when you have magic for that? In giving magic to everyone in you give them power and agency. And governments don’t generally like when the people have power and agency that they can’t control. With earth and plant magic you could till entire fields in a day and then grow enough crops to feed the village in an exponentially smaller amount of time. It makes more sense that societies in Black Clover would have a more horizontal tribalistic structure than a vertical top-down authoritarian structure.
What’s even more bizarre is that these magical grimoires are just straight up given to the teenage population free of charge by the government. Several questions.
1. Why would you give them the means to feed/defend/organize/rebel themselves if you want to control? This might be the only world where Anarchism is viable and you encourage it?
2. What’s the defense plan if you get an Overhaul born out in middle of the boonies and he wants to destroy your kingdom?
3. Does this mean that all you peasant population can read… why… why would you do this to yourself?
Let’s work through these one by one.
1. In Black Clover’s defense, the establishment of the magical knights’ system does sort of mitigate this. They could potentially use some sort of scanning magic to perform efficient censuses of the population and then recruit anyone with talent while also taking away the grimoires of those that don’t comply. They don’t do this, but it’s probably a good idea. As it stands I don’t see how poverty or starvation can ever be issues in this world. It only gets weirder with the introduction of magical items but we’ll come back to that.
2. They don’t have an answer to this. Which is probably why they get attacked on a biweekly basis. Imagine teleporting My Hero Academia’s Overhaul to this time period and being shocked when his Jesus level miracles net him a zealous religious following? Yea that would be pretty silly.
By the way anyone remember Jesus from Drifters? Sort of same principle.
3. No really why can your peasants read? Okay let’s back this up to the Agricultural Revolution, Religion, Myths, and a book by Yuval Harari called Homo Deus. In Homo Deus Yuval explains that during the Agricultural Revolution something of a deal took place between non-animist religions. When humans effectively leveled up and learned they could manipulate the land they now had a new mental conundrum to grapple with. Before they had used animist myths and religions to pass down lessons and morals which, because they were so dependant on the land and animals had caused them to hold a degree of respect for the things they hunted. No bison means no dinner so respect them.
But now that we switched gears to growing them specifically to be eaten and submissive (specifically culling the more rowdy ones) could you call this in line with the animist principal of respecting nature as an equal? What about how certain environmental practices altered the land’s ecology? Myths and stories are how we learn, how we come together, and we pass down values. The Agricultural Revolution brought questions that animist religions largely didn’t answer. So the solution that Theist religions found was to justify the cultural economy was to use cosmological myths to sanctify humans. In theistic religions, there’s always a importance placed on man’s needs. God gives man dominion over animals in Christian mythology. The gods effectively acted as mediators between humans and the ecosystem. Drawing a line in the sand between it and us. And all these stories have different roles to play whether they inform you of different farming practices or what to eat and what not to eat because it maybe be important or poisonous. Which is why shellfish is technically a sin to eat in the Bible.
Yuval calls this the Agricultural Deal. Religions work best when they have a political ideology, something people can align themselves with. That offers benefits, like better crops, the ability to read, moving up the ranks of society.
Good book. Less relevant if your a cyberpunk/noir junkie.
What then… is the point of the church in the world of Black Clover? They do run an orphanage but is this the government’s method of spreading literacy, spread some sort of subservient mentality that the Emperor is given the right to rule by God? I have no answer to this. And neither does Black Clover.
So if the church is just a superfluous entity… and reading doesn’t exist to spread religion which keeps citizens from revolting against the King because that’s what religion does… I don’t see why given peasants the ability to read is in anyway beneficial to the kingdoms of the series. It only gives the people more ways to educate and plot rebellion when they develop a magical printing press and start passing around copies of the Tao Te Ching, Communist Manifesto, and Conquest of Bread.
Dungeons, Mana, Magical Weapons, Healing Herbs and Other Things That Are Probably A Good Thing To Monopolize
So in process of putting Black Clover on hold, I ended up picking up an offshoot of the Magi series, The Adventure of Sinbad. Hopping from one series to series created something of a jarring tone shift. I was thrown from one series that treated magical realism as more of a suggestion to one where the fact that magic literally exists at all is the source of major domestic and geopolitical strife.
