Elfen Lied Series Review
by Polly


I actually touched upon this show way back in '05 shortly after seeing it for the first time via a blurb about it on the mainpage. As I mentioned in my previous article, Elfen Lied is the show that really got me back into anime after taking quite an extended vacation away from it in the early 2000's. Two friends had badgered me at around the same time to see it, claiming that it was something "right up my alley." I didn't pay it much mind to it and I'm not even sure at this point why I even started watching it back then in the first place.

The experience was obviously a positive one, else I probably wouldn't be writing this feature right now. I re-watched this show recently to see exactly how it'd fare three years later. Having been exposed to a greater amount of anime over the past few years, many shows have come and gone with the potential to sorta "open my eyes" about this show, so to speak. So, I was simply curious to see if this one still had that certain something that pulled me back toward the medium in the first place.

Elfen Lied is the story of a new form of human evolution known as "Diclonius," a rare breed of humans - typically female - born with a set of horns on their heads. Let's be honest, they're kitty ears. It's anime, they're kitty ears. Their horns control a varying number of invisible hands, or "Vectors" as they're commonly referred to. With these invisible hands, Diclonius can telekinetically chop people to bits or infect humans with a virus that will ensure that their offspring are born of the new species as well. Early in life, Diclonius become increasingly violent, typically turning their vectors against their parents and other humans and it is for this reason that they are almost always killed at birth. Some are kept alive as test subjects at one of those fancy unnamed "facilities" that has way too much money and can't really describe what it does publically in one sentence. One night, the believed "queen" of the species, Lucy, escapes her confines and sets forth to unleash carnage unlike any the world has ever seen.

Right off the bat, Elfen Lied makes sure you know exactly what it's about. You'll bear witness to a naked Lucy escaping her confines in a labratory and going on one of, if not the, greatest seven minute murder sprees ever, complete with limbs flying, organs popping out, heads popping off, and torsos being completely fucking relocated! It really is quite a sight to behold the first time it's seen. Lucy slowly makes her way through the facility, humming the show's opening tune ever so menacingly, just popping off fuckers left and right while the background ambience and music accompanying it just seals the whole deal as gratuitously violent and creepy.

While we're here, I'll say this is DEFINLTELY a show for those of us with awesome 5.1 systems. The soundscaping of this show is fantastic throughout. The ambience of the moodier points and the bone-crushing action sequences mixed with the varied music pieces all tie seamlessly together to create a very captivating and immersive sound stage.

The visual quality of the show is also worth mentioning. Throughout the duration of all thirteen episodes, it's really hard to point out any significant loss in quality or any low-budget animation. It's one of the most consistent looking shows to come out in the past five or so years. The background artwork is also quite breathtaking. The real strength is the use of vibrant colors in such a dark setting. The contrast really pays off. The backgrounds just pop out at you in certain places and can almost distract you from what's going on in the foreground.

Back on topic, after being beaned in the head with a shot from a ridiculously high-powered sniper rifle, Lucy's Happy Kill Fun Time evening ends as she falls from a cliff into the ocean. She washes up on a beach some time later meeting up with two of the show's other main characters, still naked, bleeding from the head, and has apparently turned into a [REDACTED] in the process, as all she can say now is "Nyuu." Looks like this show just got its Ryo-Ohki. Since she can't say anything else, the two students do the only logical thing and just take her home with them and name her Nyuu!

Lucy remains in her [REDACTED]ed Chii/Ryo-Ohki mode for a good bit of the show. I guess they thought we'd find this super cute, but it's annoying. The contrast between the two personalities feels way too forced. Even though she's a vicious destroyer of human life, Lucy isn't the completely violent and emotionless doll we're made to believe for the longest time. She's merely the product of a life that's handed her nothing but shit and basically forced her into lashing out at everything. The annoying and "GOD WE HOPE PEOPLE THINK SHE'S CUTE" Nyuu persona she takes on after her escape will at times be broken via a bump on the head or some other strange happening and she'll revert back to her normal self. Whether it be the cruel things the other children did to her as a kid (who got exactly what they fucking deserved!), her chance meeting with a young Kohta and the circumstances that led to their sad departure, or the time she spent locked up in the facility after being robbed of her last chance at friendship, I found it quite easy to understand why she's the way she is.

Then we gots Kohta and Yuka! Two of the most generic and bland main characters ever. Aside from his past, Kohta is the stereotypical uninteresting "I just wanna do the right thing, but can't help making really dumb decisions sometimes" male lead. About eight years ago his sister and father were massacred right in front of him while riding home from a festival one evening. This obviously led to quite a bit of mental scarring and institutionalized the poor boy for quite a while. He's never been the same since the incident and has locked those memories away either consciously or subconsciously and when mentioning the details of what happened, remembers them as merely a car accident. If you don't notice his story slowly merging with Nyuu/Lucy's by the time that it's revealed in the later episodes, then YOU have been only been paying attention to tits.

