Joy Kim

Librarian. Book Reviewer. Coffee Addict.

Women warriors and the male gaze in Claymore

claymore15.jpgThis weekend I spent much of my time reading many, many volumes of Claymore by Yagi Norihiro, after repeated recommendations from people whose taste I trust persuaded me to give the series another try. Those of you who have been reading this blog since way back when will remember that I was a bit underwhelmed by volume 1. I actually didn’t think volume 1 was much better the second time around, and volume 2 wasn’t very good either. However, starting with the origin story in volume 3, the series gets increasingly awesome. It’s such a pleasure to see familiar shōnen tropes like “I will protect my precious person!” and “I will learn new techniques and get stronger!” used in a story where the vast majority of the cast are women.

Nevertheless, though Claymore‘s women characters get a much better deal than they would in most other shōnen series, the series’s treatment of gender remains flawed. Yagi gives his readers truly compelling women characters–smart, strong, independent, driven–that subvert a lot of the shōnen genre expectations for the women characters to be token, disposable, or both. But who is he really writing for? Or more specifically, who is he drawing for? Fifteen volumes in, I’m ridiculously fond of Claymore‘s women warriors, but I still have a sneaking suspicion that Yagi’s target audience does not necessarily include me.

[Warning: The remainder of this post will have some spoilers.]

As I mentioned above, the series takes off in volume 3, when Yagi delves into Clare’s origin story. Over the course of that arc, we learn more about the previous generation of Claymores, and in the subsequent arc, Clare meets and forms bonds with her comrades from the present generation of Claymores. The connections between Claymores take center stage; Raki, the young boy who is Clare’s sidekick in the first two volumes, is pretty much forgotten by the story for chapters at a time. Instead we get Clare and Teresa; Teresa, Ilene, and Pricilla; Clare, Miria, Helen, and Deneve; Clare and Ilene; Clare, Jean, and Galatea; Clare and Flora. The list goes on and on.

All of this is easily enough to make Claymore the most female-positive shōnen series that I’ve ever encountered. In comparison, a series like Fullmetal Alchemist has its share of great women characters, but none of those characters are as central to the story as as Clare, Teresa, Miria, et al. are to Claymore. And let’s not even get into the dubious treatment of women characters in most Weekly Shōnen Jump series.

The main problem with Claymore is, well, the art. Even while the plot turns on the strength and determination of the Claymores, the art treads a dangerous line between celebrating the female form and objectifying these women’s bodies. The fan service isn’t enough to throw me out of the story entirely, but sometimes it’s too close for comfort.

Some of the problems with the art are not as bad as other. For example, all of the Claymores, with the debatable exception of Undine, have the same body type. They have big breasts and tiny waists, and their characteristic armor sets off their figures very noticeably. It’s not as exaggerated as it could be–I’ve seen a lot worse T&A in both manga and superhero comics!–but it’s enough to be mildly annoying. Women’s bodies, even those of athletes and soldiers, vary more than that. Still, this is less bothersome than it could be because Yagi is clearly celebrating the Claymores’ strength and power when he draws them in action. For example, in their post-timeskip black leather, the seven survivors of Pieta are undeniably sexy, but they don’t seem like anyone’s playthings. When they show up to save the day–which they do not infrequently–they get the sort of power shots usually reserved for male heroes in manga.

The bigger problem with the art lies in the depiction of the villains. The main villains of the series, male and female, are former Claymores gone bad. (The present Claymores are all women, but the first generation of Claymores were men.) Their humanity has been consumed by their yoma power; they’ve Awakened. The Awakened forms of the female Claymores are both monstrous and highly sexualized in a way that the male Awakened ones are generally not. For example, in volume 14, the main villain takes the form of a seductive nude woman standing on top of a mountain of tentacles. (Yes, tentacles.) Not only does Yagi create a very problematic connection between female sexuality and evil in his story; the way he draws the female Awakened ones is clearly pandering to the heterosexual male gaze in a way that is sort of a slap in the face to all his other readers.

Ultimately, all this is disappointing because Yagi is clearly capable of more subtle storytelling. For example, there’s a scene during The Slashers arc where Miria is being tortured by the male Awakened One that Miria’s team is hunting. The violence is clearly sexualized–it’s a metaphorical rape–but that fits the undercurrents of the story. Similarly, Yagi is definitely aware of some of the gender issues in his series setup, such as the strange power dynamics between the female Claymores and their male handlers within the organization; sooner or later; as a reader, I get the sense that sooner or later he is going to do something with it.

Who else is reading Claymore? Let me know what you think of the gender issues in the series. How much does it affect your appreciation of the story and characters?


  1. Pingback: Sexy Voice, Giant Robot, and women warriors of Claymore « MangaBlog

  2. My impression of Claymore was that it unfairly gave women strong and beautiful characters. You can’t have both!

    –Now, while I see the same facts as you do (strong women who also have attractive forms), and came to similar conclusions (that this double-dipping is somehow incongruent) I have taken the opposite position. How and why is that?

    Now, I was joking when I said it was unfair; I happen to like those kinds of characters because they tackles issues of–like you say–power dynamics. In the past, men were on top of the food chain. Now it’s Claymores. Will they end up the same, or will these women have a different answer for the same question?

  3. Joy – I think you pretty much nailed the crumpet there. I agree with everything you say – something I don’t think I have *ever* said before to another reviewer. lol

    I have not read the manga at all, although I did see the anime all the way through. I loved the peer-potential for all the relationships, but nothing was ever done with them. They all just sort of nod that yup, their handlers are the problem, not us, then they head out on their mopey way.

    Where is the claiming of their power? Where is the determination to tell the organization to screw off?

