When the anime adaptation of Claymore first started making waves in 2007 it was often compared with the ambitious Berserk TV series from the late-90s. It’s not hard to see why – Claymore Complete Collection is set in a fictitious fantasy world, the main character wields an enormous sword and it promises the kind of gore seemingly out of favour since the hyperbolic anime of the 80s and early 90s which were fuelled by the sheer power derived from proverbial rivers of bloodshed.
The reality is a little more nuanced.
Claymore Complete Collection centres itself around Clare, a Claymore operating under the guidance of The Organization. It is The Organization who manages these female warriors who are tasked with identifying and killing yoma strewn throughout the land. Claymores are human beings fused with supernatural powers in order to allow them to harness their heightened abilities while using their innate humanity to control the power. They have a strict code that forbids them from attacking people and if another member breaks this code or starts losing control of their humanity, the punishment is death.
Claymore Complete Series begins with an interesting if predictable exploration into the Claymore society. In the early part of the show Clare takes on a young ward, Raki, who was pushed out of his town after his family died following a yoma attack. Through Raki we are given insight into the backstory of The Organization, its norms and learn what life is like for a Claymore. For the most part this sets itself up as a monster of the week structure dominated by travel/yoma/chit-chat, head to the next town and repeat.
Around a third of the way into this collection the narrative takes a sizable detour by covering Clare’s origin story, and it’s here we get to see the strengths of Claymore. While nothing here is particularly innovative, the combination of narrative pacing and character development go a long way to setting up future arcs in this collection and does a great job in avoiding feeling like a filler arc.
As the story progresses though, it arguably starts to loose some of its brevity. While supernatural beings swinging around unwieldy swords seems like the stuff of fancy, Claymore starts to wear its shounen manga tropes on its sleeves a little too enthusiastically during certain arcs. What started as a narrative based on exploring characters soon treads the familiar “power-up” structure that leaves the series chasing a Dragon Ball model where Clare constantly needs to increase her power level. Combined with a heavy reliance on revisiting previous scenes and recycled animation thereof, Claymore slowly loses its sense of depth or any real consequential impact compared to the strength of its commencement. Large scale battles with evolved yoma, known as Awakened Beings, make for some amazing visual displays, but moving to the action genre robs the story of its potential to explore the characters and world in more detail.
The end result is a mixed experience. As an action anime it generally does a very good job, with lovely production values, great designs and satisfying conflict. The use of powerful female key roles is also a welcome relief, especially given the series’ general disinterest in unnecessarily objectifying them.
But there was always a niggling feeling, probably borne out of my love of Berserk, that the sacrifices made to accomodate the action limited where it could have taken the story. Clare’s a fascinating character and the broader conspiracy with The Organization featured some great moments. Raki, while seemingly a way to get the viewer up to date with the world, seems a little one note and doesn’t really grow much over the course of the anime but has potential.
Given the anime suffers from problems typical of animating a limited set of the manga, the reliance on action setpieces at the expense of some more deep and meaningful moments is understandable, but it’s still a bit disappointing. At the same time, at 26 episodes in a single TV series it isn’t surprising that a combination of budget and narrative pacing has resulted in some of these issues.
The Blu-Ray release of Claymore Complete Series is very thorough. On a technical level, we can see how the production workflow has produced an interesting mix of challenges for this release. The anime itself was a standard definition digipaint production with content created in a mix of 24p (film) and 29.97p (generally referred to as an NTSC framerate though this is technically incorrect and not a can of worms that needs to be opened here!). The resultant release is in 1080i in order to preserve as much of the original content as possible to avoid dropping excess frames. In practice, assuming your display’s reasonably flexible this should be fine for general viewing as the deinterlacing engine in your TV’s rendering pipeine will take care of making it work. Some may argue that you’re losing resolution since the frames are interlaced, but given this is ultimately an upscaled standard definition release, it’s a difficult point to get stuck on.
So video quality wise this isn’t up there with a native HD production and I’ll admit some of those artificially smooth digital panning shots came off feeling a bit cheap, but it’s no fault of the Blu-Ray – this is the Japanese source materials dictating the solution and it does a commendable job as an upscale.
Outside of the extended episode count which presents great value in terms of price and duration, there’s a surround track for the English dub and a stereo mix for the Japanese version. As a product of its era there’s also a wealthy mix of supplementary materials here that is great for deep-diving into this series.
Claymore Complete Collection is hard to fault as a package – the encoding is nice and improves on the earlier PAL DVD releases on a number of levels, the upscaling has been handled well and the bonus materials are interesting. As a show though, it didn’t quite get there and would have benefited from a few tweaks to the pacing, especially towards the end. It’s still a fascinating journey though, but make sure you take the time to check out the TV adaptation of Berserk which arguably tackles a similar narrative world more successfully.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.