Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 24th 2008
Teresa of the Faint Smile, the mightiest of all warriors, has ever fulfilled her duties with callous, businesslike efficiency, but even this indomitable warrior cannot resist the unwavering empathy of a determined young Clare. In this tearful girl Teresa finds the human connection she has long been missing, and thus is unable to abandon the girl to an awful fate even though it means violating the Organization's most sacred rule: never kill humans. The Organization allows no extenuating circumstances, so when Teresa rejects her execution, declaring that she now has something else to live for, the Organization sends its ultimate hit squad after her: a team composed of the next four highest-ranked warriors, including the fledgling #2-ranked Priscilla, who has the potential to eventually surpass even Teresa. In that epic confrontation is sown the seeds of the future, for both good and ill.
In the present day, Clare's persistence earns her a spot on a team of four warriors assigned to hunt down an Awakened Being. As she and her fellow warriors “Phantom” Miria, Helen, and Deneve all soon discover, though, their foe is an especially powerful and dangerous one who represents one of the Organization's nasty secrets.
The first few episodes dropped hints that the process of becoming a Claymore is a decidedly less than pleasant one, but what kind of forces have to be in play for a young woman to actually want to become one? What has to happen for her to subsume any chance at a normal life, and set herself permanently apart from the rest of society, in order to live and die to hunt down monsters? And what kind of tragedy does it take for a person to close off her heart to the point that she becomes a passionless killer? These are the questions the second volume deals with, and more, and the way in which they are handled is one of the chief reasons why episodes 6-10, which finish out the backstory arc and cover most of the “Those Who Rend Asunder” arc, stand as the best run of episodes in the whole series. Whether you seek answers, insights, action, or achingly sad drama, you will not be disappointed.
You will have to tolerate a lot of blood and gore in your violence, however. Much moreso than in the first volume, Mad House spares little effort to soften the blows that fall. Severed limbs, bodies cut asunder, decapitations, skewerings, and scenes of grisly carnage are the norm, their brutality lessened only slightly by the purplish hue given to Yōma blood and the series' annoyingly frequent use of cut scenes in fights. Some of it – such as a penchant for eruptions of blood from slash wounds to the shoulders that were dealt seconds earlier – is outright laughable, but a cringe-worthy torture scene in episode 10 is not.
The storytelling offers so much more than that, however. It reveals critical structural details, such as the ultimate fate of Claymores who lose control of their powers, what Voracious Eaters really are, some of the history of the Organization, what level of power release in a Claymore is indicated by what effect on her body, and the ranking system amongst the Claymores. (What rank is Clare? See episode 9.) It introduces several new Claymores, many of which will make return appearances later in the series, as well as their signature moves. It also shows in convincing fashion why Teresa is the most powerful of all Claymores, so much so that her handler calls her a monster.
But most importantly, it tells the backstory of Clare and shows how her relationship with Teresa led to current circumstances. Those who initially latched onto the series because of the adult Clare may find their patience growing thin with a 4+ episode backstory arc placed so early in the series, but as the series progresses viewers will come to appreciate how nearly everything which happens in the current timeline, whether it be plot elements, behavior traits, or personal motivations, is at least an indirect result of what happened back then. The parallels between the adult Clare and Teresa are strong and deliberate, and the symbolism inherent in them sharing the names of the world's twin goddesses of beauty and love is hard to ignore. Contrasting with them is Priscilla, who represents the less stable side of what can happen to the psyche of a person exposed to extreme trauma. Together the three turn episode 8 into a powerhouse story that packs one hell of a gut punch.
The return to the present in episodes 9 and 10 offer the first example of Clare actually working with other Claymores, albeit with some antagonism at first. Though this arc offers plenty of revelations and seems to climax at the end of episode 10, its true significance will not become apparent until the first episode of the next volume.
The action component is one of the series' key selling points, and these episodes certainly offer no shortage of that. The highlight action scene is the four-on-one Claymore battle which attempts to eliminate Teresa, but the Awakened Being battle in episode 10 also achieves its share of intensity, while Teresa's pivotal showdown with the bandits in episode 6 shows exactly why it's not wise to rankle exceptionally powerful individuals; nowhere do the silver eyes of a Claymore look more fearsome than at that time. As thrilling as the battles can be, though, the animation limits their full impact by watering down movements with cut scenes and still shots. (Compare them to fight scenes in Moribito to appreciate the difference.) Only in a few brief moments does the combat animation fully shine, with tricks like the sudden-swift movements of certain characters and bad guys used to dodge around budget limitations. Even so, what is animated looks very good.
