-Disclaimer: as announced before, this is a school project and this review is meant to explore the different angles a feminist theory critic might take when reviewing Claymore. Feel free to leave your response to the review :D
-Every picture provided for this project was a courtesy of [addlink url=”http://www.vizmanga.com” text=”http://www.vizmanga.com”]… you guys rock!! :D
Claymore: A Feminist Review on a Popular Manga Series
The first thing a person who has never read manga would ask is: What’s manga? At best, they would follow that question with something like, “what kind of book is it?” At worst the question might just go like, “how do you eat it?” But before we wander off about the second question, let’s answer the first.
“Manga is a huge and lucrative business considered one of the most important Japanese cultural exports to the world today” (Ito, 2). Just like the United States, per say, has exported its culture through movies or t.v. series, japan has exported its culture through graphic-novel-like books which are widely read in Japan as well as around the world.
Just like the Marvel Comics (to name one) is widely popular in the United States, so it’s manga in Japan. In fact, manga is so popular among the Japanese people that it is purchased by anyone regardless of their age, education and social classes (Ueno, 1).
However, there are a few differences between [the Japanese] manga and [the American] comics and the main one, I would argue, would be that comics in the United States deal with more superhero-plots (think Spiderman, Hulk, Ironman) than any other plot. Manga, however, goes beyond the superhero-plot. And the proof of this is that manga is not just a book “type” but an umbrella that covers different genres depending on the targeted audience. Shojo manga, for example, “ is targeted primarily at girls from elementary school through high school, with themes like romantic love, and other themes such as fantasies, mysteries and so forward” (Ueno, 1). Ladies manga, on the other hand, “aims predominantly at adult women, dealing with things such as love, career, mother-child relations, divorce, among others (Ueno, 1). Claymore is considered a Shonen manga, which is a type of manga that targets male audience. Among the main themes that will always be found in a Shonen manga is action. And Claymore is full of it.
Introduction: Claymore, The Manga Series
Claymore is a “fantasy-horror manga written and illustrated by Norihiro Yagi” (Whittle, n.p.). The series are placed in a medieval world where electricity has yet to be discovered, so people mainly base their daily lives around candles, torches, carriages and foot-travels.
One recurring torment the people across towns have in common is that they are constantly hunted and eaten by monsters called Yoma who feed of human’s guts (Whittle, n.p.).
No human can match these monsters’ strength and, through unworldly experiments, an institution commonly referred in the series as “The Organization” discovered that, by inserting Yoma flesh into a person, that person can gradually match the monster’s strength enough to defeat them. Once a Yoma’s flesh has been inserted into a human body and once the human acquires these supernatural abilities, such people are considered to be “half-human and half-Yoma”. This is because certain characteristics that a normal human would have, like the need to consume food for energy and the need to sleep for at least eight-hours for example, decreases while some of the characteristics of a Yoma, like super strength and rapid regeneration, increase. However, a downside of the experiment is that eventually every “half-human, half-Yoma”, also known as Claymores, ends up becoming a Yoma. Thus the next target by any available Claymore.
It might be important to note that though man and woman alike can become a Claymore, only women are recruited by the Organization for they are able to last longer (than men) as a human before becoming a ruthless monster.
Claymore Analysis: Zooming in
For a girl reading these series it might feel empowering to know that women can and do pick up the swords to fight. In fact, this feeling might deepen each and every time a guy tries to step in to help a Claymore only to be put in his you-are-not-as-strong-as-me place when he realizes he is no match for neither the Yoma nor the Claymore.
However, there a key points a feminist magnifier would find conflicting with this series.
Key point #1: No diversity
Josh Viel writes, in his escapistmagazine.com article, “Now, the setting of Claymore isn’t particularly unique: In a fantasy world modeled on – what else? – medieval Europe, an organization consisting almost entirely of tall, blond, female warriors who wield large Claymores hunt down demonic creatures known as “Yoma” to protect humans.”
It wasn’t really until Josh pointed this out that it dawned on me: every single one of these super-powerful, fast, and veracious monster-killing Claymore is Caucasian and blond! There is no space for diversity among them whatsoever, which could lead a female reader, who has paid attention to this detail like Josh, to get the wrong idea that only Caucasian, blond women can pick up a sword and fight.
The series blames this at one point during the series by saying that those are the effects of inserting Yoma flesh into a women, but then how come the Yomas are, for the most part, black-skinned and dark-haired?
