Warm me, Warm me, Wrap me
Welcome to Awakening, a one page shrine dedicated to the manga Claymore by Norihiro Yagi, created as part of Amassment’s One Page, One Month Marathon and BAB’s Metamorphosis Challenge. This shrine aims to be an introduction to the series along with an overview of major themes.
In a world where monsters called Yoma prey on humans and live among them in disguise, humanity’s only hope is a new breed of warrior known as Claymores. Half human, half monster, these silver-eyed slayers possess supernatural strength, but are condemned to fight their savage impulses or lose their humanity completely.
VIZ Media blurb
Claymore is a dark fantasy action manga of twenty-seven volumes that was first serialized in several shounen manga magazines belonging to the Jump line (Monthly Shounen Jump, Weekly Shounen Jump and Jump Square) between 2001 and 2014. Its anime adaptation of twenty-six episodes ran in 2007 and follows the manga closely for the most part, but ends prematurely, covering only about a third of the original story; its final two episodes depict an alternate ending. This shrine is based on the manga, but the anime adaptation certainly can serve as an introduction into the series as well — especially with those beautiful and perfectly fitting opening and ending themes! Still, I recommend going back and rereading the parts in the manga for altered scenes and omitted lines that add to characterization.
Note that there are (minor) unmarked spoilers all across the site. As this shrine is meant to be an introduction, none of the vague spoilers should heavily impact your enjoyment of the series should you decide to pick it up. Most of the information here consists of worldbuilding — minus major revelations! — rather than story elements of Claymore, presented in a depersonalized way so that the characters remain unknown territory for you to explore (and trust me, they — as individuals and as a group — make up a big part of the series’ appeal).
The content is based on the English translations provided by numerous scanlation groups responsible for Claymore, as they resonate with me more due to the amount of times I read the manga before acquiring VIZ Media’s gorgeous box set, and due to the English–speaking fandom I have interacted with on Tumblr. The English publication by VIZ Media (2006-2015) is consulted secondarily.
The current layout was optimized for Chrome and desktop view. The lovely header that you see was gifted to me by Camy as part of Amassment’s Secret Santa 2016. ❤
If there’s anything you’d like to say about this dedication, I’d be delighted about any feedback in my guestbook! Thanks a lot for your visit. ❤
The Continent is a place with plenty of open land and scattered villages, where humans live under the continued threat of Yoma. Feasting on humans, these hungry creatures are capable of taking their form (and even their body along with their memories and behaviour patterns) so as to live among them, diminishing the number of villagers from within. In exchange for an enormous fee, villages may request the aid of the Organization, which then deploys so-called Claymores: warriors with the ability to detect monsters in human form and the only ones who can fight these creatures head-on, for they, too, carry Yoma blood in their veins.
These warriors, originally ordinary humans, were created by the Organization with the express purpose of fighting Yoma. One warrior is assigned to each region, and they walk from place to place to exterminate the monsters for anyone who has agreed to pay the fee. Ordinary people refer to them as Claymores after the great swords that they wield single-handedly, though the warriors themselves do not regard that as their name. Due to their peculiar eye colour, they are also known as Silver-Eyed Witches or Silver-Eyed Slayers. As their strange appearance, strength, superiority and indissociable connection to the monsters unsettles people, they are just as feared as the Yoma themselves.
The Organization itself has no name, its black-clad ranks shrouded in mystery. Its agents communicate with the villagers, assign missions to the warriors and collect the requested fee after a completed job. They further provide warriors with equipment (armor that needs replacing, tools for covert operations), oversee the training of new warriors, relay messages to individual warriors and coordinate group missions such as hunts in response to extraordinary situations. In order to gain the people’s trust in spite of their immense fear, the Organization’s one rule forbids warriors from killing humans. Should one of them break the rule, other warriors are sure to take their head at the behest of the Organization.
