Manga review: Claymore by Norihiro Yagi

This is going to start random, but a few months back I was watching a compilation of Japanese commercials. Back in my teens, before anime went legit in the states, folks in Japan would mail tapes of the latest shows overseas, and some import shops would have these shows available to borrow. It was there that I got hooked on the insanity that is Japanese advertising, and now it’s a regular habit of mine to go on YouTube to see collections of the “best” ads in glorious HD.

So, in the middle of one such stream was an ad for a manga app that promised everything was free to read. I wondered if the app was available here in Italy, and it is, under the name MANGA Plus by SHUEISHA. After just a few days of reading, I started thinking that perhaps I should add manga reviews to  the blog. It’s a perfect fit, really. For this first outing, I’ll be reviewing a manga that I collected in paperback form, but I’m now rereading on the app, Claymore.

Created by Norihiro Yagi, Claymore is initially the story of Claire, a warrior fighting the demonic Yoma with a giant sword. Early on, she insists that the name Claymore isn’t a proper title for her people. Rather it is simply the name the humans use for them because of the weapons they wield. This group of hunters are all women who have ingested the blood and flesh of Yoma, granting them super strength and speed. The organization they work for tried to do the same thing with men, but they all died horribly painful deaths. So, this mercenary army of “silver-eyed witches” patrol the country, slaying demons on commission.

Early on, it’s established that using their abilities comes with great risks. The more often someone uses their powers, the closer they come to losing their human half and becoming a Yoma themselves. For this reason, each member of the group has a black card that they can send to their handlers to request another hunter to come and kill them before they transform. Claire is summoned to do this for another hunter, and it becomes clear that what makes her special is the small bit of sentimentality she retains. It may not seem like much, but it helps her time and time again to surpass her physical limits and avoid the same fate.

Early chapters focus on Claire against fairly low-level Yoma, what I would call “Crunchies of the Week” due to the ease with which they get crunched. These fights might give the impression that it’s always relatively easy to defeat Yoma, but it isn’t long before readers see Claire was just riding a lucky streak and pulling simple jobs. Soon, the threats become larger, leading to other hunters joining Claire to work together. Then more threats split the focus away from Claire and follow the other mercenaries. These chapters get longer and more elaborate, often bringing everyone together for a final epic battle. Epic is often overused these days, but some of these fights legitimately earn it.

One thing I find interesting about Claymore is Norihiro’s style. While a lot of fighting manga will create vivid backgrounds to place the action on, Norihiro draws background elements for a few panels to establish a sense of place. Once the action begins, many panels are left with no background details, or with speed lines to indicate the senses of direction and momentum. In a way, it reminds me of Caravaggio, who painted on black canvases and used that darkness to avoid painting all the details hidden in the shadows. It allowed him to work faster, and became his signature style. In the same way, Norihiro’s signature style is to put most of the detail in his characters, while only adding backgrounds in the quieter moments of each issue. Later chapters do have more elaborate background art, but still, once the fighting starts, they tend to fall away in a blur of lines.

No details are spared on the Yoma, though, who start off as human-shaped monsters with longer teeth and nails. But they quickly grow in scale, and come in a wide array of shapes. It’s the added details that make each monster unique and memorable. I’d love to describe many of them in more detail, but it’s just better if you check them out and see how their designs and abilities evolve over time.

One thing that might put off readers is the simplistic dialog and sound effects. A good potion of any battle can be summed up like, “Gu! Gyuh! What? How? Guh!” But honestly, I feel like this is properly what real battles would sound like, and to me the comics where both combatants are talking throughout the fight that are ridiculous.

If you can get past that sticking point, and beyond the early “easy” chapters, Claymore offers some really great characters. The building stakes leads to plot twists that often left me yelling “WHAT?” (But in a good way.) On the app, it’s being rereleased one issue at a time, so it’s great to add between other comics that already have hundreds of chapters online. So you binge those and treat these as a palate cleanser. Or, if you really like it like I did, you can hunt down the collected chapters in paperback through VIZ Media. There are 27 volumes, and unlike some manga that run into infinity, Claymore wrapped up its story in a reasonable number of issues that won’t break your bank account if you decide to collect them all.

That’s it for my first manga review. There’s a lot of details I’m leaving out to avoid spoilers, and I will try to do that for future reviews. I love reading these plots twists going in with no clue of what will happen next, and I want you to have that same satisfying experience. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the first of what will be many recommendations, and thanks for reading it.