Based on the manga series by Norhiro Yagi (which Viz has been publishing in English for North American audiences since 2006), Claymore is a twenty-six episode animated series set in an undetermined era where a demonic race called the Yoma have learned how to disguise themselves as humans in order to infiltrate their ranks and feast on them. Anyone who is eaten by a Yoma demon will have his features usurped by that same demon, which can make it tricky to tell who is actually human and who is not. There is, however, an obscure group of female warriors known as The Claymore who are able to see the Yoma for what they really are. How are they able to see through their disguises? Well, they Claymore are actually part Yoma themselves, and they're able to tap into this side of their heritage when the need arises. This not only lets them see through the disguises but also use the enhanced speed, strength and agility that this offers, but it's not without a cost of its own. If a Claymore taps into her Yoma side too often, she'll eventually give in to it and basically turn into a man eating monster without a shred of humanity left within. This basically damns the Claymore's in a sense, and as a general rule as they feel they're approaching that breaking point, they're killed by one of their own.
At any rate, the Claymore make a pretty good living going around to different locations and selling their services to towns in need. Any time people start disappearing, it's safe to assume that the Yoma are out and about and so the Claymore warriors are called in to clean up the mess.
The series focuses in on a single Claymore named Claree who is called to one such village for one such job. She hooks up with a young boy named Raki who many of the locals believe may be the Yoma in disguise but soon find out that it's actually Raki's brother. Claree solves the problem and figures her job is done, but life after the fact is tough for Raki as the people around him are still quite suspicious. They soon kick him out of their village and, unsure of where else to turn, he decides to shadow Claree. Initially she's not interested in an assistant but soon warms up to the guy and before you know it, they're fairly attached to one another. Things get complicated for Claree when she starts to second guess the Claymore organization's true intentions. When an attempt is made on her life by a fellow Claymore, she figures her suspicions are confirmed and as Claree tries to figure out what's really going on with the top brass, we learn the truth about her back story and how it all ties together.
Claymore isn't a perfect series, but it's certainly a pretty good one. It doesn't waste any time setting up the core premise and conflict by introducing us to the Yoma, the Claymore warriors and the correlations that exist between each warring faction and as such things generally move at a pretty good pace. As Clare's story becomes the focal point of the run, her character development grows more interesting as does her relationship with Raki, which soon becomes an obvious metaphor for the humanity she hopes to hold on to but realizes she won't be able to. Raki is her grounding, her anchor to the side of her being that she knows is fleeting, so while her initial hesitation to join up with him is completely understandable, her inevitable acceptance of this makes perfect sense.
During t he progression of the series, the tone shifts to a more political one, as the subterfuge and questionable tactics employed by the Claymore organization become scrutinized and the storyline delves a bit deeper into how a few different characters work within that confines of that organization. The scope broadens as the series progresses, working in details like the events that took place in Clare's childhood and shaped her into the warrior she is when the series begins, to the more clandestine aspects of the storyline and by the time you hit the middle point of the twenty-six episode run, it all becomes quite interesting and much more than a simple hack and slash series in which shapely women carve up monster upon monster in tight fitting clothes (though it does deliver some of that too).
As the series begins to draw to a close, however, you get the impression that the ending was a bit rushed. The manga that the series is based on is still going so logic would dictate that the production team had to end the show differently as the sequential version can't wrap everything up very neatly if it isn't over. Because of this there are times where you might feel like the ending shortchanges you a bit by not resolving things with as much detail as you might want. So in that regard, the ending is a bit of a letdown, but getting there is certainly a whole lot of fun.
The animation style employed by Madhouse Studios is as slick as you'd want it to be and the series is never short on style. Characters are well designed and everything has a nice, welcome fluidity to it that ensures that this is a series which is always easy on the eyes. The female Claymore warriors contrast nicely with the bleak backgrounds and especially against the demonic foes that they've been tasked with vanquishing, resulting in a really wild mix of sultry beauty versus infernal ugliness. It's a visual treat and interesting to watch and it's made all the more impressive by the background illustrations that the action plays overtop of.
Some episodes move better than others and there are spots where you might feel that the fight scenes are little more than padding but ultimately the good outweighs the bad here. The violence and carnage that occurs is impressive and over the top action scenes reach near operatic proportions. The series is sexy, tense, and often times smarter than you might give it credit for and while it's not perfect, it's certainly very worthwhile.
