Reviewby Tim Henderson, Apr 6th 2011
Claymore - Tv Collection DVD
Welcome to a flat medieval grassland where monsters known as yoma feed off of human innards and are, therefore, rightly feared. In order to deal with such threats, warriors of half-human, half-yoma blood are enlisted. Known officially as Claymore, they do their duty on behalf of a shadowy organisation that handles the leeching of money from terrified villagers.
Clare is one such warrior who, after finishing her work in one village, ends up with a human puppy dog in tow. This is the start of a chain of events that will lead to much larger battles than the already considerable ones found in Clare's peculiar line of business.
Glazed in deep pinks when not soaked with blood red, the pre-credits opening to the first episode of Claymore is misleadingly striking. Sure enough it establishes a tone of violent battle between sword and fang, but this visual ballet is a notable step above everything that will follow over the course of the series' twenty-six episode duration. The animation is not overly extravagant, but the implementation of shading through a dynamic contrast of bloody light and engulfing shadow, teases unmaintainable visual fidelity. The last image seen before the intro music kicks all story sequences out the door for a bombast of JPop is a splattering of small bulbs of blood, floating gracefully across the screen in a manner that intentionally recalls the fleeting beauty so frequently associated with cherry blossoms.
Once the minute of obnoxious guitar riffs comes to close, Claymore's production values take a sharp fall from a very tall cliff; a hopeful sense of focus and a cohesive aesthetic design stand alone to argue that cheapened animation may be forgivable. The initial set-up is certainly handled with swift confidence: little time is taken to establish the show's lead Clare, as a quiet closed-off Claymore, and exaggerated background dialogue is excessively keen on making it clear that the common folk – who are forced to beg of her skills – fear and revile her almost as much as the flesh-eating monsters she is duty-bound to exterminate.
Clare is known to such townsfolk, much like all of her kin, as a Silver-Eyed Witch – a reference to the unmistakable visual traits that all Claymore bear. Female warriors who've have had their blood mixed with that of yoma, the telltale signs are eyes of silver and hair that is platinum blond. With skin as pale as their bones, Claymore are almost as ninja within the aesthetic presentation of their surroundings. Clothed in white, they blend into the muted colours that the world is painted in – right down to oft faded-green skies – as if chameleons. Too bad that everyone, human and yoma alike, seems able to detect them a mile off.
This information is established in the space of the first couple of episodes, and Clare paints plenty of streets purple with yoma blood, sparing the life of a young whelp named Raki in the process. The boy literally clings to her sobbing, and her initial cold reaction swiftly softens and she agrees to allow him to travel with her should he serve the role of being her cook.
Such plot synopsis may seem frivolous, but this is significant because it will be less than an hour later that Clare reveals that a Claymore needs only an occasional bite of food for sustenance. Within the space of a short exposition, she has unravelled her excuse for tolerating this brat (and it needs to be stressed that Raki's character never grows into anything remotely likeable), but neither character seems aware of it. This peculiarity fast becomes the first neon sign to point towards the show's most well-lit shortcoming.
Claymore is fundamentally never able to refine the art of character drama. An awkwardly inserted (as befits the plot's sudden need for justification and motive) flashback to Clare's past is utilised to explain how she may feel fondness for Raki in spite of his complete lack of charisma or usefulness, and to push the immediate storytelling into a new context. For the most part, the sudden cut to Clare's origin story betrays that this is a series without an overarching focus, and offers the first warning of the disconnectedness of the events to come.
It may not be Claymore's fault that most of its scenery is barren and bland, most of its towns interchangeable. The name Claymore does itself derive from a Scottish sword, and Scotland is hardly the most fantastically vibrant patch of land on this planet. Regardless of reason, Claymore's visuals grow tired – flat grassland leads to bland, brown cliffs and towns that all look the same until snow forces visual diversity – and its soundtrack struggles desperately with conventional experimentation in order to secure an identity.
Up until this point, sub-standard character development and drama in general may have been forgivable. A solid yarn with a flow like water would have been nice, but sufficiently directed action sequences could have provided ample backbone. It's here that the worst kind of truth hits: Claymore's action scenes are most comparable to Dragonball Z. Initial episodes drizzle hope of a growing grasp on contextual action through a few pieces of cleverly implemented swordplay and exaggerated violence just one step back from gratuitous, but this standard isn't maintained.
Rather than focusing on overall technique or military strategy, Claymore insists on giving each of its female warriors a unique skill or power: a stretchy sword, a lightning-swift arm, a twisty limb with a drill-like pay-off. This concept isn't fundamentally broken in and of itself – Ninja Scroll, in particular, still stands tall as an exemplary example of choreographed fights between fantastical specialist warriors – but the implementation is. There's little if any choreography in Claymore. Action sequences swiftly degenerate into powering up attacks, winding punches and clenching teeth. Character animation is focused squarely on the lead-in – actual strikes and parries are represented only through white slashes and flashes of light. So damn fast, it tries to whisper in out ears; so damn lazy, we mutter back.
What opened with promise quickly falls victim to sloppy, unfocused writing supported by flat action sequences. The second half of Claymore recalls almost no memory of the first and, by the end of it all, it's hard not to wish that the animators would stop using bright blue light to emphasise how much power a character is unleashing.
The blu-ray release does have a technical edge over the DVDs, but it's clearly not native 1080p. Special features are respectable and include a booklet, a few episode commentaries, interviews, and clean opening and closing tracks. But it remains difficult to recommend.
©Norihiro Yagi / Shueisha © DNDP, VAP, avex entertainment, Madhouse
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B-
+ Some solid early episodes imply potential
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