n a land ravaged by monstrous, shape-changing Yoma, humanity’s only hope is a breed of half-human, half-Yoma female warriors popularly called Claymores, who use their massive namesake swords and Yoki energy-based empowerment to dispatch Yoma on orders from their unnamed Organization. Clare is one such warrior, albeit the weakest of the 47 given rank and regional assignments due to some atypical circumstances involved in introducing her Yoma aspect. Even so, she fights the good fight against the Yoma with cold, businesslike efficiency and an underlying purpose to seek out a particularly powerful monster responsible for a tragedy in her youth. Not until she hooks up with Raki, a boy orphaned by Yoma whose life she saves in much the same way that someone once saved her, does her human side start to open up and emerge again. As Clare struggles to defeat increasingly harder opponents (sometimes with the aid of fellow Claymores, other times with their opposition) and pursue her quest for vengeance, Raki becomes both a stabilizing force and her one hope that she might, as a certain person once requested, eventually learn to live her life as a human and not just a warrior.
In the 1990s, Berserk became the epitome of the kind of dark, graphically violent fantasy anime beloved by American fans. Claymore assumes that role for the first decade of the 2000s. Based closely on the manga by Norihiro Yagi until its final few episodes, it spins a tale of sexy but intimidating blond, female, half-human warriors (the process of making them half-human apparently bleaches their hair) who use big swords and a variety of creative fighting techniques to slay monsters. Against small fry they do it with little effort, while against bigger bad guys they get beat up – even on occasion tortured – in the process. Along the way the main character, who starts out competent but comparatively weak (but with a potential hidden reserve of strength, naturally!), must increase in skill, power, and combat tricks in order to fight progressively more powerful foes or even just survive difficult situations.
Sound like a typical shonen action series, albeit with a predominately female cast? In many senses it is just a darker, more graphic, and more mature audiences-oriented version of a Bleach or Naruto. When the series falters, it is because it sticks too closely to hoary shonen traditions, such as prolonged dialog in the middle of fight scenes, emphasis on power-ups, fudging on certain time factors, and fight scene animation short-cuts. It does also share some of the stronger shonen traditions, such as creative power use, nicely-choreographed individual and group fight scenes, and a threat escalation sufficient enough to keep viewers regularly worried about the safety of the star and major supporting cast members. Like most shonen series, it does occasionally go over-the-top with its fights, most notably in the climatic battle at the end.
But Claymore stands apart from its shonen brethren in one very important way: for all its monster-bashing, gore, and flashy powers, it is ultimately more a human story than anything else, and that makes all of the difference here. Clare may go around callously slaying monsters, but this is more a condition of the humanity which bled away from her due to the tragedies of the past and becoming consumed by revenge. The reluctant acceptance of Raki into her life gradually restores her humanity in much the same way that Clare herself did for Teresa, the Claymore who once saved her; in fact, the background story delineated in episodes 5-8 is not only (arguably) the best run of episodes in the series but is also critical for understanding the parallels of Clare’s situation with Raki to Teresa’s situation with young Clare. As Clare progresses through her mid and late series challenges and gradually learns to master her nature, she walks a fine line between her human and monster sides, and only by association with others can she keep herself leaning more towards the former than the latter.
In one sense the entirety of the story presented here is as much an effort to keep Clare human despite what she feels she must do – in effect, to save her from herself – as it is to carry out Clare’s quest for vengeance. This is reinforced by how certain characters who pop up along the way fall to ruin when they have no one to help them retain their humanity while others who do have that help can be brought back even from the brink of a supposedly irreversible transformation. It also helps cast the series’ climax, which strays markedly from the manga and is oft-criticized by fans, in the proper light. The story may continue in the manga after the late battles in and around Pieta, but the anime needed a 26-episode resolution of some sort, and the resolution it uses disappoints much less if regarded as being more about a struggle for Clare to keep or irrevocably lose her humanity. Minor tweaks to Yagi’s original story along the way slant the series towards that kind of resolution from the beginning, so claims by some that the ending was just “tacked on” fall flat.