Appearance and Physiology It is said that no one willingly joins the Organization. Many girls find their way into it as children sold or abandoned by their parents, or as orphaned survivors of Yoma attacks, shunned by their village and struggling to survive. Once part of it, their bodies are cut open to incorporate the flesh and blood of Yoma, a process that leaves behind a lifelong vertical incision on their body and drains the colour from their hair and eyes. It is this depigmentation that explains their trademark silver eye colour and the lack of dark-haired and dark-skinned warriors. All warriors are female, as only they have shown to successfully adapt to the transformation. Due to the Yoma half in them, they do not age once reaching adulthood, and retain their form until death or awakening. They require very little nutrition and can regulate their body temperature to withstand the cold.
Symbol, Rank and Epithet The number of warriors within the Organization fluctuates as some are killed and new ones are added. As there are forty-seven regions to be covered, there ought to be about that many warriors at all times (at the start of the story), minus the ones in training. When a trainee is promoted to warrior, they are assigned a symbol and a rank.
- The symbol is a unique mark that represents their name and identifies them within the Organization. It is also carved into their sword and appears on their uniform and Black Card.
- Each warrior has a number that indicates their rank in order of strength, with No. 1 being the strongest. Warriors are promoted and demoted based on their relative strength within the Organization, including the addition of new members within their ranks.
- Those that set themselves apart with extraordinary qualities, usually combat style or a special technique, are given an epithet, which is then frequently used to refer to them even by fellow warriors.
Warriors of lower rank generally respect and look up to single digits (No. 1—9), who are often in charge of leading hunts and other group missions.
Equipment Warriors are equipped with individualized swords and armor carrying their symbol. Though all the uniforms look similar in colour and overall shape (the cape, fauld and greaves), the design of their vambraces and pauldrons (both the shoulder as well as the chest part) varies; in some cases, these differences are attributed to the requirements of special techniques. Outside of battle, they carry their swords on their back. These swords become their gravestones when they pass away.
Types Warriors are classified as either offensive or defensive depending on their philosophies, which defines their strengths and weaknesses and thus has an impact on their abilities: Offensive types, for example, are not able to regenerate their body completely, and reattaching limbs takes longer in comparison to defensive types. Which category they belong to is determined by whether they take the approach of killing in order to survive or protecting themselves in order to survive once they become half human, half Yoma.
Struggle Human girls become warriors while retaining their human memories. Although they are hybrids, they side with humans and consider themselves humans (though some do bear intense hatred and disgust at what they have become). To preserve their identity, they are locked in a constant inner battle between their Yoma and their human halves, but the more use they make of their Yoma side, the closer they come to turning into monsters themselves — until their human mind gives in. A warrior who has not fully awakened yet may lose control over their body as the Yoma part inside them tries to protect itself and lashes out indiscriminately.
When a warrior senses that their human side has reached its limit and will soon turn into a monster, and when they have made up their mind to die as a human, they send the Black Card to the warrior whose hands they wish to die at. The Black Card is stored in each warrior’s sword hilt and carries their symbol.
First Impression Claymore starts out slow — so slow that in the first volume, it resembles a wistful episodic slice of life fantasy (which happens to be exactly my thing). What’s surprising is the amount of narrative variety in its first five volumes as the world is shaped and the reader acquaints themselves with the main character and, through her, the solitary lifestyle of the titular warriors. The second volume immediately departs from the episodic nature and offers an action-packed story mission that lasts into the third volume. This is then followed by a complete change of perspective, featuring a warrior who is very different from the first one you meet. In a way, the later part of the fifth volume can be considered the beginning of Claymore’s major events, and it is then that you truly see how warriors interact. Due to this variety, I recommend new readers to give the series a chance up until around volume five or six (the anime equivalent being episode eleven) before deciding for good whether or not they’d like to continue.
Be warned that Claymore’s first third in particular features some blood, occasional torture and a fair amount of dismembered limbs. The story arc that spans volume six and seven is arguably the worst offender (and is the only part I regularly skip when rereading the series), but what follows is amazing, especially the conclusion of the story’s first third from volume nine to eleven.
Narrator If you’re familiar with Final Fantasy XII, the way Claymore opens and unfolds will feel familiar, for its beginning isn’t written from the perspective of the protagonist or another warrior, but an ordinary human. It’s an excellent way to be introduced to the world and the forces that govern it, and though the character isn’t as strongly involved in story events, their significance shows soon enough.
