Claymore: Thankless Roles

Content Note: Violence

Claymore Recap: Clare has joined the Claymore campaign in the north against the army of Awakened Beings. The Claymore have been divided into teams of 4 for the battle.

Claymore, Episode 19: The Carnage in the North, Part 2

When we last left the Claymore, Team Jean and Team Flora were having a bit of trouble finishing off their assigned Awakened Being. The back-up teams -- Team Undine and Team Veronica -- leap in to help the two struggling teams.

The Team Flora opponent has Galatea's unique ability to control a warrior's yoma and therefore her movements. When Team Undine rushes in to help, Undine leaps forward and tries to take the Awakened Being on in one-on-one battle. The other team members protest -- they're supposed to attack as a unit -- and the opponent attunes himself to Undine's yoma and takes control of her body. He poises her to self-decapitate and it's only by brute force that she manages to change the direction of the blow to slice her face instead of her neck.

Clare and Deneve move in to help Undine. Clare distracts the Being while Deneve kicks Undine clear of his control radius. When Clare and Deneve draw on their yoma power, both the Being and the Team leaders are certain that both women have gone too far past their limit. Flora cries out, "No! They've gone too far!" and the Being gloats: "Trust me, there's no going back."

The Awakened Being is wrong, of course. It's entirely possible to come back after passing one's yoma limit. We've seen it done multiple times in the series, and the biggest barrier to managing it has largely been one of will. How much does the Claymore want to come back? Clare managed to come back when Raki held her in the cathedral at Rabona. Miria managed to come back because she didn't want to give Ophelia the satisfaction of witnessing the depth of her pain. Deneve managed to come back because her strongest motivation is to live. Jean managed to come back because she believed Clare when she said it was possible. We've seen half a dozen Claymore come back from Awakening, in some cases without realizing they had even done so, chalking the experience up to luck or good fortune.

The Awakened Beings hold as a matter of faith that they can't go back to what they were. Maybe in some of their cases it's true. But it's hard not to get the impression from these Beings that they enjoy being monstrous. They enjoy hurting and killing their opponents. Whether they enjoy it for the killing itself, or for the challenge, or as an act of vengeance against the Organization, the end result is the same: these Awakened Beings don't want there to be any going back. So we have to wonder: are they really unable to go back, or do they choose not to realize that they can because they don't want to?

When the smoke clears and Clare and Deneve are still in their human forms, the Being protests, "You can't turn back after awakening!" His protest is genuine, but his voice has the tone of someone complaining about a broken rule. He'd been anticipating the joy of seeing two more Claymore fall to the side of the Awakened Beings, and now they've cheated and retained their human form. No fair! Deneve calmly responds, "Either you're mistaken, or you've been imagining things."

It's a wonderful retort. The obvious meaning, the one that Deneve most likely intends her comrades to take, is that everyone on the field has misjudged Clare's and Deneve's limits. They've been imagining that Clare and Deneve have gone over their limits, when really they haven't. But the meaning the viewer knows to take is that the Being really is mistaken in believing that crossing one's limit is an event that can't be undone. Clare has crossed her own limit two or three times now and come back every time, as has Deneve.

How long has this Awakened Being been mistaken about the inevitability of his form and of his actions? He's a male Awakened Being, which means he was a male Claymore, and the Organization stopped making male Claymores so far in the past that only a few Claymore know about that history now. Has this Being never in that time questioned how much control he has over his destiny? Has he been using what he "knows" -- that he is 'stuck' as a monster, that he can't 'help' being a murderer of innocents -- in order to excuse actions that he simply wanted to do?

We cut to Team Jean where they are managing, with the help of Team Veronica, to defeat their Awakened Being. Jean uses her power attack to tear the monster apart from within while Helen uses her arm-bending abilities to take his limbs in one swipe. Veronica and Cynthia take the monster's head, while issuing one of the funniest exchanges in this series, which I will reproduce here:

Cynthia: "Miss Veronica, we [defenders] have such a thankless role, don't we? We risk our lives, drawing the opponent's attention to ourselves, sustaining injuries from head to toe."