Towards the end of the series, a new Claymore is introduced in the series and, unlike the rest, Alas! She is brunette (not much of a diversity) but then the kicker: she is not as strong and as powerful as the blond ones…
If one is to argue about the importance of gender equality within a piece of work, then one must also fight that within these “equalities” –within the genders itself— there must also be an internal balance in order for every reader (in this case every female reader) to feel that they can be strong regardless of their skin and hair color or complexity.
And a group of female warriors that share the same physical traits might not really provide such balance.
Key point #2 : Claymore, a Shonen Manga?
[addlink url=”http://www.vizmanga.com” text=”http://www.vizmanga.com”], a popular site to read manga, categorizes Claymore as Shonen. And as mentioned before, Shonen targets male-oriented audience. But, what does it mean when something [be it a manga volume, a book, a piece of poetry and the like] is said to be male-oriented? With so many diversities in sexual orientation, and with the constant changes in gender-roles, expectations and misconceptions, what exactly does “male-oriented manga” mean?
Nathaniel Bell, in his ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT ANIMATION article found in the examiner.com, says: “Overall, Claymore is an intriguing manga and decent anime. Finding a shonen with a female lead is rare enough but finding a story that can hold your interest isn’t always as easily spotted either.”
This brings to show that there has been a widely accepted idea that shonen is purely a male-ruled territory. With this in mind, then, I ask the question, if Claymore is truly a shonen manga, meaning that is meant to attract and entertain male readers, then why would it, like Nathaniel pointed out, portray women as the leaders of the series? Does it mean that Claymore is not a story meant to shine light onto usually silenced [female] voices when it comes to action manga, but that is meant to deepen our views that women, despite how strong Claymore warriors seem to be are, in the end, not as strong and powerful as men?
To explore this question, let us follow it up in the next key point.
Key point # 3: The symbolism behind becoming a Claymore
As stated above, within the series, Claymores are often referred as “half-human, half-yoma”. And that is because these female warriors are inserted Yoma flesh into their bodies. It is important to point out that most of these teen girls who sign up for this transformation do it voluntarily. Claire, the main character of the series for example, volunteered to become a Claymore to avenge the death of Theresa, a female warrior that was killed by a Yoma. Priscila, a former Claymore warrior who later became the monster who killed Theresa, joined the organization to become a warrior
to avenge the death of her parents who were likewise killed by a Yoma.
Once Yoma flesh is put into their bodies, these girls go through lengthy physical training and fighting techniques until they are strong enough to leave the organization to hunt for Yomas. To emphasize, the very thing Claymores are trained to hunt and kill is, literally, half of the very thing they are.
So, the paradox that a woman becomes strong enough to fight a Yoma only when she is inserted the flesh of the very thing she hates and that is rejected by the society (the gut-feeders monsters) speaks volumes about the symbolism found within the series.
Across towns, whenever the word “Claymore” is said, it is usually followed by judgmental gasps. Fear, terror, horror, and disgust are among the common reaction that the town people have. And this is shown from the very first volume (or book 1) when Claire, the protagonist of the series, arrives for the first time at a town to kill a yoma. It is not her first kill, but for the majority of the town people, it is the first time they see a Claymore.
To the town people Claire is strong, but she is also a half-human, half-monster. She can protect the town by killing a Yoma, but that doesn’t take the stigma that she is also a monster. As a claymore, Claire has sacrificed the rest of her life and her humanity to protect and save people from Yoma and this does not, for the rest of the civilian world, take the fact that she is to be feared. : Come, do what you have to do to kill the Yoma, and leave.
If, for a moment, we were to think that Yomas in the series represent a part of womanhood that is usually rejected by male-oriented readers, then how would that change your view of the series as a whole?
Yes, women who become Claymores do so voluntarily, but once a Claymore, these warriors are under the direct control of the organization. Leaving it means death.
So, in a nutshell: If you are a woman and you don’t join them, you can be killed by a Yoma when taking a stroll on the city, or you can survive each encounter with a Yoma and always mourn your loved ones who weren’t so lucky, or you can join them, and hunt Yomas until you become a Yoma yourself or until you get killed in one of these hunts…
Is that fair? Is it fair that Claymore are only strong when they become half of what they want to kill? By becoming half of what the world seems to be disgusted by?
