Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 27th 2010
While Rubel has a friendly little chat with Clare and her companions, in which some disturbing truths come out, Renée desperately tries to position herself for an escape from Riful and Dauf, for she can sense the horrible danger inherent in what Riful wants her to do concerning the merged bodies of Luciela and Rafaela. Meanwhile, Helen and Deneve encounter an Awakened Being hunting party in trouble and discover that the one single-digit warrior amongst them, the current number 8 Dietrich, is both clever and persistent enough to be a real nuisance. As the trio progresses through the southern lands, they discover a daunting reality: towns destroyed, the presence of the Creature of the Abyss Isley, and a menace which can give even Isley himself pause. The Organization, it seems, has decidedly upped the ante in this newest conflict against the continent's strongest monsters.
Over the past few volumes it has seemed like manga-ka Norihiro Yagi was losing his touch, as story advancement had slowed to a crawl, too much time was being spent focusing on less interesting side characters, and the info-dumping of backstory revelations bogged things down. With volume 16, which covers Scenes 84-89 (and equates to parts 2-7 of the Lamentations of the Earth story arc), Yagi is back on track. Here he provides a good mix of old “friends” popping back up, new allies, startling revelations, dire threats, and of course good-ol' beatdown action, in the process returning the series to arguably its strongest level since the Isley/Luciela showdown back in volume 12.
The first quarter or so of the volume splits between Clare's group's encounter with Rubel and Renée's ongoing run-in with Riful, but despite the intriguing possibilities raised by this reunion and some big revelations revealed in both scenes (including something that may change readers' long-held impressions of Rubel), it is actually the weakest part of the volume. Clare may be the lead heroine and may have the best-developed backstory in the series, but she is not, frankly, one of the series' most interesting personalities. Amongst the “good girls,” that classification arguably belongs to Helen and Deneve, who get the feature treatment for most of the remaining three-quarters of the volume – and such focus is long overdue. With her loose-cannon nature and sarcastic, attitude-laden demeanor, Helen is the liveliest of all the sane Claymores (Ophelia was certifiable), and while Deneve might outwardly seem to be the more responsible and analytical type, she has also long given the impression of being an instigator and, perhaps, a lot more wild at heart than she normally lets on. That makes them an interesting team to watch.
They get a great complement, too, in the new Claymore Dietrich, whose signature move may not be as flashy as some others but who certainly scores in the personality department. She is one of the rare Claymores who openly display both intelligence and insight – something decidedly lacking in both Helen and Deneve – and while she gives the impression of a by-the-book type, she shows an independent streak the equal of Helen and Deneve's in her willingness to use a ridiculously contrived reason to go off gallivanting after the duo. She also shows a great degree of common sense, which fills in another of Helen and Deneve's weak points, and seems like she will bounce off the duo well. She is the most promising recurring addition to the cast in quite some time. The one problem this brings up, though, is one that has been growing for some time now: the cast of active characters is getting unwieldy large, which does give Yagi a lot of material to work with but also force him to spread the storytelling a little thin.
Dietrich is not the only newcomer, though. With this volume Yagi also introduces the next stage in the evolution of yoma-empowered creatures in his setting: the Abyss Feeders, creatures which are perhaps the ultimate example of specialization to a particular purpose within this setting. Though their initial appearance may seem like a bit of a joke, before the volume is over they achieve more than a sufficient level of menace and make one wonder at the danger level of the game the Organization is playing here. Such horrid creatures seem fraught with potential backlash and show off the Organization's callous disregard both for collateral damage and the lives they are destroying to create their monstrosities. But that is also, of course, what makes them so interesting.
The Abyss Feeders get visual renditions which are a disconcerting balance of sexy and thoroughly disgusting, but Yagi seems to be stretching a bit more to depict new Claymores without repeating past designs. Renée still looks great with her braided hair and solid build, but the slightness of Dietrich's frame is not readily apparent until Deneve comments on it and only a slightly odd choice of ponytail offsets her hair design from that of other Claymores. Yagi otherwise maintains the artistic standards he has been known for: dynamic motion in chase and battle scenes, easy-to-follow fights with lots of drama, and nice (if, in this volume, sparingly-used) background detail. This volume also packs a fair amount of nudity to go with all its graphic violence, easily warranting the Older Teen rating.
Viz Media does its typical solid production job, including the brief recap in the beginning and a single-page preview at the end. There are no other Extras, but readers do get a full six chapters and 190 pages of core storyline this time and respectable cover art featuring Helen and Deneve. Sound effects, as before, are always translated. This volume also shows that last volume's increase in price point to $9.99 was no fluke; sadly, the days of getting this series for a mere $7.99 per volume seem to have passed.
The big revelations earlier in the volume are complemented by a major, if somewhat anticlimactic, plot development late, with the volume's final scenes suggesting suggestions a major escalation in the story is imminent. Unfortunately the American release of the series is now coming out only every 7-8 months due to now not being far behind the Japanese release, but this volume, at least, will give fans of the franchise a lot to appreciate during the long wait.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Dietrich, suitably menacing new monsters, good balance.
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