Through Lucy and Kohta's gradual inching toward the truth, we're also given more insignt into Lucy's vulnerable side. Realizing Kohta is the boy from her past and that her horrible misunderstanding and subsequent murder spree are the reason for his anguish, we begin to see that she's truly sorry for what she's done and had only continued to live until now just to apologize. Their final resolution of the past, though bittersweet, is appropriate. He never forgives her for what she did, but musters a bit of humanity to try and understand the reasons for her actions.

Then there's Kohta's cousin Yuka... Yuka, Yuka, Yuka... Yuka stands out for all the wrong reasons. Yuka is a god damned selfish and insensitive uptight little bitch who shoulda gotten whacked the night Lucy went on Festival Happy Murder Time. Lucy was actually on her way to do it after murdering Kohta's family, but if it wasn't for that meddling brat... I mean sure, his little sister was a little snot, but she was a kid and I could forgive a bit of snottiness and she probably would have grown out of it too. Yuka, on the other hand, still thinks she's fucking ten or something and simply can't let some stupid childhood confession go. Let's be honest, Kohta looked like he was chewing a mouthful of nails and salt with a pinch of fresh lemon juice when he said he liked her.

All throughout the series, Yuka constantly bounces between permanent states of self-pity or jealousy and is prone to bouts of uncalled for pissiness and abuse toward Kohta. She's COMPLETELY AWARE of the fact that his family was chopped into bits right before his eyes faster than an Iron Chef and knows that had to be traumatic enough to kinda MAKE HIM FORGET WHAT EVEN HAPPENED THAT NIGHT, but the little bitch still can't help but fall into the "woe is me" bullshit. I honestly don't know if the writers wanted us to feel sympathy for her unrequited love (BECAUSE I DON'T!) or just wanted us to hate her for the selfish little whore she is.

Nothing that happens between Yuka and Kohta ever feels real. It always feels as if he's simply trying to satiate her insane obsession, because he's such an eager to please fuckhead.

Other characters get pulled into the mix soon after, including another Diclonius named Nana. Unlike Lucy and others from her breed, Nana has never turned her vectors toward humans. Even though she's endured years of vicious experiments which could only be considered outright torture, she maintains a happy and innocent demeanor with an unconditional fondness for Kurama, one of the heads within the facility she's kept at whom she sees as her papa. After being completely dismembered by Lucy within her first twenty minutes of airtime obeying orders to hunt her down, Kurama is forced to dispose of Nana. Though he really isn't her father, he is particularly attached to her and instead of killing her, he packs her up, gives her new prosthetic limbs, and lets her escape. She ends up at the same beach where Kohta met Lucy before and is completely lost as to how the real world outside of her holding cell works. Only after her chance meeting with Mayu, a teenage runaway, and a punch-up with Nyuu is she able to come to grips with the new world around her and is eventually welcomed into the Kaede house to live with everyone.

Sudden change in image style here. PowerDVD died...and it fucking sucks for images... Yeah, it was pointless to note this...

Mayu's story is also a bit of a sad one. Sexual abuse from her stepfather and a mother that simply didn't care drove her to run away from home and she spends her days and nights roaming the city streets and living off of bread scraps from a local bakery. Her only friend in the world is a dog that ran away from home as well. She too comes to eventually move into the Kaede house, taken in by Kohta and Yuka, and it was actually quite pleasing to see her story come to a happy ending. Even though her coming to live with them is far-fetched as all hell, it's still nice to see her get a little happiness and a normal life.

Kurama's history with the Diclonius is no walk in the park either. He's the one in charge of killing infants born with the genes and it could even be considered a bit noble that he insists on being the one to do it becuase he doesn't want anyone else's hands dirty. In an unfortunate turn of fate, his own real daughter, Mariko, is born a Diclonius as well, due to him being unknowingly infected with the virus in an earlier Diclonius escape attempt. Mariko is one of the few born with horns allowed to live and had bombs implanted inside her body in case she ever escaped. She's only allowed to live because this allows the head of the facility to use Kurama any way he pleases keeping him on a tight leash. Mariko eventually grows to be the most powerful and bloodthirsty Diclonius known, having over thirty vectors at her command and when she comes out to play with Lucy and Nana at the show's climax it's hard not to smile watching the little malicious girl have her fun.

Kurama, Nana, and Mariko's three-way daughter/daddy relationship comes to yet another bittersweet and somewhat touching conclusion as Nana realizes she has a real family now. Kurama also makes peace with Mariko for letting her be locked up her entire life and never seeing her before everything's said and done.

It's fair to say Elfen Lied asks a hell of a lot of the viewer. You really need to go into this one with your brain turned off, because that little part of your brain that smacks you in the forehead and says, "HEY! HEY! THAT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!" will likely leave you with a concussion by the end of episode six. You've really gotta check any part of your brain that questions the logic of anything at the door here and suspend disbelief like you caught it smokin' in the boy's room.

