Content Note: Violence, Otherkin Terminology
Claymore Recap: Clare and Jean are on the run after the encounter with Riful; Galatea has returned to the Organization to report that Clare and Jean are dead, in the hopes that her report will buy Clare time and distance from the Organization hunters so that Clare can continue her search for Priscilla. This is the first episode of the Northern Campaign arc, which is the final arc of the anime series. (The manga goes further.)
Claymore, Episode 18: The Carnage in the North, Part 1
Episode 18 opens with the slaughter of several unknown (to us) Claymore in the northern lands. This is a reference to the coming war that Riful predicted: the male Creature of the Abyss (Isley) who has hitherto dwelt in the north has created an army of Awakened Beings and is moving south. His ultimate goals are unclear, but he intends conquest and war against anyone who opposes him. This includes both Riful and the Organization.
The Northern Campaign is my favorite arc in the anime, because it is essentially the culmination of all the themes we've discussed so far. The arc is about two basic things. Superficially, it is about a war between monsters and super-human warriors, and I think that's something that most anime-fans can get behind and enjoy. But underneath it all, this arc is very viscerally about what it means to be humane.*
Going into the arc of the Northern Campaign, we have learned a number of things about Claymore. At the beginning of the series, we were informed (because Clare and the other Claymore believed it to be true) that Claymore are half-human, half-monster creatures. Clare believed that all Claymore were fated to eventually be taken over by their monstrous natures, and she and the other Claymore were equipped with a Black Card suicide notice should they feel their control slipping.
Slowly, over time, we have seen that the situation is more complicated than that. Clare, Miria, Helen, and Deneve have surpassed their limits and still been able to retain their form and control. Ophelia provides a stark contrast: her control was, in many ways, lost long before she became an Awakened Being. Galatea has demonstrated how one Claymore may use her power to pull another Awakened Claymore back into her human form. And Jean has provided a stunning example of a fully Awakened Claymore who nevertheless completely retained her control and consciousness.
Everything we thought we knew about Claymore and humans and monsters at the beginning of this series was patently wrong. The Claymore are not humane because they are half-human. Ophelia had lost any shred of compassion long before her body morphed into a non-human form, and Jean's non-human body had no impact whatsoever on her honor and sense of self. Similarly, the Awakened Beings are not monstrous because they are half-monsters. Riful has demonstrated intelligence, humor, self-control, and a capacity for respect for her opponents. Later in the arc, Isley will display compassion and kindness when he wants to. And thus it is my firm believe that the underlying message of the Northern Campaign arc is that a person's form does not dictate their actions or their personality.
In the forest, as Clare and Jean travel together, Clare insists that Jean owes her no debt. Clare demonstrates her Quick Sword technique and asserts that because of Jean she has been able to master the technique. Jean changed her thinking, Clare says, because "your body was awakened, but you maintained your humanity." The event demonstrated to Clare that it is possible to retain control over an awakened body, whether it be the entire body or merely a piece of it, as with the awakened arm holding the Quick Sword.
Rubel and Rafaela appear in the forest. Jean and Clare are outmatched, but Rubel is there with an offer: the two women can rejoin the Organization if they take the assignment to aid the Northern Campaign. The offer works with Clare's plans anyway -- Priscilla is in the north, as is Raki -- but there is a threat underneath the offer. "We can find you and kill you whenever we feel like it," Rubel says.
When Clare joins the forces in the north, she is pleased and surprised to find her old comrades -- Miria, Helen, and Deneve -- also assigned to the mission. Helen brashly pulls her sword to playfully challenge Clare and Jean fiercely intervenes. When Helen is shocked that Number 9 Jean would choose to associate with Number 47 Clare, Jean retorts with possibly my favorite line of the series:
"I didn't ask [Clare's] number when she saved my life, and it matters even less to me now."
The story of Claymore is a story of self-identity. All the women in the Claymore Organization are trying to piece together some form of identification for themselves. None of them, save Clare, joined the Organization willingly -- all of them were sold to the Organization, or they were forced to join the Organization in order to survive. Almost all of them are orphans, their parents murdered by monsters, often in front of their own eyes. Their training focuses on isolation and competition; even the type of warrior they become -- Attacker or Defender -- is dictated by whether they are driven by raw revenge or mindless survival.
Each Claymore has much the same history, the same past, the same unspeakable terror in their background. Each Claymore receives the same training, the same assignments, even the same silver eyes and blond-white hair. Not surprisingly, they grasp for the few pieces of self-identity left to them. Their humanity. Their ranking. Their nicknames. Ophelia's obsession with defining a technique for herself -- Rippling Ophelia -- wasn't a vanity; it was a necessity. Helen's rank-striving is driven at least as much by an attempt to find and claim a place for herself in the world as it is by a need for competition. Clare and Jean are less interested in their rankings, but at the same time they are both tormented by the thought of losing their human forms against their wills. Identity is important to the Claymore, just as it is to most of us.
