Finales and Facts

Today was Claymore volumes 19-27.  The last third of the series.  Remember how, when I first read volume 18, I thought it would all wrap up in just a couple more books?  Oh, I was so wrong.  Claymore is an incredibly slow build to its climax.  Not like Dragon Ball Z where you can spend an entire episode just powering up, but rather like a mountain.  You get within arm’s reach of what you thought was the peak, only to realize that the true peak was even further up than you could see from below.

And the anime’s climax is simply nowhere near as satisfying as the manga.  Yes, with that slow buildup it can seem tedious, but it doesn’t, not really, because a deeper mystery takes center stage.  As the series winds down, we peel back the surface layers of what we have assumed to be truth and reveal even deeper depths of horror and intrigue.  Questions we had so many books ago are brought up…and answered!  And then that climax!

Before I start getting into spoilers, let’s back up and talk more generally about the series.  The world of Claymore is divided into four or five regions, depending on how you’re looking at it.  The five areas are called Alfons, Lautrec, Tolouse, Mucha, and Sutafu.  And yes, I would suspect that author Norihiro Yagi has an interest in European artists from the late 1800s, else why name geography for Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha?  This has nothing to do with the series, just random fun facts for me.  Another thing I enjoyed is that the anime sometimes features the music of bagpipes.  Given that claymores as a weapon are associated with historic Scotland, it’s appropriate, but not a guarantee for something produced in a widely different culture.

Also, there is the town of Pieta.  A pieta is a specific type of image in European art, featuring the Virgin Mary holding onto the dead Jesus after he’s taken from the cross.  This symbolism is, I’m sure, intentional.  As for actual religion in the world of Claymore…there seem to be at least two distinct ones.  There’s the god of the holy city of Rabona which we don’t know much about but I would probably equate to Christianity.  There’s also the twin goddesses Teresa and Clare.  They stand for goodness and other positive things, and are always shown as having their backs towards each other, and their wings stretched out beyond the other.

The main character of Claymore is Clare.  She’s a young woman who also happens to be a half-human, half-yoma warrior whose job is to hunt down and kill yoma.  Yoma are creatures that feast on human innards, but are undetectable when in human form, save by the silver-eyed women known as Claymores.  By taking yoma flesh and blood into their bodies, they gain the strength and speed to take these monsters on as equals.  So is our first impression of Clare, through the eyes of Raki, a boy she saves.  The first few episodes focus on this, and showing us the world through Clare’s job.  Her second assignment of the series is a black card, meaning that a fellow warrior feels she has reached the limit of her human heart, and wishes to be slain by a friend rather than becoming a monster.

Another few incidents later, the reader (or viewer) learns that though Clare has been this powerful badass, she’s actually the absolute weakest of the warriors in the organization, bearing the lowest rank of 47 out of 47.  Which, reflecting back, is a good way to not only introduce the character, world, and premise, but to really show the difference in power between an ordinary human and a Claymore.  This skill of display continues throughout the series as the opponents Clare must overcome grow progressively stronger.

There is no doubt that Claymore is shonen, that is to say, boy’s manga or anime.  Shonen tends to feature much more combat, and shojo (girl’s manga or anime) showcases relationships.  The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but easy categorizations.  Because of the sheer amount of combat, Claymore could almost fall into the category of tournament shonen, but there really isn’t any tournament.  The closest I can think of is the last few volumes which feature several fights concurrently that gradually peter away as the combatants are slain.  Very few of the 155 chapters in the series have no fighting or bloodshed.  This is most certainly a factor in how quickly I was able to reread the books.

Another thing I like is that there is very little sexuality.  Don’t get me wrong, the manga is rated for Older Teens and the anime for Mature audiences.  But that’s generally for almost everything else.  Claymore is a title that uses those ratings because that’s what it is.  It’s not abusing them like so many works do today.  Yes, characters swear.  But it’s only when the situation is that unbelievable, and happens maybe a handful of times in the entire series.  Yes there are a number of nipples shown, but that’s what happens when part of your body is destroyed and you regenerate it: clothing has to be replaced later.  In fact, there are only two points a vagina is or would be shown.  In the first case, it’s a warrior and there is a strategically placed speech bubble censoring her.  In the second case…well…I really don’t know what to think of an awakened being whose true form is a vagina dentata.  That’s pretty wrong on so many levels.  And yet, it is far from the most disturbing thing in this story.  Just the most disturbing visual.

That was one thing I didn’t care for in the anime.  They really played up the potential relationship between Raki and Clare as something sexual, based off the one time that she kissed him.  I don’t doubt that there is romance between them, even if it’s not shown much, but I always viewed it as more of an asexual thing.  After all, I’m quite certain that all warriors are sterilized simply by becoming half yoma.  And awakening is said to be comparable to sexual pleasure, hence why males are more suspectible than females.  In fact, the only truly sexual moments in the entire series are when Ophelia is feeling up Clare.  So the anime focusing on that one kiss feels very out of place for the series as a whole, and quite forced.