Veronica: "I agree, Cynthia. But as defenders, it's the job we're best suited for. It can't be helped."

The exchange is a much needed piece of comic relief after a battle that has been emotionally fraught, but as with all things Claymore, I see a deeper meaning here. The Claymore themselves, as a group, do have a thankless role in this world. They start as marginalized orphans and castaway girls. They gain ultimate power, but... for what? There are no accolades outside of the competitive ranking, no rewards or acts of appreciation. The humans shun and fear them; the Organization issues orders without tenderness or love. They live as outcasts, and they die in battle. The luckiest among them get their revenge and die a good, clean death. (Truly, Teresa was the luckiest of them all, for she found love and a sense of peace before her head was taken off in a surprise attack.) And even now the Claymore are risking their lives drawing the attention of the Awakened Being army onto them, buying the Organization time to put together a strategy.

It's not fair. It's not right. But as the only people in the world capable of mounting a defense against the monsters, it is the job that only they are suited for. It can't be helped.

When the battle wraps up, the Claymore turn to counting the wounded and getting them under cover and into shelter. Undine verbally lashes out at Miria and asks why she deliberately placed weak and inexperienced warriors on each team. She contends that bloodshed could have been avoided if the weaker warriors had been placed in reserve and the stronger warriors allowed to handle the job properly. "The weak ones only hold us back," Undine says angrily.

Flora intervenes to point out Miria's strategy: Some of the Claymore were wounded, but none of them died and all of the wounded should recover quickly. As a trade-off, as it were, now every Claymore on the field has first-hand battle experience with an Awakened Being. They've all learned something, and they all have a little bit more confidence than they had before. They've faced, fought, and survived one of the hardest battles a Claymore can expect to endure.

Undine belatedly recognizes the value of Miria's strategy, but scoffs nonetheless that she's "prefer not to die for a training exercise."

When they are out of hearing, Clare questions Miria. Won't someone notice that they have no real chance for survival in this war? Miria shrugs off the question: "Where you get down to it, we have no way out of this." Once again, an ironic echo of before. It can't be helped. The Claymore aren't stupid or stubborn in their failure to acknowledge their fate; they're simply resolute about their utter lack of options.

In a ghost town not far from the Claymore, Raki wanders desolately. A grave has been erected with Claymore swords marking where they have fallen. He is relieved to see that none of them bear Clare's insignia. When he sees a crumbling wall about to strike and kill a young girl, he yells and pushes her out of the way. The girl gazes at him in astonishment, tells him that he "smells good", and then nuzzles her face into his shoulder adoringly. The girl's name is Priscilla.

A man approaches and gently explains to Raki that if Raki is from the south, then Priscilla must be smelling the scent of the south, the scent of her home and her family, on him. The man -- Isley -- asks Raki if he would like to travel with them. Raki hesitates. He asks about the town they are in: was it decimated by monsters?

Isley smiles. "I wouldn't worry much about it. You're the closest thing to a monster we've seen since we arrived."

He's being ironic, of course. Isley and Priscilla are Awakened Beings. They feed on the flesh and blood of humans they have murdered. It is because of them and others like them that the town they walk through now is a ghost town devoid of life. They are infinitely more dangerous than any single human, let alone a human like sweet, caring Raki.

And yet I wonder if he's not serious in his own way. Every Awakened Being that has ever existed has existed as a direct result of the actions of the Organization. They choose to take a dangerous being -- the yoma -- and use that being to create a weapon, a half-human half-yoma hybrid. Their intentions were perhaps good, to fight fire with fire, but in the end they created a greater evil than anything they had faced before. A single yoma kills dozens, maybe hundreds; an Awakened Beings easily kills hundreds, if not thousands. In the world of Claymore, who is the real monster? The yoma creatures who kill in order to survive, or the humans who carelessly create beings of massive destruction in response?


Bificommander said...

