I like Claymore. It’s a bit different and a bit typical all at the same time. Occasionally I talk about how typical can work, how it’s not always a bad thing. Claymore is another good example of this. Dark and very mythical, there’s no big surprises in this one, but it’s fairly entertaining and has some high points. The characters […]
I like Claymore. It’s a bit different and a bit typical all at the same time. Occasionally I talk about how typical can work, how it’s not always a bad thing. Claymore is another good example of this.
Dark and very mythical, there’s no big surprises in this one, but it’s fairly entertaining and has some high points. The characters are interesting, the artwork is distinct and engaging, and even if the story is a bit unnecessarily winding, it works well enough. Currently only one season, the groundwork is laid for further seasons, although this show aired in 2007 and has not since received a second season, which leaves one to wonder if it ever will. Which is unfortunate, because it’s worth a watch, or two even!
This is a mild R-rated show, but be advised nevertheless before proceeding. Also some of the images are blurry and smaller than I’d prefer, as this show was early 2000s and pre-HD.
This show gets your attention right away with sequences of steel blades slashing through monstrous flesh and blood spewing into the air. But it keeps your attention once you realize the cause of this hacking and hewing. Very quickly we’re introduced to the imposing figure of a Briton woman as she stalks into a medieval town. She’s taller than everyone around her. She wears silvery white armor on her strong but lithe body. Silver hair encircles her face, a face that’s as serene and beautiful as it is monstrous. Silver eyes gleam an eerie light from this unsettling visage, eyes that seem to look out from some other consciousness in another world. But above all, you see the Great Sword at her back.
She is a Claymore, a creature half human, half monster. Her name is Clare, and you better remember it.
In this story, Claymores are specialized beings that hunt the demonic Yoma. The word “claymore” in our world refers to the large two-handed swords used by warriors in the Scottish highlands in the barbarous past. Hence the large broadswords these amazing ladies bear across their backs. They wield them ferociously, meant to rend limb from body.
Yoma are the creatures they hunt. Somewhere between Japanese youkai and the legends of great Highland beasts in the British isles, these monsters hunger for the entrails of human bodies, which they devour viciously once they settle down to hunt. They can take human forms, making them difficult for ordinary people to find even as they live among others. The Claymores can sense the Yoma aura, even when they’re in human form. Their demon form is large, strong, and built for battle. Ordinary people don’t stand much of a chance against them. Hence the evolution of The Organization, the group of Claymores and other shadowy figures that exist to hunt and exterminate Yoma upon request.
Clare is the main character among all the Claymores we see. Her appearance is startling and fascinating, but she’s also very typical in many ways. She lived a difficult past, was saved by a Claymore, who she then attached herself to, and who subsequently was killed by a powerful Yoma evolution known as an Awakened Being (more on that momentarily). Thus she seeks this creature throughout the land, becoming a Claymore herself and working of The Organization as she seeks revenge. At times she’s overwhelming, at times she is completely overwhelmed herself. This happens to pretty much all the Claymores we see, and is one of those “typical” things I’m referring to. We’re all pretty familiar with the character type who is overpowered one moment then bleeding from a thousand cuts the next. We get a ton of that in this show with the Claymores and the Yoma, but most of all from Clare.
Like this series overall, I like Clare. I don’t think there’s anything super great about her, nor anything that particularly distinguishes her among anime characters. But she defines this series, and everything is about her. She’s pretty, strong, troubled, human, monstrous, normal, strange, all kinds of things all at once. This is partly what makes her, and all the characters in Claymore, a little difficult to identify with or define at all, as they’re not very consistent in their characters.
Claymores are portrayed as cold, heartless, rule-bound, and impassive, with little motivation beyond the execution of their current Yoma-slaying job. But the next moment they’re very human, bickering over hierarchy and jockeying for position within a group, sizing each other up and looking down on the inferior. One on hand they’re distinct from humans, not feeling emotion and killing without mercy. On the other, human emotions do live somewhere within them, and can be evoked given the right people and circumstances. I suppose this is a kind of “monster living inside us” kind of theme, but it’s just kind of there and doesn’t really make a point of itself.
