Tue
Nov 27 2012 11:30am

Sleeps With Monsters: “Claymore”

Sleeps With Monsters: ClaymoreI know nothing about anime, except that the animation style can usually be relied upon to—at best—distract me, and at worst annoy the hell out of me.

There’s a whole digression that could be had here about reading/viewing protocols, and learning to parse the conventions of different media. I have similar issues when reading comics or BDs, because I do it so seldom: you need a certain degree of familiarity, of immersion, I think, before you start to understand what the medium expects of you in return.

So when someone recommended Claymore to me, you’ll understand that I may have been a little dubious. And you may guess that I passed lightly over this recommendation—until another friend of mine told me I should watch it, and accompanied their insistence with a link to Ana Mardoll’s episode-by-episode deconstruction for the oh-so-many reasons why.

People! This thing was meant for me!

As of this writing, I haven’t finished watching the entire series (alas, I borrowed the DVDs, and they had to go back home too soon), but I already have a list of reasons as long as my arm for why this is the good shit.

The setup: nasty and powerful monsters called yoma like to feed on human flesh and are capable of disguising themselves as humans in order to hide in plain sight. There is very little protection against the yoma, except to pay for a Claymore, a half-human, half-yoma hybrid, to come and kill some monsters for you. Claymores are all women, and work for an unnamed organisation that trains them, exploits them, and sends them out to die.

The stated reason given for this in terms of worldbuilding handwavey magic makes a completely unnecessary and offensive analogy with women’s better ability to control their sexual appetites. I ignored it, since I don’t think men are all incapable of sexual continence.

Because Claymores are all doomed. Doomed, since if they don’t die in battle first, they will eventually lose control and become like the monsters they hunt. If they feel themselves turning into monsters, if they hold on long enough, they can send for a friend to come and kill them. To give them, in the words of the show, a human death.

And because of their half-monster nature and well-attested deadliness, most ordinary people aren’t too keen on Claymores themselves.

The story follows Clare, a Claymore who’s out for some personal revenge against the most powerful monster of all. But Clare’s far from the most powerful Claymore, and halfway through the series, it seems like even odds she’ll live to accomplish her goal.

I beseech you, if you must spoil, keep it light on detail.

The series is in dialogue about what it means to be a monster, and what it is to be human. In the first episode, Clare encounters Raki, a boy (a young man?) whose life she saves—twice. It’s her job, she says. It’s not about him. But her actions come to belie her words, and over the course of several episodes, it becomes clear that it’s more complicated than that: that the line between human and monster, saviour and damned, is more permeable than it first appears.

That alone would appeal to me. But Claymore also centres on female characters—admittedly all super-powered warriors, but one can’t expect to have everything—their relationships, their rivalries, their friendships, their life-and-death choices, their heroic (and not-so heroic) sacrifices, in a way that hits damn near all of my narrative kinks.

Stick in a proud-but-probably-doomed queen and some hard-done-by-but-still-going serving-women in there, emphasize choice vs. constraint more strongly, and it’d probably have taken the title for hitting The Most Ever.

It doesn’t hurt that in places, it’s simply, unexpectedly, visually stunning.

There are plenty of flaws, of course. A twenty-minute episode format leaves little room for narrative subtlety (although, it must be said, I’ve been known to make this complaint about forty-five-minute episodes of live action television as well), and often the Hammer of Everything Obvious descends to make sure we’re all on the right page. The worldbuilding is a little thin (just roll with it, it’s handwavey magic!) and there have been moments that squicked me the hell out. Some developments feel a little on the abrupt side, possibly because I’m not used to the conventions of the medium (and speaking of conventions, the minimalist noses are just weird, and it’s impossible to tell anyone’s ages) and haven’t the context to read nuance into it... or maybe they’re just abrupt.

Still, the individual episodes are generally well-put-together so far, with a good balance between character and action. A handful are a bit slack on tension, or a little too in love with AMAZING FIGHT SEQUENCES—but overall, I’m impressed with the consistency of its quality.

And WOMEN. WOMEN EVERYWHERE. MONSTER-KILLING WOMEN.

Not a thing that has trouble passing the Bechdel test, once it gets going. Although I do wonder whether I should look forward to analyzing it through the lens of the monstrous feminine.

Because damn. Those are some interesting monsters.


Liz Bourke is happy to discover new and entertaining ways to procrastinate. Any work but the work you should be doing! Find her @hawkwing_lb on Twitter.

