Monday, March 8, 2010

Blu-ray Review: Claymore the Complete Series

Claymore kicks all kinds of ass. 'Nuff said.

Seriously, if you've never seen Claymore before you're in for one hell of a treat. The 26 episode series originally aired in Japan during 2007 and came from the manga-ka Norihiro Yagi back in 2001. The show came out on DVD a little while ago and right from the gate it was clear that FUNimation did themselves a favor by picking up this license. While the aforementioned standard definition release is already on the market, FUNimation recently sent out a Blu-ray version of the complete series to stores as well. Is it worth it?

For the unfamiliar, Claymore could be best likened to Berserk, though that's not entirely a fair comparison. The show takes place in a fantasy world where demons known as Yoma feed on humans. They are fearsome beasts that can take over the bodies of people, inherit their memories, and when the time is right, strike. To say the populace is essentially an All You Can Eat Yoma buffet (which costs just $6.99 after your senior discount) would be an understatement. Fortunately for us frail morsels, er...I mean mortals, there is a group known as the Organization.

The Organization is a collection of people known as Claymores and a hierarchy of order. These people are pretty much the only force that stands between the Yoma and their midnight munchies. As such one might think that these Claymores would be heralded as heroes and revered for the services they provide. Unfortunately that's not really the case.
You see, the Claymores are women who not only fearsome warriors, but also half Yoma. When they are young they undergo a ritual that essentially merges their human bodies with the flesh of a Yoma. It's a painful process to be sure, but what winds up happening is they retain their human consciousness and memories all the while gaining the strength and ferocity of the Yoma. There's a catch, however (isn't there always one?). By doing this they also run the risk of being overtaken by their Yoma half and losing themselves to the beast. This generally occurs if they use too much of the power within them. Naturally they are viewed as ticking time bombs, because that's essentially what they are, but there are contingency plans for if a Claymore gets to that point.

In Claymore the story follows a particular member of the Organization known as Clare. She's a tough as nails fighter, adept with a sword, and all around badass when it comes to dealing with Yoma. One day a village sends a request to rid themselves of a Yoma and it's Clare that responds. She takes care of the beast, but in the process winds up helping a young boy, Raki, out since he was essentially ostracized by the town who all thought he was next up to be a demon in disguise. There's really no rhyme or reason to why she took in Raki, but it seemed to be a whim that struck chords with a memory of her own past. They make an unlikely duo for sure!

The show follows the two for a while and then breaks off into a tale about Clare's past and how she became involved with a Claymore named Teresa. This splinter in the plot is important for a couple of reasons. First it lets you see Clare's frame of mind in her reasoning to let Raki tag along. Second it introduces to a main villain in the second half of the series, Priscilla.
From this point Claymore basically picks up momentum right to the end with talk of war and the chaotic ending of the Organization. Claymores are either killed or Awakened (they become powerful Yoma) and Clare and Raki are caught in the middle of these events. It's fascinating to watch everything unfold and the series is rock-solid in just about every way. From the over-the-top action to the character development and plot, which is full of surprises, Claymore really pulls it together. With that being said the ending is a little bit of a letdown, but considering the show got ahead of where the manga was at by this point it seems as though the producers just kind of improvised. It wasn't bad, but just not quite up to snuff compared to the rest of the show.

Now, in case you're wondering "what's the big difference between this Blu-ray version and the original standard definition one?" This version of Claymore is presented on Blu-ray with a 1080i high definition transfer that uses AVC encoding. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is certainly better to look at than the original presentation. The overall picture quality has been ratcheted up a notch and all around the anime is sharper and better defined. Colors are vibrant, the image is stable, and there's very little to gripe about. Sure there are some moments where grain and artifacting can be easily spotted, but they aren't pervasive enough to ding Claymore too much. It's a very good transfer all around, just not as flawless as one might hope.

The sound quality on Claymore's Blu-ray release is a tinge better, however. With Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Japanese Dolby 2.0 tracks there's plenty of variety to be had. The dubbing quality of both tracks remains up for debate for which one is the better option, but technically speaking you just can't pass up the Dolby TrueHD track. It's far better than the 2.0 options and is much more diverse in its offering. The action fills the soundstage and all around the sense of immersion is quite good.
Claymore hits Blu-ray with three discs and comes with some additional bonus content as well. Packed in with the set is a slick 48-page art, sketch, and interview booklet for starters. There are also six English commentary tracks, trailers, cast auditions, clean animations, original TV commercials, and interviews with the original Japanese staff. That's a rather loaded package as far as anime is concerned and it's nice to see these features ported over form the original DVD release.

The bottom line is Claymore is a lot of fun to watch. It offers up some intense action, richly developed characters, and a story that will keep you strung along to the end. It's quite violent at times and maintains an edge that few other shows could even hope to get close to. If you missed it before on DVD then consider the Blu-ray a solid investment, however, if you already have the original release in your collection then the quality of the Blu-ray's presentation is certainly worth the upgrade.

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by FUNimation. Claymore is rated TV-MA and contains scenes of graphic violence, partial nudity, and strong language.

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