The Blu-ray Disc
Claymore arrives on Blu-ray in a series of 1.78.1 1080i AVC encoded anamorphic widescreen transfers that are an upgrade from what standard definition could offer even if they're not reference quality. Anime tends to look gorgeous in high definition but fine detail just isn't there all the time the way that you might want it to be. Textures are hit or miss, sometimes showing an almost three dimensional quality and other times looking flat while color reproduction is about as good as the source material can offer. Keep in mind that unlike a lot of series, this one tends to lean towards a bleak color scheme and utilizes a lot of grays and off whites so your eyes won't always be awash in a plethora of bright, primary hues. This does, however, make the bolder tones that do appear all the more dramatic, the reds in particular. Black levels are fairly consistent and strong and only the most minor of compression artifacts is noticeable. There aren't any heavy aliasing issues even if some scenes exhibit some minor instances, while fine lines generally look well defined. All in all, not the best that the format has to offer, but it's all perfectly watchable.
Audio options are provided in an English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and a Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with optional subtitles offered up in English only. Unfortunately, no lossless track is offered for the Japanese language version of the episodes that make up this series, which is obviously a concern for some as the series seems more serious in tone when watched in Japanese despite the fact that the English dub on this series isn't a bad one. The quality of the 2.0 mix is on par with what you'd find on the standard definition release in that it's well balanced, clean and clear, while the TrueHD 5.1 offering spreads things out quite nicely across the entire spectrum and offers up stronger, cleaner sounding bass and more clarity and audible detail. There's lots of rear channel activity to keep you on your toes and a nice, solid low end grounding the mix nicely. It'd have been nice to have seen the Japanese mix afforded the same care as the English dub, as it does sound quite good.
As far as the extras go, this Blu-ray set mirrors the standard definition release that Funimation released previously. The supplements start with a collection of sex separate cast commentary tracks provided for episodes 1, 8, 11, 16, 19, and 26. Various members of the English language voice acting team contribute to these tracks, with two different actors for each of the six episodes, and as you'd expect much of the discussion covers what it was like trying to bring animated characters to life and different tactics and techniques used to do just that. They don't really cover the themes that the show explores or its origins and history, but then, they wouldn't have really had much of a hand in any of that and you can't blame them for talking about what they know about. None of these tracks will really do much in the way of opening your eyes to any hidden meanings or symbolism, but if you want to know what the voice actors went through, how they came onboard the series and how and why they were cast for their respective roles, this'll help you out.
Spread out across the discs are a collection of cast interviews starting with the series' Director, Hiroyuki Tanaka (7:01) who talks about his intentions with this series, its style, the message that it brings to the viewer and how he feels about the project. Sound Director Yasunori Honda (8:37) talks about the sound work that he created for the show, working with the voice actors and the series score while the interview with Art Director Manabu Otsuzuki (6:26) covers the series' use of color or lack thereof, and its visual style. Last but not least, Artist Nobuhito Sue (4:17) talks about working on the series' storyboards and what was involved in that while a nice slideshow of images from those storyboard plays out for us. All of these interviews are in standard definition.
Rounding out h the extras on the discs are a collection of four Cast Auditions (none of which run for more than a minute in length, but hey, they're in HD), a collection of commercials for Claymore, the standard Funimation textless songs option, and trailers for a few other Funimation releases. Each disc has also got some nice menus and episode selection.
Inside the slipcase box that houses the two cases containing the discs, there's a pretty swanky full color forty-eight page booklet that include some interviews with the series' creators, some character design artwork and some character profiles. This may not sound like a big deal but it's certainly a nice touch and a classy way to round out the package.
Considering that this anime series is based on a manga series that is still being published, it's somewhat understandable that not everyone of the series plot points is wrapped up as neatly as you might want. That said, this is a fairly fulfilling take on the material and it provides some interesting storytelling with some great visuals and a fairly mature tone, making Claymore: The Complete Series a worthwhile watch for adult anime fans. Funimation's boxed set hardly sets a new standard in quality but it looks marginally better than its DVD counterpart, carries over all of the extras and offers up a lossless audio mix. While it might be tough to convince those who own the SD set to upgrade, those who don't already have that release can consider this release recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.