Most stories about monsters follow a basic formula: you’re either predator or prey, so hurry up and pick a side. Or, you’re someone who stands between the light and the darkness, so it’s only a matter of time before you fall on one side or the other. Claymore followed that formula pretty reliably without succumbing to it, thanks to two things: strong writing and storytelling (which boosts any stock plot out of the mire); and a willingness to mess with the dividing lines between the different parties in the story.
By this I don’t just mean how friends can become enemies (or vice versa), or how predator and prey can change roles. Claymore started with three roles (human, yoma, Claymore), added a fourth as it went along (Awakened Beings), and then hinted the four are more like points along a line than four separate things. Claire found out before how even her own augmented body can be the same way — how her borrowed arm can be Awakened all by itself, and how even someone who might seem to be well on their way towards becoming an Awakened Being can do a U-turn and come back to humanity.
None of this stuff would add up to much unless it involved people we cared about. Claire didn’t inspire much caring at first glance: she was about as emotive as a pencil (and carried about as much body fat as one, too). But over time, a funny thing happened to both her and us: she became someone worth caring about, and we started having that much more of a reason to care about her. What few emotions she mustered were directed mostly at Raki, her young sidekick, and as of the last volume her emotions finally culminated in a kiss and a line of dialogue (“Don’t say you don’t care if you die”) that is probably as close to “I love you” as she’s going to get in this lifetime.
Volume 4 opens with Claire and Raki now worlds apart, and so the show’s attention is back full-bore on Claire. Even without Raki around to give her an emotional sounding-board, she’s clearly a different person than the one we met back on the first disc. Her search for Raki has so far turned up nothing, but quite by accident she blunders into another cadre of Claymores. They are about to tangle with an Awakened Being who’s secreted herself in a cave nearby, and while Claire in theory owes nothing to the Organization as such, her sense of sisterhood is still strong. The hell with their current (and her former) masters, but girls gotta stick up for each other.
Claire almost ends up regretting that sentiment, as the Awakened Being in the cave is one nasty little bugger. She looks like a girl in her teens, but with the aid of her monstered-out male companion (there’s broad hints this relationship is a lot more than platonic; yecch), she tortures captured Claymores until they, too, either turn into Awakened beings or drop dead. This monster also may know about the Awakened Beings in the northlands who are causing havoc — one of whom may also be holding Priscilla. And so what starts off as a detour for Claire turns into something as great deal more brutal than she bargained for. The last episode gives us a hint of major clashes to come, courtesy of the Awakened Being who rules the frozen north — and who may also know where Raki is.
It’s this business about the Awakened Beings that’s turning into one of the more important conceits in the story. From what we’ve seen of Claire and her partial Awakening, the process is a character-defining one. The ones who are able to push themselves so far and still come back — i.e., the bad guys — don’t deserve to have such power; the ones who need it the most don’t earn it. I’m reminded of the perverse games played by the juvenile delinquents in Taiyo Matsumoto’s Blue Spring, where they would let go of the railing around the roof of their school and see how many times they could clap their hands in free-fall and then grab the railing again. The winners become the school’s gang bosses. The losers paint the pavement with their brains. Natural selection is a harsh mistress.
Claymore has typically eased us into its universe a little at a time, giving us a little bit more information about the world as circumstances have demanded rather than bombarding us with a whole bunch of backstory at once. It’s good storytelling etiquette — think of all the other popular shows that have an expanded universe of their own, like Bleach or Naruto — but if done right it can also be a characterization device. That’s how it’s worked out here, and it’s one of several things (including a great story and an increasingly-fascinating main character) that put Claymore a cut above its more conventional gore-‘n’-grue competition.