Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 13th 2007
In a distant land, monsters known as Yoma are the greatest threat to humankind. However, a powerful race of warriors known as Claymores are the one thing that can stop the Yoma. One Claymore known as Clare is a bit different from the rest: she's traveling with a young boy named Raki, and has sworn to protect him despite her dangerous line of work. When a rival Claymore named Ophelia comes after Clare, she knows she must send Raki away to safety. Now Clare finds herself facing Ophelia in a one-on-one duel against a warrior who is clearly more talented. Perhaps a figure from Clare's past will come to her aid—but just how much aid will Clare need once the battle is over and her wounds are counted up?
Conventional wisdom says that the Jump line of manga is all about finding unique, talented artists and then handcuffing them into long, repetitive storylines. And so it is with Claymore, which showcases an artist's unique style while delivering some decidedly average substance. Norihiro Yagi may be one of the greatest fantasy illustrators of our time—rich backgrounds and brutal battle scenes will attest to that—but his talent is put into the service of a ho-hum adventure story where, not surprisingly, people fight a lot. Volume 7 does a bit of digging into the main character's past, but it's still secondary to the real reason that people love Claymore: incredible creatures, incredible landscapes, and incredible fights.
But first, the not-so-incredible stuff. This volume arrives at the tail end of one story arc and triggers the start of the next, leaving it in an awkward in-between place as far as the overall plot goes. What really hurts it, though, is just how mechanical the storytelling is—there's a point where straightforward turns into boring, and this has definitely entered that realm. Clare sends off Raki; Clare fights Ophelia; mysterious interloper shows up; Clare trains her skills—well, that's about 80% of the volume right there, with no complexity, no dramatic push-and-pull, just a droning recitation of what could be a far more exciting adventure. Even the occasional attempts at drama feel oddly distant, as if the characters were behaving out of obligation rather than emotion. When Clare splits up with Raki, it's not so much "Leave now even though it's breaking my heart"; instead, it's more like "Leave now because that's the obvious next step in the plot." And that really is what's happening a lot of the time—just trying to get to the next step in the plot.
However, this volume does get interesting at the point where a blast from Clare's past shows up. When in doubt, just develop some backstory, and in this case it works—we learn more about the circumstances surrounding Clare's deceased partner as well as her own motivation for fighting. It's moments like these where the series does show its heart, looking into why a Claymore would choose such a tragic path for herself. Still, this is but one scene in the book, and there are plenty of other scenes where the only prevailing emotion is bloodlust. Let's face it: pure swordfighting action is where the series excels, so even if the story should falter, it can still resort to delivering heavy doses of adrenaline at the very least.
So at last we get to the part that everyone really wants to talk about when it comes to Claymore: the action. As usual, Clare's fights are nothing short of eye-popping, with page layouts designed for maximum dramatic effect. Whether it's a small square panel or a full two-page spread, each moment of battle brings out the impact of a powerful strike, a painful slash, or a spray of blood (and yes, there are many sprays of blood). Even Clare's training scenes are charged with energy as she strives to master a superhuman technique. But in the thrill of battle, let's not forget the artistic technique that makes the series so memorable: ultra-thin lines and detailed hatching give each page a woodcut effect, as if it were really an image carved out from feudal times. The speedlines are flawless, the sword strikes are distinct, and the backgrounds—all rich forests and grassy plains and rugged mountains—give a true sense of being in another world. The huge, towering monsters known as "Awakened Beings" also add to that otherworldly feeling. If there are any criticisms, it's that the intense detail makes the characters look stiff at times, as if they were frozen into a photograph rather than moving about in a comic.
Although the series' main emphasis is on battle, there's plenty of dialogue in this volume as Clare discusses her past in the later chapters. Despite the high word count, the translation is still straightforward enough, focusing more on revealing the points of the story rather than trying to be fancy. The only place where dialogue gets irritating is in the fight with Ophelia, which becomes a series of obnoxious taunts, if only to break the silence of 50 pages of battle. Japanese sound effects are completely erased from the artwork and replaced with English sounds, and while that helps to minimize page clutter, the choice of lettering isn't particularly creative. Generic block letters account for most of the sound effects, which kind of takes away from the experience (imagine a bone-crushing sword strike and then seeing a big soulless KACHANG staring you in the face). And while the paper quality of this volume is about average, at least the print quality is sharp enough to bring out the detail in the art.
With this volume of Claymore caught between two story arcs, it's not exactly the most satisfying in terms of plot—and the linear fight-fight-fight narrative doesn't do much to help that. Still, it offers some new developments for our heroine, and those fight-fight-fight moments are as thrilling as any action series out there. It may not be the most intellectually challenging work, or the most emotionally moving one, but when it comes to visual showpieces, this is definitely among the best of the fantasy genre. So get into this series for the eyecandy, but don't look for anything else much deeper, because in Claymore, one simply lives for the fight.
Overall : B
Story : C+
Art : A
+ Makes a strong visual impact with epic fight scenes and landscapes, and adds some character development along the way.
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