Violence and brutality are the order of the day as Manga kick off another new series in the UK with the release of Claymore.
What They Say
In a world rife with deadly creatures called "Yoma", a young silver eyed woman, Clare, works on behalf of an organization that trains female Yoma half breeds into warriors with the ability to destroy these creatures. Considered a rogue for picking up a stray child & almost losing herself to her Yoma side by "Awakening", she is constantly assigned rather dangerous missions...
Claymore has a solid 5.1 mix for the English language presentation, which I listened to for my main review. Dialogue mostly seems to come from the centre but the sound effects and music make out better, having more impact than the Japanese stereo track, particularly during the intense action scenes and the opening and ending sequences.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the Video quality is, in places, a little disappointing. Upscaled, the opening and ending sequences are bad, filled with a fair amount of blocking and dot crawl. The episodes are generally fine but occasionally show some similar problems, with blocking mainly apparent during scenes of heavy motion. For the most part though the bleak colours come across well and it looks decent if not exceptional.
Subtitles are in a nice yellow font, and I noticed no spelling or grammatical errors.
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.
The menus are all static, taking their design cues from the cover art which is quite striking. The dark tone of the series comes across very well with the characters really standing out against the bleak backgrounds. Some background music plays over the menus. All the sub-menus load quickly and navigation through them is quick and easy.
The first extra we have here are the cast auditions for different characters. There are 5 on the first volume but they are just audio snippets running about 30 seconds that play over a static image. They're interesting to have if you're a fan of the English track, as are the two commentaries which go into some detail on the English language production side of things. There is also an interview with director on the second disc, in which he talks about why he liked the story and wanted to direct the show, and what he did with it. There's also the obligatory textless songs.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first description I ever heard of Claymore was that it was a “female Berserk” – a comparison that left my mouth watering at the prospect of such a show. Unfortunately this comparison is not a particularly good one, as Claymore is not a show as rich in characterisation and story as Berserk, and as such I was left feeling a bit disappointed as I watched the first few episodes.
What didn’t help either was that the pacing of the first few episodes is a bit uneven; they move very fast with little time for things to sink in. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in a way but the show suffers a bit for it, because even the dialogue sounds quite rushed like everyone is trying to say their piece as quickly as possible. Once you get past the opening stages though, the series really starts to come into its own, and as it finds its feet it becomes a very enjoyable ride.
The series tells the story of a woman called Clare, who is one of the titular Claymores - women who have been manufactured to be half-human and half-Yoma. They are hired by villages when demons called Yoma attack, because of their innate ability to detect them (their eyes turn silver when close by) and fight them. Clare is summoned to one such village where a Yoma has been murdering several villagers. A boy called Raki’s family has been a regular target, and he pleads with her for help. When she does kill the Yoma, which has inhabited Raki's brother, he is thrown from the village so Clare ends up taking care of him and allowing him to join her on her journey, as a cook.
As the two move on, Clare explains more about Claymores to Raki, such as how they are taken care of by the organisation behind them; when they need something, they meet with someone from the organisation who brings it to them. When Clare meets to get supplies, she is given a black card. This means that she has to kill another Claymore. We learn that with each fight against a Yoma, a Claymore's Yoma side gradually begins to take over, and when they feel they are at breaking point they send a black card to the organisation to request they are killed by someone they care for. For Clare, this is her close friend Elena, who she grew up with in the organisation and whom she calls her only friend. Raki tries to stop her, but there is no other way than to end her life while she still has humanity left inside her.
Following the two stand-alone episodes which give us a bit of insight into what Claymores are and some of the rules that govern them, there is a two part story that sees Clare and Raki called to a village by one of its priests, whose cathedral is infested by a Yoma. This one is known as a “voracious eater”, being more powerful than a normal beast, and is taking out the priests one by one as it hides inside the cathedral. In her search, Clare has to break the village's martial law and comes up against two rather unfriendly soldiers. But with Raki's help, she has to befriend them because she'll need to rely on them to help her defeat the Yoma. The turnaround in her relationship with these two men is entirely predictable from the outset, but it does show that Clare is willing to put aside her personal differences for the endgame.
Then comes the real meat of this first double-volume; the next four episodes make up Clare’s origin story. They introduce us to Teresa, the number one Claymore in the organisation. She arrives at a town to cleanse if of Yoma, and when she makes short work of it, a young girl latches on to her, seeing Teresa as her saviour since she was being held hostage by a Yoma. Despite numerous rebuffals, the girl follows Teresa out of the village since she has nowhere to go. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that this is a young Clare, whose future will be shaped by her travels with Teresa.
