Claymore: Training and Specialization

Claymore Recap: Clare, Miria, Deneve, and Helen have confronted the Awakened Being, but are astonished to learn that the Awakened Being is far more powerful than they had been led to believe... and male. 

Claymore, Episode 10: Those Who Rend Asunder, Part 2

Today's episode is a difficult one for me because it represents some of my favorite things about the Claymore series as a whole, but it also contains a pretty big Epic Fail as far as I'm concerned that thankfully doesn't taint the series too much past this specific episode. So let's dive into the Fail and get it over with.

The big reveal of Episode 9 was that the Awakened Being the team had been sent to kill was male. This, coming on the heels of the opening stinger that all Awakened Beings are ex-Claymores, was intended to be a bit confusing: if all Awakened Beings are Claymores and all Claymores are female, how can there be male Awakened Beings?

Now, I understand the tension between planning and execution. I suspect that the authors of the series started out with the idea of a super-cool, totally-badass Organization of half-human, half-monster warrior women, and not much time was wasted on explaining why only women would be allowed to join. Why not? You don't want to get too hung up on the concept before you've even been optioned for 20-something mangas and a tie-in anime series. But then suddenly you do get picked up for said anime and manga series and now you've got to explain your world-building choices. Enter the gender essentialism.

So here's the in-universe explanation for (a) why the Claymore we've seen are all women and (b) why male Claymores were around long enough to give us male Awakened Being monster-villains, and it's that anyone can be a Claymore, but the male Claymores inevitably turned into Awakened Beings after only short periods in the field, and the vast majority of them weren't even conflicted enough about it to send out black cards and submit to execution. The reason for this accelerated awakening, or so this episode claims, is that the release of yoma power is almost sexual in nature and only the women were able to resist full release effectively. The men, in contrast, built towards awakening almost inevitably. *sigh*

So, here we have the "fact", according to Claymore, that women as a group are either better at arousal-control or orgasm-control (depending on the interpretation of the in-universe analogy) than men as a group, and thus the men weren't able to keep themselves from awakening early and inevitably. It is a major disappointment to me to find gender essentialism in a series that I otherwise love immensely, and the one saving grace I can offer is that the subject will thankfully never get brought up again in the anime.

And here's Ana's tip-of-the-day for budding new authors: if you really must have something that only one gender can do despite what the audience might reasonably expect, don't resort to sex stereotypes to justify it. I would have liked it much more if male Claymores were barred because a few key male Claymores awakened in the early days and management in their prejudice and bias (wrongly) decided that men as a group were too risky to depend upon. And then as a side benefit, you have a sexism angle you can explore if you ever run out of ideas for the series! Everybody wins.

Moving past the gender essentialism, this episode reveals that there is more to our team -- who was shaping up to be throw-away characters after their nasty behavior towards protagonist Clare -- than meets the eye. Deneve has her arm sliced off by the Awakened Being, but manages to completely grow a new arm from scratch; Helen is able to extend her arms and legs to phenomenal lengths. Miria, our tactician, is shocked: these techniques are extremely advanced and would tax other Claymore to the limits of their power, yet here they are using these techniques as though it comes naturally.

There is a foreshadowing here: Helen and Deneve are both more powerful than their current rankings would imply. Clare, too, is ranked as the lowest warrior in the Organization, but we have already discussed that ranking might be false. Now the Awakened Being prods Miria, telling her that she has missed something critical in her analysis of the situation: Why have the four of them been chosen to fight such a powerful being by themselves?

The male Awakened Being, merely by virtue of being male, is not newly awakened -- the Organization hasn't made male warriors for a very long time. The Organization therefore must be aware of the Awakened Being's existence, and it's very possible that they knew his identity and strength before dispatching our team to his territory. The male Awakened Being points out that he has lived on the mountain for some time and that "I kill the warriors who are sent to me... I do what I must in order to survive." A timely cut to Raki in the nearby village reveals that Claymores have a habit of going up the mountain to do battle... but that none of them ever return.

Is the Organization deliberately sending teams to face this powerful being, knowing that they are not equipped to win? Are the Claymore being sent to their deaths intentionally, or are they being tested? Can the male Awakened Being even be trusted to tell the truth? He gloats over Miria: a warrior must be clever to survive, but being too clever can get you singled out and killed.

When the monster goes on the attack, Miria is able to hold out with her "phantom" speed, but she is no match for the creature in a one-on-one battle. Clare -- the weakest of the Claymore -- slowly comes to her aid. "I've faced a far greater opponent and I know what true despair is," she announces wryly, before walking slowly through a shower of attacks that all mysteriously fail to strike her. Her comrades are surprised; Clare is moving as though dodging attacks before they are launched.

