The difference between an only-okay show and a great one is, I think, whether or not you care about the people involved. From the outside, I shouldn’t have cared much about Claymore and its cold, closed-off heroine Claire — but when I first saw the show (in fansubs, back before FUNimation saw fit to pick it up and grace us in Region 1 with it), something about the show, and Claire herself, grabbed me immediately. Somehow the way Claymore’s premise, characterization, storytelling and higher concepts all locked together did it for me. The same applied to the manga it was derived from, which explains why the TV series hangs together as well as it does: they had good source material.
Volume 1 set up the premise and gave us Claire, the “Claymore” of the title (one of many) who gains a human sidekick, Raki. The last episode on that disc hinted at why Claire’s icy surface has melted a bit: by taking in Raki she is recapitulating, in a sense, some of the same formative experiences she had. As a young girl, mute and near-insensate, the village Claire lived in was attacked by youma. Salvation came in the form of a Claymore, “Teresa of the Faint Smile”, so named for her trademark expression at the moment of a successful kill. Claire tried to follow Teresa and was at first spurned, but in time the Claymore warmed up to the girl and grew to care about her.
The good times didn’t last. Before long, Teresa found herself being hunted by other Claymore for the crime of murdering another human being, a bandit and would-be rapist. The four other Claymores sent to kill her found more of a challenge than they anticipated, and their struggle against Teresa constitutes three of the five episodes on this disc. In the hands of a less ambitious series, this part of the show would have been nothing more than a string of DBZ-style power-ups and slug-fests. Instead, what we get is twofold: a look into the psychology of the Claymores (especially Teresa); and a number of key details about how the balance between human and monster plays out within the Claymores. It’s a nice metaphor for Nietzsche’s old adage about turning into monsters if you spar with one for too long.
The bad news is that the monsters seem to be winning, as we find out when we flash back to the present for the last two episodes on the disc. The “voracious eater” we saw back in the first disc is nothing of the kind: that’s just a codename for what are also called “Awakened Ones” — Claymores who have gone too far, embraced their bestial side entirely, and let it transform them into something neither human, youma or Claymore. The Organization that creates and dispatches the Claymores has of course been lying about all this, both for the sake of controlling their own people and preventing panic in the general populace.
None of this can last forever, and to that end Claire and three other Claymores vow to delve into the ugly secrets the Organization is holding back. They do this not for their own sake, but for the sake of the people they were defending … and for those who have already died because of this. Their most troubling discovery is that they may, in some sense, already be Awakened Beings — that the line between being a “mere” Claymore and one of those beasts is not only a thin one but mutable, too. This they discover when they are sent to take down an Awakened Being — someone who used to be one of their own, and who now may have the upper hand in the coming battle.