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Worlds Without End Blog

Fantasy Manga 101: Claymore Posted at 1:33 PM by Glenn Hough

gallyangel

Glenn Hough (gallyangel) is a nonpracticing futurist, an anime and manga otaku, and is almost obsessive about finishing several of the lists tracked on WWEnd. In this series on Fantasy Manga Glenn will provide an overview of the medium and the place of fantasy within it.


Claymore01Back in the introduction blog, I said that the usual order of things was for a manga to get an anime adaptation and not the other way around. This has a gatekeeper effect, promoting what is deemed the best manga. (Best in this case does mean things like what sells the best and what can generate the most money from the anime and from the merchandizing.) But it still means that high quality manga out of each new crop is recognized.

Paradoxically, I’d say that 90% of the time, I will see the anime first and then go back to the manga. So this gatekeeper effect is key to finding new manga. It makes the flood far more manageable. With Claymore, I saw the anime
first and then went back for the manga.

And to my chagrin forgot about it.

Fast forward three or four years and I rediscovered both. I’d originally read what was available of the manga online. This time I bought the series and regot the anime. I am intensely hooked. My opinion went from “it’s ok” to “my god, what was I thinking, not getting this, not paying more attention to this”. I’m so glad I went back for a second look.

This is what VIZ says about Claymore Vol. 1:

Claymore11A Claymore – a female warrior named for the sword she carries – travels from medieval village to village to destroy Yoma, monsters who disguise themselves as humans and who are almost impossible to kill. Claymores are half-humans, half-demons who willingly transformed themselves by mixing their blood with monster’s blood. Claire, nicknamed silver-eyed slayer, is such a powerful Claymore, she can slay a Yoma using only one hand. But she must constantly struggle to keep from becoming a monster herself.

Vol. 1 – Silver-eyed Slayer

A village is gripped by fear and paranoia when a Yoma claims six lives. The Claymore who is sent to slay the creature isn’t what the villagers expect at all. In fact, she seems more monster than human.

Claymore04When it comes to Fantasy manga, Claymore is a solid top five pick.

What I find most amusing about the intro is that we find out very quickly Claymores are ranked by power,1 to 47; Claire is number 47. We are initiated into this world by walking alongside the weakest, the least. The realm, powers, and battles of the single digits are very far removed from Claire when we first meet her.

Yes, exactly: it’s girls, and swords, and monsters.

Girls, swords, and monsters – I wonder if Norihiro Yagi sold it to his editor with a line like that? If he did, then it was everything that came afterwards, everything he was able to do to build this world, to tell this story, which has made it last and so popular. Such a simple formula: girls, swords, and monsters. Such complexity as we get ever deeper into the world that he presents to us.

The opening books are our grounding in the life of a Claymore. Walk into a village, kill a Yoma. Leave. Repeat. Next time it might be two of them or a few more. It doesn’t matter. Kill and move on with a man-in-black coming along behind – after the fighting is over and done with – to collect the money for the job. This defending villages from Yoma monsters doesn’t come free or cheap.

Claymore06This is the life of a Claymore, to fight and die, protecting the often bitter, suspicious, angry, and fearful Humans from the Yoma who would prey upon them. Claire is our entry into this life

Quickly we learn that as Claymores fight Yoma, they can draw upon Yoki, a inner spiritual energy, which give them greater ability. The Claymores normally silver eyes turn gold when they do this. It’s the release of this Yoki, the essence of the Yoma they have taken within themselves when they were girls, which offers the greatest danger to the Claymore. Release too much Yoki and they cross a line they’ve been taught they can’t uncross, becoming that which they hunt, the Yoma. This is ultimately the fate of all Claymore since just living slowly erodes their control until they can’t hold the Yoma part of their nature back any longer. When that time approaches, they are killed by their comrades. They are killed so they won’t become Yoma, won’t become what they hate. They are killed, so they can die as human beings.

Claymore08If they pass over the line and are not killed, the Yoma they become depends very much upon their strength as a Claymore. If they’re a 47 like Claire, they’ll become just an awakened being, which is far stronger than an ordinary Yoma. If the Claymore is a 1, then they become an Abysmal One, which is a vast power that can easily scatter a whole troop of Claymores in open battle.

And this is Claire’s ultimate goal, to try and find, to kill, to take revenge upon an Abysmal One.

To repeat myself from another fantasy blog, since this manga does have the same underlying theme: the Path of Revenge is never a straight line.

When we first meet Claire, she has no chance and virtually no plan that will allow her to follow through with her desire for vengeance. All she can do is act as ordered and kill Yoma before they kill her. But Claire is far from an ordinary Claymore. Most young girls join the Organization by either being sold to them, given to them, or they had no where else to turn. Claire was the only one which pounded on the door to be let in, demanding to join. The first step in the plan was to become a Claymore. Then what?

Claymore07The plan certainly didn’t include allowing a stray boy, Raki, to join her wanderings, to protect him since he was cast out of his village and had no one. This simple act reaffirms Claire’s humanity. In returning the kindness a legendary Claymore, Teresa of the Faint Smile, showed her, she changes the very nature of her quest. No longer is it just about gaining fighting ability, getting better so she can hope to face the Abysmal One she seeks, it’s about protecting something precious to her. Claire has followed in Teresa’s footsteps, to become a Claymore, to show compassion, even when she is reviled by most of the simple villagers.

Claire’s plan is certainly getting complicated. She had no idea she’d form quiet agreements with other Claymores seen as problem children by the Organization. She had no idea she’d see unprecedented slaughter in the snows of the north or learn that the secrets the Organization holds, change the very nature of everything that she and the Claymores are, have suffered and died for. The path of vengeance now leads straight through the heart of the Organization, like a Claymore to a Yoma’s head.

Claymore10Claymore is everything you could want in a Fantasy manga: bloody battles, shifting politics, secrets, lies, unwavering faithfulness, interesting characters (the vast majority are women), and the intricacies of plot which add layer upon layer of meaning as the story moves forward.

Protecting Raki was such a minor thing for Claire and yet it holds the key to her whole future. Compassion, like a candle in the darkness, changed everything.

Claymore is brought stateside from our friends at VIZ. The entire series
is in print and easily available. VIZ also has the entire series available for digital download. If you need a free copy or would like to read ahead so you’re concurrent with the Japanese release schedule, mangatraders.com, mangapanda.com, or mangawall.com can accommodate you.

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1 Comment

Uldihaa   |   16 Dec 2013 @ 16:40

It’s also gorgeously drawn, rich with details. The hints of ambiguity and doubt about the Organization. The growth of the characters is profound and intriguing, each of the Claymores given depth (or hinted depth for those that die shorty after being introduced).

The fridge horror of what was done to the Claymores to make them what they are. This series can be dark, and often is. An excellent ‘low fantasy’ series.

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