We cut to Clare's point of view and are told that Clare is using the same technique that made Teresa an unsurpassed warrior: yoma suppression and yoma sensing. Clare can see the flow and web of yoma within the limbs of her opponent and when an opponent is using a lot of yoma power -- as is the case with Awakened Beings -- every move is telegraphed to her so far in advance that she can dodge long before a blow can come near her. Miria realizes that Clare has chosen to hone her skills to the singular purpose of fighting Awakened Beings. Clare is the ideal fighter... for fights that comprise possibly 1% of a Claymore's total battles. Talk about specialization.

What I like about this reveal, though, is that Clare isn't necessarily good at her chosen technique yet. It's a smart technique, perfect for her life plan of fighting Priscilla and ties nicely in with her history with Teresa, but it's not a silver bullet. Clare has a stellar defense mechanism, but she can't yet fight effectively because any time she gathers her own yoma in order to attack, she loses her concentration on her opponent's movements. Her own influx of yoma essentially burns out any competing signals. Miria chastises her and tells her she needs practice or else her trick is functionally useless; Clare wryly agrees that the lesson is painfully obvious.

One of the hardest things to accomplish in a series about unstoppable warriors is maintaining a semblance of weakness for the main characters -- with them winning (or at least limping away from) every plot-relevant battle, it's easy for the crucial tension to drain from the series. It's nice, therefore, to see a protagonist with a winning trick that is nevertheless realistically handicapped and which needs significant practice in order to effectively wield. It's nice, also, to see a reasonable discussion on the importance of training and the drawbacks to specialization: Clare's yoma sensing isn't a one-size-fits-all killer move that will win every battle for her. It's a specialization that will come very much in handy against Awakened Beings as the series progresses, but she will still need loads of training and lots of battle support in order to win her fights. She is, essentially, a strong character who is also frequently and realistically very weak.


Kit Whitfield said...

The reason for this accelerated awakening, or so this episode claims, is that the release of yoma power is almost sexual in nature and only the women were able to resist full release effectively. The men, in contrast, built towards awakening almost inevitably. *sigh*

For the sake of argument, you might say that women do tend to take longer to reach orgasm than men, and it can be easier to distract a woman from her arousal than it is to distract a man. (With, obviously, a lot of personal variation.) So if you weren't going to argue the whole 'women have more self-control than men' rubbish - put women in a situation where they feel as safe as a man and they have pretty much exactly as much self-control as a man; give a man decent respect for women as human beings and he has pretty much exactly as much self-control as a woman - but instead wanted to argue different physical capacity, you might be able to make a case.

It would be dodgy, though, so if you wanted a gender essentialist justification you'd need to rely on something that was less arguable - say, that the transformation process has some physical similarities to pregnancy and only women can process it without going bananas right out of the gate. You could do some theme play with that.

Alternatively, you could say it relates to socialisation: the more privilege you're raised with or the more you're raised to be aggressive or however men are treated differently in this society, the worse you are at the emotional skills needed to regulate your monster nature so you'll probably screw up faster. That would allow for certain men who'd be good at it and certain women who'd be bad at it, depending on their upbringing and social background, which again would let you build plot, both around the selection process and the fallout, both from the people who were unwisely recruited and the ones who were unreasonably rejected.

So I can see ways of tying it to gender that could be justified without being sexist and that don't require the organisation to be in the wrong mostly picking women (which is, of course, another option), but ... yeah. Besides that, treating monster power as sexual is a whoooooole 'nother can o worms.

Kit Whitfield said...

Also, if it's a sexual issue, does it not occur to them that the ideal Claymores wouldn't be women, but eunuchs? You'd get the extra physical strength and even less sex drive, and they don't seem to have a problem with mutilation...

Ana Mardoll said...

I like all those options -- I hadn't thought in terms of orgasm distraction and/or pregnancy and/or gender socialization. (And some female Claymores can and do awaken in their first real battle, so it's something of a spectrum, as you say.)

Not sure how eunuchs would work -- there don't seem to be any child Claymore, so maybe sexual maturity is a requirement? (Either that or the Claymore training process just takes that long.) So maybe that's another strike in favor of the pregnancy/reproduction idea.

I do appreciate that the anime at least never mentions it again. It seems like a swift here's-your-explanation-now-move-along justification. Then again, Ophelia's awakening is very sensual. It's tough when something you like seems to fall prey to bias issues -- it would be so much nicer if there was a good reason instead of a warmed over Sex = Evil or Women = Control trope.

Pthalo said...

I thought Priscilla was a child -- or at least a teenager of some sort. Though I had trouble deciding on ages for any of them. Clare seems to be in her early twenties. Raki seems to be about 7, until a few episodes in where he seems to be closer to 13 or 14. Just going on behaviour, height and physical appearance, and what the other characters described them as.

