As a young girl, Clare was held prisoner by a body-snatching Yoma, forced to travel with him through village and town as a shield against monster hunters. She had become so tortured and withdrawn that she couldn’t speak. The day she met Teresa, she saw the same pain in her eyes and tried to comfort her, even as the townspeople looked on in silent dread. From then on, she would travel with Teresa as a companion and protector. Through her, Clare rediscovered her voice, and so to honour her, she would become the same half-Yoma that caused humans to fear her every step. She would choose to become a Claymore.
Created by the cult of the Organisation merely to quell the Yoma scourge, Claymores are contractors to humanity, much like the Witcher of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels and the subsequent video games from CD Projekt RED. In fact, the one layer of separation from The Witcher here is that the only surviving Claymores are women. They are the fear of powerful women in the flesh, their strength withheld from fetish by disfigured bodies and impenetrable expressions. Clare is the bearer of a strange and fierce potential, the fear and rage that birthed it a wound too deep for humanity to comprehend. And so they fear her as they would any of her sisters, but she is no hero among her own kind. It’s perhaps this very fact that draws Raki to her as she’s hunting Yoma invaders in his town. When he is cast out after his brother is found to be a Yoma’s façade, the only way he can think to go is after Clare.
With this whinging, clingy but strangely endearing boy, Clare finds herself in the same position as Teresa all those years ago. Though she isn’t quite sure why, she wants to defend him from those who banished him just for being connected to a Yoma. As she comes to feel comfortable around him, she tells him of the Claymore’s nature, how they are doomed to succumb to their Yoma half. The story of her childhood, of Teresa, remains a secret. As does her determination to take revenge on Teresa’s killer, the “Awakened Being” Priscilla. Angelic and ancient, some like grand concepts of architecture, these demons complete Claymore’s rarest factor as a fantasy. The monster-slaying adventure frames many stories of women’s pain and women’s rage. It’s etched in the lines of their eyes, remaining by some magic of studio Madhouse’s animation even when their vacant gaze rests on humanity.
Male Claymores did once exist, but reached the limits of their control over their monster’s desires much faster than the females. The impermanence and low stakes in their pride and bloodlust builds the solid ground the women walk on in this show. But although combat sequences should be the proof, they are often the most poorly presented, restricting the levels to which these female characters can prove themselves in battle. Too often boring, slow or lacklustre in animation, their enemies fluctuate in intrigue, but the male adversaries are the worst offenders for blandness. Outside the Organisation, their invisible eyes following our heroines as they search for their truths, there was no need for any more male villains in the first place. It’s more rewarding to see the one-upmanship and camaraderie between the Claymores hasn’t been feminised, just as the female enemies aren’t force-fed a masculine ego of grit and muscle. The only male character who manages to break free of all the dullness in the end is Raki. He’s never quite likeable, but you understand all he means to Clare; a thread to keep her humanity and treasured bond with Teresa in her sights, if only in her mind’s eye.
Though she tries to escape her memory of it, Clare’s journey with her sisters explores the sacrifice that’s the rite of true humanity over monstrousness. A group of women who were made to believe they were mere beasts came together and uncovered their humanity through fighting side by side. Together, they march against the darkening shadow of the evil men who used their grief to bring them under control. Between all the violence as storytelling, that is the human heart of this sadly understated feminist fantasy.
Extras: English dub; commentary on episodes 1, 8, 11, 16, 19 and 26; cast auditions; interviews with director Hiroyuki Tanaka, sound director Yasunori Honda, art director Manabu Otsuzuki, and art settings Nobuhito Sue; clean opening/closing animation; commercials and trailers.