Claymore Vol. 1 & 2 Review

Demon hunting is a popular genre in Japanese manga and anime, and one that has been done quite successfully elsewhere, so it takes something really special to distinguish any one series from the crowd. The initial episodes of Claymore don’t seem to promise anything exceptional in this regard other than a strong, well crafted and animated series with a nice tone of melancholy and sadness to the battles with monsters. That in itself makes a change from all-out high-powered action and profuse bloodletting, but the series has rather more to offer as it develops and takes a surprising turn into unexpected areas.

The dark tone is established by the fact that the creatures, Yoma – man-eating monsters capable of taking on the form of humans to prey on villages – are effectively only capable of being killed by one of their own. Always women, cold, impassive and unemotional silver-eyed witches, Claymores are however half-human and half-Yoma, the human part dangerously lessening progressively with each encounter with the Yoma. The villagers consequently are wary of inviting a Claymore into their midst, but the creatures are otherwise almost impossible to detect and kill. The medieval European setting is also effective in contributing to the tone of the series, even if it does at times take it close to Brotherhood of the Wolf (itself anime inspired) and even, with its incongruous heavy metal soundtrack and occasional bagpipes melodies to accompany the clanking of huge claymore swords, there are traces of Highlander here too.

There is no great variety to the storyline in the initial episodes – repeating variations of villagers reluctant to call in a Claymore to rid them of a Yoma terrorising the inhabitants only to be forever grateful for the service they provide. One young boy, Raki, however hooks up with a Claymore called Clare, curious to understand what it is that made her become a Claymore, and gradually the viewer gets some understanding of the warriors who wield the swords and the shadowy Organisation that lies behind them. On the introduction however of Clare’s mentor, Teresa of the Faint Smile, the series takes on a surprising change of direction, revealing an intense rivalry between the women that ranges from bitchy infighting over their ranking to a potentially serious internal civil war. There are also worse monsters out there than Yoma. The character designs, background art and the direction are all excellent, making this an enjoyable series to watch, keeping the viewer hooked for further history and revelations. Most viewers would probably hesitate to explore the series beyond Volume 1, but the revelations in Volume 2 provide a compelling reason to continue, making Manga Entertainment’s decision to package them together a sound one indeed.

The Disc: Claymore Vol 1 & 2 collects the first 10 episodes of the series on a two-disc set. The usual conversion issues apply, but other than the occasional interlaced frame causing some motion issues, the video quality is excellent throughout, the colour schemes in keeping with the tone of the series, the image appearing relatively smooth and stable. The audio choices are between a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 and an English 5.1 track (curiously however, at least on the checkdisc I viewed, the advertised English DD 5.1 track on the second disc actually plays as DD 2.0). While the Japanese track does seem to be the better option, the English dub with its dynamic surround mix (at least on Disc 1) is well voiced and a viable alternative, particularly as it means you can dispense with the unsightly bright yellow subtitles. The subtitles are literal rather than dubtitles. Extras consist of the standard textless opening and closing on both discs (does anyone really watch these?), a few short audio snippets of English cast auditions and American cast Commentaries for Episode 1 and 8. There is however a good interview with director Hiroyuki Tanaka.

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