Claymore Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, November 06, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slow, violent and dark, Claymore serves up five episodes of controlled violence with some emotional underpinnings.

What They Say:

A brutal scourge stalks the land. Yoma, monsters driven by a hunger satisfied by only one quarry: Humanity. The dark breed knows but a singular foe: Claymore. Human-Yoma hybrids of extraordinary strength and cunning, the Claymores roam from skirmish to skirmish delivering salvation by the edge of a blade... for a fee.

Thus begins the twisting tale of Clare, one such sister of the sword driven by pain in both victory and defeat. A child silent and suffering hidden in her past, Clare's march toward vengeance unfolds along a path marked by violence, solitude and scorn. In a land where even the predator is prey, the haunted hearts of hunter and hunted alike wear the scars of the age.

What We Say:

Audio:
FUNimation’s release of Claymore is spot on as it’s one of the few releases that they’ve made the bump up to a 5.1 mix for with the English side. The English language track gets a solid 448kbps 5.1 mix that has some solid moments throughout, more from overall impact than directionality, with the opening and closing sequences being the strongest. The action scenes make out rather well also and it helps to give it a decent boost over the Japanese track. The original Japanese stereo mix, at 192kbps, is no slouch as it serves the material well and is problem free, but it lacks some of the impact with the sound effects and music that the 5.1 mix provides.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Claymore’s visual design is one that makes it difficult to bring to DVD because it’s dark, has a grainy feel throughout parts of it and uses colors that tend to give off a lot of noise. FUNimation’s encode here is rather solid as it spends most of its bandwidth in the sevens through nines, but when you have grainy red filtered scenes like in the first episode, it’s simply not going to look strong. It has a certain atmosphere to it and it captures it pretty well, but with the designs it uses it comes across as a little plastic-like in some scenes with the characters while the backgrounds have a fair bit of noise.

Packaging:
The keepcase for this release is really done nicely and it’s very appealing. The front cover has  stylish shot of Clare in her full outfit swinging her sword while the moon is visible through some of the trees behind her. With the mixture of the blackness and soft whites of the night time sky, she stands out very well here. The logo is provided in two forms, one in its English language version that’s seen on the manga along the upper right which is pretty small. The other is the larger logo that’s done sideways in silver and red foil along the left which stands out a lot more and is far more appealing. The back cover is done in a soft white with a few shots from the show that uses the foil paper to good effect. The summary runs over two paragraphs that talks about the overall setting of the world and of the lead character. The discs extras are all clearly listed as are the episode numbers and titles. The rest is rounded out with the standard production information and a very small technical grid that covers the very basics. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for Claymore takes its cues from the cover artwork which is a real positive. The use of Clare from the cover in the standard colors is really appealing as it has a certain vibrancy to it that doesn’t feel overly done. Combined with the dark background and the instrumental music used with it, it sets the mood nicely, even if it is a bit busy. The navigation along the bottom is standard design for FUNimation and the submenus load quickly and without problem. The disc doesn’t read our players’ language presets though and defaults to English language with no subtitles. While not a standout design, it’s one that takes some good elements from the cover design and incorporates it well.

Extras:
This release has a couple of English language oriented extras to it as well as the standard inclusion of the clean opening and closing sequence. The single episode commentary included on this volume is actually located in the extras section which is nice to see. In addition to that, there are about half a dozen cast audition sections in which we get a minute or so of the voice actor reading off a few lines for the character they portray while a static image of the character is on the screen. Admittedly, I’d much rather see them in the booth doing this than this, but English language fans may have different views on it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the ongoing manga series by Norihiro Yagi, Claymore is a twenty-six episode series that plays up the swords and babes angle pretty well. Set in a traditional fantasy oriented setting similar to what we’ve seen with the series Berserk, it deals with plenty of violence, fear and superstition while mixing in some decent action, choreography and set design. With the series ongoing, it’s hard to say how well this will hold up as an overall narrative, but the first several episodes here do a good job of introducing the viewer to the world of Claymore.

