Normally when I review a DVD, I start writing about it soon after watching the show, so that it’s fresh in my mind. But with Claymore I held back awhile. Would it simply be a case of “instant gratification”? Or would it leave a lasting impression? To the show’s credit, it did prove memorable. There are scenes in the show that I can still recall, thanks not only to the subject matter but to their execution. That’s always a good thing when it comes to entertainment.
In this vaguely medieval fantasy series we are introduced to creatures called yoma, who are basically monsters with the ability to speak, and who exist only to feast on human flesh. What are villages to do when such a threat exists? Enter a Claymore, a human injected with yoma blood to increase their fighting skills and sword-wielding techniques, and thus the ability to kill off these yoma threats. Early on, one such Claymore, named Clare, reluctantly hooks up with a kind, teenage boy named Raki, who is grateful to her for avenging the murder of his parents.
It actually isn’t a great start. The first four episodes, while a decent introduction to this world and its rules, didn’t engage me very much. I felt the chemistry between Clare and Raki wasn’t there, and it had an overly stoic, deadly serious tone that I don’t care for. The yoma fights, while competently done, were certainly nothing I hadn’t seen before, either.
However, things pick up greatly in episode 5 when we get a few flashback episodes concerning Clare’s past. To say the least, Clare changed a great deal thanks to an experienced Claymore that took her under her wing. In fact, I didn’t even recognize the young Clare when she was introduced! Without giving too much away, we basically learn why Clare is reluctant to open up or get close to anyone in the present, including Raki. In the past and present, we also meet more Claymores with different personalities and attitudes towards fighting, proving that despite the fact that they all work for the same organization and share the same goal, they’re not robots and can think for themselves. That helped, because in the first four episodes, Clare barely seemed human, mostly speaking in brief sentences, and acting aloof and such.
At this point, I should also mention the main source of conflict in the series: As Claymores have some yoma blood in their bodies, they have to keep themselves under control or they “awaken”; that is, they transform from human into a yoma, a process that is irreversible, and which basically turns them evil. One of the former Claymores turns into a yoma, and during the series we see numerous characters push themselves to the limit while trying to stay away from the dark side, and that’s always a good source of tension.
There’s a lot of tension in this show, actually, with many sequences where it’s unclear how the main characters will get out of a jam, and which are memorable as a result. I don’t want to give too many details away, but one fight in particular sticks out in my mind: Clare is battling a fellow Claymore who wants her head (long story), and in the process, Clare loses her hand. Now unlike regular humans, amputation actually isn’t a huge problem for a Claymore, as they can reattach their limbs. However, in short order her other limb is severed as well, leaving her practically defenseless. It’s easy to wonder how she would possibly deal with that situation.
There’s another memorable scene later in the series when a fellow Claymore is in dire danger of awakening into a yoma; she’s been kidnapped and tortured by a sadistic woman so she can yield power with her trained, “pet” yomas. Clare finds her and, though her teammate begs to be killed before it’s too late, Clare doesn’t give up hope and strives to bring her back from the brink. The great voice acting and the “nigh impossible” tone to the whole scene really stuck with me.
There are many more sequences like the two I listed, but I don’t want to spoil too much for you.
All that said, if there’s an aspect to the show that I’m not crazy about, it’s Raki. Much like Kyohei from Burst Angel, he’s sort of pushed into the background during many episodes of the series (particularly in the middle), which is a tad disappointing, given the significance of the budding Clare/Raki relationship. At times, he feels like an afterthought.
Also, the visuals are a mixed bag. For one thing, the color scheme is too muted and dull for my liking, with lots of grays, dark blues, and browns. I wasn’t expecting a bright, loud-looking show, but I wish it could’ve been a bit more varied. The few times it presents something different (such as a finale in a volcano), it’s like a breath of fresh air. Likewise, the animation is nothing special. Oh sure, there are occasionally fluid bits in the fight scenes, but for a Madhouse-animated show there are a surprising number of static shots and low framerate moments. Nothing looks off-model or bad, but coming off of Black Lagoon, it is a bit of a disappointment from the studio. Finally, when all the Claymores got together later in the series, I honestly had a hard time telling them apart. They all wore the same outfit and had similar hairstyles. Now true, they’re supposed to be dressed the same, as that’s their combat uniform, but I just wish they were given more visual uniqueness. It isn’t the worst-looking show I’ve ever seen, but it could’ve been better.
As for the dub, it’s another FUNi winner, mostly. While the first four episodes didn’t wow me and seemed too stoic (though again, part of that is due to the writing in those early outings), once they got to the flashback episodes, things picked up. There was more emotion and intensity involved with everyone from then on out, especially when it comes to the girl’s awakening. In the last arc, when a ton of Claymores work together to fight a huge yoma, there were a couple voices that I didn’t feel fit (for example, one sounds like a stereotypical valley girl, which seems out of place in this fantasy world), but overall I thought the dub worked, and helped to differentiate the characters when the character designs didn’t.
There are a decent number of special features on the 4-disc DVD set. We get one commentary per disc, with cast members of the English adaptation. One thing I like about FUNi commentaries is that there’s never a silence gap. They talk the whole way through, and that gives one an incentive to tune in. And luckily, they offer some production tidbits too. I found it interesting that one of the writers basically got the assignment to adapt this at the last minute, requiring a couple of late night viewing sessions to fully understand everything. In addition, four of the six discs include interviews with a different member of Claymore‘s original production team. They mostly cover the process of adapting the manga to the screen, though other details sneak in. At 6 to 8 minutes a piece, they’re not too time consuming, so they’re worth a watch too. The one skippable feature is a series of English dub auditions, which only amount to about a minute per character. Unless you want to hear the exact same lines from the show again, it’s not that interesting. Finally, there some Claymore ads and FUNi trailers complete the package.
Claymore starts off slowly but gets better when we learn of Clare’s backstory and once the relationship between the various Claymores clash (and bond). It also helps that the show offers something a little different from the norm by establishing its own unique universe rules. Finally, the battles contain some memorable, near-death moments that I still remembered weeks later. While the presentation could’ve been better, and there are a few lulls in the story (though mostly at the beginning), it’s at least worth NetFlixing Claymore if you’re a fantasy fan, like tough female protagonists, and want something dark and bloody. ( And make no mistake about it, Claymore has plenty of gore, so it’s not for the squeamish.) Add bonus points if you detest fanservice, as Claymore is miraculously void of it.