Mood The reason I hold the anime’s opening and ending themes in such high esteem is due to the combination of its visuals, music and lyrics. Together, they truly capture the mood and drive of Claymore’s first part: the warriors’ bleak life in a barren world, an endless journey that dooms them to solitude, a mind filled with self-loathing, remorse, loss, longing and memories of the past along with the strong desire for repentance and revenge. Weakness is accompanied by dignity and determination, and hope remains a light in the darkness, however faint.
Even now, you’re still in my heart
So I can keep walking without losing my way
I’m alright even if I cannot see the end
I am a stranger who keeps travelling
I’m alright without knowing the answer
Raison d’Être (Opening Theme), Nightmare
Outlook Is there more to the world than what you see? Could there be even stronger creatures that roam the land? Are the things you know the only truth there is? What are the Organization’s motives and what secrets does it hide? Are its warriors unquestioningly loyal — and what happens if they aren’t? Is there life after the war? Is there a life beyond all of this?
Claymore is tremendous not primarily due to its characters or story, but due to the strength and conviction with which it delivers its interconnected themes, all of which gain even more importance in light of the predominantly female cast and its shounen demographic (shounen manga are manga aimed at a male audience). To look at Claymore without taking its female perspective and context into consideration is, in my opinion, to miss its significance — not regarding intention, which I know little of, but regarding reception: With Claymore being what it is, it’s no surprise that it is celebrated among female fans in particular.
Identity The world of Claymore is intent on defining the warriors as tools: Both the humans that the warriors protect and the Organization that they work for look at them not as fellow humans, but as monsters whose caliber it takes to strike down the threat of Yoma. Humans refer to the warriors as Claymores, the name of their weapons, while the Organization evaluates and addresses the warriors by number first and foremost — a practice and attitude that visibly bleeds into the way the warriors perceive themselves and their peers, as throughout the series, a notable amount of warriors pride themselves on their rank while having little regard for those of lower rank. The Organization further treats warriors as expendable, removing those that are no longer of use or that pose too much of a threat without hesitation and replacing numbers as needed. Even the way the warriors look falls under this: After the Yoma parts are implanted, warriors wear the same uniform and acquire the same eye colour along with the same pale hair, thus losing their unique markers.
And yet, although the world is so adamant on forcing them into a box that they didn’t choose, both the warriors and the series as a whole, consciously or not, gradually break out of it: Warriors do not refer to themselves as Claymores, and though they mainly know warriors of different regions by number or symbol at first, once they grow closer, they address each other by name or epithet, things that give them some individuality. In contrast, referring to fellow warriors solely by number is consistently framed as an expression of contempt.
Due to certain story events, rank eventually becomes nearly obsolete as a defining element — in more than just one regard: Not only can the value, usefulness, capability or strength of an individual not be captured in a mere number, there are so many abilities and traits that aren’t at all considered when determining numbers in the first place, yet it is those which may prove invaluable — support abilities in particular. The Organization also assigns numbers mostly based on skills displayed in solo missions, whereas the majority of battles later on in the story are all about teamwork, to which each warrior contributes differently.
(If you have already read up to volume fifteen of the manga, I recommend savouring valenshawke’s essay Dehumanization, depersonalization, and Yagi’s “Claymore”, which delves into the context of war.)
Humanity Strongly linked to the theme of identity is humanity, as the warriors’ human side is the anchor not just of their consciousness, but their identity. Even if the world perceives them as monsters and not as persons, each warrior is — as is the case with humans — unique: an existence shaped by an individual past, their own motivations and aspirations, flaws, inner conflicts and especially relationships — the people who have made them who they are and who allow them to grow. From the perspective of the reader, warriors are not interesting primarily due to their unique skills in battle, but due to their personalities: seeing how different they are in how they behave around others, speak, approach battles, or the way they live their life, and seeing how those different personalities clash when warriors meet each other.