In fact, the entire series looks very good, with each of the new “named” Claymores (most of whom are featured in the opener) getting a look that is not only distinctive but also suits her personality well. Monster designs, with one notable exception, may be more generic, but no anime series has female warriors who look like these and few do as good a job at visually portraying their female leads as both sexy and intimidating. High-quality background art occasionally contrasts a little too much with character animation, but human/Claymore blood stands out more marvelously well. Claymore may not have the dazzling look of Moribito, and may have more rough spots, but it does plenty well enough.
While the musical score falters slightly in one or two places, those minor deficiencies are more than balanced out by everything the soundtrack does right, especially in its fight scenes and ominous moments. The audio commentary for episode 8 points out how well the musical themes reflect the characters featured in a given scene and her mental state, and that observation has merit. The invigorating opener, though skipped in one episode, remains, as does the dramatic closer.
Given the high-profile nature of the series and breadth of female roles, Funimation had to choose carefully for the casting on the English dub, and for the most part they chose well. Though they may bring somewhat different vocal qualities to the table, Wendy Powell is an excellent fit as “Quick Sword” Ilena (yes, they use that instead of the “Irene” seen in some other translations), Brina Palencia serves well as Priscilla, and Jamie Marchi seems the natural choice for the attitude-laden Helen. Monica Rial as Miria is a more iffy fit, and Colleen Clinkenbeard is an interesting but not inappropriate choice for Galatea. The English dub takes a wholly different approach than the Japanese dub to handling some intricacies of Priscilla's voice at certain points, using layering techniques rather than artificially deepening it and making it sound like the actor is talking out of the back of her throat, as the Japanese dub does. Given that this effect comes up multiple times later in the series, the approach here is likely a harbinger of things to come. The caliber of the voice acting is up and down, though some of the flattest lines can be attributed to equally flat dialogue.
A much greater problem is the English script, which in typical Funimation style modifies the original quite a bit in places. Usually this is done effectively to make the dialogue flow well in English, but here – and especially in episode 10 – the alternate dialogue gets in the way as much as it helps. It takes one of the series' best lines and replaces it with trite garbage, both replicated below:
(Original:) “Despair? After we've suffered only this much? I've faced a far greater opponent and know what true despair is.”
(English:) “Pull it together. Despair will get us killed. This battle has gone on long enough. This Awakened Being is powerful, but it will not leave here alive.”
This replacement cannot be blamed on the need to adjust for lip-synching, either, since the viewer cannot see Clare's mouth in this scene. Episode 6's English script also comes dangerously close to screwing up a key emotional scene, too. Granted, the original dialogue was not flawless, but this is not one of Funimation's better rewriting efforts. The English direction also makes the interesting but questionable choice to consistently pronounce “Deneve” with three clear syllables.
The aforementioned audio commentary, which features Brina Palencia and Wendy Powell, includes highlights such as Brina's description of the layering techniques used in voicing her character at key points in episode 8 and both commenting on their reactions (widely-shared by fans) to episode 8's defining scene. A short Q&A session with Japanese director Hiroyuki Tanaka and textless opener and closer make up the other on-disc Extras. Unlike the first volume, this one does not include a spoiler-laden liner book.
The episodes contained in this second volume are certainly not without flaws. The series rigorously adheres to some cumbersome shonen action standards, such as characters making impractically long-winded expositions in the middle of fights, cumbersome info dumps on how powers work, and those damnably frequent cut scenes in fights. Its writing also conveniently leaves the Claymores ignorant on basic information about the Organization that one would expect to be part of standard warrior training, seemingly as an excuse to reveal it to viewers at the same time – again, an inelegant approach. These episodes do far too much too well to hold those flaws against it, however, and the writing does even stay loyal to the original manga. If the first volume got you interested, this one should lock you in.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Intense, well-staged fight scenes, distinctive character designs, excellent storytelling.
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