Thursday, 19 April 2007 00:00

Claymore (TV, 2007)

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Overview

Some characters just have it all. Tall. Cute. Silver eyes... and a sword that would make the CLAMP girls drool. For those that don't recognize the general description of Clare, I'm talking about Claymore this week. I picked this one up off of the Froth-Bite feed. Up until the last week, my watch list has been getting alarmingly small, with Ghost Hunt, Ah! My Goddess: Sorezore No Tsubasa, and Red Garden all having wrapped up their runs right about the same time. It was time to try out some new series, and after looking up the basics on ANN, I decided that Claymore would be a good candidate for the spring season.

Review

Claymore takes place in a European styled medieval world - think Arthur and his knights, folks - and opens up on a very messily killed corpse laying out in the middle of a street. A group of villagers are gathered around, and through the course of the discussion we learn that this is not the first such corpse, and that it's almost certain that there is a 'Youma' hidden somewhere within the village. There is great concern over this fact, needless to say. Cut to a town meeting, where the mayor announces something that makes the assembled villagers down right scared shitless. He's decided that it's time to call in... one of 'them.' It's always worth noting when the cure actually panics the victims worse than the disease, which is the case when the Mayor tells them that he has petitioned a 'Claymore' for help.

The story moves back outside, as a pair of brothers talk over the meeting earlier. The younger, named Raki, asks what's so bad about Claymores; the elder begins to answer, but a commotion by the front gate of the city interrupts him. The Claymore has arrived... and much to Raki's surprise, it's a girl that doesn't look to be too much older than himself... I should note that the women are known as Claymores because of their weapons, a massive - I mean Sam's Club size here, folks - claymore sword. Clare points out, in no uncertain terms, that they don't actually have a specific name for what she is... it's just what humans happen to call them.

I don't want to ruin what is a surprisingly effective first episode, so I'll leave off there. The Claymores are formerly human women who bind themselves to a youma, effectively becoming a half breed. I don't mean that they tie their arm to a monster, folks... I mean they literally use their own bodies as prisons for a demon. Thus we have Clare, the Claymore that walks into Raki's village. My first impression was that she was a Vampire Hunter D clone... and honestly, in some ways, she is. In fact, despite having a fairly nice body in standard skin-tight anime armor, and a nicely cute face, she's so... devoid of soul at her introduction that it took me a good three episodes to really recognize either of those truths. Oh, the fact of it was present in my mind, to be sure, but Clare is so clinically detached from what I saw that they just wouldn't register.

Having 'read' the manga series already, I can say that not only was this effect intentional... but that it was executed almost flawlessly. The beginning development of a personality for Clare hit me from so far out of left field that I never even saw it coming. See, the thing of it is, Clare's character development isn't being done through her, it's being shown through her reflection on others. You'll begin to see what I mean by the mid-point of episode three, but in retrospect it started almost as soon as Raki laid awe-struck eyes on her.

That brings me to the other main character, Raki. Here we have what looks, at the start, to be a very Standard Anime Sidekick. Useful now and then, lunar opposite to at least three traits of the 'hero', and overall a little annoying. Instead, as he proves quite stunningly clearly at the half-way point of episode one, Raki isn't just not SAS material... the kid's got rocks the size of which usually go chasing guys like Indiana Jones around lost temples. Again, I don't want to ruin a damned effective first episode, so I won't go into detail there, but what he does isn't a one-time thing. Actually, by the third episode, I found myself thinking that he actually must have a little of Keichi Morisato in him too, which makes for an interesting character. He does have his annoying moments - and in some respects, he is VERY much the child he is portrayed to be - but I can't fault him for that. Considering the events leading up to him and Clare meeting, its a wonder he wasn't a full on basket case, much less operating at the level he is.

