How does a full 24-minute episode wind up feeling as short as this one does? (And I don't mean that in a good way.)
Certainly, starting off with nearly 3½ minutes of recap and ending with a “Petit Clover” segment significantly cuts into the run time, but there's more to it than that. After the dramatic and impactful events of last episode, this episode spends most of its run time just dithering around, even though the Black Bulls are in the middle of a genuine crisis. Sure, a group going rogue within the kingdom and abducting both civilians and Magic Knights may not be an apocalyptic-level event, but it is still a pretty big problem. At least it moves the story along eventually.
The nature of the problem here is also why Damnatio is even more frustrating here than he has been before. Given his absolute stance on justice, I figured that he might take an interest in what is going on with the Devil Banishers, who are clearly acting in an extrajudicial manner. Nope – he only cares that Gauche vented his frustration over Marie's kidnapping in a quite understandable case of mistaken blame, and anything else going on with the case is beneath him. He does not even react when Yami points out that Damnatio's gung-ho subordinate is conspicuously absent. This, combined with the way he said certain things last episode, suggests that he tacitly approves of what the Devil Banishers are doing, which seems contradictory to his character. Frankly, I detest him as a character.
Yami definitely isn't taking this calmly, though; in fact, this is one of the rare times to see him truly angry over something other than someone in his squad being stupid again. Gauche losing his head over Marie and Noelle getting frantic over the unconscious Asta are to be expected, but the bigger surprise is that Nozel also gets directly involved. Parsing out his motives here is a more interesting exercise than contemplating the stone-faced Damnatio; maybe helping the sister he's now acknowledging is part of it, or perhaps the visit to the outlying village a couple of episodes back is still having a lingering effect? The most likely explanation is that he is aware of what Asta can do and is no longer letting the fact that Asta is a commoner get in the way of appreciating how valuable Asta (and perhaps to a lesser extent Nero) will be to the upcoming Spade Kingdom conflict. Or he could just be the random add-on; sometimes, it is difficult to tell how serious or shallow this series is trying to be.
The other interesting bit here is that Asta has been sleep-poisoned, which means that he is entirely out of action for this episode and probably the next one as well. This is an unusual move for a story arc where events still involve him. The impression that the ruined village has on the Black Bulls is also a good addition that maintains the arc's theme, and the encounter at the end offers some interesting possibilities for how things will play out. Kudos also to Nero's quick-thinking for snagging Asta's tracker bracelet.
This is a very different kind of challenge than those that the Black Bulls have faced before – something that couldn't be completely resolved by simply powering through it or enduring on guts. How will they handle it?