Claymores can “surpass their limits” and transform completely into Yoma. At one point, we’re told that this is the fate of all Claymores, to reach that limit and then either complete the transformation or be killed at their own request by other Claymores before the lose all of their humanity. This is all fairly anime typical as well, the “passing of limits” and even the subsequent overcoming of those “rules.” For many of the Claymores, Clare among them, “surpass” this “limit” and yet are able to return to their normal Claymore selves. Some do not, and become the aforementioned Awakened Beings, a superior version of ordinary Yoma, more monster than human, but retaining more of their humanity in their Yoma form than normal Yoma.
Japan has a well-known fascination with the British isles. From dullahans like Celty Sturlson to the Arthurian legends in the Fate/ series (and elsewhere) to these female warriors named for the claymore sword, we see lots of iterations of legends from Britain in Japanese anime literature. I like the Claymore designs. The tall figures and blonde/silver hair are definitely Gaelic characteristics, something we associate with the ancient Britons, whose appearance and abilities are well-documented in Roman and Britannic historical records. Legend surrounds these races after they fled from various invaders to the least inhabitable parts of the British isles. Some of you might be familiar with the Grendel legends, often associated with Briton holdouts living in fens and terrorizing local invading settlements. These legends are shrouded in myth as a result, a powerful, even monstrous, people that live on despite being despised and often hunted. It’s fun to see such legends take form in anime, and as imposing female warriors in Claymore.
There’s a lot of these Claymores by the way. We meet a ton of them. Given the similarities in their appearance, they’re often difficult to tell apart, and this adds a great deal of confusion in this show. When it started, there was just Clare and her backstory with two other Claymores, Teresa and Priscilla. So there were few of these similar looking people, and we could pretty easily tell the difference. I wish they’d stayed with this method. Because eventually we’re introduced to more Claymores than we can count, and while each mostly has a defining point one way or another, they’re difficult to tell apart on the whole. We have two different large group battles, and you really can’t tell one Claymore from another most of the time. It causes the battles to be a little confusing and muddles the story a little.
And their abilities! I haven’t even mentioned that yet. I said they’re typical in the sense that one moment they’re super powerful, then the next they’re laying face down in the snow, one arm separated from their body. Mostly they’re just really strong, using the Yoma part of themselves to enhance their senses and physical strength, enabling them to wield their great swords with terrific power. But as the series progresses, so does the power output. We get the thousand strikes per second thing again in this show, ultimately a skill that Clare inherits by (conveniently) borrowing the arm of another Claymore who had previously mastered the technique (oh yeah, they regenerate too, so she can attach a severed arm where she previously lost hers). It’s beyond the limits of impracticality to wield a broadsword in this manner, and I think it takes away from the show a little. These swords are meant to swing slowly and hit hard. The faster the better obviously, and the better the warrior obviously the faster it could be swung, but still, there has to be some limit to this. The whirlwind of strikes is impossible enough for the katana style weapons, but I realize there this is part of manga and anime visual tradition, and its impossibility is kind of what makes it fun. But I draw the line with a sword that’s as long as the user is tall. Remember how imposing Guts’ strikes are in Berserk? That’s because of how slow and powerfully he swings his great weapon. Those displays are magnificent and will thrill your senses. This whirlwind thing Clare eventually does is just kind of silly.
I’m going to stray out of the art realm and into the weeb realm for a moment. I love all you guys! So…waifuism. I bet some of you are chuckling right now. Some because you recognize how funny it is to bring this up in a Claymore review. Whatever you think about waifuism and however you might engage in that or whoever your type is, I have a hard time imagining any of these girls fit anybody’s description of that term. Personally, I love these powerful, soulless women, and I mean that sincerely. I like how this is a fantasy adventure action anime where all the the characters are women, yet there’s little ecchi and zero harem. I know warrioresses of all types sometimes fall into someone’s waifu category (General Esdeath comes to mind), but these Claymore ladies seem to defy any feeling in that sense. They’re just warriors. And I kind of like that.
That’s a good transition for my Artwork section. So I like these characters, even if I’m not always sure why! They’re a little typical, a little ordinary, a little unmemorable, but strange and unique and interesting somehow. They don’t evoke much emotion in me one way or another, but I enjoy watching them in action.
