I 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.