Kit Whitfield said...

Not sure how eunuchs would work -- there don't seem to be any child Claymore, so maybe sexual maturity is a requirement?

You can castrate an adult man - but men castrated in childhood did and do reach physical maturity (apparently some would grow extremely tall because they lacked the 'stop growing' hormone). I think it's possible a castrated man would have some sexual feelings; if he was castrated as an adult he'd have gone through puberty, and if he was castrated as a child, well, pre-pubertal children do have sexual feelings. So you could probably fudge it somehow...

Divya Jagadeesan said...

Hi Ana, delurker here. I want to thank you again for getting me hooked on this series. I liked it so much that I went ahead and read the Manga as well.

When I first saw this episode I kinda explained away the whole male/female Claymore thing, thinking that perhaps in this universe there was a genuine physical reason why women Claymore are preferred to men. Similar to the concept of women in general living longer than men or having higher pain thresholds. Getting further into the series I wondered if this was because men where less resistant to the thought of awakening than women. Not only did it give them pleasure but also access to a great amount of power. Throughout the series almost every Claymore we meet highly values her humanity and fights the awakening process. However wouldn't it seem likely that there are Claymore that might be willing to give up their humanity for seemingly unlimited power. Maybe the series was playing into that other familiar trope of Men being more power hungry than Women.

To me this issue sort of became more confusing when in the Manga we finally see the Organization's Awakened beings farm. It seems almost like the experimental subjects/men are terrified of the awakening. They beg the Claymore to save them from the Monsters and then suddenly, Wham! they are awakened. If the release or use of too much Yoki is what causes the transformation, would it be so sudden if the test subjects where unwilling participants.

Maybe its because they are low level mooks. Its a pity that we never get to see Isly or Rigaldo's awakening in a flashback or something. Perhaps the Manga will oblige eventually. On a slightly different note, Does anybody know how often the Manga is updated? The last installment ended on a cliffhanger and I can hardly wait for the resolution.

Ana Mardoll said...

@Pthalo, Priscilla is definitely young, but she has visible secondary sexual characteristics and so I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that she was a sexually mature "young adult"?

@ Kit, yeah, I discounted adult castration because -- I think -- castrated men can still feel mental sexual arousal even if not physical? Plus, I understand that male castration can cause a lot of health and medical problems, and it's easy to believe that castrated Claymores might not be super-devoted to The Organization at that point... Still, as you say, it's interesting that they didn't consider it.

Maybe the male leaders of The Organization are blinded by their own prejudice?

Ana Mardoll said...

@ Divya, I'm so glad I've gotten you hooked!

I haven't gotten to the farm in the manga, but the anime touches on that with Jean. It's interesting that the Claymore can be tortured into awakening... either it's a function of emotional release (akin to the Star Wars trope of being tortured into the Dark Side via hate) or it's a function of physical healing (i.e., the yoma power is being released to patch up the body and eventually the yoma limit is passed)?

Those would be my theories anyway, but you're right to point out that if torture works, then it really can't *just* be sexual arousal. It almost has to be something else. So maybe the Organization's party line about men isn't correct after all?

But if that's the case, it's still hard to reconcile the "all the men turned" narrative. Maybe the stereotype here is that men can't control ANY of their emotions (arousal / anger / hatred / excitement / etc.) but women can? Still a bad stereotype.

I like the "torture works because it's a draw on the physical body" idea. Maybe it's metabolic in nature? The Claymore have strange metabolisms and rarely need to eat.

Pthalo said...

@ Pthalo, Priscilla is definitely young, but she has visible secondary sexual characteristics and so I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that she was a sexually mature "young adult"?

TMI: I've had boobs since I was 11. I don't know what cup size Priscilla is, but I'd estimate I looked like that at by age 13, an age at which I was still playing with dolls, though heightwise I'd already stopped growing. She's also really small, only 165cm, and I haven't been that height since age 10. So, to me, she looks like a kid, and her demeanor, features, voice, and behavior are all childlike. Her black and white thinking also suggests early teens or late childhood.

Claymore wiki says she's in her mid teens as a Claymore., so she's probably around 15 or 16, which is pretty young. Not a child, but not an adult either.

Pthalo said...

(I realise that people's bodies develop at different rates, and that there are adult women who are shorter and/or flatter than Priscilla. In person, I mostly rely on behaviours when guessing people's ages, and I don't do my guessing out loud or care all that much about it, but with a cartoon character there's a lot less information to work from)

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. I know that Priscilla is a young teenager, but I was trying to address only sexual maturity as a possible component of Claymore ability (to answer Kit's very valid question of "why no eunuchs"). I agree that emotional maturity is not necessarily correlated with sexual/physical maturity. :)

Pthalo said...

ah, I see. I guess I brought up emotional maturity, because to me that seems a much more plausible reason behind Priscilla losing control and becoming awakened in her very first real battle.

