Content Note: Mental Illness, Sadism, Violence, Torture, Sexualized Violence
Claymore Recap: Clare, Miria, Deneve, and Helen have parted ways, but have promised to look out for one another as they go about their daily lives trying to quietly undermine the Organization from within.
Claymore, Episode 12: The Endless Gravestones, Part 1
I need to point out that this is the beginning of the Ophelia arc in the Claymore anime, and that the Ophelia arc is one of the most disturbing, triggering things I've ever seen. This episode in particular is intensely violent, and not recommended for all viewers. If you've been following the Claymore series thus far and aren't sure if you want to continue, I can assure you that you can safely skip the Ophelia arc and come back to the Northern Campaign arc later if need be. And, of course, these deconstructions can fill you in without some of the more violent imagery.
Episode 12 starts with Clare returning to her daily job as a Claymore and trying not to raise suspicion, as Miria has suggested. The anime has to gloss over this a little bit -- it's very unclear how much time has passed since the hunt against the male Awakened Being -- but I have to think this would be a very intense and stressful period for Clare. It has been mentioned by Galatea that Clare has directed an unusual amount of energy into controlling her facial expressions and emotional aura responses, and I think this is very likely because Clare has always been at odds with the Organization.
When she joined them in the wake of Teresa's death, she did so in hopes that she might get revenge on Priscilla, but she also did so understanding very plainly that the Organization cannot be trusted. Teresa was hunted by her best and oldest friend for a 'crime' that really boiled down to being unwilling to obey the Organization over her own ethical judgment. I think Clare has been keeping her feelings closely to herself for several reasons. For one, I think she has always been prepared to go rogue if she catches wind of Priscilla's location. For another, I think the lesson of Teresa has in some ways been to keep your strengths as secret as your weaknesses -- if someone is dispatched to hunt Clare, she has more of a chance the less they know about her.
Now she has a third reason to bottle up her emotions and reactions: if the Organization finds out about her "partially Awakened" status, she has no idea how they will react. Maybe it's something everyone goes through but no one talks about. Maybe it's something that would get her praise and recognition for an innovative new technique. More likely it would get her a broadsword in the back. And no matter how much more powerful she is from before, she is still nothing compared to the combined forces of the Organization as a whole. So while I think in a sense Clare has always been living in a state of quiet revolt and deliberate emotional repression, I think the stakes have intensified and I imagine this is a hard time for her.
Another thing we see in the opening sequence is that Raki is trying to teach himself sword fighting. I approve of this. I do not approve of this because Raki is a boy and needs to 'be a man' or some such gendered silliness. I also do not approve of this because he lives in a dangerous world and needs to be able to protect himself. I do not think people have an responsibility for self-protection, and I think the assumption of such a responsibility is a slippery slope to ableism and victim blaming. Furthermore, there is no realistic level of achievement that Raki can reach to make him strong enough to defend himself in the Claymore 'verse, so it would be something of a non-starter for me to say so anyway.
No, I approve of this because it seems like a good hobby for Raki to take up in the downtime between 'constant walking' and 'exhausted sleeping'. Learning sword fighting will hone the muscles that the 'constant walking' will miss, and if Raki ever decides to leave Clare and settle down in a town, there are a number of trades he can transition easily into based on his new upper body strength. Furthermore, it keeps his mind occupied and gives him and Clare a common subject to talk about. I would also have approved of Raki taking up knitting, but I have not seen evidence that such a skill exists in the Claymore 'verse. Boiling bootstraps and dying to monsters seems to be the full range of lifestyle options in this world.
Anyway, back to the episode. Clare is contacted by the Organization and informed that she's to be sent to battle another Awakened Being, more powerful than the last. Clare orders Raki to stay at the camp while she goes to the designated meeting area. At this point, the episode is looking a little bit like a replay of the previous arc, but when Clare shows up to the meeting area, she is surprised to see that this time the hunting team has only two members... and the other member has decided to attack her in a highly violent and deeply sexualized manner.
Thus do we meet Ophelia. Ophelia is one of the top five members of the Organization. She has an unusual obsession with hunting Awakened Beings, and she is the member who personally encouraged Miria in her moment of intense emotion to awaken because she thought it would be amusing to watch. She is also -- like many members of the Claymore Organization -- deeply affected by past childhood trauma, and has unfortunately channeled that traumatization into sadism.
Ophelia represents a darker side to the Organization that we haven't really had a chance to see before. She attacks Clare without provocation, and then happily turns on Raki when he intervenes. Clare is shocked, and the viewer is too: if there's one thing we learned from the Teresa arc, it's that humans are off-limits, to the point where they can bully Claymores around without consequence. Clare asks Ophelia: "Do you want to die?" Ophelia laughs. You only die, she explains, if you turn yourself in. Or, of course, if there are surviving witnesses against you. But those things are easy enough to avoid, don't you think?
