Reviewby Theron Martin, May 28th 2009
In snowy Pieta the battle heats up as five teams of Claymores confront the Awakened Beings sent by Isley, the Silver King of the North. In the wake of the fight various Claymores begin to bond as their life-or-death struggles bring them closer together. As the Claymores soon learn, though, those three were only the scouts; the real strike force comes later, with much greater numbers and led personally by Rigaldo, the Silver-Eyed Lion King and Isley's chief subordinate. When the Claymores put up unexpected resistance despite being underpowered compared to the enemy, Rigaldo enters the fray himself to do his own version of head-hunting, and he is a foe that none of them are prepared to handle.
Meanwhile, Raki has also headed north. In the ruins of a town which had been overrun by monsters he encounters a strange girl and the feather-caped man traveling with her. Both, as Raki soon learns, have very significant names, and their path to destiny, like his, also leads to Pieta.
The backstory arc in episodes 5-8 is widely-acknowledged amongst fans as the best run of episodes in Claymore. If that is accepted as true, then episodes 19-22, which compose the bulk of the massed Pieta battles, is arguably the second-best run. Nowhere else in the series are more Claymores in action at the same time, and despite that nowhere else in the series do the battles flow more smoothly. Granted, the staging of these battles is nearly an exact replica of the way they play out in Norihiro Yagi's source manga, but Mad House deserves a lot of credit for keeping the action always hopping (sometimes literally!) and giving all of its key Claymores a chance to show off. The combined effort makes for a pair of thrilling and intense battle sequences, one constituting most of episode 19 and the other comprising most of episodes 21 and 22.
For all of the glorious – and bloody – action going on, the character development-focused episode 20, sandwiched in between the two main battle scenes, may be this volume's greatest strength. That episode reminds viewers once again that, for all of their great power, flashy moves, and half-Yōma natures, the Claymores are still human at heart, and thus have common human fears and insecurities. The looks into the backgrounds of Undine and Deneve make their bonding (of sorts) convincing and are done without the rampant background overkill too commonly seen in longer-running shonen action series, while glances at minor characters show that the Claymores are hardly universally steadfast in battle. Raki's separate encounter with a startlingly different-looking and different-acting Priscilla (oh, come now, who didn't expect her to pop up again?) shows that Priscilla's earlier Awakening hardly solved her issues; she is, if anything, even more screwed-up than she was in the backstory arc. Those scenes with Raki also lay a crucial foundation for how certain events in the final volume will turn out.
This is also the last span of episodes in the series which closely follows the manga version, and even then there are discrepancies. Some of the aforementioned Raki/Priscilla foundation scenes are exclusive to the anime, and while the content of the scene with Rigaldo and Isley is the same, the setting in the anime is different. The scene between Flora and Clare in episode 20 also plays out decidedly differently in the anime version than the manga but is arguably better for it, since the anime version turns what was originally a measuring of strength into a measuring of character and commitment. Also, the way the rest of the Awakened Beings back off when Rigaldo arrives on the scene is at odds with the manga version. Taken collectively, these changes are the biggest indications yet that the anime version is headed towards a different ultimate climax than the manga version at the same point in the story.
The artistry in the series has always been noteworthy, and in this volume it is the color scheme which takes center stage. All of the Pieta scenes happen under dark, cloudy skies in a city which does not seem to believe in external lights, which results in an unusually dark look. To simulate this all of the Claymores and most of the backgrounds are cast in shades of blue and gray rather than their more vibrant normal colors, with only blood, yellow eyes, the occasional interior light, and the Awakened Beings getting more distinct colorations. One result of this approach is to create an even more stark contrast against the CG-animated campfires in certain scenes, whose glows foster one of the more convincing visual impressions of warmth to be seen in any animation, or the oddly maroon-colored moon in one scene in episode 20. Most new designs are as visually appealing as any previous major character designs, although Rigaldo's lion-themed humanoid form is a faint disappointment. The graphic content will not disappoint anyone looking for such content, however. The elaborate battles and fancy combat moves feature some of the series' best animation, including some interesting camera angles and visual effects which give the impression of more involved animation than is actually present.
The soundtrack, which has always been a strength, also continues to do its job superbly well. Nearly all of the themes used in this span are merely recycled from earlier in the series but that makes them no less effective. The opener and closer remain unchanged.
The English dub has struggled at times but fares passably well through this run, although liking the dub heavily depends on accepting Clarine Harp as Undine. (She is the only established English VA who probably could have made the role sound even close to right, however.) John Swasey's Isley sounds distinctly older than Kouji Yusa's original performance but suits the role just fine, while Vic Mignogna is a good fit for Rigaldo. As with earlier Awakened Beings, a layered vocal effect is used when Rigaldo assumes Awakened form. The English script does not vary as much as most Funimation dub scripts do, with the one notable discrepancy being a scene in episode 22 where Undine calls out “Juliana” in English while her Japanese counterpart is very distinctly calling out “Claudia” instead. The English and Japanese vocal credits also have some distinct discrepancies on how certain names are spelled.
This volume's included staff interview is with the original Japanese art designer, while the commentary track for episode 19 features Caitlin Glass and Jamie Marchi, the voices of Deneve and Helen, respectively. (Caitlin also assisted on the ADR direction for these episodes.) Their commentary on various issues involved with dubbing in general and these roles in particular are interesting and on-topic but not especially fresh or noteworthy; viewers who watch a lot of commentary tracks or attend 'con panel discussions have heard most of this before. The typical clean opener and closer are also present as Extras.
As good as this volume is, it does have its flaws. One scene focusing on Veronica and Cynthia looks entirely too staged, a few of the Claymores stand around a little too much in battle, and the interspersing of scenes focusing on Raki and Clare in episode 22 is not as smooth as it could be. The time factors involved in Raki and Priscilla's approach to Pieta also have some inconsistencies if looked at closely. Despite those minor issues, the series still looks as sharp as ever, is as intense as ever, delivers plenty of important character development, and avoids many of the problems that were detractions in volumes 3 and 4. This volume also ends with the series' biggest cliffhanger. (Look at the last shot of Clare in episode 22 very closely.) Most fans who watch this volume will find themselves impatiently awaiting the next one.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Lots of intense and good-looking action, plenty of quality character development, excellent use of soundtrack.
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