The world that this show inhabits is a dark, dank and dangerous one for the most part, even if you are part of the religious side of things. Mankind faces the challenge of the Yoma, a breed of monsters that devour the delicious innards of people. They’re able to take on the form of people that they kill so they’re able to mingle in well enough. Some are smarter than others, some work in groups while others work alone. Their end goal at this stage of the show seems to be nothing more than satisfying their base desires. They thirst for the innards but they also appear to really enjoy the violence and stalking people through the night in order to feast on them.

In order to combat these Yoma that roam about, a mysterious Organization was formed to deal with them. The people behind it manipulated others in order to produce fighters that could compete and overpower the Yoma. Their experiments proved that only women were capable of this as they turned ordinary humans into half breeds with Yoma. Giving them the power of the Yoma but the control of the woman, they’re able to keep that power in check and use it wisely. The downside is that the continual use of the Yoma side eventually does lead them to losing control, and at that stage only another fellow warrior would be able to take them down. These women don’t have any name, much like the Organization doesn’t, but among mankind they’re known as Claymores, the silvery-eyed witches.

As with most series of this nature, the first few episodes work through the idea of introducing the concept and the main characters that we’re dealing with. The series opens by introducing us to Clare, a Claymore who has come to a village where a Yoma is causing quite a lot of trouble. With her abilities, she’s able to detect it easily enough once things get explained enough and she ends up killing the thing that has taken over the body of a young man whose parents were killed by it. The downside is that this was all done in front of the brother who is now all that’s left. Raki is stunned by this as he’s now lost his entire family to this beast, but he’s at least seen it completely destroyed. What makes the situation worse is that he’s now exiled from the village because of what happened and has nowhere to go. So when he seeks out Clare, he does whatever he can to stay with her for as long as he can.

Managing to convince her that he can work as her cook, the two start traveling together as she handles her jobs as assigned to her by the organization. They’re all very simple at their core – kill the Yoma. It’s figuring out who the Yoma are and the possible issues surrounding it that makes these first episodes engaging. The introductory nature of it, seeing her work through the eyes of Raki, is standard procedure and it works well. Learning how she became a Claymore is given some initial talk as is the way that a Claymore’s life must end. How they live, sleeping only against their swords and eating no more than a handful every few days, sets them apart from everyone else and is disconcerting for many. But these little nuances are the things that let them stand out beyond their abilities to fight and kill.

There aren’t any real surprises with these episodes because of the nature of the setup. Getting to know the basic characters works well as we see how the world operates through their eyes and interactions. While some time is spent getting Clare acclimated to Raki being with her, the show does work through a few Yoma stories as well. The first couple of episodes really deal in small standalone stories in this regard as we see the two come together. It then shifts to a rather good two part storyline that delves into the religious side of the world and how crafty the Yoma can really be. And surprisingly, it finishes out the volume with the start of a new storyline that goes into Clare’s origins, which certainly wasn’t expected. The way someone becomes a Claymore is definitely an area I expected to come later in the series.

If there’s anything that’s off-putting about this series, it’s the character designs. Most of them are fairly standard bleak fantasy styled designs, grungy and downtrodden men and women milling about or the usual puffy religious types. The fighters that we see on occasion are par for the course as well. Where the oddness comes in is in the Claymores themselves. Clare has a very cold design to her which is really made all the more stark by the outfits she typically wears and her hair design. The same can be said of Teresa when we meet her except that her hair is longer and flows a bit more. The Claymores tend to look a little otherworldly, which is intentional to be sure, but it can be enough so that it’s hard to connect with them. When Clare takes some medicine to weaken the hold of the Yoma side of her, she looks far more human and becomes easier to connect with.

In Summary:
Claymore at this stage of the series is very predictable and straightforward. That’s not a bad thing as it’s setting the ground rules for how the world operates and the basic interactions of the characters. It is surprising that they’re doing an origin story this early on, but it does change up the usual strategy which keeps you interested. This also gives it a bit more similarity to Berserk, a series that it’s often compared to because of the setting and violence level but with women in control. Claymore certainly has some potential to it and it’s executed well, but it hasn’t found that one really strong key hook to say “I have to have the next volume right now!”

Features:

Japanese 2.0 LAnguage, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 1 Cast Commentary with Stephanie Young & Todd Haberkorn, American Cast Auditions for Teresa, Clare, Gark, Rubel & Yomi, Textless Songs

Review Equipment:

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV-MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (Mixed/Unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Claymore