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Sunday, 12 February 2012

Claymore vol. 1: The Silver Eyed Slayer

Writer and Artist: Norihiro Yagi
Publisher: Shonen Jump Advanced

What's it about?
In a pre-industrial world in which monsters called yoma infiltrate human settlements in order to hunt and feed on human viscera, female warriors known as Claymores (after the huge swords they carry) are employed to hunt and kill the yoma. Half yoma themselves, these warriors have the strength and speed needed to fight yoma, and the ability to sense them out when they're hiding among humans. The warriors' inhumanity, clear in their lack of pigmentation in hair and skin and their shining silver eyes, makes it hard for humans to trust them, and leaves them outcasts in the society they work to protect.
Read right to left!

If it sounds familiar to you, you probably already know whether or not this series is for you.

Clare is a warrior that the Organization sends to a village for a routine yoma hunt, where she meets Raki, the young boy whose parents were the first victims. His gratitude to her when she saves him, combined with the village's distrust when they realise how close he was to the yoma, causes him to follow her out of the village and into her dangerous world, where a hesitant friendship develops between a boy who has lost everything and a girl who has shut herself off from the world.

What's good about it?
This isn't your average girls-fight-monsters story. Clare has real trauma, that's hinted at in a quick flashback, and deals with it, and her developing relationship with Raki, in a very real human way. Admittedly, that human way is taciturn and closed-off, and mostly reflected in Raki's much more expressive mannerisms, but this just serves to make her a more interesting character. In fact, the differing reactions she and Raki have to what turn out to be similar situations are symptomatic of the entire series: when you're telling a story about people fighting monsters that eat people, trauma is to be expected, and every person reacts to their own story in very individual ways.

And, as the story progresses, the world that Norihiro is building just gets more complicated and more interesting. More than I can really cover in a review of the first volume.

The art, as well, is perfect at capturing individual characters. Black and white art that I'll talk about later, but manages quiet reflection and fast action as required. Each of the characters is distinctive and easy to tell apart - hard to do in black and white art but will become even more impressive in later volumes as more Claymores are introduced - all pale, blonde girls like Clare and wearing very similar armour, yet distinctive and easily identifiable through hair styles and faces alone.

What's bad about it?
This is a volume one, and it is mostly restricted to introducing the concept of Claymores and yoma, and laying the foundations of the world. And not much happens, other than Clare killing yoma and getting to know Raki. That's not to say that it isn't a good read, but as a stand alone volume it's not the strongest.

There are 19 volumes published in English so far, and the story still isn't concluded, so you need to be in for the long haul. After a few volumes, however, chances are you'll be hooked, the story picks up pace, and the biggest problem will soon become that volume 20 isn't yet out in English, and the wait seems impossible. Such is the way with continuous comics.

It's also highly graphic in its depiction of violence, which isn't really a minus for me, but deserves a warning.

What's the art like?
First of all, this is manga, so reads in the direction of Japanese writing: From right to left. This is surprisingly easy to get used to: once you're holding the book the right way round and turning the left hand page, your eyes naturally follow the passage of page turning. The size and shape of the speech bubbles - again, designed for Japanese - also make this adaptation easier as the English words are forced into vertical columns, so an adult reader (or anyone experienced enough to have internalised sight words) just reads up to down, and there's no reason to switch between left-right and right-left eye movements.

I mention this because this was the first manga I ever picked up and these things occurred to me.

The art is all black and white and highly expressive. Faces drawn with very few lines take on a wide range of individuality and expressions, so a simple wordless panel can portray a wealth of feeling - important with a protagonist as sparing with words as Clare is. In contrast, the scenery is rendered beautifully with an intricate attention to detail that completely fails to detract from the important action in the foreground.

Read right to left!

The action sequences are fast paced and (very) occasionally hard to follow, as Norihiro uses many many action lines to show actions, which sometimes blurs the characters themselves. It's preferable, in my opinion, than perfectly detailed but static action pictures, but it's a style that can confuse.

Other Information:
ISBN: 978-1421506180
Price: around £7, or £4.37 on Amazon at time of writing.

There is also an anime, that adapts the first ten or so volumes with an alternate ending. This is available on Region 1 and 4 DVD, but I cannot find any information about a Region 2 release.

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