When Miria takes charge of the group, she outlines her strategy. There are 24 warriors there, with 5 warriors of relatively high rank: Miria-6, Flora-8, Jean-9, Undine-11, Veronica-13. These 5 high-ranking warriors will head smaller teams of Claymore who will take on individual Awakened Beings in the battle ahead. Miria divides up the group, and then she and the other survivors of the male Awakened Being hunt meet secretly with Clare. Jean, as another Awakened Claymore, joins the group.
Clare asks Miria, as an experienced tactician, what the odds are that the Claymores will be successful in this campaign. Miria says: "This operation has zero probability of succeeding." The others are taken aback. If they have no chance to survive and win against the army of Awakened Beings, then why are they here? What is the Organization thinking? Miria's guess is that they are there are pawns, a sacrifice to slow down the enemy and give the Organization time to plan.
I'm not sure what to make of Miria's theory. If Clare is the weakest fielded Claymore as Number 47, and if 24 Claymore have been assigned to the Northern Campaign that leaves a potential 23 Claymore left behind, so over half the Claymore will be sacrificed in this doomed battle. Given that another 4 Claymore were killed into the opening sequence, that brings the number down to 19. And another 3 Claymore died as part of Jean's team in the Riful arc, so without any replenishing of the ranks that leaves 16 commissioned Claymore behind in the Organization. Oh, and Ophelia is dead, so that makes 15. That would seem like putting a bit too many eggs in one sacrificial basket, but it's worth noting that none of the Top 5 are in the campaign. We've been informed that the Top 5 are exponentially more powerful so possibly they wouldn't need any of the 24 cannon-fodder Claymore to back them up, and of course there's always more Claymore up and coming through the training ranks. Still, this seems awfully risky to me. Possibly the Organization is just making a really bad decision? (Wouldn't be the first time.)
Moving on, a very real question is why Miria and the others stay if they're so certain they won't succeed. My guess is that the idea of abandoning their posts just doesn't work for them at this point in time. Where would they go? An outcast Claymore has no friends: they are hated by humans, hunted by ex-comrades, and dogged by yoma and Awakened Beings. Then, too, there is the point that Claymore do not run from certain death because their entire lives have been moving toward certain death. They are told from the beginning that they are doomed to die either in battle or as a monster, and that the one thing they should truly wish for is an honorable death and to take as many monsters with them as they can. Why should they run now from the death they have always been marching steadily towards?
When three scouting Awakened Beings attack the city, Miria stays calm. She assigns her own team, Jean's team, and Flora's team to each take an Awakened Being, and orders the two remaining teams to wait in reserve and back up the teams as needed. The scouting Awakened Beings are impressed by Miria's battle plan, but one notes: "She's tough, but her greatest weakness is her team." Miria has spread the weak and inexperienced Claymore of the group around to each team. Several of the warriors are shaking with fear and will not be much use in the coming battle. Here is a note, reproduced in full, that I jotted while watching this episode:
"Org training sucks."
The Organization's training does suck: it's incredibly inefficient for turning out strong, useful teams. The ranking system, though useful for carving out a self-identity, encourages the careful hoarding of knowledge, lest an opponent gain an edge in their rank-striving. Imagine if techniques like Teresa's yoma-sensing, Ilena's Quick Sword, or Galatea's yoma-attunement were taught as part of the Claymore training, instead of insights that individual students just have to stumble upon? How would the Awakened Being hunts be structured differently if Claymores operated in teams as a matter of course instead of as unusual exceptions? For that matter, how would the Awakening rates change if Claymore operated in teams and could talk each other down from their limits?
The charitable answer is that the Organization deliberately limits their potential because they fear creating stronger Awakened Beings. The cynical answer is that the Organization limits them because they don't want to lose their control over the Claymore and find themselves on the losing end of an organizational coup.
When Flora goes in for the kill on an Awakened Being, Clare realizes that the opponent has Galatea's yoma-attunement abilities. On the basis of her experience with Galatea, Clare manages to save Flora and disrupt the Awakened Being's power. He crows in delight: "I'm starting to have fun here. This is why I can't give yup being a monster." And we're back to self-identity again: the Awakened Being they fight is monstrous not because of his inherent physical body but because he chooses to be monstrous. I don't mean that he choose to be monstrous when he Awakened -- an event that was probably an accident he could not control -- but rather that he chooses to be monstrous now, on a daily basis. He's using his physical body as an excuse; like Ophelia, he enjoys killing and torturing.
Jean, wounded and weak, faces off against her own Awakened Being. He taunts her, "You aren't much of a leader, are you? A good leader would have known her weakest fighters before the battle even started. And those are the soldiers you [should] sacrifice, but you wasted valuable time trying to protect them." Is he right? Is Jean's greatest weakness that, unlike the Organization, she cannot sacrifice her soldiers like pawns for the greater good? We'll talk about that and more in the next episode.
* I have repeatedly talked about Claymore in terms of what it means to be human. Several readers have considerately informed me that the term "human" when held as a stand-in for a "person" can be distressing to Otherkin. I am grateful for this correction. I hope that the use of humane here in this framing is appropriate. Yet I am concerned because it seems likely that the root for humane is the same as the root for human. I therefore use the term tentatively here, and am open to suggestion or correction. Thank you.