Claymore: An Argument Against Survival

Claymore Recap: Clare has completed her contract to kill the monster that murdered Raki's family, and she has taken in Raki when the superstitious villagers feared that Raki might become a monster himself. Now they travel together as warrior and cook. 

Claymore, Episode 2: The Black Card

Episode 2 dives very quickly into building the backstory for the Claymore organization. We learn that Claymores are humans with human childhoods and memories, but they later undergo a process to take in the flesh and blood of a yoma monster. This process gives them great strength and agility, but it also thoroughly changes their physiology: Claymores don't physically age and they require significantly less sleep and food than a normal human being.

Most frightening of all, however, is the revelation that the Claymores are in a constant struggle with their yoma nature. In battle, the Claymores must allow their yoma abilities to rise to the surface if they're to have any hope of fighting the dangerous monsters. But they have to keep their monstrous impulses in check with their human will and memories; if they lose their tenuous balance between humanity and monstrosity, they literally transform into the monsters that they hunt and hate. A Claymore lives her near-immortal life hunting and stalking monsters, until she is eventually killed in battle as either a human or as a monster herself.

When the Claymores feel their control slipping away, they are sometimes able to send notice to the organization about their predicament. Another Claymore is then dispatched to the location where the slipping Claymore has hid herself away as a danger to society. There in that secluded place, the Claymore who is losing her control can surrender and die as a human being rather than transform into the thing she hates. In Episode 2, Clare receives just such a call to provide a mercy killing for her childhood friend Elena.

It's interesting to walk beside Clare in the person of Raki and see into the life of a Claymore. As they pass through a village on the way to her assignment, he hears the fear and hatred in the voices of the surrounding villagers. Raki is incensed on Clare's behalf; "If a yoma had eaten one of their families, they'd be begging you to stay," he fumes, but Clare shrugs off the local attitude as something to which she is accustomed. Claymores are untouchables in their society; they are necessary evils to be bought and used when needed and shunned and hated when not.

As we go through the series, we'll meet a lot of very different Claymores and we'll see a lot of very different reasons to live this strange and uncomfortable life as a warrior. Not every Claymore fights to protect humans, and indeed some of the women resent the fear and loathing they receive from normal humans. Some of them fight to protect humans; many fight out of sheer hatred for yoma; quite a few of them fight to lash out at childhood tragedies that they can never undo. The one thing all the Claymores truly have in common is that they do fight the yoma that are both around and in them.

A lot of our culture is built around the lionization of being a "survivor". Pop songs to country songs warble about how the singer is a survivor; a reality TV juggernaut was built up around the very concept. Fantasy novels thrive on the survival instinct -- from "True Blood" to "Twilight", every vampire show and werewolf novel features at least one or more woobie whining that they "did what I had to" to survive.

Rare is the hero who isn't forgiven for his momentary lapses of ethics -- as readers, we expect that when one becomes a vampire, one must expect a few broken eggs in the form of shattered lives. It's not like those people had names or faces, and if the hunter is particularly fastidious about ethics, they may even assure the reader that they only ever preyed on people who deserved death: arsonists, murderers, and jaywalkers. It doesn't matter that we as a society have a legal system for a reason, or that vigilantism -- particularly by a vigilante who is motivated by a thirst for blood rather than a thirst for justice -- is dangerous and wrong. The point is that if a protagonist-monster needs the blood of the living in order to survive, the appropriate victims will be found and the reader will generally be encouraged to not think too much about it and get back to the story.

Claymores are the rare protagonists who are not survivors. Everything they've gone through to become a Claymore -- the intense training, the body horror, the constant pain and suffering -- all of it is for naught on an infinite time scale. They may be strong, fast, capable warriors who have superhuman healing abilities and unnaturally long life-spans, but the ultimate fact is that just like everyone else on earth they are going to die. They know this to be a fact, and they accept it with relative serenity.

Claymores who send their black cards to the organization don't want to "do what I have to" to survive. They don't want to survive at all, not if the cost of survival is to surrender their humanity and become something that has to murder people in order to survive. Even those who joined the organization out of fear and a desire for protection from the monsters of their nightmares have come to accept the inevitable, and they don't try to prolong their lives indefinitely at the cost of becoming something monstrous. Over time, they've come to realize that being a "survivor" isn't an unmitigated good, not when the price of survival is to become a monster.

Everyone -- absolutely everyone -- will die. Claymores chose to die while they are still human.


Gelliebean said...

This sounds like a very in-depth and amazing series.  You've convinced me to go buy it, just so I can keep up if nothing else....  Now I just have to wait until I get paid Friday.  :-D  I think it will be my treat to myself for the month.

Ana Mardoll said...

@Gelliebean:disqus w00t, another Claymore reader! *happy dance*

Morgan said...

I'm reminded of the idea in the Dune novels that the way to defeat a superhuman isn't to attack her directly, but to set things up so that she'd have to become something unacceptable to herself to win.

Morven said...

I read what was all of the manga, up to a couple years ago when I did it.  Wonderful series.  Now that there's enough to go read more, I should go back.

Heqit said...

The point about the cost of being a survivor reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series:  Miles and Ekaterin are comparing their experiences in being forsworn (in a society that values honor and keeping one's sworn word more highly than individual safety), and Miles notes that "the problem with formulation 'death before dishonor' is that, given enough time and pressure, it separates people into just two categories: the dead and the dishonored."

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