20 comments
Draken
1. Draken
Five words:
Teresa. of. the. Faint. Smile.

Curious to know whether you watched the subbed or dubbed version? I usually find the subbed better; mostly, now I come to think of it because I find the Japanese voice actors have such range and depth to their voices, which could just be down to the expressiveness of the language.
José Schenkel
2. Joosche
Each monster that appears is more bloodthirsty than the last. Never watched the anime.
Draken
3. dejadrew
One thing you have to hand to Japan: though they have their own set of issues with women (AND BOY DO THEY EVER), they have NEVER had the western world's false notions that A: women don't watch things, and B: men won't watch things with women in them. So anime has a broad, broad selection of shows aimed at a variety of audiences featuring woman-heavy or woman-exclusive casts.

Personally, I'm afraid I never got very far in to Claymore. It was showing at the anime club I was in, and it was a beloved favourite of my BFF who kept trying to hook me on the manga, but... ehhhh? I do recall utterly despising the male sidekick/possible love interest instantly on sight.

The BFF DID manage to hook me on Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 in spite of the silly name; that's another action series with an all female superteam, but robots and scifi instead of demons and fantasy.

I also found and fell head over heels for Haibane Renmei (charcoal feather federation), a slow, gentle slice-of-life fantasy series about a group of girls/creatures with wings living their day to day lives in a mysterious walled-in town. This one is... really, really hard to explain, but lovely, and it just came back into print. Female friendships, losses, goals and existential crises are all the focus in this intimate little oddball of a show.

And Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is about a singular woman in a largely male world rather than a female group, but it hits all MY narrative kinks with a sledgehammer. Among such kinks being: a male character in what is usually coded as a female role (the childhood friend with a crush who is a healer and psychic) and a BADASS GRANNY.

No noses in the lot, sadly, but you can't have everything.
Draken
4. Ryan Viergutz
I took a while about getting into Claymore, thinking, for some strange reason, it'd be a 'men with boobs' kind of women warrior story.

Then I watched it. And it was bloody good. The women are definitely women and man do they kick all kinds of arse. The threat and possibility of becoming a youma definitely powers the series all the way. It's gloriously gothic and dark.

Even with the controversial ending, one of those "we didn't get to the end of the manga yet" endings, it's amazing. The finale of the anime is only Volume 10 of the manga, and I'm about to start reading Volume 20.

The story turns even bigger and more disturbing later in the manga.
Draken
5. Lalo
How far did you get exactly? (are they in the North?)

If you end up enjoying the rest of the anime, I'd venture to suggest the manga as well. Its pretty long (we're over 20 volumes) and since the anime needed to wrap up when the manga was barely half done, things diverge quite a bit between what happens in the Anime version after the North and what happens in the manga version after the North.

They kind of end up in the same sort of situation...just the players, journey and justification for the quest are entirely different.

But yes I love Claymore. Deneve is bar far my favorite character though.
Draken
6. Jane Drew
I will happily take this recommendation and try to find the time to watch "Claymore"-- and would also like to heartily second both "Haibane Renmei" (which is gorgeous and thought-provoking), and "Moribito"-- which is gorgeously animated, features a fantastic female warrior protagonist, strong secondary female characters of various ages and social levels and cultures, strong male characters who also occupy a variety of roles (the aforementioned healer/love interest, plus many more) and, well, is just all-round fantastic. The original writer was, I believe, an anthropologist, and the world/culture-building really reflects that (Okay, I have to confess, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to read your opinions on "Moribito," I really, truly would.... aaaand, I shall stop babbling about it now).
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
I love Claymore and it was one of the first anime series I started streaming on Netflix. I had to laugh, though, about the "good balance between character and action" part, since there are a couple of fight sequences that go on for more than an entire episode (and that's not a complaint, I loved every minute of it). Actually liked it enough to design a female NPC fighter named Clare with a greatsword for a Pathfinder game I was running.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is also really good, watched it after reading about it one this very site. Highly recommend it.
Draken
8. Earl Rogers
Now I'm wondering what you'd think of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Draken
9. Cain S. Latrani
Claymore is a very strange show, and kind of hard to explain to people who have never seen it, or in general, are unfamiliar with anime. It ranks up there, for me, as one of my favorites, and I've watched it several times, always finding new things to love about it.

In general, it has the one thing that always draws me to an anime, and that is strong female characters. I grew up on Sarah Jane, Red Sonya, and Uhura, so the idea of women as side kicks or love interests only always kind of annoyed me. Finding it to be the norm in western media as I grew older was always a big let down.