The Ophelia arc is a turning point for the optimistic viewer. Up until now, it was possible to approve of the Organization, in a sort of Lawful Good kind of way. Sure, the "breaking the rules means death" environment was harsh in a legalistic "eye for an eye" kind of way, but it could be justified as a necessary evil to maintain working relations with the human villages. And sure, setting up the Partially Awakened Four on a job they were meant to fail was cruel, but there's a certain logic to not wanting to have loose cannons running around with super-human super-powers.
But then Ophelia enters, and it's pretty much impossible to give the Organization a pass anymore. Not because of this one sadistic member, but because it's reasonably clear that her sadism and her crimes aren't a secret to anyone. The Organization isn't interested in keeping humans safe so much as they are interested in the appearance of safety; they aren't interested in keeping dangerous unlawful members under wraps so much as they are interested in keeping subversive ones buried. This is really the only way to explain or justify the continued existence of Ophelia. Well, that and the fact that There Are No Therapists in the Claymore 'verse.
In another series, Ophelia as a character would be offensive to me. There are far too many examples in fiction of needing an absolutely unrepentant sadist and then whipping one up with strong indications of mental illness and a Freudian excuse backstory about childhood trauma irreversibly damaging her. STOP DOING THIS, HOLLYWOOD. And yet... I'm not sure that's the case here. I keep looking askance at Ophelia and wondering if that's what we have here, and I keep coming back to the fact that nearly all the Claymores have the exact same history of childhood trauma. Some of them are defined at least partially by the trauma, including Clare and Priscilla. Some of them seem not to be fazed by it at all, as we see with Raki. Some of them we will meet later will be deeply affected at first and yet grow past that effect into something else.
Then there's also the fact that I feel that Ophelia we see now has been shaped at least as much by the Organization over the years as she was by her childhood trauma. They took a little girl from her murdered family. They tortured her and abused her and literally altered her biology to make her similar to the thing she most hates and fears. Then they gave her a sword and trained her how to use it and set her loose into the world. They taught her to fight everything, including her comrades, in the name of rank striving. Is Ophelia unable to distinguish friend from foe because she is insane (and therefore, according to Hollywood, more likely to be violent)? Or is she simply a logical effect of the Organization's depraved and cruel Claymore-creation process?
I'm honestly not sure which way we're supposed to go, but I'm trending toward the latter.
Getting back to the episode, because there are a lot of points here in a short amount of time.
Ophelia tortures Clare and Raki until the Awakened Being shows up, drawn by the scent of Raki's blood. It's something of a testament to the quality of writing in this series that Ophelia's "just kidding" line made me laugh in a sort of manic oh-my-god-can-this-get-any-worse relief valve sense. Ophelia throws Raki to the Awakened Being and holds back Clare so that Clare has to witness his death. Raki lashes out at the Awakened Being with his sword, but he's grossly out-classed and he knows it.
Clare pushes past her yoma limit in order to save Raki and Ophelia is initially thrilled that her gambit has forced Clare to awaken. But when the dust settles, she is shocked to see that Clare is still in human form. Unfortunately, Ophelia immediately puts together that Clare was awakened all along, and if this doesn't bode ill for the future, I don't know what does, because it's pretty clear from Ophelia's character that declaring open season on every other Claymore in the Organization isn't out of the question in her mind. Clare and Raki beat a timely retreat and the Awakened Being challenges Ophelia.
This is another 'first' in the series: this will be the first time the viewer is on the side "Team Awakened Being". Considering that the Awakened Being just tried to eat Raki and was fully intending to murder Clare, this says something about the odiousness of Ophelia, but the sudden influx of sympathy for the Awakened Being here is not coincidental, nor is her parting line to Ophelia: "You're the one who's the monster." Remember when I said waaaaaay back in Episode 1 that this series is about defining what makes a monster and what makes a human? This isn't just a series about humans and Claymore being capable of great evil; it's a series about monsters being capable of... well... sympathetic existences, at the very least. Maybe even capable of good, under the right circumstances.
Back to the protagonists! Clare tells Raki that they have to split up, and as much as I usually hate the Romantic Split in fiction, she's spot on target this time. Ophelia can only hunt one of them and will have to choose Clare because Raki has no yoma aura to track, Raki will significantly slow Clare down in her escape attempt, and Raki will certainly be tortured and killed by Ophelia if caught. Raki is distraught at the idea of splitting up and asserts that he doesn't care if he dies, and that the most important thing to him is that he stays with Clare. And, hey, look, it's not Twilight, because Clare doesn't become homicidally angry at Raki's statement, but rather turns on the gentle I understand your sentiment and value it but here is what the plan needs to be and STAY ALIVE WHATEVER MAY OCCUR I WILL FIND YOU.
What a difference a different author makes.