In that sense, Sinbad manga makes an interesting source of comparison to Black Clover. As Sinbad also has similar elements in the form of Dungeons, and omnipresent source of Magic that can be called upon (Magoi vs Mana), Magical Weapons and more but handles them much more maturely. Again to repeat, Maturity =/= Immediately better. (At this point I feel like I’m just running defense for people that are going to weaponize this information against the Black Clover fanbase.) While Magi and Sinbad treat magic as an important military asset, Black Clover treats its magical elements more like toys in the chest. Tossing them around willy-nilly when it feels like and then forgetting them literally any other time.
I won’t stand for people calling this inherently bad writing because they’ve forgotten how to have fun. At the same time, I also can’t say I breath a sigh of exasperation when I see people saying they unironically enjoy the world building and calling Black Clover somehow better than other series what take it’s elements seriously.
MY GOD, IT’S GETTING RATHER CENTRIST IN HERE. Not really I just want to use this opportunity to say you’re all idiots. Again. Let’s hop to it~
Dungeons and Magical Weapons: Of Death Traps and Militaries
So because taking a raw, inherently destructive, and largely mysterious, force of nature like magic and condensing it down to a functional and consistent level able to be used on a anti-personal level like a weapon is really hard and likely takes generations of research… what happens when you want to throw one of those magical bad bois at your protagonist… but DON’T wanna fiddle with all that dubious science just yet because it’s boring? You need to raise the stakes so that you can show off the cool stuff you imagined but also don’t just want to hand the characters dangerous super weapons with no trade-off.
This is where the trope of throwing it into a magical dungeon is both fun AND expedient~
It works because you get to explore an exotic local while fending off threats while simultaneously exploring just how strange uncontrolled magic can really get. All with the promise of great riches and power at the end if you achieve the happy end (and not die). If your worried who made these dungeons or why their ancient technology far surpassed modern day works you can take one of two rodes.
A. Make the mystery of the dungeons origins central to the plot.
Both are pretty coolio. Reason option B is viable is because of the natural allure of mystery. Human beings naturally curious buggers. As such the prospect of almost any mystery contains a certain allure to it. The mystery is so potent that it can become a theme and of itself. Think like a Made in Abyss or the Etrian Odyssey franchise. Both of which I am huge suckers for.
It’s for this reason that I think dungeons in both Sinbad and Black Clover are neat while also being a problem for the latter series. Because while dungeons can be incredibly cool ways to test humanities capabilities when faced with the promise of riches and the dangerous allure of the unknown… it’s the fact that they are unknown which means that they must be handled with care. Or else the contents of your reality will shatter. The commonality between both Sinbad and Black Clover is that dungeons are incredibly dangerous territories filled with unknown treasure and resources in the form of ancient technology and well… actual treasure. Where the dynamic split happens is when it comes time to capture one of these dungeons, Sinbad sends a militarized force of hundreds if not thousands, while Black Clover sends a half dozen teenagers.
Time and time again when I ruminate on the practicality flaws of Black Clover’s world it really does stem from that fact that literally, everyone can use magic. Not a select born few like the Benders of Avatar. Not a few elites that have been taught the craft in most series. Just flat out everyone. Not only is any sense of challenge or mysticism stripped as the dungeon is reduced to effectively a loot box, the fact that they are so easy to capture inherently causes another illogical shift in power balances. It’s stated very specifically that dungeons can contain powerful magic and items that could affect the outcomes of battles or even entire countries in Black Clover. So why does the discovery of one not send the entire kingdom into a panic to block off any entry by the civilian population? The super-powered civilian population that is not conscripted into the army?
If dungeons are so easy to capture then in practice they would function more as coming of age trials than anything else. Send in a group of teens that have come of age, make them race to the end, the first person to come out with loot is hailed as on honored warrior for a year or something equivalent. Even more bizarre to me is that the accessibility of the dungeons doesn’t completely warp the cultures around them. In Made in Abyss the entire town is centered around the dungeon. It’s the source that fuels their entire economy. Imagine a desert with a single large oasis themed dungeon in the center. It would become a hotspot for trade, a source of water and by extension give the populace a fish based diet. The various magical weapons retrieved would become heirlooms in the family for generations or at the very least military assets.
