The third volume of Claymore brought home something that I’d been thinking about through the previous two volumes of the series. When you have a show with a premise that’s simple and bold, it lends itself to becoming a multifaceted metaphor in the viewer’s minds. Already I’ve seen analogies for the war between the sexes, the superiority (true or alleged) of the male or the female of the species, the difficulty of keeping personal discipline under pressure … and at least a few others I forgot to write down ‘cause I was caught up in the drama of the whole thing.
Is that bad news? I don’t think so. If the mere act of watching a show doesn’t hold our interest on a basic entertainment level, then it’s probably not going to spark much of anything else. But Claymore’s a solid show because it remembers to entertain first, and lets its deeper meanings suggest themselves naturally through the action. I hope they keep that balance through the rest of the episodes, and from what I’ve seen they seem to be on the right track.
Disc three picks up in the middle of a battle Claire has been fighting along with three other Claymores — one which has all of them rather disturbed, since this is not merely an “Awakened Being”. It appears to be a male Awakened Being. Since the only Awakened Beings they know of would logically be female, something is deeply amiss. The only way they can fight such a beast and win is to skirt the crumbling edge of becoming Awakened Beings themselves … which, of course, means that if any of them fall over that edge they will have to be slain by their own comrades. It’s not a danger they haven’t known before — they just haven’t faced it in this immediate a fashion yet.
The next two episodes, “The Endless Gravestones” (parts 1 and 2), pit Claire against not only an Awakened Being but also another Claymore. Said Claymore’s name is Ophelia — #4 from the top in the hierarchy — and she is less concerned with destroying Awakened Beings than she is in proving her superiority. In the show’s ugliest and most disturbing scene yet, Ophelia cheerfully hacks off Claire’s legs, then attacks Claire’s human sidekick Raki to see how long the boy can hold out while gradually ramping up her strength.
To everyone’s surprise — not least of all Claire’s — Raki takes quite a beating but doesn’t back down. Not because he’s crazy, either, but because he figures he owes it to both he and Claire … and because from all he’s seen, his chances of survival go up the more he tries to emulate her example. This is the first time Claire has not only had someone close to her to protect, but someone who has actively tried to rise to her level, and it reaches her on an emotional level she didn’t even know she had. I doubt we’re going to see a situation where the two of them reverse roles completely — i.e., Raki as the protector, and Claire as the innocent. Raki may never be on a par with Claire, but at the very least he seems to be learning how to stand up and defend himself — especially when there’s no one else around to do it for him.
One thing which is spelled out in one of the on-disc commentaries is how, based on Claire’s example, we are led to initially believe that the Claymores are all a fairly emotionless lot. We’ve since seen that she’s the exception rather than the rule, and in fact her emotional discipline (which allows her to cloak her youma power as well) may have been one of her long-standing saving graces. It helps her survive when her arm is sliced off and destroyed, when she’s left for dead by Ophelia — and when she’s rescued by, of all people, one of Teresa’s executors.
This would be none other than the former #2, “Quick-Sword Elena”, she of a sword technique that is so blisteringly fast it can’t even be seen by the naked eye. Now a dropout from the ranks of the Organization, Elena takes the wounded Claire into her care and tries to teach her the same fighting style. Both of them realize Claire can only go so far with the power she has, and so Elena gives her a gift: her own arm, to replace the one that was destroyed. It’s a sly one-up on the old martial-arts cliché of the master presenting his graduating student with the sword … right down to the fact that Claire promises to return the arm when she’s finished with it.
When Claire and the now-wholly-monstrous Ophelia clash, in the last episode, a final revelation comes to the surface about Ophelia. I will not describe it here, but it underscores something that has been made clear about both the Claymores and their prey. Everyone, even the monsters, has a history and motives for what they do. It does not make the beasts more human, though. On the contrary: it only makes it clear to us how far they have fallen, and what they have left behind.
Other people (like Scott Green of Ain't It Cool News) have worried that Claymore’s story arc will take It right back into the kind of territory it seemed to be doing its best to avoid. We don’t want to see Raki turn into a badass — he doesn’t need to be one, he wouldn’t benefit from being one, and that’s not what this story is about. Fortunately Claymore doesn’t seem headed in that direction — not when you have the footprints of so many other, lesser stories already pointing that way as object lessons in what to avoid.
Video: FUNimation gets top marks for the video quality of this show — it’s not only 16×9, but flagged for progressive playback during the program portion of the show. (For some strange reason, the opening and closing credits are not progressive, but interlaced — although this doesn’t really detract from the show as a whole, it’s just odd.) That said, the animation quality is on the limited side — there’s not as much fluidity of movement as you might expect for a show that sports a good deal of action and violence. They make up for it in two ways, though: the richness of the color palettes they use, and the generally absorbing quality of the show.
Audio: As with many other releases I’ve seen lately, the Japanese audio featured here is only 2.0, with the English being a 5.1 mix. This is not a massive drawback; the Japanese audio’s quite rich by itself, although the English track has that much more work done with the channels (as touched on in the cast commentary on this disc).
Dialogue: Todd Haberkorn was both the voice casting director for the show, and the voice for Raki. As with Watanuki in ×××HOLiC, he’s good at those slightly gormless, callow-young-man roles — just the sort of thing Raki needs in an English voice actor. For the plum role of Claire, they went with Stephanie Young (Nico Robin from One Piece, and the smoky-voiced Kagero from Basilisk), and while it isn’t the casting most people would have expected it’s effective in the long haul — especially when Claire’s nascent emotional side comes to the fore.
Menus: Someone at FUNimation finally woke up and authored this title with menus that match the aspect ratio of the feature itself. I’ve discovered that on some models of player, having the menus and the title in different aspect ratios messes up the playback. The menus themselves are static slates with music loops, but the music choices are excellent (how much for the CD?) and the graphics complement the show’s look-and-feel to a T.
Extras: The goodies this time around are an interview with sound director Yasunori Honda, running commentary on episode 11 (the first episode on the disc), textless opening and closing songs and the usual spate of trailers: D. Gray-Man, Darker Than Black, Shin-chan, Kurau Phantom Memory, DragonBall GT, Baccano!, Claymore itself, and Shigurui: Death Frenzy. The commentary includes Collen Clinkenbeard and Monica Rial, and it’s a hoot all the way through.
The Bottom Line: Balancing action and a thoughtful story is tough. I didn’t like the way Gantz attempted this sort of thing: the action was terrific (if excruciatingly drawn-out), but the alleged sophistication in the storytelling amounted to little more than the cynicism that no good deed goes unpunished. Claymore has at least as much on its mind, but is far wiser about how to get there and how to go about saying it. It may be grim and gritty, but it knows better than to be only that.