Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 19th 2008
Claymore + Artbox
In a land plagued by yoma (shape-changing monsters who eat human innards and can disguise themselves as humans), only female warriors of a nameless Organization from the land of Sutafu have the power and battle skill necessary to defeat the menace. Called Claymores or “silver-eyed witches,” these half-human warriors use their half-yoma nature to call upon the strength and durability required to use big swords to strike yoma down. Their might comes at the cost of being feared and distrusted by the humans they are sworn to protect and never harm, and those that use too much of their yoma power risk turning into yoma themselves, a fate which results in death at the hands of their comrades-in-arms. Clare is one such Claymore, an emotionless young woman who lives only to do her yoma-slaying work until Raki, a boy whom she rescued from the yoma who killed his family, starts tagging along. While she answers the call to kill a fellow warrior who has reached her limit and infiltrates a holy city to seek out a yoma hiding in its cathedral, her association with Raki gradually starts to open up a heart closed long ago.
Many years in the past, another warrior known as Teresa of the Faint Smile, who is renowned as the most powerful of all Claymores, rescues a girl who had been used as a toy and cover story by a yoma. Despite her best efforts to discourage the mute, abused child, the callous, businesslike Teresa cannot seem to rid herself of the girl. And as it turns out, she has a very familiar name. . .
“Girls with guns” has been a popular subgenre of action anime since at least the mid '80s, so why not a “sisters with swords” variation? Claymore is exactly that.
Based on the popular manga by Norihiro Yagi, this anime version is (at least at this stage) a faithful adaptation of Yagi's grim, violent fantasy story about blond-haired, silver-eyed, statuesque female warriors who use big swords and the strength of a human/yoma hybrid to go around slaying monsters. Its dark overtones and blood-soaked style evoke frequent favorable comparisons to Berserk, which is probably its closest spiritual cousin within anime ranks. It also shares many common style points with shonen action series, but to dismiss Claymore as just the newest flavor of shonen action tale would be a big mistake.
The basic ideas underlying the plot and structure are familiar enough. Stories about lone, stoic warriors, hybrids called upon to combat the denizens of their nonhuman half despite being feared and mistrusted by those they protect, and a hanger-on accepted by the hero who gradually humanizes the hero have populated anime for decades, but this one puts a notably different spin on the standard formulae through a gender role reversal. This time the warrior is a woman and the clingy, passionate one is a young man, and perhaps partly because of that, this time around the story carries signifiant weight.
For all the action, graphic content, and inhuman elements, the story actually has a surprisingly human feel. Clare convincingly gives off the vibe of a person who has been so desensitized by life and past trauma that she has lost her heart, soul, and sense of self-value, and Raki is convincing (if occasionally annoying) as the stripling who offers her the way to retrieve them again despite Clare's repeated attempts to maintain that she doesn't care. That some of the same sentiments have already started to show in the crucial backstory arc, which begins in episode 5 and lays the foundation for how and why Clare became a Claymore, offers a neat sense of parallelism. (Much more on this will be discussed in the volume two review.) The series also plays up the public distrust of Claymores well without going over the top, painting them much more as figures of dread than glorious heroes. They are also, in a sense, tragic figures, since the process of becoming a Claymore is apparently an excruciatingly unpleasant one, and for all of their power, the fate which awaits all of them is a grim one indeed.
The action component is arguably one of the series' two biggest draws, however, and the first five episodes do not disappoint. Limbs and heads fly, bodies are skewered or cut in twain, and lots of both human and off-colored inhuman blood splatters the scenes. None of the fights lack for intensity or dramatic effect, thanks in no small part to a soundtrack which throws out both heavy rock and harsh, weirdly discordant electronica themes to juice up the tension and ambiance. The animation is even good in what does get animated, but irritatingly, the fight scenes also use an overabundance of cut frames to emphasize dramatic movements. Even so, watching female warriors swinging around huge swords to slice and dice yoma, or just walking in a slow, deliberate gait that in many ways is just as fearsome as their action mode, has an undeniable visual appeal.