There are other figures at work, of course, and if the sense of multi-layered plot that I got out of looking through the manga is even close, then when Claymore really gets rolling the story is going to be well worth waiting for. I do admit to having a certain amount of trouble with the sheer fatalism of the Claymores, even if they are, at a base level, nothing more than living weapons of war by the time we meet them. Clare does seem a bit atypical among them in terms of her seeming lack of soul, but... Well, its a question I look forward to having answered when the series gets more into the main line of the story.

The animation style is... growing on me. The character design does take a little getting used to, especially Clare's. Much like coming to connect the fact that she can be down right cute and even beautiful with the actual character seen on screen, it took a while to realize that the artists are using her design to portray her development. Now, that may sound redundant, I know... Just watch the gradual shift from when she first appears in episode one to the tail end of one. She does start out very robotic... but even within the first thirty minutes, you begin to detect traces of life within her. There is a very subtle shift in her shading and I think even a slight adjustment to her skin tone, adding hints of color and realism over time. Episode two, by the way, does show that while she is rather inhuman seeming... she most definitely does still have a human side. I'll touch on that in a minute. The actual series animation has thus far been pretty good, though I'm not willing to call it stellar just yet. Instead lets say that its what I would expect of a solid series.

The voice acting has been spot-on, with both Clare and Raki's voices not just suiting the character, but being quite befitting. Raki really does sound like a moderately naive young man, with the ability to run from overly enthusiastic boyish exuberance to an age-belying solemness at times. Clare's VA is appropriately cold and controlled, and she has a frightening ability to sound matter-of-fact about very unpleasant things. I'd like to add that they play off each other really well too, not just in terms of character interaction, but the VA's themselves. One particularly funny series of lines pops up in the early part of episode three, and Clare's ability to be absolutely devoid of emotion in her statements really does make the joke when taken with Raki's youthful shyness and embarrassment.

Overall

It goes without saying, I've been enjoying the series. Both main characters have managed to impress me, not just with their depth, but also in the way that the writers are able to play them off each other. Clare's development especially has been nothing short of amazing, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it in the next few episodes. Raki has the setup to mature very well, and very quickly should the writers decide to take it, but if they stick to the manga as I suspect they will, then he'll actually be given time to develop into the role as he should, rather than being thrust into it. Strong characters and a strong plot line are, as always, a quick way to earn a high rating from me, so naturally I'll recommend Claymore for the average viewer. There is a decent amount of blood already, and the violence factor WILL be ramping up rather significantly in the near future, so the queasy may want to look elsewhere. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the Claymores are... impressively fatalistic, and considering that they can take a boatload of punishment...

I did want to touch on something that episode two does that most series of this style simply do not. It's something that led me to push K`thardin to watch the series, because it happens to be one of his Major Fucking Issues that never fails to illicit a comment. Most series either ignore, or else simply negate the implications of pairing a human with a captured... whatever. Life force, spirit, demonic device, unholy-bathrobe-of-mass-fanservicy-exposure... Boil it down far enough, and you're still left with a human stuck dealing in the most intimate way possible with something very nasty that wants the fuck out. Claymore however, not only deals with it... the series lays it out in as blatant, unforgiving, and unpleasant terms as possible. The situation is very much a lesson for Raki, who does not in the least understand what he's just been shown... though I daresay that he eventually will. But its handled so.... honestly, so... purely that it almost completely recasts Clare in just dealing with it. Well, you'll see what I'm talking about for yourself, I hope... High marks for Claymore, and a series well worth watching in the flood of spring season series.

Update 2012.03.31 - A long belated addition to the above review... Unfortunately, the series just did NOT end well. In fact, the made for TV ending was so craptacular that it utterly torpedoed all the good that the series had done to that point. Watch the first 21 episodes or so... don't bother with the last few.

Additional Info

  • Title: Claymore, Kureimoa, クレイモア
  • Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Action
  • Director: Hiroyuki Tanaka
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Licensed: Madman Entertainment, Funimation Entertainment
  • Network: NTV
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 26
  • Animation: Very Good (+3)
  • Writing: Nuke it from Orbit!! (-5)
  • Pacing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Voice Acting: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Soundtrack: Good (+2)

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