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.Read more
The mark of a skilled executioner in feudal Japan was to be able to slice off the head of a victim and yet still leave it attached to the corpse by a single shred of flesh. Here is a story that operates with the same level of merciless and inhumane skill, the better to systematically drain every ounce of humanity and compassion out of its characters.
It will also cause most people — those who aren’t gorehounds, anyway — to lose their lunch. Maybe even the gorehounds, too.
I’m torn. On the one hand, Shigurui is brilliant and artfully assembled — as much a cold-blooded dissection of depraved human behavior as it is a showcase for it, about how culture and circumstance and social abstracts can turn people into total monsters. On the other hand, it’s just nasty. People are disemboweled, dismembered, beheaded; have noses and jaws and faces torn off, sliced off, smashed off; are burnt, blinded, disfigured; raped, groped, tormented.
And yet this isn’t a cheap piece of exploitation trash like Eiken or Colorful!. Everyone involved had serious intentions, and believed they had good reasons for doing what they did: to hammer home how the almost coolly abstract “way of the sword” in classical Japan was bought and paid for in terms of mangled bodies and ruined lives. The whole package has been put together with consummate craft. It is brilliant and horrible at the same time, and while I do think it’s worth watching I’m not sure anyone — not even a fan of this material — needs to see it more than once. Read more