How much emphasis the warriors and the series place on humanity is most apparent in the concept of the Black Card and the many situations in which warriors struggle to hold on to their humanity. With very few (but arguable) exceptions, when still in possession of their human mind, warriors would always choose death over awakening: to die as the person they have been, as the person they have lived as. Killing a fellow warrior at their request is considered an act of mercy and humanity, and an expression of deep respect not just towards an individual, but one who has lived through the same experiences as them. In the same vein, receiving a Black Card is a great honour and usually signifies immense trust and a very strong bond in the few instances of friendship between warriors. This battle to preserve their humanity is thus not just what makes the characters, well, human (as in relatable), but what ultimately connects all of them.
Over the course of the series, the warriors face an enormous amount of extreme and life-threatening situations as they are up against horrors beyond imagination, yet they keep moving forward. Although their existence as ordinary humans has ended (from the perspective of everyone else), the instinct to survive still strongly beats within them. Even with their damned existence and the ceaseless inner battle between Yoma and human, they still have hopes for the future. Claymore’s setting is very much about survival as both the internal as well as external turmoil can extinguish a warrior’s life at any time. That struggle to survive, that perseverance and that hope for a better future, for a better world, those wishes to make a difference and to live among those dear to them once again — they are what make the warriors human.
Don’t be so quick to throw away your life. No matter how disgraceful or embarrassing it may be, you need to keep struggling to find your way out until the very end.
Clare, No. 47
Solidarity To me, Claymore’s strongest theme, in which all other themes and story points culminate, is solidarity — the solidarity among warriors specifically. Solidarity is different from friendship in that it requires no personal familiarity or relationship; it is a feeling of connection, of sympathy for members belonging to the same group, or rather, class. This theme is a thread that runs through the entire manga, from as early as the first volume:
We joined the Organization at the same time. We comforted each other in our darkest hours. When our bodies were transforming and we were wracked with pain, we’d hold each other at night so we could sleep.
Clare, No. 47
In Claymore, warriors display solidarity in many different circumstances, and pretty much all warriors, regardless of their standing within the Organization, regardless of strength and accomplishments, and even the most obedient, the most loyal, most aloof, cautious or self-preserving of warriors, are united in that feeling. This capacity for compassion is not limited to situations of taking a comrade’s life, but include things such going against the Organization’s orders to spare a comrade, withholding information that isn’t explicitly asked about, openly questioning the upper ranks in their apathy regarding the warriors’ lives, desperately trying to save each other even at the risk of one’s own life, the determination to survive together, or even the willingness to die together. The Organization may believe to have stripped the warriors of their identity and humanity while laying down definitions as to what the warriors are supposed to be, yet time and again the warriors show that they live by their own definition of honour, returning debts and sympathizing with those cursed with the same fate. What’s even more interesting from a narrative perspective is how differently each warrior shows respect and concern for their comrades, which, again, is an element of individuality.
Though now you are stained with blood and darkness, you were once a fellow warrior. With this single blow I atone for and honour a former comrade.
Dietrich, No. 8
I can’t reveal too much at this point due to spoilers, but the strength of Claymore’s last two thirds lies in the groups that have formed, in the rebuilding, preserving, strengthening and redefining that happens after ruin, but also in the determination to carry on the hopes and dreams of those who have come before, to live on and to reshape the world for those who will follow.
Feminism? Claymore is published in a shounen magazine and thus targeted at a young male audience, especially teens. Unlike many series of its genre — including series that run in Jump magazines — there is very little sexualization of its almost all-female cast; what nudity there is is not presented for the pleasure of the viewer. Furthermore, its female characters are at the front of a narrative not driven by romantic or sexual motivations concerning men.
At its premise, however, lies a constitutive element that can be interpreted in various ways: In the world of Claymore, there are no male warriors in service. Though boys and men have been experimented on and have performed satisfactorily in battle, they are deemed unfit as warriors due to their incapability to control their impulses, thus quickly exceeding their limits and giving in to the urge to awaken once having released their Yoki. Awakening is likened to sexual pleasure, with female warriors being portrayed as having better control so as to withstand that rush of ecstasy.