    A male hero would spend most of the series fighting the organization that betrayed him – the Claymores spend the series keeping a low profile so they don’t get in trouble for betraying the organization.

    I should also point out that any scene w/out Raki is a good scene.

    Thanks for the review. :-)



    Hungry for Yuri? Have some Okazu!

  4. I’m glad the Claymores themselves aren’t as sexualized as the female Awakened Beings, but I wish either that there were more sexualization of the male Awakened Beings as well, or there weren’t such a strong correlation with sexuality = evil. It’s interesting that the male Awakened Beings are canonically unable to control their passions (I read that as their sexuality), but their Awakened forms are nowhere near as sexualized as the women.

    I wasn’t quite as opposed to the tentacle monster as you, though that may be because inkstone commented in my DW on how it was an interesting reversal of the usual tentacle monster groping innocent girls. I like how it’s the women warriors saving the men from the groping female tentacle monster, though I do wish Yagi could have done it without the naked woman on top of the tentacles.

    I’m also not sure what to make of the Clare-Raki kiss and hope the Raki-Priscilla relationship isn’t going anywhere skeevy. There’s also the interesting presence of these dangerous pre-pubescent (or teenaged) girls—Riful, Priscilla, Miata—that I’m still not sure what to make of. I think it’s an interesting parallel to young!Clare and how she was sexually threatened, which directly caused Teresa’s downfall, but I’m not quite sure how to piece it all together yet.

    And then back to my shounen and monstrous bodies thing… it makes it even more interesting (and odd) that the female Awakened Beings are so sexualized; usually with shounen villains, they have exaggeratedly bulging muscles or musculatures that emphasize one aspect that is abnormally strong (demon arms, demon legs, etc.), and although the Claymores have the demon limbs thing, the female Awakened Beings don’t quite..?

  5. @Oyceter – I am a bit worried about the Clare-Raki kiss myself and also about the Raki-Pricilla relationship. The way Raki is being linked thematically with Isley, though, almost makes me wonder if Yagi is ultimately setting up a story where Raki also eventually becomes an Awakened One. If Yagi really wanted to increase Clare’s angst, that would be the way to do it. And given that Raki is also Clare’s double, it would be a neat parallel for Raki himself to eventually become part-Yoma.

    I think I object less to the specific example of the tentacle monster than the reminder it is that Yagi’s target audience probably doesn’t include me. I came across a review of the volume that praised the “quality nudity” (yes, written by a guy) and I could only sigh. A similar reminder: the cover of volume 3. It should be awesome, since it shows Teresa (!), but the fan service really undercuts that a lot. Someone that strong should not have arms that thin!

    I don’t know–I think the female Awakened Beings do have some degree of the exaggerated musculatures. There does seem to be a tendency toward the serpentine (the tentacle monster in vol. 14, Ophelia, Riful), but if you look at Pricilla and Luciela, you definitely get the demon limbs as well as the weird emphasis on their sexuality. Because in Yagi’s world a woman can be transformed into a monster but she always still has enormous breasts. *eyeroll*

  6. @Erica – Sorry for the delay in the appearance of your comment! Akismet thought it was spam. :(

    I haven’t seen the anime at all, but I gather it is fairly faithful to the manga source up to (and including?) volume 11, at which point it goes and writes an original ending. From your comment, it sounds like the anime does the manga something of a disservice, because I think the peer relationships come through pretty well in the manga. Especially Clare and Jean, Helen and Deneve, and Miria as the leader of the whole bunch.

    And though I am trying to dance around spoilers here, I will say that the Claymores’ definitely have mixed feelings about the organization after the events at Pieta. Which is one reason I like the post-Pieta events of the manga so much, even when the fan service makes me want to bang my head against my desk.

  7. hum, not really farfetched, but i have a different point of view in his approach. noticed how the male awakened beings look much more like animals, centaurs, insects…even a shark (during the north war)…with very little-to-nonexistant remarks of human appearence ? and how do female awakened beings…well, have mounstrous bodies..but with a lot of reminders and aspects of human body ? somehow, it make me think on the difference of sheer instinct and animal behaviour (wich sounds soo manly, doesn´t it ? and in facto…some philosophies analyze this as a maculine aspect of the human nature) in oppose with human emotions and thought (wich, in most philosophies, are equivalent to the feminine aspect of human nature). i guess, is just a statement on how awakened beings are beings with the most basic natures enhanced to infinite and distorted, with some influences by philoshophy schools.

  8. “oppose with human emotions and thought (wich, in most philosophies, are equivalent to the feminine aspect of human nature)” sorry, by mistake i forgot to add in my last comment that sensuality as well might be associated as equivalent to the feminine side of human nature.

  9. I now follow you as a link from my own blog panel and you hit the nail on the head. I’m appreciative that you took the time to make that post because as it happens, I’m writing my dissertation on comparing the representation of gender in Japanese and American comics.

    I found this site because I am doing a bit of last minute research, my dissertation is due in one week! Could I possibly have your permission to quote what you say in the blog?

    As my website name hints I am a fan of Ameerican comics, hugely so in fact. It just so happens that I’m an even bigger manga fan!

  10. Brett – Feel free to quote my blog post. :)

  11. Thank you very much! I just thought it would be polite asking permission first. I’m probably working mostly on my shojo manga and alternative comics section today though. (by which I mean American comics not about superheroes like the Sandman)

  12. I personally love Claymore and I think the series reflects the reality what can happen to women when they join the military.

    Claymores are looked down upon by the men of the Organization for the most part. In the military, female soldiers struggle to gain acceptance by male soldiers as equals.

    I wrote something about this. You can check it out at:

    Hope you enjoy it!