The series’ visuals feature top-grade character designs entirely free of normal anime stylistic influences. They portray Claymores as statuesque beauties with widely varying body types, though most feature average-to-mildly-large busts. The body suits and armor trappings seem more like concessions to fantasy style than purely practical outfits, though the armored shoes are necessary for the distinctive clicking of the slow, deliberate signature stride of Claymores not in battle mode. Monster designs are more generic except for the vastly creative Awakened Being forms and common citizens designs, while still done well, get a bit repetitive at times (as do the designs for unnamed Claymores, actually). Backgrounds, including meticulously-designed towns heavily dependent on stonework, promote the dreary but not lifeless aspect of the setting, while the series sometimes does some wonderful effects with color, such as red tint in certain key scenes or a predominately bluish tint in the Pieta scenes. One curious side effect of this is to emphasize the brightening of the settings on the rare occasions when the sun shines, the warmth conveyed by a campfire, and the vibrant spectacle of human and/or Claymore blood. The animation is very good when it does animate scenes but takes a lot of shortcuts, including the static shifting of characters across backgrounds rather than animating them and cut scenes in fights. Graphic content is plenty high enough to earn a TV-MA rating, including some nudity, frequent intense graphic violence, and even torture scenes.
The soundtrack, which covers a range of intense techno beats, hard rock numbers, and bagpipe theme, greatly aids and supports the action and events on the screen. Occasionally the choice of music for a particular scene is a little questionable, but the themes available for use are not. They contribute greatly to the intense, dynamic feel of the fights and wonderfully highlight the purely dramatic moments. The opener and closer are both strong rock numbers (especially the opener) which are used in every episode.
English dub performances over the course of the series are a mixed bag, with problems more coming from questionable casting than performances. Some choices and performances shine; Luci Christian, who is more known for comedy and tsundere roles, immerses herself so thoroughly in the atypical (for her) role of the amoral, half-mad Ophelia that it is hard to recognize her, Christine Auten, Colleen Clinkenbeard, and Stephanie Young are nice fits for Teresa, Galatea, and Clare respectively, and nobody but Jamie Marchi probably could have done Helen’s attitude justice. Even the deep-voiced Clarine Harp struggles to be sufficiently masculine-sounding as Undine, however, and Monica Rial never carries quite enough authority to be fully convincing as Miria. Amongst prominent male roles, R Bruce Eliot gives Rubel a deliciously slithery sound and Vic Mignogna is nearly unrecognizable as Rigaldo, but Todd Haberkorn’s Raki grates on the nerves a bit. John Swasey, who is often called upon to voice mature leader-types, gives a different but not necessarily inaccurate interpretation to Isley. A bigger problem is a few places where the dialog is changed too much, resulting in some lines that are weaker compared to the subtitled version and questionable adjustments to information being provided (or not) in other places. On the plus side, the layered audio effect used with the Awakened Beings gives them creepily inhuman-sounding voices, an effect not present in the Japanese audio.
Compared to the original DVD releases, the Blu-Ray version does, as expected, offer sharper picture quality, which highlights the character designs and makes the darker scenes even easier to follow, but at the same time it also makes the occasional artistic flaw even more apparent; there are a few places where the artistry goes a bit off-model which are not as easy to spot in the regular DVD version, for instance. The picture quality is not immensely sharper, however, and this set does not offer a single Extra that wasn’t present in the individual DVD releases. The booklet included with the box is just the booklets from DVD volumes 1 and 6 put together and the three disks have the same six English audio commentaries (for episodes 1, 8, 11, 16, 19, and 26 spread two each across the three disks), the same four Japanese staff interviews, and the same clean opener/closer, Japanese TV commercial collection, and the cast audition set. In fact, the only new things this set offers are reversible covers for each of the two disk cases (one has the first two Blu-Rays). The picture of Teresa on one side of the first case cover is also available in wall scroll form, but the pictures of Galatea, Miria, and Priscilla’s child form seem to be exclusive to this set – but they also deserve wall scrolls. The box pales in comparison to the DVD singles’ artbox in both sturdiness and artistry, too.
If this is your first exposure to Claymore in anime form or you have not previously bought the series then this Blu-Ray set may be for you, as dark, graphic fantasy anime series don’t come much better than this. Its lack of offering anything new compared to earlier releases, and of blow-away video quality increase, makes a less than ideal choice for those looking to upgrade.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Character designs, soundtrack, remarkably human story involving compelling characters.
− Sometimes burdened by shonen influences, English dub quibbles, lack of new features.