This is a sense that dungeons are dangerous places that affect the world with there secrets is felt much more firmly in Magi/Sinbad where new dungeons are treated with a more palpable sense of realism. Why then, did Yuki Tabata insist on this rather bland aesthetic of medieval castles and lords when he could have tapped this well of ideas for all it’s worth and created a much more interesting and creative setting including any minor thing his heart desired to see?
I’m less salty that the danger of the dungeon is downplayed and more disappointed that this endless well of potential remains untapped.
Mana and Magical Herbs: Magical Farming + Super Food = Food Shortages? lul wut
You might notice the theme of this post is, “Taking one miniscule aspect of magic and seeing how far we can exploit it to a logical end” and to that end… let’s have a conversation about farming and ecology.
In my original vlog, I explained that the introduction of high concentration mana areas, which warp the environment around them, only confuses me. Black Clover informs us in no uncertain terms that the orphanage that Asta hails from struggles to always feed the children. But if magic makes life so convenient for all it’s citizens how is that so? Even an old man of low ability and birth could sit in a rocking chair and plow fields like no one’s business. The introduction of mana within the atmosphere and the fact that magical herbs just exist only make it harder to fathom people hurt for nutrition. (Let’s also ignore that if the orphanage does occasionally hurt regularly for food there’s no way Asta would have been able to develop that much muscle. This is a nitpick post primarily but that’s just petty.)
The introduction of magical herbs is only mentioned and ever particularly shown mind you here’s a list of my assumptions to how they work.
1. Natural recovery enhancement: Upon ingesting they either artificially raise the human bodies recovery rate to heal wounds. This would imply that they are costing the ingester nutrients in which case without a steady IV drip of some kind they run the risk of doing damage while the body attempts to regain homeostasis.
2. Magical recovery enhancement: Basically the same as above, but without the tax on the body. Meaning that the plant provides the magic needed to recover/boost the bodies recovery.
3. The “Potion Effect”: It just works bruh. Ingest and be healed. Magic is about the refusal of an explanation so this isn’t far fetched. Think something like Breath of the Archangel from Hunter x Hunter.
In all three of these options, the herbs can be exploited for military purposes. With the exception of #1 needing a little more prework to be used beforehand. If the peasant population wanted to revolt, something that peasants had a tendency to do when dissatisfied, they would overrun the Kingdom almost immediately due to something I’m going to call the “Overheal Effect”.
In Etrian Odyssey the Doctor class has an ability to heal over your maximum hit points temporarily. The implication being of course that their healing, be it induced by magic or herbs can both heal and have a doping effect to push pass natural limits. I suppose you could also extend this to other magical items that would increase defense or attack or what have you. But this is the most understandable example hence why I call it the Overheal effect.
The peasants, being the ones who work the farms could just amass a stockpile of these for their local militia and then send every able body to storm the capital. If the herbs do indeed work as described in #2 or #3 logic dictates you’d never defeat an army with your elite knights unless you slaughter them. One pop of a magical herb pill and they rise back up like zombies. Given the relative ease of dungeon capturing in this world, the peasants could clear one out and come back magical weapons as well.
But this Overheal Effect also brings into question both why farms aren’t set up in high mana concentrated areas to grow both more crops and more magical plants. It also questions why the staple diet of humans isn’t basically “magic vegetarian” in the same way the Irish diet way back when consisted of potatoes.
Typing this out makes me realize it also doesn’t really make sense that the peasants can defend themselves when they get raided by enemies like they did several times in Black Clover… well I just won’t think about it.
The Case of Marx: The Intricacies of Intelligence Gathering and Espionage
At this point, I think I’ve made my point that magic just opens up far too many options for things to operate as we know them today. To wrap this up I want to talk about something a bit higher up on the metaphorical food chain than just… food. The right-hand man of the Wizard King, Marx has a magical ability that allowed him to summon magical structures that can overwrite a person’s free will and give him information.
