Judge Adam Arseneau speaks softly and carries a big broadsword.
Prey for the hunter.
As cool and icy as the statuesque women that bear its name, Claymore: Complete Series Box Set is a high-action, blood-soaked, demon-slaying drama full of strung-out, sexually frustrated women slaying monsters with gigantic swords. Yes. It might be peculiar in terms of its gender dynamics, but it's one heck of a ride.
Facts of the Case
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.
Thus beings the twisting tale of Clare, one such sister of the sword, driven by pain in both victory and defeat. A child silent and suffering in her past, Clare's march towards 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 age.
Claymore is an exercise in escalation. The show starts off weak and boring, almost embarrassingly so, with the first three or four episodes leaving you questioning the investment of time and money in the box set. Then unexpectedly, the show ramps up the interest through strong character development and intensity, with more action, more impressively gory fight sequences, and exceedingly dangerous encounters. Like a pot of boiling water, Claymore starts off cold and chilly, but eventually boils over in furious passion. You find yourself cursing the few moments of downtime spent switching discs, anxious to see the next episode. The limbs fly, the blood flows, and the eviscerations are plentiful, earning its mature rating quite easily.
There are some weird sexual undertones to the violence and the demonic transformation, a likening to crossing the awakened threshold of transformation as sexual pleasure. The Claymores have to resist this temptation at all costs or be lost into darkness forever—which is why the women make better subjects then the men, who quickly succumb to the ecstasy. When you start examining Claymore in a feminist light, with all these short-haired, chaste women resisting their sexual temptation and taking out their aggression by slaying things with a big sword, things get confusing to say the least. It makes for entertainment, this much is true, but it certainly doesn't speak to the kindness and generosity of sexually repressed women—unless it's trying to say they're a bunch of bloodthirsty lunatics—but that wouldn't be very smart.
Instead of the expected buxom anime protagonists, the Claymores are lithe, statuesque pale figures who hide the scars and disfigurements of hundreds of battles underneath their armor. The character designs are detailed and nuanced, but often confusing. The cast of the show are near-identical blonde women that have slightly different haircuts and tiny insignias on their armor and sword to distinguish from each other. You can pick Clare and a few others out of a crowd, but it often gets confusing trying to figure out who just got dismembered. It's a moot point anyway. I wouldn't get too attached to them, if you get my drift. The body count is pretty staggering.
The plot is light on details. We know the Claymores are created by a mysterious, male-driven Organization with shadowy agents who rendezvous with the ladies in the field, sending them on increasingly dangerous and suicidal missions—even ordering the execution of other Claymores who pass their limit and risk turning into demons. Who they are, and what their motives are remains a mystery. Claymore doesn't really spend much time worrying about it—the crux of the narrative is the exploration of humanity, of salvation and friendship. The Claymores are feared and hated by the world, being half-demons; a cruel twist of fate considering how they give up their own humanity in order to protect the very people that fear them. Clare is something of a catalyst in the organization, a game-changer, who slowly begins to develop her own ideas of humanity and righteousness and honor, realizing the Organization may not have their best interests at heart. As the story progresses, she meets more like-minded Claymores and slowly begin to rebuild the human bonds between them, always at odds with their own inherent monstrous and demonic nature.
It isn't all wine and roses in terms of enjoyment. Claymore establishes right in the first episode that any damage that a Claymore sustains can be easily "healed" by releasing their demonic powers, and that just like in Scooby Doo, the last person you expect to be the demon-in-disguise, of course turns out to be the demon in disguise. These are baleful revelations to be thrust upon audiences so early, because it assures we can never really worry too much about Clare and her constantly escalating limb loss. She just grunts for a few minutes and regenerates her problems away. Even more irritating, Claymore opts to pair Clare with a young boy sidekick, Raki, who sucks. He serves his function, contrasting against Clare's inhumanity, but the moment the dismemberments hit the fan, he just gets in the way. Once we meet other Claymores, we realize that Clare, alien and aloof as she is, is actually the most likeable of the bunch. Raki gets kicked to the curb, and the show immediately improves as a result, until the end arc where they bring him back. Ugh.
The anamorphic transfer is on par with recent Funimation releases—solid, but not impressive. Silver and purples are vibrant, but the picture exhibits some noticeable ghosting and muddled black levels. Brown and gray tones all kind of blend into a jumbled mess of earth tones. The picture is clean, but a bit of the soft side, lacking fidelity and crispness. Audio comes in English 5.1 surround and Japanese stereo—another pet peeve. The surround is full and active with excellent use of its channels, spacing out the sword clanging and battle sounds appropriately. Some more punch in the rear channels would be appreciated. Bass response is strong, and even the English voice acting isn't the worst I've ever heard. The Japanese track sounds tinny and ineffective in comparison, and I wish Funimation had confidence in its audience to give the full treatment to the native language track.
Extras are respectable for an anime box set, with six episode commentary tracks, Japanese staff interviews, original TV commercials, cast audition footage, textless songs, and two twenty-four page booklets of character designs and biographies. Not too shabby.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For lack of a better word, the show suffers from the plague of Dragonball Z dramatic narrative development, as many do these days. Clare is revealed to be the runt, the weakest of the Claymores, teased and accosted by progressively stronger opponents. She would be in trouble, were it not for an endless repository of escalations, grunting, and magical transformations that increase her power level. One minute she's on the ropes, then the enemy says "What?" and next thing you know, they're losing an arm. No matter how powerful the opponent gets—and they get real dangerous, real fast—Clare comes out on top due to a never-ending reservoir of secret power. Entertaining to be sure, but it murders the dramatic tension, especially towards the end of the series.
Claymore brings enough originality and passion to its story to reward audiences and justify the investment of money and time. It is a cold, violent, and often emotionally wrenching journey, but worthwhile. There's something elegant and cruel about its vision of sexually repressed female warriors dismembering each other on the battlefield, a ruthlessness that makes the show just unpredictable enough to stand out amongst a heavily saturated playing field. Add to it some excellent animation and satisfying fight sequences, and Claymore comes out a winner.
Not a series I expected to find much creativity and enjoyment in, so definitely a pleasant surprise. Not guilty.
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