Continuing the waifuism thought for a moment: I really think this manga, and perhaps the anime, meant to emphasize the female form in its drawings. But it doesn’t end up doing that too much. The ladies all fit snuggly into their armor, even if it gets a little bulky around the shoulders for effect. But when you first start this show, you can’t always tell the different between skin and the tight bodysuit the Claymores wear under their armor. So the parts of them that aren’t covered in armor look completely exposed at times. Legs, arms above their gauntlets, and the area around their neck where their insignias upon their chests, all appear bare at times. I’m not sure why this is the case. If the artists were going for fanservice, all that sensation disappears once you realize it’s part of their suit. If it’s just part of the outfit, then I don’t understand why the bodysuit and their skin is so similar in color. The Claymores are noticeably more pale than everyone else—perhaps an element of their monstrosity or another homage to Briton heritage, or both. Their bodysuits beneath their armor are nearly the same pale color. So I don’t know if this was an attempt to make them move provocative sensually or if it was just an accident of the coloring.
If I can even call it coloring. This anime is all white and gray. We get a little color in the Claymores’ Yoma eyes and the red and purple blood that spews about pretty often, but mostly everything is just dark and dim and dull. I guess that’s part of the “dark” part of “dark fantasy.” I don’t mind it here. Actually, on the Claymores, it really works. They stand in stark contrast to even their subdued surroundings with how pale and ghostly they look. It highlights details, interestingly enough, and you can focus more on the details of each Claymore’s personal appearance.
Clare in particular got lots of attention. I love the short hair cropped around her face. I love the sharp-cornered eyes, the fiercely sloped eyebrows, the very triangular face, and her cold gaze. Combine this with her large shoulder armor plates and the cloak around her shoulders, she is imposing and fantastic to see. While a few other Claymores are introduced with short hair, she wears the short hair the best. It’s a little hard to describe exactly what I feel when I look at her. It’s a bit of a thrilling feeling, sensing the power in her aspect but not quite knowing what words to describe it with. Her long but powerful arm reaching behind this head to the hilt of her sword is quite a sight.
I mentioned the Claymores are very similar in appearance, and how partly because of the color scheme you can see little differences. Mostly this is in their facial features or hair styles. Most of the Claymores have long hair, which seems a little weird given that we’re introduced to Clare and her short hair immediately, giving a sense that this is a standard Claymore appearance. But I suppose that if everyone had short hair things would’ve gotten really confusing. Helen and Clare are a bit difficult to tell apart already, having similar haircuts. Well, either way, long or short, they both look good in these designs.
I don’t mind how the Yoma are designed. They really do remind you of something between a Japanese humanoid youkai or demon and Beowulf’s Grendel. It’s kind of fun to think about in that sense! However, not all the Yoma have humanoid forms. We get more into the youkai realm with some of them, with heads extending on long necks, or serpentine or insect bodies. One of the Awakened Beings has a lion’s appearance about his head but a humanoid body. It’s a bit weird, kind of like there wasn’t any one idea behind these Yoma designs, but more like they’re just whatever weird monster the author dreamed up that day. But it’s okay, they work well enough, even if it could’ve been better.
Priscilla’s design is interesting. It’s a little typical in some ways, with her impractical wings and humanoid breasts, but her face with the single horn and her body in general are imposing and will catch your attention (even without the breasts). I really like how she embodies the essence of what a Claymore can become. She really is portrayed as the mirror image of the Claymore, like a Claymore that’s turned to the dark side. She has a powerful serenity about her face where most of the Yoma have a monster’s wild or angry aspect on their faces most of the time. Priscilla looks like a Claymore in a monster’s body. It’s really well done. It’ll make your heart skip a beat. Maybe she’s a good waifu candidate?
The fights themselves are a little underwhelming. When I see the big sword, I want to see what Guts did with it in Berserk. For better or worse, it seems that show will always be unique in that regard. All other big swords are swung in a blur like they are toothpicks, and a nice opportunity to slow down action sequences and highlight savage cuts is lost. You only know mortal wounds are inflicted in this show after you see the limb at a distance from the victim, or when the slice cut from crown to crotch finally splits open as the Yoma continues its dramatic bitching. How I wished for a scene where Clare would strike her enemy to the ground and then rain heavy blow after raging heavy blow on some unyieldingly tough neck, the weapon gashing a little deeper with each strike and the victim’s body jumping with each shock! I would’ve stared in awe if these battles had resembled that in any manner! But instead I got the flying sparks and thousand cuts. It’s okay, but it could’ve been better.
You know I like this ’90s-‘00s style artwork. This is a slightly different version of that, with the strangely unique eyes and the prominent nose (likely to emphasize the Britannic appearance of these ladies—though I’m not a huge fan of the protruding upper lip, whatever the goal was behind that design choice), but I still love any semblance of that style. Green and gray and white work really well with this design in this show. So while I wouldn’t describe the artwork as beautiful, I would describe it as unique and very interesting. This show is visually engaging, and certainly one of the biggest reasons I recommend anyone watch it.