Kudos to the Julis the Wizard King for picking something of a vital ability to actually running a kingdom. As it allows him to gain information from captives in a way that doesn’t involve painful torture (which is a scientifically bad method of gaining information anyway but whatever). The interrogation scene is actually a really well done one but where’s the fun in the analysis if we don’t take it one step further right?~
So sorry to say, Marx. The information gain from your ability is not absolute.
To set the stage, a little bit. There are two captives under the influence of Marx’s ability. The scene takes place in a dungeon in the presence of all the magical knight captains, the Wizard King, and Asta. The mystery is finding out what happened to the handful kidnapped of barrier mages when the kingdom was assaulted.
Before the interrogation, the captives have a magical spell protecting their minds which prevents Marx’s ability from extracting the information. Asta, having a blade that nullifies magic, just lightly taps them on the forehead to dispel the spell and the interrogation proceeds. The captains gather. The Captain of the Purple Whales is implicated. Marx declares the information he gathers is absolute. The captain of the Purple Whales flees and then is captured.
While this does showcase a clever use of the tools they had available, there exist externalities to this scene that remain unaccounted for. While one of these rears its head the others remain unaccounted for:
Externality 1: One of them, specifically Marx, could be an imposter.
This one is actually confirmed but where I am in the manga I don’t know who. For the sake of this example, it doesn’t matter. The imposter from the antagonist group with the broken power of copy magic. So with the usage of magic, he could have manipulated the captives into implicating the leader of the Purple Whales in two ways.
1: He has been posing for Marx himself. In this way he could remove any knight he wanted by manipulating the “memories” he showed to everyone. Thus anyone could have chosen not just the leader of the Purple Whales.
2. He was posing for one of the people that weren’t, the Purple Whales leader, the Wizard King, Asta, or the captives. The Wizard King wouldn’t have been captured and the Imposter wouldn’t have access to Asta’s anti-magic nullification to undo the spell.
With some covert sound and light magic, he could have manipulated the possibilities from the back. Which is likely considering Marx’s magic digs deep into the subconscious and then drags them back out. The information is not transmitted to Marx’s mind directly.
Externality 2: Memory Alteration, Memory Implantation and Memory Forgification
“BUT WAIT!” I hear you say. “Asta dispelled any magic that was on the captives minds. So this isn’t a closed possibility!?” To which I reply,
“Well, I guess the exact nuances of the series are left to the winds so I can’t blame you for coming to that conclusion. But I’d be disappointed is that’s where your level caps out at, Reader.”
Here we need to draw the line in specifics.
In a world of magic, it’s certainly not impossible to create memories, erase them, block them or alter the details. But the specific nuances of how you do exactly that are incredibly important if your gathering information. Memories can be made of magic, but memories themselves are not magic. They are stored in the brain itself. This means that there are methods of messing with memory that are direct and methods that are indirect.
Direct Memory Tampering: means that you are using magic directly on the structure of the brain. Any memories that you Forge, Alter, or Implant are permanent changes that cannot be regained from a magic method or otherwise. The data literally does not exist there anymore in any form.
Indirect Memory Tampering: means that you are using a magical method to Forge Alter or Implant. This does not affect the brain. Meaning that the data is still there in some capacity or another and is just being covered up.
It’s alot like the difference between making your bed by changing the sheets or making your bed by pulling a large blanket over the whole thing. On the surface, they will appear the same. When Asta dispels the magic on their minds, if they used an indirect method then that would naturally be removed and the information will be untainted. If, however, the method they used was direct then Asta’s blade would have no effect. The weapon only dispels magic. If the information were completely deleted and then completely written into the brain then Marx would have fallen for a very elaborate bait and switch.
Of course, as this is just a popcorn series with no depth none of this actually happens. But the possibilities are endless for failure.
I hope this exercise of examining the nuances of magic has opened eyes somewhat. Magic is not something to be treated particularly lightly as the number of possibilities it allows for open doors you don’t initially expect.
The point of creating this was to equip you with a more prudent eye for seeing those possibilities. When you push the envelope of what you can do… and more important the boundaries of what your readers expect, you’ll be met with unexpected results~
Looking forward to returning to Black Clover in a bit! For now, my eyes are set on The Adventure of Sinbad and World Trigger.
Until next time!