This has nothing to do with the whole invisible hands that lop off those pesky unneded body parts or people running around with horns on their heads and nobody really giving it a second thought. A lot of it has to do with the outright idiotic decisions the characters make at almost every turn and get away with.

Not even ten minutes into the first episode we get a good one! Kohta, after seeing a completely naked, bleeding from the FUCKING HEAD, and [REDACTED]ed girl emerge from the ocean, decides that instead of getting the poor girl medical attention or taking her to the police that it'd be a better idea to drag her back to his new pad and THEN think about what to do. Then there's the issue with the runaway Mayu, whose parents cough up custody of their child to two complete strangers who are obviously not old enough to take care of a child. They handle this "LEGALLY" without so much as like a judge or some kind of court hearing. Just some papers. IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE? Would the law allow this? Or how about we take this strange girl with horns who can only say one word to school with us? Surely nothing bad can come of this! And let's not forget about the countless soldiers who try to subdue Lucy throughout the series having been fully briefed on what she is. Yet they'll stupidly rush to their own gory and dismembered demises after seeing their buddies get shredded only seconds before. We can keep those guys though, cause raspberry juice geysers make anime awesome!

The only soldier that exhibits any kind of sense is Bandoh. He manages to survive the whole thing, even though he gets his shit royally fucked up by Lucy in episode two and loses his eyes and an arm in the process. He's willing to learn, though, and manages to survive all of his encounters with both Lucy and Nana (not before taking a sweet ass rocket punch to the face from the latter). Fuck, Bandoh is just a Billy Bad-ass. He smacks the shit out of a secretary chick in his first few minutes on screen JUST because she approached him from behind. Her reaction is just priceless. His, even better. He also manages to be the only character in the English dub that actually sounds great. Bandoh is cool and you should like Bandoh. If you don't, fuck you. You fucking little girl.

Another fault with the show that can really pull you out of the mood at the most improper times is that it sometimes can't decide what it even wants to be. A good 70% of the time the show is fairly serious keeping the main story in focus, and then suddenly out of nowhere it wants to be a harem comedy complete with unnecessary titty grabbing, random Kohta abuse for showing any kind of interest in another girl, and motherfucking annoying Nyuu "I'M SO STUPIDLY CUTE BUT NOT REALLY" antics. There's also the requisite scene where Kohta has to help Nyuu change into new clothes (because she's too stupid to do it herself) and Yuka comes back into the room at JUST THE RIGHT MOMENT as he's removing her bottoms. PERFECT! Another fun scene involves Kohta accidentally elbowing Nyuu in the tit and she's instantly turned on by it, grabbing his hand and forcing him to grope her. I can tell a group of inexperienced men were writing portions of this show, because that's NOT HOW THEY WORK!

The problem is that none of the shit that happens for comedic purposes is even remotely funny (even by Japanese standards and those fuckers think Lucky Star is HI-LAR-IOUS!) and random Nyuu naked and groping people for no reason just always feels forced and tacked on.

When it's not hanging itself up on silly little road bumps, Elfen Lied is given a chance to be quite engaging and it passes this test with flying colors (usually RED). Its pacing really couldn't be better and EVERY fucking episode ends in a cliffhanger. What a brilliant way to make the viewer want more. I started watching this show for the first time at 4am and couldn't pull myself away until I forcefully HAD to after four episodes because I had to go to work. Nothing ever really feels rushed though. Even the climax, which in anime seems to ALWAYS get crammed into the last ten minutes, feels like it was given the amount of time to play itself out that it deserved.

The last bit about this show that I'd like to hit upon are the OP and ED songs. The opening song "Lilium" is what I can only describe as the single greatest and most beautiful OP I've ever heard. For the most part, anime openings and closings suck and are almost always "watch once then skip" affairs, but "Lilium" is far removed from that J-pop garbage. I'll watch it every time and enjoy the beautiful operatic tones and hauntingly somber melody of the vocals and arrangement. The visuals are also quite captivating, featuring many modified versions of Gustav Klimt's painted works to include characters from the show. It sounds gimmicky, but it's surprising just how well it works and ties together with the beauty of the song accompanying it while also expressing the general mood of the series.

The ending theme, "Be Your Girl" on the other hand, is complete and utter pop garbage. This goes back to the show's inconsistency and not really knowing what it wants. I skip it everytime and it's one of the worst endings ever just because of how out of touch it is with the rest of the show.

With all my gripes, I guess it may seem that there's just a whole crap load wrong with this show and I hate it, but that's really not the case. If you let it, Elfen Lied can take you on a really fun and gory adventure and drop you off at a decently satisfying conclusion. Just turn your brain off and get some popcorn and it'll keep you nicely entertained for a few nights. I was really surprised that I enjoyed this one almost as much as I did the first time around, because I honestly didn't think it'd stand up when you look back and see through some of the bullshit, but this was a pleasantly surprising experience.

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