When FUNimation announced that it acquired the rights to Claymore the hardcore anime community cheered, but avid otaku didn't really know how to react. It's not a massively popular brand, and it's definitely far from mainstream franchises that typically catch the average anime viewer's attention (in other words anything that appears on Cartoon Network). However, those who knew Claymore was something special hit it right on the nose. The series came out here in the States not too long ago and the first volume was a big success.
Originally airing in Japan during 2007, Claymore is a 26 episode series that stemmed from a manga of the same name, which began in 2001. The show features some intense action coupled with fantasy elements, an interesting concept, well-developed characters, and a dark edge with lots of gore. Each of these components comes together to set Claymore apart from the rest of the current market. It's a throwback to darker series of the past and its approach is very reminiscent of Berserk. I'd go further to say that if you've seen that classic and enjoyed it, then stop reading this review and pick this one up post-haste. It's very similar in many ways.
Through we're more than halfway through the show at this point, I can honestly say that Claymore has been an experience of sheer awesomeness. The first three volumes did an incredible job of setting the stage for things to come. Each episode built upon the mythology of the show, introduced us to the background of the main characters, and eventually set coming conflicts and plot twists into motion. We started seeing some of the fruits of that effort in the previous installment, but they really start to take shape with this fourth volume.
In case you're unfamiliar with the program it's basically a dark fantasy anime set in a world full of demons, humans, and hybrids of the two. Basically as it stands, the humans are the lambs for the slaughter of beasts known as Yoma. Standing between the hapless masses and the monsters are women known as Claymores, who are essentially human females that possess Yoma aspects as well. They use this power to work for an organization, and in the process of their transformation they shed a lot of their humanity. Claymore focuses on the lives of a human boy named Raki, and a Claymore known as Clare as they fight to stay under the radar and kill Yoma while they're at it.
The fourth installment of the show contains four more episodes. "The Witch's Maw Parts 1, 2, and 3" and "The Carnage in the North part 1" are what you're going to find on this volume. One of the nice things about Claymore is that everything seems to happen in arcs. Stories are allowed more time to grow and each plot builds upon something that was already established. For instance, in "The Witch's Maw" Clare is still avoiding the Organization while pursuing Yoma and searching for Raki, who went missing during the battle against Ophelia last time around. It has been three months since the Organization has heard from Clare and as fate would have it she sees other Claymores out on a hunt for yet another Awakened One. Something is up though and soon enough Clare is brought into battle once again against an Awakened, but it seems there may be a trap afoot. Since this storyline sees resolution on this volume I don't want to spoil too much for you, so I'll leave the description of this episode at that.
"The Carnage in the North Part 1" sets the stage for some even more impressive battles. Clare is joined by several other Claymores on a campaign to wage war against some Awakened Ones to the North. All-out battle is on the horizon and Clare continues to look for Raki, who is rumored to be in the direction she's headed anyways. It's a fantastic way to leave off this installment and it makes you want the fifth volume immediately so you can see how it all resolves.
Claymore is an incredible show with a dark, rich atmosphere and well-developed characters. Every volume pushes the concept and plot forward and with each installment I find myself anxiously awaiting the next even more. If you haven't seen the show yet you owe it to yourself to check it out. The sense that something is building continues with this installment and the forthcoming war looks to make a dynamic show even more dramatic. Highly recommended!
Presented with its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, Claymore is a nice little treat on DVD. The artwork, design, and animation from Madhouse Studios are incredible, though I will say that some of the styles are a little generic. As far as the transfer here is concerned, the video quality holds up decently, but it's not flawless in its presentation. The picture is grainy (some parts are worse than others), there's some slight aliasing in parts, and the image isn't quite as sharp as it could have been. Otherwise compression artifacts aren't really an issue, and the colors appear natural and vibrant. This is a nice looking show, but it could have been spruced up just a little more.
Claymore hits DVD with English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 language tracks. As far as the dubbing quality is concerned I found that the Japanese selection definitely was the better of the two. Some of the English voice actors just don't present well, or capture the feel of the characters quite right. The Japanese language, however, does just that and hits all the right dramatic notes. Technically speaking, the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is much more robust than the 2.0 offering thanks to a better sense of immersion during battle sequences. Whichever you're looking for, voice quality or sound quality, each track has something different to offer.
The fourth installment of Claymore includes textless animations as well as another interview from the original Japanese DVD release. This time around we have a conversation with Art Director Manabu Otsuzuki which provides some nice information about the show. An English cast commentary is also included for the second part of "The Witch's Maw". Like the others from previous volumes this commentary was hit or miss at times. It was entertaining and there were quite a few laughs, but it wasn't very different from other English commentary tracks (meaning it had more fluff and less substance).
You know, I'm actually kind of sad that Claymore only has two installments left until it's over. It's definitely not the most uplifting show I have ever watched, but it is certainly one of the most unique, action-packed fantasy series to come along since Berserk. Clare's plight as a member of the Organization is fascinating and I like where everything is going so far. Next volume should offer plenty of fighting and building storylines as the show heads towards its finish. Hopefully it will keep up this trend of quality and we'll be looking at a highly recommended series from start to finish.
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