That "It can't be helped" line shows up a lot in anime. I think the Japanese phrase sounds something like "skatanaiwa". And it seems to be a very common expression, and used in a lot of other animes in situations where an English speaker wouldn't use that particular phrase. It'd be more like a frustrated "Like we got a choice" or something. So I'm not sure if I can give Claymore full comedy points for its deadpan use here.

I do like those Japanese phrases that you learn from just watching some anime, and perhaps learning their meanings beyond the mere translation. There's the "Tadaima" "Okaeri" one. It's always translated as "I'm home" "Welcome back". But that doesn't seem to cover the meaning in all cases. There are quite a few cases where a previously alienated young character comes back to either his parent or whomever was taking care of hir, and whispering the Tadaima, with the person there replying the Okaeri with a smile. I think (and I don't know japanese nor have ever been to Japan, so I might be completely wrong about this) that Tadaima has a bit of an extra emotional charge that "I'm home" generally doesn't. I think it's an acknowledgement of the person that this is hir home, in the sense that it is a safe place for hir and has realized that he/she's welcome there. The Okaeri is then a confirmation that indeed, this person is accepted and welcome in the house.

Oh, and here comes the part where Raki became even more insufferable to me than before. I don't think I facepalmed this hard at an anime character's stupidity since Gatekeepers, where the heroes had met a new, strange classmate who they got into a fight over morals with. Then they were confronted by not their regular alien monster of the week but another human with similar powers who had no disguise except the setting sun at his back making his face somewhat hard to make out, managing to wound his arm. And after the bad guy gets away, the classmate shows up to apologise for his earlier rudeness, and as they shake hands he appologizes that his right arm is in a cast now, and the hero smiles and shakes his left arm instead.

Divya Jagadeesan said...

Thank Bificommander for making that point about Raki's complete and utter stupidity. This was the episode that had me screaming at my screen. The town is entirely decimated, even the Claymores are dead, and in walk these two strangers who seem totally unconcerned, just happen to be heading to where the awakened beings are.... and Raki agrees to travel with them. This is the same Raki whose last encounter was with a awakened being that looked like a little girl. Does this boy have no self preservation instinct.

Bificommander said...

What I found interesting was that in, I think, episode 1 or 2, he's able to spot a youma pretty well. He gets approached by a claymore who uses the name claymore and realizes that Claire told him Claymore's don't call themselves that. Which is actually a bit of a leap. Claire was the only Claymore Raki ever met, and she not overly friendly. This second Claymore could just be calling herself Claymore because she knows other people call them by that name, so it's a term Raki would know. It was certainly a reason to be on guard, but Raki just shouted outright that she was a fake. And he was right. So given that Raki has every reason to be cautious, and has previously been characterized as being fairly observant of a possible fake, it's weird that he's so obtuse here.

Maybe it's supposed to mean he was only observant about someone not being a Claymore because he was so impressed with Claire he'd hung on to every word she said. He only called that youma a fake Claymore after all, he might have thought it could be a human faking to be a Claymore....

Either way, by now he should know better. His own brother turned out to be a bloodthristy youma, so it's not like he should have difficulty with the concept of beings that don't immediately look or act like monsters being monsterous. I'm curious to hear Ana's take on it though.

Ana Mardoll said...

I honestly think that he's scared/wary of the two strangers, but when they don't eat him, he decides they must be human. Every other yoma he's encountered has tried to kill him (except his brother, who couldn't kill him without casting suspicion on his own disguise, as in "gee, the Smiths seems pretty dang unlucky that they ALL got killed except Bob.").

And then there's the practical considerations -- I don't think Raki can survive in the frozen north on his own without help. He was expecting a bustling town, and probably caravans he could hitch a ride with; now he's all on his own with no map, no guide, no horse. I think the practical concerns override a lot of things. Plus, Raki has been "find Clare or die trying" for awhile now, so it all adds up to one thing: If the strangers can get him to Clare, he'll go with them and take his chances.

And the longer they don't eat him, the more he assumes they can't be yoma. Well, that's my take anyway.

Will Wildman said...

