[Synopsis]: In the world of Claymore, shapeshifting demons called Yoma use their abilities to steal the appearances of townsfolk and integrate into human society in order to discretely kill those around them and eat their entrails. In order to dispatch the Yoma threat, the enigmatic faction known as the Organization created the Claymores, immensely powerful half-human, half-Yoma, female warriors named for their iconic great swords and recognized by their piercing silver eyes. Clare (Kuwashima, Houko), a Claymore warrior, travels from town to town at the beck of the Organization in order to slay Yoma though her ambitions quickly spur her towards a greater conflict.
Claymore offers a handful of interesting characters from among its sizable cast which primarily consists of Claymores and Yoma with the exception of Raki and the members of the Organization. Despite its billing as a sword-clashing action show, the manner in which its action manifests can be better likened to a show about superpowers as a great many of the Claymores introduced are best recognized and defined by what the excel at, do best, or can do uniquely. These inhuman feats are what allow them to dispatch their Yoma foes and Claymore keeps their abilities diverse enough not to feel too repetitive though the scale of the action at times gets away from the show.
Clare, the Claymore we are first introduced to and the protagonist of the show, is well-established in the first episode. She sports a distant and fatalistic mindset that quickly queues the viewers into what kind of beings the Claymores are – highly utility-based in their vocation, spurned by those they protect, and though they do not initially appear so, not entirely human. Clare’s early characterization does a great job of setting the precedent for most of the model Claymores that follow, though between her own development as well as the introduction of other notable Claymores, the show’s cast features an emotive side as well. Clare can best be defined by her ambitions of protecting Raki as well as her deep-seated want for vengeance however these two things ultimately conflict each other and cause her character to fall short in certain regards.
Due to her attachment to Raki, Clare doesn’t’ quite exemplify the classic revenge-heroine and while this would normally be fine, because of Raki’s poor and uninteresting characterization, this attachment only serves to cheapens her character. Because of these two conflicting interests it becomes hard to tell what compels her as she progresses through the narrative as she seems to favor one ambition over the other intermittently though nothing seems to dictate this desire. Clare doesn’t offer a whole lot of character complexity as her actions in accordance with her beliefs and desires are very straightforward however her interactions with Raki and her fellow Claymores make her endearing to the point of being interesting and her backstory adds to her character immensely.
Turning next to Raki, as I stated earlier he suffers immensely from pretty poor characterization and never truly progresses beyond his introduction in terms of interest or even intricacy. His desire to grow stronger and protect Clare may give him a reason to fight and grow though he does effectively none of this during the course of the show and instead remains both forgettable and annoying because of his weak and whiny personality. Early on Raki serves as a pseudo-relatable layman who introduces the viewers to the horrors perpetuated by the Yoma and allows us insight into the nature of Clare and the Claymores in juxtaposition to a human character. Unfortunately he never grows beyond this initial utility and all subsequent involvement with him is both uninteresting and forgettable. Luckily, his presence in the latter half of the show is fairly light as it focuses more on Clare and her fellow Claymores and so he does not wound the show to the point that he could have had he been given a greater role.
The remainder of the cast is given a fair amount of attention in respect to the myriad of other Claymores who each come with their own tragic stories and set of skills. The Claymores closest to Clare remain the most interesting throughout the narrative as they display the most individuality. Claymore uses this well to differentiate between the otherwise similar characters while at times making them compelling in their own right. In short, with the exception of Raki, just about all of the characters are perfectly tolerable and are even entertaining in a good many circumstances. Though no character seems to feature any provocative intricacies, Claymore is ultimately more interested in its plot and action than in its characters which works well enough for it.
Though a major interest of Claymore is presenting exciting action sequences, it is in those areas that some of the show’s aesthetic problems arise. Early on in the show the fight scenes are quite choppy – each part of the sequence used to deliver a single strike but not necessarily in a weighty manner, choosing to animate the drawback and the blow but rarely the strike itself. This leads to a few fairly boring action sequences early in the show with relatively no choreography to speak of that at first worried me, conditioning me to think that the majority of the fights would be just as stiff and clunky. Fortunately this was not entirely the case. The fight scenes get considerably better during the course of Clare’s flashback which takes place after the first few episodes and the show does better thereon out. The action scenes become altogether bearable and each battle has at least one moment of consequence within it however Claymore’s action scenes ultimately fall short of becoming a major point of strength for the show.
One point of success I think that is worth detailing is the show’s ability to present a fairly uniform set of characters in the Claymores who for the most part lack diversity between one another outside of their voices and hairstyles. They end up feeling unique enough when placed alongside one another despite their aesthetic similarities and I think it speaks well of the show that it was able to illustrate them in this way and avoid an outcome that would have been highly frustrating and tiresome.
