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In the wake of the events involving Ophelia, Clare goes rogue from the Organization to search for Raki, while the Organization, unsure if she is alive or dead, sends one of their best to hunt her down. Chance prevents Clare from staying out of Claymore business for long, however, for when a mortally injured fellow warrior pleads for help to rescue comrades from an Awakened Being-hunting mission gone sour, Clare answers the call. In a dark cavern she finds far more than she or the original team bargained for, for the true denizen of that place is one of the elite of all Awakened Beings, and she has an especially powerful servant at her disposal. Fate also has an appointment for Clare there, for in those desperate battles she discovers valuable new allies, new abilities, and the path to her long-held goal. In the frozen north of Alfons, where Awakened Beings gather in number and Claymores both new and familiar assemble for a grand battle, her destiny awaits.
Claymore has always technically been a more mature shonen series, and with this volume its roots become increasingly prominent. As Clare progresses through the three-part “Witch's Maw” arc and begins the Pieta Campaign arc which dominates the rest of the series, she travels down the well-trod shonen (and, for that matter, fantasy RPG) path of collecting new allies and skills while steadily “leveling up” her power level, all in preparation for her long-sought-after final confrontation against her nemesis Priscilla. And now, with the developments in these four episodes, it seems that she finally also knows which way to go to get there. Eight episodes remain after the end of this volume, and already a climactic convergence with Priscilla is starting to seem inevitable. But is that really any surprise, given the backstory established back in volume 2?
For now, though, that still lies in the future. The writing here may not be quite as sharp as it was in the early going, but episodes 15-18 certainly do not lack for intensity or activity. Characters get tortured, bloody mayhem and mutilated bodies ensue from high-powered combats, new friends appear, and old friends reappear. We also get to see Galatea actually in action – not just as an observer – this time around and learn that her superior long-range yoki-detecting ability is far from the only reason why she carries the Number 3 rank. We also learn about the world's “Big Boss” types and meet one of them, the Creature of the Abyss Riful, a playfully sadistic girl with a vastly more menacing alter ego and an armor-skinned, steel rod-projecting servant. The volume ends with a virtual Claymore overload and the series' first massed Claymore battles, but that action is just beginning in earnest as the credits roll on episode 18. No, the series has not yet revealed the present-time version of Priscilla, and Raki has only scant screen time himself, but the latter is not necessarily a disappointment.
Neither do the battle scenes disappoint, although the series still continues the irksome shonen action practice of pausing for exposition about the situation in the middle of a battle; in fact, this bad habit seems to be getting worse as the series goes on. The noxious cut scenes prevalent in earlier volumes also continue to frequent the action here, but otherwise the animation is quite good and the battle scenes rarely lack for freshness, variety, or appealing choreography. Besides, watching Clare's power-ups to sudden bursts of speed is getting pretty cool, as is the new trick she develops to help bring the fight against Dauf (the armor-skinned Awakened Being) to a close. The newest recurring cast member, the #9-ranked Claymore Jean, also brings a freakish twist to the game with her unusual attack specialty. The special attack of the #8-ranked “Wind-Cutting” Flora, who gets introduced in episode 18, is, by comparison, rather retread. None of the other new Claymores introduced in episode 18 have enough time to demonstrate any new tricks, although the bulky Undine does carry two full-sized claymores.
The standard for visual excellence Mad House set in the first three volumes not only continues but perhaps increases a bit. All of the new featured Claymores have interesting designs (especially the bizarre-looking Undine) and the horde of secondary Claymores who appear in episodes 18 all have distinctive enough appearances to differentiate themselves from each other despite them all having the same hair color and despite the production not being particularly good at associating names with the characters – no small task. Dauf looks ordinary in human form but is suitably monstrous in Awakened form, though his appearance cannot hold a candle to the novelty of Riful's true form. Even she pales beside the beauty of another Claymore's Awakened body, however. The artistry uses its graphic content effectively, whether in the torture scenes in episodes 15 and 16, the mortally wounded Claymore in episode 15, or the simple yet vibrant displays of blood, a stark contrast to the generally depressing color scheme used elsewhere.
The soundtrack also continues to be on the money, especially in moments where it must enhance the creepiness or desperation of a particular scene. The opener and closer remain unchanged.
Funimation's English dub for this series has been largely hit-or-miss, with some excellent individual efforts mixed with roles that seem either miscast or inadequately performed/directed. In this volume the “hits” include Barry Yandell as the Elder Rimuto of the Organization (apparently credited as “Chief”) and the nearly unrecognizable Chris Ayres as Dauf, who makes him sound stupider but arguably improves on the original performance. By contrast, the normally-reliable Laura Bailey is largely a “miss” in using her “Marlene Angel from Blue Gender” pitch for Jean. The jury is still out on Clarine Harp as Undine; she was undoubtedly cast in this role because she has one of the deepest voices of any English voice actress, but in the few lines she has in this volume she struggles to get her pitch masculine enough, and hard-edged enough, to equal Rie Ishizuka's superb original effort. Volume 5, where Undine gets to talk a lot more, will decide her case. Most other new or guest roles are acceptably cast, and performances that have been good or shaky from recurring roles continue to be so. The English script is not the problem this time that it has been the past couple of volumes, and the English 5.1 soundtrack does offer a richer infusion of sound effects, particularly in background wind noise in the Pieta scenes.
In addition to clean opener and closer, this volume includes two other on-disc Extras. One is a short interview with art director Manabu Otsuzuki in which he explains some of the color scheme choices which give this series such a distinctive look, especially the contrasting red and blue tints used in certain prominent scenes in the earliest episodes. The other, this volume's English audio commentary, features associate line producer Leslie Patrick (who, as she explains, finished this volume for Colleen Clinkenbeard after Colleen got called onto another project) and Laura Bailey commenting on episode 16. It's an odd choice, given that Ms. Bailey's character has fewer lines in this episode than in any other in this volume, but is at least mildly informative and entertaining.
Volume four is unlikely to win over anyone still ambivalent about the series at this point, but its flaws are not prevalent enough to discourage anyone who has become a fan of the series, either. It still looks great, still packs a lot of action punch, and provides a full dose of sexy blonde women bashing monsters with big swords.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Great artistry, nicely complementary soundtrack, some strong English dub performances.
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