Then I discovered anime, starting with Robotech. Some very strong female characters there. Later, besides Claymore, was the afore mentioned Habaine Renmei, which I love so much I bought the DVD the day Funimation released it. Another that never fails to capture me on the female leads is Ga-Rei Zero. Oh, how they make me weep for them in the end.

Angel Beats, El Cazador de la Brujah, and Shikabane Hime also rank high for me.

No one quite tops my personal favorite, though. While the show itself is often silly, Erza Scarlet of Fairy Tail is my favorite female character ever from anime. Talk about a strong woman. It never ceases to amaze me at what they do with her character.

In general, I've found that anime is far more generous to female characters than western media ever has been. As annoying as some shows can be, and the animation is not for everyone, the stories themselves are worth the time, almost every time.

High School of the Dead.. we'll call that the exception to the rule. Yeah.
Theresa Wymer
10. Tekalynn
I second the Puella Magi Madoka Magica recommendation. Do NOT judge by initial appearances.

Oh, what about Revolutionary Girl Utena? Or, for that matter, her spiritual mother, The Rose of Versailles?
Draken
11. Cybersnark
I'll echo the recs for Moribito. While the lead character (Balsa) is a bit exceptional in-universe, none of the other characters bat an eye at her femininity (they call her "the female bodyguard" mainly as a way to identify her individually since they don't know her name). It also helps that Moribito also has a number of very strong, well-written male characters who are totally okay with Balsa running the show (the Xanders to her Buffy).

You might find the visual style easier to get too; it's a bit less stylized (coming from Production I.G., who tend to be known for a more photo-realistic style).
Liz Bourke
12. hawkwing-lb
Draken @1:

I thought the English dub worked very well, to be honest. Normally I'd watch a thing subtitled, but I tried the dub and liked it.

dejadrew @3:

Badass grandmothers are definitely something fictional things need more of.

Lalo @5:

By an amazing coincidence, as of last night I am almost finished the DVDs. Which would be because I wrote this post long, long ago... (One long fighty part, the conclusion seems to be!) But for the most part, still loving it.

Jane Drew @6:

All this love for Moributo is making me very curious, I will admit! (Although I'm not likely to watch it anytime soon, unless I get a windfall of cash for the DVDs and a windfall of spare time to watch them in. Life, always interfering with pleasure...)

JackofMidworld @7:

Well, the good balance part was my first impression. It seems to have got more fighty as it went on, which I can't really bring myself to complain about. I like BOOM as well as the next woman, after all.

Cybersnark @11:

Guess I'm going to have to find the time to check Moributo out, then..
S Cooper
13. SPC
Moribito is available on Netflix too . . . now I'm going to need to go finish watching it and add Claymore to my queue.
Theresa Wymer
14. Tekalynn
Yes! Please do watch Moribito. Gorgeous animation and terrific characters.
Liz Bourke
15. hawkwing-lb
SPC @13:

In America, perhaps. For those who subscribe to it. I'm in Ireland, and there's not enough available on our version of Netflix to be worth subscribing. *g*
Draken
16. Mely
Although I do wonder whether I should look forward to analyzing it through the lens of the monstrous feminine.

You might be interested in Oyceter's comparison of the monstrous feminine in Claymore to the usual treatment of the (gendered) monstrous in shounen manga.
Liz Bourke
17. hawkwing-lb
Mely @16:

Thanks for that link: really interesting.
Shelly wb
18. shellywb
More love for Moribito here. And a third rec for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I didn't like some of the animation style, but it takes the magical girl idea to meta-spaces no one had thought of, and really gives you a few sucker punches about the genre and how we treat characters like that.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is the ultimate anime about women and gender though. The first five minutes tell you exactly what this series is going to be like, and then it makes good on the promise.
Draken
19. Earl Rogers
I should add that if you do watch Madoka, be warned that it's a show that more or less demands that every episode be watched in order, leading up to the end.

It's right up there with Paranoia Agent as a series where the true message (and there definitely is one) can be best discerned by viewing every piece of the puzzle as originally presented.
Draken
20. Earl Rogers
I should add that if you do watch Madoka, be warned that it's a show that more or less demands that every episode be watched in order, leading up to the end.

I have to agree with Hope Chapman's review that otherwise, it's far too easy to miss important pieces of the puzzle regarding the series' message.

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