The story gets out of control in this one on a number of levels, and doesn’t end up serving the series well overall.
For one thing, the story doesn’t remain the same throughout. At first it’s about Clare and Raki, then it morphs into Clare’s revenge story and finally into the mystery surrounding The Organization, Claymores in general, and their relationship to the Yoma. While all of this may follow easily in the small arcs throughout the show, it doesn’t feel very contiguous as a result.
Next, one of my biggest peeves in anime is how protagonists’ power varies given the circumstance. This seems like a convenient copout for a writer, allowing them to highlight weaknesses in a character arbitrarily rather than incorporating that weakness into the character from the beginning. At one moment the character is overwhelming her opponents conveniently, and the next she’s being thrown through walls, also conveniently. The only person this doesn’t really appear in is Teresa, who is overwhelmingly strong until she lets her guard down to the clever Priscilla, who then lops off her head. It works in that case because we understand why Teresa would lower her guard. We’d seen this happen a few times up to that point already, when it seemed like a Claymore was about to get her Yoma power back under control. Then Priscilla’s newfound power is highlighted as she overcomes the strongest Claymore in that moment of humanness. So that works there. The rest of the time it just seems convenient.
Tied directly to this is another big peeve of mine. The ever-increasing power of antagonists bugs the hell out of me in anime. This is a surefire sign to me that a story has gotten out of control and the authors are out of ideas. This is one of the reasons why the protagonists often end up looking helpless all of a sudden. But then they scream and strain and overcome and become overwhelming once more themselves. It’s too predictable and completely ridiculous. By the time we’re at the end of this show, we see the same Awakened Beings at one moment so hard of skin that the Claymores can’t slice through them—indeed, they often use their arms to parry the Claymore strikes—then at the next a Claymore will raise their level just a bit and make a ton of gashes in the enemy where they would’ve just bounced off a moment ago. It’s that kind of silliness that bothers me in action anime.
They leave it open ended too. Priscilla and Clare’s battle is ridiculous, even if it’s nicely set inside the volcano and Priscilla is really interesting to watch, but it ends in a draw as Raki protects the wounded Priscilla after she returns to her human form, and Clare relents and allows the monster to escape with the mysterious Isley. Even that’s all too convenient, regardless that it’s designed to leave open the possibility of a second season.
So the story gets out of control in this show. It becomes every stronger monsters and therefore ever stronger Claymores, as the “lowest ranked” Clare finds a new level in herself continually, throwing aside all the cautions we’d been told about not “surpassing” her limits and finding power in her Yoma blood. It’s all a bit too typical.
But that’s just it: it’s very typical. From the story’s ordinary tropes and predictable evolution to the overused finger-stabbing techniques from the Yoma to the overused dialogue elements (“Impossible!”, “What on earth are you/did you do?”, “Get a hold of yourself!”, etc.) this show is full of typical anime bits and pieces. And it works. You realize it’s typical, you realize it didn’t take a ton of imagination to put it all together, but you also realize it isn’t unpleasant to watch. It’s just edgy enough to make the typicalness seem worthwhile, and so the typical elements work well for the whole.
This show isn’t going to make anybody’s top 20 list, maybe not even top 50, but it’s not a bad show at all. It’s not even an average show. It’s a really good show that just could’ve been a lot better. It has some interesting if strangely developed characters, has really interesting if slightly underwhelming artwork, and simultaneously too much and too little story.
I enjoyed it. For someone who hammers on the ordinary or the typical, I really enjoyed this series. Perhaps it’s the unique parts like the artwork or the focus on a serious women’s fighting force (not a High School DxD women’s fighting force for once). I do love the strong female characters who don’t have to act like they’re strong. They just are, and you know it. But whatever it is, I find this show highly engaging and even something I could rewatch at some point. I strongly hope for a second season.
I think this show probably wasn’t a financial success, or you’d think we’d already have a second season. I can understand that, as the show isn’t as good as it could’ve been, and probably disappointed some viewers. I can guess this would’ve been hard to watch week to week. It gains something when watched in continuous episodes. But I hope we get a second season. I love the art, I love the strong women, and I want to see more of it! I want to see everything resolved between Clare and Priscilla, whether through life or through death, through rose or through blade.