For those interested in the cultural significance of 'It can't be helped' ('shikata ga nai'), you may be enthused to learn that it's got its own wikipedia page because it is Just That Big A Deal:

The short explanation is that the Japanese people have a long history of enduring considerable horrors while trying to appear completely resolute, and this particular phrase is a traditional reference to that 'stiff upper lip' mentality. Whether or not that's a good thing is still a matter of debate.

(England and possibly the rest of Britain also does the 'stiff upper lip' thing, and I'm sure I could find solid analogues in Canadian and US English; I wonder how many cultures have this kind of phrase? I suspect it's all of them, with varying levels of justification. Here in Canada, we mostly bring out this attitude in regards to heavy snow, rather than, say, war crimes.)

I think (and I don't know japanese nor have ever been to Japan, so I might be completely wrong about this) that Tadaima has a bit of an extra emotional charge that "I'm home" generally doesn't. I think it's an acknowledgement of the person that this is hir home, in the sense that it is a safe place for hir and has realized that he/she's welcome there. The Okaeri is then a confirmation that indeed, this person is accepted and welcome in the house.

It's also used in completely mundane conversation (gone for milk, back in 10), so I'd be cautious about reading too much into inherent meaning. The situation you describe is entirely possible, but imagine, similarly, an English-speaking child (young or grown) showing up at their parents' door after a long and possibly not amicable absence, fumbling over words for a moment, and settling on "I'm back". And then picture their parent's reaction (surprise, joy, emotional meltdown) and embracing the child and also fumbling for words and eventually managing "Welcome home". The child has only said that they were gone and now are present; the parent is implicitly asserting that they are welcome and that this place is still their home, regardless of anything else that might have happened in the intervening time.

Context: also a huge honking deal. I do love learning about how it plays out in other languages, though. Japanese pronouns are brilliant.

Asha said...

When I was in Japan, it seemed to me that okaeri and tadaima were used where you were welcome, had your own home. If you were visiting a friend, you didn't say 'tadaima' unless you were really, really close. I never did at my friends' places. I got lots of props for 'jya (or jyo? Been awhile) moshimasu' instead. I never heard it used in different contexts. When you left where you worked, you used a different phrase entirely.

Bificommander said...

Sorry if I was unclear. Yes, you're right, most of the times it's used 'normally', I agree with that. That's how I learned the phrase. Generally, the Tadaima is that semi-shouted to everyone in the house as an annoucement to whomever is home. The cases I was refering to was when the person comming home and the owner of the house were standing right in front of each other at the doorstep for a while, and the Tadaima is half whispered. Then it isn't an annoucement, since it's obvious the person has arived, hence why I ascribe the emotional meaning.

But of course that meaning wouldn't be possible if the phrase wasn't used casually 95% of the time, even in anime.

Anthony Rosa said...

You know, this is the point where the real differences between the manga and the anime begin. Up until this point, the anime has been stunningly faithful to the manga. The actual battle will remain faithful for a few more episodes yet, but the thing with Raki is where the differences start.

In the manga version, the reason he's in the town is because he'd been captured by slavers. He was stuck in a jail cell when the carnage happened above, and only survives because of this. This changes the context a good bit, though in the end, Ana, it's quite similar to what you said: They aren't eating him, and he really has no better options since the town is completely destroyed.

Of course, then the changes in Raki's story arc begin to escalate, and culminate in radically changing the ending of the story arc, so that the continuing events of the manga cannot feasibly happen, at least not without serious changes.

The manga goes in another direction, I might want to mention those differences once we get farther. But they begin here, someplace minor: The reason Raki's stuck in the town, and ends up with Isley and Priscilla.

Bificommander said...

I didn't read the manga, but I read about it and it sounds pretty good. At least we learn there is a point to everything the Organization does. RIght now they just look like they're being mean and evil about the whole procedure for no good reason. And it makes you wonder why so many of the Claymores put up with their bullshit.

Anthony Rosa said...

Well, the reason isn't ever given to the Claymores, except as a secret Miria discovers. And the reason they actually have is at least as bad as "random cruelty." I mean, at least it's a reason. But it's a reason that does nothing to make them look better... just more coherent.

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