When the pair of them encounter some bandits in the woods, Teresa cuts off one of their hands; for a Claymore, the cardinal rule is to never kill a human, by accident or otherwise. This confrontation would later prove costly as to save Clare when the bandits attack a village, Teresa must slaughter them all. Her punishment is death by her own kind, but on facing it, she fights back and removes herself from the organisation, in order to protect Clare.
The top four Claymores are sent after Teresa to take her out, one of whom has just been promoted to number 2 - Priscilla. Despite her dense appearance, she is ruthless and strong, and she and Teresa have a great fight. But the other three are forced to intervene, despite struggling with the ethics of an unfair fight, because Teresa is too strong.
But Priscilla has one last trick up her sleeve - unleashing her Yoma powers. Unfortunately she crosses the line in order to win, and completely awakens her abilities. With her newfound strength, she kills Teresa and the other Claymores with relative ease and plenty of brutality. She does, however, leave Clare alive, a point that you would expect to come back up later as Clare will no doubt be putting her all into exacting revenge on the one that killed Teresa.
The final two episodes on this disc thrust us into the next story. This time we are back in the present, as Clare joins up with three other Claymores to go and fight a Yoma in the mountains. It's here that we learn that Clare is actually ranked 47th of all the Claymores - the lowest rank of all. It leads to much derision from her peers, but she is not put off despite a few challenges on the way. Luckily she has the ever annoying Raki to fight in her corner, in words if nothing else. As the four arrive to find the Yoma though, they discover that it is actually a true "voracious eater", and this is the name the organisation gives to "awakened beings" - those Claymore that have been completely consumed by their Yoma side. This one is a male though, and poses quite the threat, until we get to see some of the tricks that Clare has up her sleeve.
After an initial bit of disappointment in the first few episodes, things really started to pick up as I kept watching and Claymore became all the more engrossing as a result. The pacing was a bit too erratic in the opening four episodes; yes it was nice to get the character introductions over with fairly quickly and show us what the series was about, but it all happened a bit too fast and was too haphazard, feeling a bit too "monster of the week" without much substance. Thankfully there was little time wasted in showing us Clare's backstory, and that's when the series really started to win me over.
Obvious though it was that it was Clare travelling with Teresa, seeing this woman of such passion and guile gradually won over by the girl that becomes enamoured with her was really interesting, right through to how she threw everything away in order to protect Clare. It also lays the groundwork for a great story of vengeance on the part of Clare, who has no doubt spent most of her time since searching and honing her abilities in order to be able to defeat Priscilla.
Getting back to the present time was a bit of a shell-shock. To see Clare treated with so much disrespect by her fellow Claymores after seeing the almost regal Teresa was strange at first, but served as a great reminder that she is very much a raw talent that still needs to perfect her abilities. Given that there is more to come from this particular story, I'm really looking forward to seeing how her relationship with the others, especially Miria, unfolds. Over the course of the ten episodes we've actually got to learn quite a lot about Clare and her motivations which is a great start for the series.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment from the story so far is Raki. His role is understandable, and it is obvious Clare needs to have some sort of companion on her journey, but the way he is presented is just so irritating it might make you want to stop your DVD player at times when he starts yapping on. He always seems to be complaining, moaning or feeling sorry for himself, rather than doing anything remotely exciting. Having said that, his appearances beyond the first four episodes were rather limited so hopefully there is scope for improvement in the future.
From a production point of view, the series is pretty standard for a show of its type. The animation is reasonably fluid, even for some of the fight scenes – at least as much as you’d expect from a TV series. There is gore aplenty, with blood and guts flying all over when necessary. The character designs are pretty interesting as well. While they’re a little bit ugly in some cases, including Clare, they also have a kind of warmth about them that is quite unusual and never takes you out of the moment.
At first I wasn't entirely sure of what to make of Claymore, but as it progressed I became more and more engrossed and warmed to it a lot. With preconceptions out of the way I found it much more enjoyable. The story stands quite well on its own, and while Clare’s kind of origins are hardly original the way it is all presented makes the series become more enticing as it goes on. If I was judging this on the first volume alone my reaction to the series would be far more lukewarm, but given the excellent choice from Manga to release the discs as two-volume sets, we get a fair chunk of the series at once which gives it a chance to show some of its strengths. The release is pretty good value and if you're into action-heavy shows I'd give Claymore a solid recommendation. Derivative though it may be, it's fun and gets better as it goes along.
Japanese Language (2.0), English Language (5.1), English Subtitles, Commentary: Episodes #1 and #8, Cast Auditions, Interview with Director Hiroyuki Tanaka, Textless Songs
Samsung LE40M86 1080p HDTV, Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player (upscaling DVDs to 1080p via HDMI), Pioneer HTP-GS1 5.1 Surround Sound System.