Key Point # 4: Portrayal of the Gender Dynamics within the Claymore world
Throughout the series, Claymores encounter men and women across towns. And usually, women are portrayed either grocery shopping, or tending their houses. It could be that the series tried to portray what a medieval gender roles were like. And if so, does the attempt of a realistic reader experience justifies the reinforcement of the expected gender roles within society? The First volume in the series sets out the tone of the story. It explains what’s going on, it introduces the main characters and their initial struggles within their world. However, the first volume also introduces us to many clues as to how women are portrayed within the series.
Let’s take a look at the first town meeting the reader is taken to. This meeting, which is of importance to the entire town for another gutless body has appeared on the streets, pretty much summarizes how important women are in the decision-making process within the communities they live:
In case if you miss it, let me point it out: not one women is present in this town meeting! Now, take a look again at the image above and see if you can find any….
Even though women are a vital part of their community (by all the things they do in their households and for the community itself) they are not present at the meeting when the chief is making the big announcement that a Claymore is to visit the town to hunt the Yoma.
In fact, as the series progresses, the absence of women in important decision-making town meetings, goes to show just how women are, again, presented in the series.
Every Inn owner in the series, every businessman, every person who has power, be it in the churches, in the cities, in the communities, even in the Organization itself, is a man!
In other words, despite the increase in interest to see in comics magazines a reflection of women’s consciousness-raising and their position both within and outside the house (Ogi, 4), Claymore still portrays a rather distant world where career women might not truly relate to. “The following two roles are crucial to examining ladies’ comics as writing for women: the first is to present women’s desires when they are no longer girls; and the second is to offer role models to adult women” (Ogi, 4).
Therefore, maybe this series, though how appealing the idea that female warriors take the lead, is truly not a celebration of woman empowerment. Yes, Claymores are women and yes, they are strong and fight and kick asses, but in reality, they are still under male subjugation. They are still being stigmatized though they all are sacrificing their lives for the lives of others and not even that is enough for the town people in the series.
As a normal human, the women in the Claymore series have no say in what happens in their community, or their households for that matter. As female warriors who have volunteered themselves to fight off Yomas to death, they are still categorized as probably the next worst thing after Yomas themselves. So, I ask: What else must these woman give up in order for them to reach at least the status of owning a decaying Inn?
Claymore Analysis: Zooming Out
These Key Points are, by no means, the only to be point out. But those are possibly the very first ones that jump right of the page when you are reading the series.
As a whole, the series are extremely enjoyable, not because of the things the manga didn’t focused on, but because on the things they did. Female friendship is among the main themes within the series. The Claire, the main character, is a person willing to go to extremes for those dear to her. There is a sisterhood bond that ties these Claymores together and it is their struggles as warriors and their ups and downs what made, in my opinion, these series appealing to female readers.
So, let’s step back and wonder what the Claymore series means as a whole.
What do the series mean? I cannot answer. Haha. I can theorize and pull out my subjective rabbits of the hat, but in reality, each person, (siding with Post-modernism), will find their own meaning when reading the series.
Notwithstanding, as I put the Feminist magnifier down, I realize that there are people out there who might not read manga at all. There are also female readers who will not be attracted to the goriness in which Norihiro despicts this series. However, that doesn’t mean that female readers aren’t reading these mangas (myself included). Right now, “manga accounts for two-thirds of all graphic-novel sales in U.S. bookstores” (Ho, 1). So, even if you not everyone is reading it, there are some people that are. Therefore, it is good to be aware of what kinds of things are presented in a story. For female readers who might seek answers to what there are going through in life, revising and looking at a story from a literary perspective (not just feminism, but other theories too) might be just as useful. The perks and the liberties of the mind when one becomes aware of how things are presented and represented in a piece work does not only give insight into the someone’s else mind, but also an insight into society’s thoughts as a whole.
Ito, Kinko. “The Manga Culture in Japan.” Japan Studies Review.
Ogi, Fusami. “Female Subjectivity And Shoujo (Girls)Manga (Japanese Comics):Shoujo In Ladies’ Comics And Young Ladies’ Comics.” Journal Of Popular Culture 36.4 (2003): 780. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 May 2015.
eno, Junko. “Shojo” And Adult Women: A Linguistic Analysis Of Gender Identity In “Manga” (Japanese Comics).” Women & Language 29.1 (2006): 16-25. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2015.
Whittle, James. “Female warriors rule; Claymore (TV).” South China Morning Post. (May 6, 2007 Sunday ): 282 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2015/05/7.