And that would be the series' other primary draw: the appeal of its Claymore character designs. With her short blond (the manga explains it as bleached) hair, silver eyes which turn bestial yellow in battle mode, and slender, sexy build, Clare is an attention-catching figure whether clad in civilian clothes, civilian fighting garb, or the standard Claymore uniform of a body suit, cape, and armor trimmings, whereas Teresa, when she appears in episode 5, is a more substantial, physically imposing, and thoroughly beautiful woman. In fact, all of the Claymores who appear in the opener have equally striking appearances while also offering a vast visual variety – not an easy task, given that all of them have basically the same hair color and similar apparel. Their transformed, yoma-juiced battle forms are also suitably fearsome. Rubel, Clare's handler, is satisfyingly creepy in appearance, and Raki offers a clean-cut look that, again, stands apart from the anime norm, as do the two guards in the Rubona story. Even the young Clare in the flashback episode has her own unique look; she is not your typical cutesy anime girl at all, although signs of her eventual adult beauty show through even at that age. On the downside, the designs for villagers and commoners, while still well-drawn, tend to blend into one another; one mustached innkeeper looks almost exactly like another. Yoma designs impress less, shading more towards generic monster looks. Excellent background art, especially in its village layouts and building architecture, a commendable use of a drab color scheme only occasionally punctuated by brightness, and interesting use of lighting effects compensates for the minor deficiencies elsewhere, however. Overall, Madhouse offers an impressive visual effort.
The swords used by the Claymores also deserve special mention, as they are some of the most distinctive designs of their type likely to be found in any anime. Although presumably Claymores are called what they are because of their swords, their primary weapon actually bears only a superficial resemblance to the famous Scottish broad sword, mostly in the structure of the cross guard. (The historical two-handed claymore was actually on the small side as weapons of its type went, unlike a Claymore's weapon.)
Another strong point is the series' use of sound effects, especially in the unnerving sounds which accompany the transformation scenes but also in points as simple but impactful as the click of a Claymore's armored boots on the cobblestones. Couple them with a highly effective music score which ranges the gamut from bagpipe themes to electronica to hard rock and you have a great-sounding series. The opener “Raison D'être” by Nightmare (who also did the first OP and ED for Death Note), with its memorable core guitar riff and perfectly-synched visuals, merits repeat viewings, while closer “Danzai no Hana~Guilty Sky” by Riyu Kosaka offers nearly as strong an appeal.
Funimation's English dub features Stephanie Young (Miranda in Solty Rei, Sophia in Aquarion) as Clare and Todd Haberkorn, who also directs this volume, as Raki. Both roles are competently-performed and suit the characters but may require some getting used to for those who have watched the series subbed, as their vocal qualities are distinctly different from the originals. (Given that Motoki Takagi's original rendition of Raki often grated on the nerves, though, that isn't necessarily a Bad Thing.) R. Bruce Elliott is wonderful as Rubel, giving him a soft, silky-smooth voice laden with smarminess and subtext which trumps the original performance. No one should be disappointed with the performance of Christine Auten as Teresa, either, as she hits exactly the right balance of haughtiness and callous disdain. The English script does not vary too much, though it does downplay the use of “innards” seen in the subtitles and occasionally drops or adds minor background lines.
Funimation has been fond of providing voice actor cast auditions as one of the Extras on many of their releases, and they do so here. Be forewarned that at least one of the auditions contains a significant spoiler for later in the series, although newcomers are unlikely to appreciate its meaning yet. The other on-disks Extras are textless songs and an audio commentary for the first episode featuring Mr. Haberkorn and Ms. Young, in which Todd alludes to fan commentary he's read in online forums (including ANN's, where he has been known to pop up) while also asking fans to give him a chance with the material, as he has studied it quite thoroughly. Comments are otherwise mostly typical commentary track fare. The DVD case art, which shows Clare twisted around, is not an especially flattering picture, but the optional art box features much better work. The latter also includes a 32 page booklet which contains detailed character and image profiles and transcriptions of production personnel interviews, as well as a sharp full portrait of Clare. However, this booklet contains numerous and sometimes massive spoilers for later in the series and so is only recommended for perusal by those who have already seen the series; especially do not flip past page 5 until you have at least seen episode 8.
Funimation has shifted mostly to releasing box sets of series over the course of the year, but this is one of the few titles they have felt confident enough in to release in individual-volume format. After seeing the first volume, it will not be hard to understand why, as it has not only a great look but ample amounts of the kind of content American anime fans eat up. While not without some flaws, the first five episodes generally get the series off to a strong start, practically assuring that Funimation has a solid hit on their hands.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Claymore designs, plentiful intense action, musical score, some English casting choices.
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