As you can tell, I do love Claymore.  Not just because I invested nine years in collecting it, but because it genuinely held my attention and interest rapt every time I returned to it so that when that finale came…it was so fitting and so perfect and I loved it so damned much.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
So let’s start by talking about Clare and her backstory, which comes in volumes 3-5.  She was orphaned and picked up by a wandering yoma to provide cover as he went from town to town.  The yoma was killed by a warrior known as Teresa of the Faint Smile, the number 1 ranker at the time.  Clare then began following Teresa around, clinging to the one person who’d shown her any form of kindness since her parents died.  Teresa became resigned to this and sort of adopted her, to the point that she injured and killed humans to protect Clare.  This broke the organization’s rules, and Teresa was slated for execution.  She was killed by the new number 2 warrior, Priscilla, who awakened as she took Teresa’s head.  Bereft of all she had, Clare went to the organization of her own free will and demanded that Teresa’s flesh be put inside her.  So, instead of being a normal half-human half-yoma warrior, Clare was only one-quarter yoma.

Awakening is what happens when a warrior pushes their yoma energy beyond about 70% of their capacity – at that point they can no longer return to their human form.  They become an awakened being, a superior kind of yoma that also feasts on human innards, but is far more powerful and harder to kill.  The pigment returns to their hair and eyes, allowing them to pass for human, unlike a warrior of the organization.  They are no longer human in any real sense.

In her fight in the holy city of Rabona, Clare passed her limits and began to awaken.  However, Raki was able to anchor her with his love, drawing her back into her human form.  This still counted, in some was, as an awakening, or a half-awakening. The quality of her yoma energy changed, and it was much easier to draw on it at much higher levels before.  This Clare learned when she was teamed up with three other warriors to fight an awakened being.  All three had had similar experiences, and determined that someone wanted beings like them dead.  Thus was born a conspiracy against the organization.

In her fight against Ophelia, number 4, Clare lost her dominant right arm.  This was after she and Raki separated, each promising that they’d live to see the other again.  Luckily, she was rescued and taken in by the woman who had previously been number 2 to Teresa’s number 1; Quick-Sword Ilena.  Clare learned Ilena’s special technique, then was given a great gift: the loan of Ilena’s remaining arm.  With her new skill and increased power, she was able to kill Ophelia.

Later, Clare encountered Riful of the West for the first time, an abyssal being who was once ranked number 1.  There she found Jean, number 9, being held prisoner.  Jean had been tortured by Riful in an attempt to force her to awaken, and when Clare came on the scene Jean’s body had fully transformed, though her human will was still trying to deny this fact.  Clare was able to help Jean return to her human form, and Jean offered Clare her very life in return.

Soon after, half of the organization’s warriors, including all those considered to be discipline problems, were sent north to Pieta, the first town in the northern land of Alfons.  Multiple awakened beings had been seen working together, and four warriors had already lost their lives in this combat.  Clare fought against Rigaldo the Silver-Eyed Lion, who had been number 2 in the time of male warriors.  She nearly finished awakening to do so, and was brought back only by Jean’s sacrifice of the life she’d already given.  In the end, only seven warriors including Clare survived the battle.  They hid in the north for seven years, training and expending no yoma energy so that their auras would fade away almost beyond sensing.  In that time, Clare trained herself in a new technique known as wind-cutter, formerly used by Flora, who was number 8 before dying in Pieta.

After seven years, Clare found evidence that while Raki had been in the north, he may have survived the rampage by awakened beings shortly after the warriors fell.  She and the other six left for the south.  There Clare ended up in Riful’s lair a second time, where the remains of former abyssal being Luciela and her sister Rafaela (number 5 in Clare’s time) were hidden.  Rafaela had killed Luciela seven years previously, but also preserved her.  Touching the buried consciousness within, Clare absorbed Rafaela’s memories.

At one point in the series, I think when the seven are discussing going south, Clare says that she can’t stay idle because of “the many souls inside” her.  As you can see, she does mean that almost literally.  When she stands before Priscilla in the final battle of the series, trying to fight to save her friends, trying to fulfill her quest for revenge, something holds her back and keeps her from awakening.  And Clare realizes that it isn’t her who’s meant to awaken.

It’s Teresa.

Clare’s body conforms to her memory of Teresa, and the spirit that has been dormant within her for so many years rises to the forefront of their mind.  Teresa, the most powerful number 1 in history fights Priscilla.  And when she awakens, her true form is that of the twin goddesses, Teresa and Clare.

It gives me chills just thinking about how absolutely perfect this is.  This fight, this image, this single moment that was built up for twenty-seven volumes.  That is a payoff that few books ever give, and I love it so much.  When I first read volume 27, I immediately reread that last battle upon finishing it.  It is so perfect and so powerful.  There are few enough moments like that in my library that I have to savor each one.

That is why a single anime season of 26 episodes can never be as good as the manga, despite how good an adaptation the first 20 episodes are.  That is why Claymore is probably my favorite manga.

That is why this post is over 2000 words long.  The only question remaining now is…what to read next?

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