At first sight, this may send the message that women are, in some manner, superior to men — but on closer inspection, this sexist narrative punishes women: While men get carried away and thus escape the fate of being living experiments and weapons, women are not only thrown into life-threatening battles and forced to serve, they are expected and forced to continuously suppress their own urges in order to retain their advantage and even their very life. The opponents they face, the Awakened Beings, are women who have given in to those desires by embracing sexuality, yet are demonized and no longer considered humans, much less women. Girls and women being socially conditioned to repress their own desires — sexual desires in particular — is a reality in our world, so naturally, this particular translation into fiction may look clumsy. (See Kirsten’s Claymore and Female Sexuality for even blunter words.)
Does Claymore have a feminist agenda, especially when you consider the all-male ranks of the Organization and the eventual challenging of its patriarchal reign? Most likely not, for a plethora of reasons. Claymore is about being human first and foremost. But for many different reasons, it can and probably should still be applauded for what it is and does so that more stories like Claymore will follow: stories with many different kinds of women at the center of the narrative, women in a wide variety of relationships — as friends, sisters, rivals, opponents, mentors and protegées, mother figures, persons to be admired, and so on. Stories where the male gender is not, as is usually the case, depicted as the neutral norm, all the more so when it comes to defining what it means to be human. Because in the end, Claymore is very much about women banding together to claw their way out of a world that condemns them and treats them as expendable while asking absolute obedience of them. It’s about breaking free from the chains that attempt to define and divide them so as to reach out and protect those who have gone through the same horrors as them.
While we are half human, half Yoma, most of our heart belongs to the human side. Hence, when we see our comrades who trained and fought together with us as warriors get hurt, we get angry as if it affected us personally. When we see one of them die, we are sad as if it had been a friend. […] And before long, we want to fight for the warriors that fight together with us, for the comrades that live together with us.
Raftela, No. 10
The Art Claymore’s art is crisp and gorgeous. It’s not flowery and it goes very well with the series’ setting. As it is an action shounen, there are many battle sequences. Rather than relying solely on special techniques and overwhelming strength to end fights, there is a strategical element to Claymore’s battles, something that is even more apparent in group battles, where many different warriors have to coordinate their movements so as to use their individual strengths to their fullest. Battles are clearly drawn, which makes it easy to follow them, and the frequent inclusion of environmental elements means gorgeous backgrounds and an additional strategic factor.
As for the design of the warriors, though I adore it and can easily tell the warriors apart due to the wealth of hairstyles and facial expressions stemming from the many different personalities, there is a notable lack of body diversity (among other things). As mentioned above, the lack of diversity in some visual aspects is met with an in-world explanation, but there’s no obvious reason why there can’t be more muscular or broad-shouldered ladies. (I would have loved to see more differences in height as well.) On the other hand, there’s a charming and almost playful level of attention to detail: the hairstyles, the small differences in the warriors’ uniforms (Magical Girl fans rejoice) or the common theme in their names, for example.
The Story Do not go into Claymore expecting a complex and mind-shattering story where many different things happen at the same time, because that isn’t necessarily its strength — even with the initially captivating worldbuilding (that eventually comes to a standstill). Claymore is more about its themes, and I do believe that both plot elements as well as story developments do their best to draw out the significance of those themes. For example, as the story unfolds, you learn that its scope is far broader than you might have thought, yet Claymore is never about saving the world or exploring the entirety of that scope (something that people miss when they complain about unresolved strands) — it’s about the warriors in front of you and those who have gone through the same suffering.
For Claymore in particular, I prioritized telling the tales of the warriors over world concept and setting. In the context of Claymore, even if there is a wider world and stories beyond the main focus, I don’t think it’s necessary to end with the protagonist having been involved in everything. Protagonists in stories have a habit of unintentionally resolving everything, but really, the outside world will do whatever it does without them.