In my experience, men seem to reach emotional maturity somewhat later than women -- not all men, and not all women, but this is a trend. They catch up, and it's entirely possible that our culture of training men to repress their emotions is largely responsible for this, or it could just be that it's partly physical -- boys also tend to potty train a little later than girls, but they catch up, and there are differences in early childhood language skills as well, but they catch up. Children usually alternate between expanding mental skills and expanding physical skills, and boys and girls go through different leaps in development at different times. I think the continuing lag in emotional maturity in boys in their teens and early twenties is probably more due to societal pressures on men to be masculine.

It seems most people enter training to be Claymores in their childhood or teens and become fully fledged Claymores in their mid-late teens, early twenties. So, what if it were an emotional maturity thing? The women/teenage girls who are more emotionally mature are able to deal better with the strong emotions of the yoma power, harnessing them and focusing them, while those who have been trained to repress their emotions or who are still dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of puberty/aren't fully developed yet like Priscilla would be at a disadvantage because they supress things or let loose entirely.

Kit Whitfield said...

Still, as you say, it's interesting that they didn't consider it.

Maybe the male leaders of The Organization are blinded by their own prejudice?

Or maybe the writers didn't want to scare male fans/themselves. Rape is acceptable, in a plot but castration is, like, really bad! :-p

Bificommander said...

I had kinda glossed over the male point. I thought it meant it gave an orgasmic feeling to men only and not to women, I hadn't linked it as women feeling the same but having better control. Then again, I only had a fansub, so maybe it was wrong. I did find it silly that they mentioned that male Claymores were very powerfull. Once you start handing out superpowers, I think you should probably stop assuming that men get the more powerfull ones (and if you're generous, women get better control. Yep, again.) I'm looking at you, Wheel of Time.

I did like Claire's weakness through specilization. An idea of a Magical Girl deconstruction I have also has a weak character who still is very powerfull thanks to her control (yes, I realize, HER control. Hrm. Well, the protagonist is also female and is of the Power without control variaty). So yeah, fun to see that. I actually prefer that weak character, it's just that I think the story works better if she isn't the protagonist.

From what I remember of the anime, I was a bit dissapointed by how poorly the Organization's motives were explained. I think that the manga went into an explanation how (ROT13) gurl eryrnfrq gur lbhzn gurzfryirf gb genva gurve Pynlzberf, fb gurl pbhyq gnxr ba nabgure pbhagel gung hfrq qentbaf va onggyr be fbzrguvat. But in the anime, I found it dissapointing they often seemed to be dicks for the sake of being dicks.

Will Wildman said...

Once you start handing out superpowers, I think you should probably stop assuming that men get the more powerfull ones (and if you're generous, women get better control. Yep, again.) I'm looking at you, Wheel of Time.

There's a trilogy I mostly quite like, Mistborn, that did this in one of those awkward ways that was both logical in-universe and yet still pointing straight at gender essentialism. After two books of the female protagonist being superpowered and a male lead being ordinary, he gets an infusion of the same type of powers. The woman has had hers all her life and years of experience training/practicing, so she has excellent control, but her powers have been somewhat diluted over generations of ancestors, while the man got a fresh dose straight from the source of magic. So while it arguably makes sense according to the premises and has nothing to do with their genders, we still end up with a high-control woman and a high-power man. Arrows! FedEx arrows! Lots of them!

Ana Mardoll said...

I find the whole concept of the FedEx arrow fascinating. I never would have seen the arrow because I don't usually see negative space, but now that it's been pointed out to me, sure enough! Arrow!

Will Wildman said...

I think the 'arrow' concept is great because it completely sidesteps "But did the author mean to say that?" or "But just because it can be read that way doesn't mean it should be read that way!" in favour of a factual statement: there is, for whatever reason, a way of reading this that indicates a problematic conclusion. (If someone insists that it is impossible for there to even be an arrow and you're just maliciously making it up, it's also a solid indication that thoughtful discussion is not on the menu.)

And yeah, I totally didn't see the arrow in the FedEx logo until it was pointed out, but the graphic designers insist that it was put there intentionally. Which either makes them powerful hypnotists or not quite as good at graphic design as they thought they were.

Pthalo said...

Your subconscious mind have picked up on the arrow, even if your conscious mind didn't. That's what they're banking on, when they put little hidden arrows into things.

Pthalo said...

"might have picked up" i meant

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