Claymore: What Measure Is A Human?

Claymore Recap: If you've never heard of Claymore, you might want to start here with the deconstruction vote, and then follow to here for the discussion of the deconstruction vote

Claymore, Episode 1: Great Sword

If you haven't watched the Claymore anime series before, then this deconstruction might be a bit shocking or confusing. If you really like anime and don't mind an awful lot of violence (of the blood, guts, murder variety), then I hope you will love Claymore as much as I do. If I had to describe it in a nutshell, I'd say it's basically DragonBall Z but with a lot less faffing about between senseless killings. Also, there are Sailor Moon skirts, but they don't bother me because the women wear sensible leggings under the skirts. (Plus, they're actually leg guards instead of sailor skirts, but they sure do look like sailor skirts at first glance.)

If you decide to follow along to the deconstruction series and you haven't already watched the complete anime, I highly suggest that you do so because I have no qualms about spoiling plot events. I'll try not to heavily spoil in the first few shows, but for the most part I'm going into this assuming that no one is going to have the strength of will to stick with my twice-a-month viewing schedule throughout this gripping series -- when Husband and I were going through the series for the first time, I was making him watch three episodes a night, just because I was on the edge of my seat after each one.

So, "spoilers ahead" is a ground rule for this deconstruction series as is "I've as of yet only watched anime show and not read the manga and so I'm going to treat the anime as a stand-alone world of its own" as well as "I watch the anime with the English dubs and the subtitles on for maximum information accrual". I think that's enough ground rules for now.


Episode 1 does a lot of world-building, and does it fairly well. The world is a fantastical one, full of monsters (Yoma) who prey on humans and who can walk disguised as humans by taking on the form and memories of their prey. A secretive organization (that has no official name, but is called "Claymore" due to the large swords the members carry) has determined how to combine human and Yoma biology in order to create enhanced warriors. The Claymore warriors accept contract killings on Yoma who prey on human settlements; the humans pay a fee to the organization when the Yoma is confirmed as dead.

A huge part of the Claymore mythos is examining what qualities separate human from monster. The Claymore are "half-human" because their biology is infused with Yoma/monster blood, but they start out as humans and they retain their memories of their human childhoods. One of the worst things that can happen to a Claymore is not death in battle, but rather succumbing to their monstrous urges in battle and becoming the thing they hate the most. It's very Nietzschian, and if "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you," isn't carved into the cornerstone of the organization's headquarters, well, it should be.

What is interesting about the series is how well it explores the different prejudices and biases within the characters. Episode 1 opens up with a small village in distress; a Yoma has killed several villagers so far, and there's no immediate end in sight. Clearly, they have an infestation of at least one Yoma, and the mayor has decided that the wisest thing to do is to call in a Claymore.

Now, you'd think as the viewer that calling in a professional monster killer would be the most sensible thing to do, but the other villagers aren't sure. Claymores are half-Yoma, and while it might take a monster to kill a monster, they're understandably concerned about inviting a new monster into town. The devil they know is only killing at a rate of about one person a night; who knows what this new Claymore might do to them?

When the Claymore arrives, she checks in directly with the mayor to explain the organization's ground rules -- either her or the Yoma will be dead within a few days, and if she is successful the payment is to be given not to herself but rather to a representative of the organization. When she leaves the mayor's home, he collapses in fear and dread, and blurts out to his wife the source of his terror -- he was expecting the Claymore to be more human-like, but she's practically the same as a Yoma!

This is an interesting statement to make, and seems very telling. The viewer has already glimpsed a Yoma and can safely attest that the Claymore and the Yoma look nothing alike. It's possible that the statement is meant to refer to the Claymore's proud bearing, cold personality, or powerful aura, but before we can dwell too much on those possibilities, we get to hear Raki's rather different take on the Claymore.

Raki is an excruciatingly sweet boy who was the first in the village to see the Yoma -- he was forced to watch the Yoma kill and eat his parents. He carries the trauma of that moment with him, but it hasn't affected his sweet demeanor. He runs after the Claymore, and even after startling her into drawing her sword on him, he is nothing but eager and polite to meet the woman. He confesses to being intensely curious about her, saying that she looks so much like everyone else -- he can't even imagine why he might fear her, when she looks so... well, normal.

The juxtaposition of the mayor's view and Raki's view is a wonderful start to a series that centers around the essence of humanity. The mayor may be sensible and sympathetic, but he is also cold and jaded. When the Yoma is dead and the Claymore disappears, he doesn't prevent the townspeople from throwing Raki out in the wilderness and leaving him to die on the off-chance that he might be a Yoma as well. This isn't necessarily the Moral Event Horizon it at first appears to be -- stick with the anime long enough and you'll see that this is a black-and-gray world brimming with moral ambiguity -- but it is a cold, monstrous act to leave a young boy to die like that. The conventional view in this world is that the mayor is more human than a half-human Claymore, but isn't the essence of humanity at least as much an issue of one's actions as it is one's biology?

In his mind, Raki does not parse a difference between action and intent. When the Claymore explains that hunting the Yoma is just another job for her and she is not there to avenge his loss, he patiently explains that her intent doesn't matter to him; he's just happy she's there to kill the creature. Later, when she saves his life and tries to curb his gratitude by explaining that it was the tactically sensible thing to do, he stops her again: she saved his life. Period. It doesn't matter to Raki why she did it -- she did it and he is grateful.

Episode 1 shows us two possible answers to the question of how to measure a human. The mayor's view is that our humanity is determined solely by our biology -- humans have human-blood and monsters have monster-blood. Raki's view is that our humanity is determined solely by our actions -- people who do good things are good people, and people who do bad things are bad people. But these aren't the only possible views on how to measure humanity, and they certainly won't be the last ones offered to us by Claymore.


Charleen Merced said...

I am so excited you started the Claymore deconstructions. 

From the anime, we know the tell-tale signs of a Claymore, long lean body, silver eyes, blondish hair. I think the major's is intimidated not because of the biological aspects he sees, but due to the cold demeanor Clare must project. That detachment is what I think the major relates to being more Yoma-like, than human-like.

Hyperio said...

The organisation is indeed very Nietzschian - their "rules must be always obeyed no matter what circumstances" attitude and their disregard of their warriors' humanity is what propels much of the events (what happened to Teresa of the Faint Smile, and how they dealt with the warriors that were suspected of getting too problematic for them).

Claymore has certainly interesting take on what makes a human and what is a monster. At first, it seems that the situation is clear - the organisation's warriors fight against human-flesh-eating monstrosities. The monsters are a clear danger, and the organisation, even if extreme in their actions, appears if not good then necessary. But later events, and new revealed information, particularily in manga...

I am curious what you think of the organisation.

Nenya said...

Just to let you know that I'm finding this fascinating--even though I haven't seen the anime and am likely not to due to the warnings for violence. It still sound really interesting and I will probably lurk the hell out of the discussion (as I have been doing for the last few Twilight posts).

Onward! :D

Ana Mardoll said...

@Nenya:disqus  I'm thrilled to hear that you find the discussion fascinating -- I always wonder how many people are reading, since I can't know if you don't speak up! ;) (I love your avatar, btw!)

Consumer Unit 5012 said...

I don't know if you've watched the anime all the way through yet. but I'll warn you that the ending is not very good. (The manga kept going, so the anime's writers had to cook up a conclusion.  The results were....unsatisfactory.)

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