Norihiro Yagi, Jump Square 2014 Interview
Another example are power-ups (characters gaining more strength or new abilities), a staple in shounen manga: Bad shounen series are littered with power-ups that are neither connected to worldbuilding nor to previously introduced story elements, instead coming out of the blue to resolve a conflict or to add some flavour to the characters. In Claymore, power-ups are always directly linked to its central themes of humanity and identity, whether it is the process of awakening or the honouring fallen comrades in the special techniques that are passed on — the same thoughts that govern the warriors’ drive to make it out alive, for they carry the legacy of the dead. Even the power of friendship, a defining element of shounen manga, takes on an additional meaning if you consider the significance of its inextricable link to the solidarity mentioned above.
No matter who survives, there will be no bitterness. Those who survive will carry on the memory of the twenty-four. Let’s pray that as many as possible live, and that fortune follow each one.
Flora, No. 8
By far my biggest issue with Claymore is its pacing in later parts, especially the last third. The first third of the series is full of worldbuilding as you get to know the warriors as a group, and there is a constant stream of new information. While later parts of the series build on the consequences and plot points introduced in the first third, there is noticeably less to explore. This isn’t as big of a problem if you refer to what I’ve just said about Claymore’s intentionally narrow scope (which serves to emphasize its themes), and consider the thematic shift from an individual to a collective battle, but the fact still stands that the plot isn’t as tight later on and that battles tend to be drawn-out.
The upsides of getting into Claymore now is that the series has concluded. There was a time when I could barely stand Claymore because reading a monthly release chapter by chapter with the insufferable pacing in later parts made it feel like being on a neverending nightmare roller coaster that doesn’t allow you to get off. If you make it to the end of the journey, however, you will be rewarded with a beautiful ending that is a true celebration of the series’ themes.
One last tip: If you look into Claymore through some other channels first and decide to buy the volumes to support the creator, I highly recommend VIZ Media’s box set if you have access to it. It comes at a heavily discounted price compared to buying single volumes, which makes the purchase worth it even if you have to import the set (that’s what I did). The box set also comes with an exclusive booklet that contains inner cover art not previously printed by VIZ Media.
This shrine was created in August 2015 and revamped in January 2017.
Awakening was made as part of BAB’s Metamorphosis Challenge. I chose to write about Claymore due to the warriors’ hybrid nature, a central element in a narrative dominated by women, an element that takes away a significant part of their identity and denies them certain experiences while making them who they are, and that is also the reason they form connections the way they do. Claymore is such a positive series particularly when it comes to the writing of fictional women, and I wish it were more popular — on its own, but also as a shounen manga (considering how way shounen manga are usually written), especially with series that take place in a similar world with a similar mood (such as Attack on Titan) on the rise.
This shrine is named after a crucial and ever-present element within the series that is tied to both the warriors’ powers and identity. While initially perceived as a limit and a death sentence, over the course of the series, the lead characters learn to wield the power that has been forced on them to go beyond their limits so as to make the impossible possible and to reclaim their agency. In a figurative sense, Claymore also strongly sends the message of questioning your world, its boundaries and structures as well as your way of living, thus awakening from the reality you thought of as set in stone.
Credits Version two of the shrine was inspired by the gorgeous header that Camy gifted me as part of Amassment’s Secret Santa 2016, complete with heading background and font. It was initially meant for the gallery, but I love it so much and am so impressed that I decided to go ahead and use it for the shrine too. ❤
Patterns used are from Subtle Patterns. Braveblood, PT Serif, Lora and Tillana serve as content fonts. Scripts used are fancyBox and slick. Special thanks to Larissa for introducing me to a whole new world with Photoshop’s clone stamp tool (which was heavily used for all the image additions in this revamp), to Andrea for passing me a functional figcaption snippet some sites ago and for boldly requesting more mini-galleries in Lethe productions, and to Masao for looking into some inexplicable mobile view hiccups. ❤
If you would like to link this shrine, feel free to use one of the following buttons and direct it to http://claymore.stormwind.org/! Please do not direct link buttons.
If you own a site with solitary sword-wielding women, “monster ladies”, female survivors or revolutionaries as its focus and would like to affiliate, please message me! Below are some Claymore related links that may be of interest to you.