Elfen Lied – Review
Original Air Dates: July 25th, 2004 – October 17th, 2004
Synopsis: Lucy is a young woman with immensely devastating supernatural ability. Able to wield vectors, long invisible arms that protude from her back, she’s able to cut and crush whatever she sees fit. Upon escaping from the secret scientific research complex where she was confined, Lucy loses her memories and reverts to a more child-like persona known as Nyu. She is found by a young man, Kouta, and his cousin, Yuka. The two, unsure of what to do with the child-like Nyu, decide to care for her. As the three begin their stint as a pseudo-family unit they must deal with Nyu’s more violent split-personality and the government agents seeking to recapture her.
REVIEW (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS TO FOLLOW):
Tom: Elfen Lied treads a fine line between telling an emotional story and working the audience for sympathy. At times the troubles of heroes ring true, and the struggles they face understandable. At other times characters hatred and violence toward Nyuu, the other girls and to an extent Kouta himself, feels forced and contrived, written purely to pull on the audiences heart strings. When it sinks to this level Elfen Lied feels both hokey and forced. It’s not like that all the time, and there are indeed some competently written emotional beats, but when it reaches a high level of angst and brooding the emotional undercurrent starts to buckle and the show falls back to relying on its gross out violence and gore to elicit a response. It doesn’t help that Elfen Lied tells an incomplete version of the manga’s story, opting for an anime-only ending that is altogether dissatisfying. Because of its failings and eventual over reliance on gore and horror, it fails to really attach you to any of its characters and elicits a pure shocked reaction to the graphic events on screen.
Linny: Elfen Lied starts with a lot of violence and intrigue so fair warning to those with queasy stomachs, It then continues into some suspense with a TON of nudity and even more violence. The plot of the show felt both generic and interesting at the same time because in all honesty, one could almost write it off as a harem anime with sadism thrown in for the ‘kinkier’ viewer. However, what kept me interested was all the showdowns between its characters that result in some heart pounding action. It does have more plot than the average generic harem anime but as a female viewer, I felt like there was way too much fan service and nudity. It didn’t help that the story kept bombarding the audience with sadistic twists and scenarios that made me flinch and struggle to sit through. It’s not that I am particularly sensitive to violent content but sometimes it felt like the show was doing it for the sole sake of being as hardcore as possible, in some cases being more for shock value than as an essential part of the story.
Tom: Elfen Lied has a moderately large cast that expands over its twelve episodes, yet there were only a couple characters I really ever felt anything for, despite how much horror and grief everyone suffers. Elfen Lied treads a moral grey area with it’s characters, which can be powerful, if done right. Unfortunately Lucy isn’t at all likable from the start. She’s a murderer that feels zero remorse for her actions. The show attempts to offset this by giving Lucy a second personality, Nyu who is much more childlike and playful. While the Nyu side is indeed likable, it never really offsets Lucy’s original persona and the portrayal of Nyu never makes it seem like this is the real Lucy. Instead she comes off more like a ticking time bomb, how long until she reverts to the horrid killer she once was. The show attempts to solve this by justifying Lucy’s murderous rampage thanks to her exceedingly dark and tragic past. It’s during these flashbacks when Elfen Lied tries too hard to pull at your heart strings and the subsequent forgiveness she receives for her murderous rampage come off as the series attempt to justify her actions. “you suffered in life? Well then by all means tear humans limb from limb.” It’s not to say Lucy isn’t a character I can empathize with, but it doesn’t sit well with me how quick the series is to set aside her actions. All that said, I did become sympathetic to both Nana, another girl with immense supernatural ability and vectors, and her surrogate father, Kurama. These two both have a sad past and destiny that never becomes forced and feels more poignant and real than the rest of the series.
Linny: None of the lead characters ever spoke to me either, for example our male protagonist being such a typical harem lead cliché. He’s so sweet, gentle and kind that all the women fall for him because they just can’t resist his caring yet completely oblivious nature. Lucy, on the other hand, seriously needs to go see a psychiatrist and a tailor because she needs her nudity and her sanity dealt with pronto. Even the emotional struggles of the supporting cast often felt forced like the sadism. And like Tom, I too took more to the side characters than our leads. The supporting cast had more endearing personalities or backstories that made it easier to sympathize with them or become invested in their plights when compared to our generic male protagonist and our homicidal female lead.
Tom: The voice acting for the dub isn’t great. Kouta’s voice feels a bit dull, especially for such an emotionally charged and violent anime. The same goes for a few other characters. Lucy/Nyu’s VA does a solid job however, as well as Nana’s. But the bland talent damages the flow and tension of the story, undermining much of the potential drama and lending itself only as an avenue to further highlight Eflen Lied’s forced dramatic nature. Interestingly enough it’s Elfen Lied’s musical score that managed to pull me into the series even when I wasn’t feeling the story or its characters. The soundtrack contains some perfectly creepy music that works with the dark tones of the story and really makes events feel chilling even when the violence becomes try hard at times.
Linny: The sci-fi and violent theme of the show could have used a lot more detailed and exquisite animation than what it actually received. The low animation quality is unmistakable even in simple scenes like the characters sitting around and talking. For those who have gotten used to the impressive quality of animation in recent years, going back to an older show like Elfen Lied with all its issues may be a unpleasant experience. Considering how graphic and action packed the story is, some high quality animation would have given events even more impact.
Tom: Instead I found Elfen Lied’s animation to be generally good and I only recall a handful of scenes that looked outright disappointing. But it should be noted that Elfen Lied is an exceedingly violent show and, if animated violence makes you squirm then it’s probably best to avoid this one like the plague. Personally I found the violence tolerable and the blood shed, while frequent, fine for viewing, but then again I tend not to bat an eye at these things.
Linny: I’d argue that this show is more suitable for either a mature audience or one that’s fine with rather graphic depictions of decapitations and sadistic violence. The show isn’t the most extreme in terms of graphic violence but there’s enough to warrant upsetting anyone with a more gentle palette. There’s a lot of disturbing themes and implications covered in the show so do brace yourself for that. However, if you are in the mood to be slightly sickened while enjoying some really violent supernatural/sci-fi violence, go right ahead and check out Elfen Lied.
Tom: Elfen Lied is a series that never quiet executes the story it wants to tell. It doesn’t help that Elfen Lied is an adaptation of a much longer manga. Entire characters are absent from the anime, and this adaptation has a shoe-horned ending that fails to satisfy. Unfortunately the manga will set you back at least by a solid one hundred as it’s out of print and that’s if you buy the German copies! Assuming the anime is your only option, and you’re just seeking plentiful levels of gore and a mediocre emotional core then Elfen Lied is a decent choice, but I wouldn’t rank it among the classics.