This week on Anime Streaming Showcase we dive into a world of demons and the bad-ass women who slay them: Claymore. Norihiro Yagi’s dark medieval manga was stupendously adapted into an equally terrific anime that is a perfect to your digital queue.
Fantasy manga and novels seem to be a dime-a dozen in Japanese comics and literature and even videogames. It can be overwhelming to sift through the good and bad of the genre, although there are some instant standouts like the previously reviewed Grimgar novel and anime, or the hiatus-ridden Berserk manga, and to add a third candidate to that list, I’d like to present Claymore. Writer Norihiro Yagi creates a world tormented by demons called Yoma which are shape-shifting beings than hunger for the human population. Thankfully the world has a group at-the-ready to be called upon to eliminate such threats the people have dubbed ‘Claymore’. The eponymous group, primarily women, will arrive when a town is in need and eliminate any Yoma threat, collect their fee, and continue on to the next threat. The story turns its focus onto the moderately new Claymore, Clare, as her adventure in small town has her saving a young man named Raki that kickstarts her life down a path of introspection, betrayal, friendships, loyalty, and buckets of blood; human and Yoma.
Clare’s the main heroine of Claymore, but if you asked the humans their thoughts on Clare and her organization they’d be less that respectful, often labeling the soldiers with the less-polite ‘Silver-Eyed Witches’. Clare and the other Claymores are human-Yoma hybrids that rely on their demonic half’s power to save their other half brethren. The constant inner battles of keeping their demonic halves in check are constant exercises that can ultimately result in the more-heavily afflicted Claymore to require another in the organization to take their life before they’re too far gone. The human-Yoma control battle plays a large role in Claymore’s lore, but also an intriguing way for Yagi to showcase shonen power levels without relying on each Claymore requiring a ‘sense’ for it; it’s a visible manifestation that they’re able to notice and presents even more of his terrific and stylish art.
Knowing when to tap into your demonic side often introduces intrigue and tactical stances into Claymore’s battles. Nearly every one of the Claymore warriors relies on their Yoma power, Yoki, to develop new and devastating attacks. Additionally this creates a world that’s also profoundly bloody but despondent, as the Claymores lead empty existences. Never making friends, taking lovers, or having families, their entire goal is to wander the various lands defeating Yoma. An ever changing ranking system helps monitor the warriors’ strength and abilities, and naturally the higher ranked Claymore are capable of near-instantaneous annihilation of Yoma. Unfortunately, the stay at the top is often temporary, as it means you’ve tapped into your Yoki too much, and you’re nearly awakened. Awakening means, well, just as it sounds: your Yoki is assumed control and your human side is obsolete. It’s imperative for Claymore’s to keep themselves aware of their awakenings, and ensuring they ask for death before it’s too late for the rest of the world.
Claymore’s anime adaptation is handled by the ever impressive Studio Madhouse, who often cut corners here and there (as most anime studios do) but make up for it with careful consideration with Yagi’s characters to showcase their dissimilar appearances. It’s quite refreshing too, to see an anime set in the shonen genre that presents more adult, realistically proportioned main characters versus bombastic, big-eyed, absurdly proportioned heroines. Clare and the rest of the cast’s depictions help bring a more believable representation to the fantasy manga and anime category. In a story where death is prominent, and characters can be killed, or start killing others, in an instant, relatability and human-aspects help create more tension and empathy towards their actions. And, despite the entire Claymore brood being blonde-haired and silver-eyed, their distinguishing hairstyles and body language creates personality as much as their actions and motives. Of course, as flashy and stylistic the characters and fight are, Yagi still has a story to tell, and will often interrupt fights to do so. Fights will often be half-physical, half-verbal, with the Claymore expositing dialogue and monologues to explain themselves or actions. It’s another small impairment on an action show, but in the terms of world and character development, I understand its necessity, it’s just an annoyance when the action is often quite well done, only to be interrupted with dialogue. I guess Yagi had to have at least one glaring shonen trope in his series to appease his editors.
On the surface, Claymore has a distinguishing art style, one that studio Madhouse have adapted well from Yagi’s manga, and its various summaries you may read might make it sounds like yet another trope-laced shonen fantasy story. While its premise might sound rather ‘been there, done that’, Yagi often subverts the expected and will launch the story into a flashback, or kill off a character without any warning, enticing the viewer to stick around to see his vision. It also helps series director Hiroyuki Tanaka has his talents and has showcased them in early series like Cardcaptors Sakura and Chobits before Claymore, as well as later productions like the Attack on Titan anime and one of the Hunter x Hunter films. Claymore is a series that will hop around time periods and characters a number of times, but will always be a constant, moving forward force. The only major complaint towards the series lies in its finale and its reliance on an anime-only ending due to Madhouse’s choice to makes the anime more finite than open-ended. Deciding to not have the series end absolutely rather than to potentially allow a sequel series adapt the remaining manga content isn’t surprising, but it’s another blight that should be made aware to potential viewers.
In the end there will likely be more comparisons found within Claymore to say Berserk over Grimgar as its closest companion, but Claymore offers more than a palette/gender-swapped story. Both series dip into more of the dark medieval fantasy than the generally cheery side of something like Konosuba, and their characters and story benefit from this. The anime-only ending is a rather unfortunate occurrence, but everything before the finale is some of the finest, subversive dark fantasy available. Furthermore, the manga has also been fully translated by Viz media, so if you need more Claymore, there manga are readily available. Word of advice, the series adapts roughly the first eleven volumes, so if you need to know where to pick up, I’d recommend from volume eleven forward, but the story’s entirety is a worthwhile venture. If you’re in the mood for a dismal, blood-spattered fantastical show that’s still as strong as it was over ten years after its debut, Claymore is happy to fill that hole. You may find Claymore streaming on Hulu and Funimation subbed and dubbed in its entirety.
Like most people here, I’ve been watching anime for many, many years. I owe blocks like Toonami for getting me into the medium. Shows like Dragonball Z and Ronin Warriors shaped my beginning years, while shows like Neon Genesis Evangleion and Cowboy Bebop showed me that there’s some true artistic ability and expression found within anime (moreso than big burly dudes punching and screaming for hours on end). I now try to watch anime showcasing many genres and storytelling. Anime is just another great, creative medium for telling stories, and I’m happy to share my thoughts on the series I enjoy with you!