Claymore wastes little time in defining itself as a dark, serious, and bloody fantasy story heavy on action but not enslaved to it. The early episodes of the story establish setting, mood, many basic Claymore circumstances, and main character development, followed by a seminal four-episode backstory arc. Nearly everything that happens in the series either directly or indirectly results from the events of episodes 5-8 (with the climax of episode 8 being the series’ most pivotal moment), so rewatching these episodes to get solid on their details is highly recommended. Those episodes also show that the relationship Clare gradually forms with Raki as an adult closely parallels the relationship Clare formed with Teresa as a child, albeit in reverse; in the past story arc, she is the one who unwittingly helped rehumanize a detached and businesslike Claymore, while in the present story arc Raki is serving the same function for her. Given the characteristic that makes Clare different from other Claymores, this is especially ironic. These episodes also, arguably, form the best story arc in the entire series, with some truly heartfelt moments.
Episodes 9-11 Involve Clare’s first team mission hunting an Awakened Being, which is significant for four reasons: it introduces the recurring characters Miria, Helen, Deneve, and Galatea; it fully explains how Awakened Beings come about; it shows where Clare stands within the power ranks of the organization; and it suggests at deeper and slightly more sinister motivations within the hierarchy of the Claymore organization, although the anime series devotes little later effort to exploring them further. (This series is all about the ground-pounders, not the leaders.) Episodes 12-14 bring about a major plot development, bring back a character thought dead, and put Clare up against a fellow Claymore for the first time as they introduce Ophelia, unquestionably the most twisted and menacing of all the Claymores. Episodes 15-17 introduce recurring character Jeanne and the Dwellers of the Deep/Abyssal Ones, which sets up the Northern Campaign story arc which finishes out the series and introduces both Easley/Isley and numerous additional Claymores. Notably, the series includes no unnecessary stand-alone tales, side stories, or filler; every episode is, in some way or another, either directly a part of the bigger picture or in some way establishing details directly relevant to the bigger picture, although it may not seem that way at first with the past story arc.
Once the series gets past the backstory arc it increasingly takes on the feel of a typical shonen action series, albeit one with a decidedly more severe and mature tone than normal. The staging of the action scenes, power build-ups, increasing power levels/skill sets, and friends and foes constantly prematurely declaring battles over or settled all smack of standard shonen action practices, and many of the animation shortcuts used in fights also will remind any experienced viewer of any number of other action series. The biggest detracting factor to the series is, in fact, its inability to achieve much beyond its shonen origins. The content does get far more graphic and brutal than the norm for shonen content, with graphic depictions of mangled bodies, decapitations, severed limbs, spurting blood, characters impaled or ripped in half, and unsettling displays of torture being regular elements. Add in a bit of nudity here and there and one attempted rape scene you have a series that would be well into the R-rated range by MPAA standards; a 16+ age rating is expected for the upcoming American DVD releases.
The striking character designs for the Claymores and inventive Awakened Being designs serve as the artistic highlights in a series which has one of the darkest and most drab overall color schemes you’ll ever see in an anime title, although occasionally this does create some dramatic visual contrasts. (Especially in episodes 25 and 26.) Animated fight scenes tend to take a lot of shortcuts, especially in the early going, but become more involved and fluid as the series progresses and the animation otherwise is good.
The anime version does generally follow the original manga, although it diverges quite a bit towards the end of the series as it reinterprets some of the key events that happen during the Northern campaign. With the exception of Raki’s disposition, the end of the last episode does at least generally bring the series back in line with the manga, which leaves the opportunity open for a follow-up series at some point when more manga content is available to be adapted. Some points not elaborated upon in the anime, such as Rafaela’s situation, what the deal is with the present-timelines Number 1 and Number 2 (who are mentioned but don’t appear in the anime), and the Numbers of certain Claymores, are better-explained in the manga.
The Japanese cast is notable for being practically a “Who’s Who” of well-known seiyuu, although it is hurt a bit by them having to generally speak in a lower pitch than normal and the difficulty some of them have in correctly pronouncing the English names prevalent in the series. English cast members have not yet been announced as of this writing.
If you’ve ever wanted to explore the dark and graphic side of fantasy anime, or can appreciate the appeal of lithe, sexy blond chicks wielding big swords, then this is a series certainly worth checking out. Arguments over whether the anime’s end is exactly right or total crap get rather vehement, although I feel the end of the series perfectly rounds out the actual central theme of the series: to save Clare from herself. Looked at one way, most of the series ultimately comes down to that.
Japanese Voice Acting: B+
Episode Count: 26
Graphic Content: Very High
Fan Service: Some nudity and near-nudity, but not a regular feature.
U.S. Licensing Prospects: License recently announced by FUNimation. Exact release dates have not been announced yet.