In Black Clover 33, “To Help Someone Someday”, Asta and two companions battle to rescue a group of children from the nefarious mages who seek to extract their magic. One of his allies is a fellow young Black Bull, Gauche; the other is the old nun who cares for many of the kids in that village, much as Sister Lily cared for the orphans of Asta’s hometown.
They square off against three enemies: two brothers who were tasked with the kidnapping, and a crazy scientist woman who is obsessed with dissecting Asta. As the fight unfolds, part of it evolves into a showdown between the scientist and the nun. Which raises the question…
Is this a “science vs. religion” stereotype?
While BC can be pretty stereotypical as a Shonen story—I did describe it once as “Naruto without ninjas”—that’s not the case here. If you were to make a list of values that our society tends to consider “good” (or “more desirable”) and “bad” (or “less desirable”), I’m betting it would include entries similar to these:
Good: Young, Sexy, Science
Bad: Old, Ugly, Celibate, Religion
Obviously, I’m oversimplifying here: If more than half of Americans are religious, then doubtless they don’t consider religion to be a bad thing. (I’m including Christianity in “religion” for simplicity’s sake: The “I’m not religious, I’m Christian” discussion can be had another day.) And yet, in the public forum, it is secularism (which is a-religious) that sets the default values and assumptions that people enter into conversation with. Similarly, the common assumption is that it’s better to be young than old: We can take a contrary position, but the fact that we will feel the need to justify it means we’ve already acknowledged that it is a contrary one.
Which makes it that much more delightful to watch Black Clover flip these values on their collective head. It’s the old, ugly, celibate nun who stands uncompromisingly on the side of good, and who (leading Asta and Gauche) delivers a curb-stomp beat-down to the young, bikini-flaunting scientist who wants to kidnap children, extract their magic, and dissect Asta.
The nun—I can’t remember her name, if it’s been given, as everyone just calls her “hag”—is obviously intended as a virtuous and religious character. (Whatever religion looks like in the Astaverse. It’s not really been explored, though clearly modeled on Roman Catholicism and/or Anglicanism.) In her youth, she was a magic knight herself, and good enough at her job to train up none other than Fuegoleon Vermillion. However, her experience in war opened her eyes to the fact that, as she puts it, in war it is always the weak who suffer, especially innocent children. So she retired from the knights and became a nun, serving in an orphanage. When the children of the town, including the orphans, are kidnapped, she sets out almost alone to save them. And later on, when Asta is staring down an enemy that, for once, even he is helpless against, she blocks the attack with her own body. It’s not clear yet whether she survives, but it is clear that death was a strong possibility when she acted. “No greater love” and you know the rest.
Based on what I’ve said so far, one might be pardoned for thinking that Black Clover is presenting a reactionary point of view: Old is good, new is bad; religion is good, science is bad; etc. In fact, through the nun emphasizes the goodness of a balanced “both/and” outlook on reality. She gave up fighting to become a nun, but when the situation calls for fighting she has no trouble switching back into her old role. When her comrades ask whether she can help fight, she says that younger people have more mana, but older people have more efficient mastery of their mana. As the oldest person present, she also upholds most the value of the very young: teaching young Vermillion, dedicating her life to helping orphans, and risking everything to save the kidnapped children. She also tells Asta that in war, it is the weak who suffer, especially innocent children—and that is the very reason that made her become a nun instead of a warrior.
And while she doesn’t make her opinions on science explicit, no where does she give any indication that she objects to it. Her sole reason for fighting Sally (the mad scientist woman) is to protect children—and that she feels very strongly about, and doesn’t bother to hide it!
There’s still one “good/bad” pair that needs to be addressed. Since the nun overpowers the scientist, what about strength vs. weakness? Is power good and weakness bad?
Black Clover flips this over, too, in a couple of ways. For one thing, the nun herself insists on the value of the weak, especially children as mentioned above. For another—and we’re moving dangerously close to significant spoiler territory here—when the nun defeats Sally, a new and vastly more powerful enemy appears: Licht. Licht is nothing if not strong and evil.
Licht easily thwarts Asta’s clumsy assault and then attacks him with blades of light, which the nun intercepts with her own body. Long lacking those things that the world holds valuable, and now deprived of most of her strength and life, what does the nun have left to her? Only that she has been on the side of good: she has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. She has laid down her life for her friend. And if Black Clover is right, that’s what matters most.