Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 23rd 2009
Clarice and Miata sneak into the holy city of Rabona, where to Clarice's surprise they find the strict anti-Claymore environment in the process of change. There they find their quarry Galatea, a deserted former #3 Claymore who has blinded herself (to hide her telltale eyes), suppressed her powers, and become a nun in an effort to live a normal life. That is something that the Organization will not allow, so Clarice and Miata engage Galatea in earnest. Even the appearance on the scene of a powerful Awakened Being does not dissuade them from their efforts, though “Bloody Agatha” makes sure to take advantage of the situation. All is not lost, however, for the Organization is not the only group seeking out Galatea.
The manga version of Claymore was once one of the shining jewels of Shonen Jump-affiliated titles, but in its most recent couple of volumes the series has lost some of its luster. Part of the problem has been the decreasing pace of the story, as it seems like less and less is actually happening with each volume. The reduced number of chapters in each volume that follow the main storylines certainly hasn't helped on that point, as this volume, like the last one, has two full chapters devoted to bonus background stories against only four “core” chapters.
The bigger problem, though, has been the shift in cast. The old gang only pops up at the end of this volume, leaving the entirety of the core storyline to be carried by Clarice, Miata, and the reappearance of Galatea, and the former two are not up to the task. Sure, their decidedly weird and vaguely disturbing relationship is an interesting twist, but Miata entirely lacks personality beyond her “mama's girl bad-ass” shtick; she is more a weapon than a true character, and that Norihiro Yagi may be trying to make that exact point does not change how dull she is. Though clearly intended to be Clare's stand-in, Clarice lacks the presence that Clare had in the starring role, thus preventing her from being sufficiently compelling. She does have her own distinct personality, and so is not simply a clone of Clare, but she lacks the strength to be convincing as a heroine and the backstory necessary to make readers care about her. She may have her own mind, but is ultimately little more than a tool for manipulating Miata – which, of course, may also be entirely the point. Seeing Galatea pop up again, and the extremes she employed to hide herself from the Organization for the past seven years, does provide some spark, but she was never a character meant to carry a series, either. Sid and Galk also make reappearances, but they are little more than extra flavor.
Past the first chapter, the true star of this volume is actually the Awakened Being “Bloody” Agatha. She gives Yagi an excuse to pack in more quality nudity than has been seen in any previous volume, but the way she lives up to her nickname is just as interesting. She is one of the few Awakened Beings to appear in the series who seems to truly revel in specifically being an Awakened Being (Riful, by comparison, was always more matter-of-fact about her status), which makes her literal bloodbaths seem all the more monstrous.
This being Claymore, these chapters also naturally pile on the high-powered swordfights and monster battles, this time involving two Claymores dueling each other while an Awakened Being occasionally interjects blows. However, the actual fights lack some of the dynamism seen in earlier volumes. The Awakened Being tricks are now old hat, Miata's strength lies in her raw power, Galatea's lies in her vision and subtle yoki-manipulation, and Clarice basically has no power, so the fights are short on the extraordinarily flashy moves seen elsewhere. Yagi still executes them efficiently and clearly, but he can only do so much with the material at hand.
Though they distract from the main story, both of the Extra Scenes are noteworthy for their own merits. The first, “A Chance Encounter in the North,” fills in a big backstory gap by illustrating exactly what happened when Isley and Rigaldo first encounter Priscilla, and why someone as powerful as Isley chose to bow down and serve Priscilla rather than forcing the reverse. For the first time the reader gets a sense of the awesome power that various individuals have long claimed that Priscilla has, but the exact way that encounter plays out also casts certain scenes near the end of the anime version, scenes which fans complained about vociferously, in a new light. (Essentially, this Extra Scene shows that what happened in the anime's climax was not so inconsistent with the spirit of the manga.) It also gives Yagi another chance to depict nudity and further shows exactly how screwed up Priscilla actually is. The second Extra Scene, “Untarnished Resolve,” flashes back into Clare's training days to show how she earned her rank as a full-fledged Claymore despite her comparative weakness, including how her hair came to be so short given how long it was in the original backstory.
As has been true in the past, Yagi's artistry lacks for nothing (though the cover art is not one of his more impressive efforts), and Viz Media continues its practice of fully translating the sound effects. The comparatively cheap $7.99 MSRP also makes this an attractive buy in a time when volumes of similar length typically cost $2-3 more. Sadly, the American release of the manga has now nearly caught up with the Japanese release, which means the next volume could be quite some wait; the preview at the back says only “Fall 2009,” so a wait of 6-8 months for the next one seems likely. The cliffhanger at the end, and the promise of major new revelations, will have to sustain fans disappointed by this substandard (for Yagi) effort.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : A-
+ Appealing artistry, quality nudity, long-awaited backstory in one Extra Scene.
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