One other issue that arises from Claymore’s action scenes concerns how the Claymores themselves usually end up taking one hell of a beating due to their monstrous endurance and inhuman ability to regenerate from seemingly lethal wounds. This ability to regenerate and endure such extreme damage is a major staple of the Claymore design and makes them quite interesting from a design perspective – allowing them to best their demonic opposites through their sheer force of will and endurance rather than by more straightforward means. While this can be highly entertaining it can also be potentially problematic. The nature of the Claymores allows for the show to be extremely violent with its fights, constantly impaling and dismembering its cast however given that each fight features these things in excess, they threaten to desensitize the viewer to the danger and implication of these wounds. It becomes harder and harder to tell when a character is truly in danger as the show treats each major blow with some gravity though the characters themselves tend to shrug them off. This can compromise the tension of the action scenes and in the worst case scenario lead to the viewer not caring what happens to the character as they always seem to stand back up after receiving what would appear to be lethal wounds. That being said, Claymore does find ways to preserve the clarity of its action and effectively make Clare feel disadvantaged and in danger during a majority of her encounters – the problem only arises intermittently and depends heavily upon the viewers own suspense of disbelief.
The plot of Claymore starts out in a highly typical fashion given its premise – a mutant warrior spurned by the very humans she protects makes her way from town to town destroying the monster that lurk among the townspeople before moving on. Though they do not look monstrous, the show does well to establish the Claymores as not entirely human-feeling through their distant interactions with the townspeople as well as their own behaviors. Simultaneously, the rest of the show’s intent is to upend this initial interpretation of Claymores by reminding us of how human they can be through Clare’s own journey as well as the characterization of her friends. The first few episodes introduce the viewer to Clare’s lifestyle as a Claymore while attempting to foster the attachment between her and Raki, a boy she both meets and coincidentally saves in the first episode. Its a bit slow going until the show provides a lengthy flashback of Clare’s past which brings the show out of its initially uncharacterized and stereotypical stages and into a far more interesting light. From then on out we have fairly compelling context with which to appreciate Clare that we had previously lacked the prior 4 odd episodes and the plot quickly becomes far more exciting than the day to day life of a Claymore.
The Yoma are fairly straightforward shape-shifting monsters with the exception of their ability to gain the memories of the victim that they mimic. Due to this simple design premise they might quickly become forgettable canon-fodder in accordance with the natural power-creep of the show if not for certain plot developments that complicate them to a greater extent than their original conception. I was a bit upset to see that Claymore didn’t further explore the memory stealing aspect of the Yoma as it was the most unique thing about them however it seemed to be entirely forgotten after the events of the first episode.
Perhaps the show’s strongest narrative ability was its knack for exhibiting despair. Claymore very frequently relied on a mismatched power dynamic between the two characters fighting – often Clare and a Yoma. The show found success in how it portrayed the woeful hopelessness that stemmed from the disparity in strength between the two fighters. It continuously found ways to push beyond what strength and feats we thought possible beforehand and in this way maintained the mismatched dynamic of the fights while keeping the progression of the action scenes engaging and interesting. The latter half of the show occasionally had pacing problems because of these seemingly insurmountable odds and some fights took longer to unfold than necessary however they were ultimately fun enough if not a little overly repetitive at times.
Beyond its initial setting, Claymore mostly concerns itself with Clare’s journey under the direction of the Organization and later her journey to fulfill her desire for revenge and protect Raki. The show feels faster paced in some areas than others however markedly improves once it introduces Claymores other than Clare. The end of the show left a bit to be desired but did reach a proper enough conclusion of sorts – speculating as to the future of things and leaving a number of looming threats unresolved but finding a good enough stopping point as any.
Claymore’s soundtrack at first irritated me due to what I originally felt were some very weird music choices for the subject matter of the show. After the first couple of episodes however, the soundtrack became more fleshed out and with the exception of one song I found it fairly enjoyable and that it fit the show quite well. Claymore’s soundtrack doesn’t feel like much of an achievement beyond its own context however, after a turn, it did what it needed to and some songs stuck out in my mind even after its conclusion which is more than I can say of some shows.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
I think one of Claymore’s chief problems is that it never found any area in particular where it excelled as each success came coupled with a variety of issues and in no one instance was that success enough to overwhelm or impress me to the point where I could forgive the less consequential problems of the show. Claymore has a great premise and a pretty interesting world however its only moderately entertaining plot coupled with its fairly straightforward characters and lackluster action scenes resulted in something unsatisfactory though mildly entertaining.
I gave Claymore a 4 because it simply failed to offer anything particularly memorable or unique – its mediocre score is due more in part to the meagerness of its successes than it is due to the depth or severity of any of its failings. The show doesn’t feature many profound problems outside of perhaps Raki’s characterization however its many small shortcomings culminated in something decidedly average without any mind-blowing successes to diminish or forgive them.
I would recommend Claymore to fans of the darker and grittier variants of the action genre – thematically Claymore doesn’t become all that dark however its excessively violent action scenes lead it to share more similarities with those titles than not. Despite its occasional problems the show is still worth a watch though I would imagine a good many action shows should take priority over it.