I’m actually going to make the case here that the story would be entertaining even without the ultra-violence. Elfen Lied has a relatively interesting tale involving apocalypse, split personality, and evil-men-in-lab-coats performing diabolical experiments. In other words, there isn’t anything that we haven’t seen before, but the elements are mixed in such a way to hold one’s attention well.
When the shock value is added, however, the storyline is elevated from interesting to riveting. Aside from two distinct moments (a recap portion in episode 12, and a fairly weak “bonding” session between Nana and Mayu in an earlier part of the show), I was held to the screen from the guiltless bloodbath of the first 5 minutes to the final episode.
The story is somewhat marred by a “read the manga” ending and some unnecessary ecchi moments, but these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things.
Whether you love it or hate it, I doubt anyone can really dispute the fact that the gore is exceptionally well animated. In fact, just about every part of the various fight scenes are almost flawless: fluid, quick, and exhilarating. Outside of these scenes, the animation is not quite as impressive but nonetheless appealing. My one complaint would be with the somewhat lackluster character designs. I wouldn’t call them terrible, but they definitely seem generic.
Elfen Lied has a fantastic opening theme that reappears as background music in the actual show, with favorable results. Voice acting is fairly unmemorable save for the excellent performances of two seiyuu. Yuka is one of Noto Mamiko's first major roles, but here she seems a perfect fit; because of her efforts, what would otherwise be a relatively bland character is made into a likeable one. A similar (but less significant) effect happens with the appealing machismo of Bando’s seiyuu.
While the characters in the show could have been a lot worse, they’re by no means good. Most of the characters are likeable on a basic level (my favorites were probably the off-kilter, steroid pumping Bando and the surprisingly compelling Nana), and some of them have interesting back-stories thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, in the end they feel more like caricatures than actual human beings. Given the nature of the show, this might have been unavoidable.
I hate harem animes with almost no exception. As well as being shamelessly clichéd and artless, most of the plot lines that these animes manage to come up with simply aren’t interesting. The majority of the anime-watching community seem to enjoy brainless, ditzy, high-pitched and disproportionate girls emasculating an already girly protagonist, but the entire idea has never really appealed to me.
I bring this up because, as much as I am loathe to admit it, Elfen Lied is undeniably a harem anime. All of the ingredients are there: the faceless main character, the ample supply of unnecessary female characters, the spacious former hotel… anyone who says otherwise is simply delusional.
…and yet, here I am, defending this title as not only a good anime, but a great one. Despite the pointless panty-shots, despite the random breast fondling, despite the girl-barges-into-room-with-hero-in-compromising-situation scenes, I was glued to the screen for pretty much the entirety of the series. This isn’t just something I’d recommend; I think Elfen Lied is one of the best shows of 2004.
What makes this show excellent are not the harem elements; when all is said and done, the ecchi part of the show merely provides a basic skeleton for the creators to build upon. What they add is one of the bolder moves that Ive seen recently in anime. While most series nowadays are invisibly affected by some time-tested boundaries, Elfen Lied smashes just about every rule on what is considered acceptable within the realm of entertainment.
The obvious example that many people have already brought up would be the gratuitous violence. Trust me, these people are NOT exaggerating; of the numerous animes that I’ve seen, this one takes the prize for most gore. However, what many people are failing to note is that the most disturbing parts of the show don’t really have anything to do with blood and guts. How many animes have you seen that involved animal torture? Child molestation? The total loss of conscience? These subjects have been touched upon before, but never with the intensity and prowess that Elfen Lied manages to achieve.
In the end, the most criticism that this anime receives will be derived from the fact that the anime uses raw shock value to help bolster a relatively shallow plot. What they’ll fail to mention, however, is that this is not really a bad thing. When all is said and done, the unblinkingly savage nature works; Elfen Lied is absolutely fascinating in its sheer viciousness, and the ecchi part of the show only helps to contrast this brutality. If you’re worried about others accusing you of having “bad taste” in anime, then by all means skip this show. However, if all you want in anime is an engrossing, balls to the wall rollercoaster ride of betrayal, cruelty and fanaticism, then there arent a lot of titles that Id recommend over this.
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full lit of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
This is not a conventional review as I usually write. All there is to be said about this series has already been said from multiple angles in all the wooping amounts of reviews this title got. This will be more of a meta-thinking essay on the series than an actual analysis of the various sections of the anime. So if you expect info on what the series is all about, stop reading and look elsewhere. The following text will be quite boring if you don’t like stories AROUND a series rather than ABOUT a series.
If you are reading this line I assume you are interested. So take a deep breath because here comes a hell of a wall of text. Be warned that I hate this series and I normally use the harshest words against it but for the sake of reviewing I will be as polite and objective as I can. That is a huge sacrifice on my part!
There are thousands of anime made throughout the decades but only a few manage to be engraved deeply in our memories. Fond childhood memories is a main factor as so is the first time you come to witness or experience something new. Series like Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon and even Pokemon are not famous just because of lots of marketing (although that did play an important role too). They are famous because they were the best of what the tv had to offer back then. There may be far better titles in each genre but since we never got to watch those back when we were greenhorns, they never managed to transmit the same feelings years later when we actually got our hands on them. We may be admitting their superiority over the previous favs but they still weight less in our minds.
And this is what Elfen Lied is. A series most of us watched as greenhorns and that is where most of the mythos and the rave around it come from to the most part. You see, back when it aired anime were still not so well received by most young people. Most saw a bit of Dragonball, a bit of Pokemon, a bit of Sailor Moon and thought that this was the extend of what an anime can get to. Now as much as you may have liked those series, you MUST admit that they appear quite silly for someone who first watches them and that is enough to never be bothered with them.
And then Elfen Lied (henceforth called EL) comes along and brakes that assumption. True, there were already violent anime airing, as there were anime full of nude, full of interesting story ideas and nice visuals. But EL happened to have mixed all of the above in the same package. For example, let’s look at the first 10 minutes of the first episode. The opening song and video are haunting and artistic, intriguing and eye-catching. Then we see in just a few minutes a massacre of the highest possible gore and splatter you could ever dream of witnessing back then, backed up by a scary naked woman wearing a demonic metal mask and horns. You even see a person who acts all silly assuming to be the main comic relief character throughout the series to be eventually brutally murdered in seconds. WOW, HOLLY SMOKES, WHAT IS THIS??? Instant hook! And here starts the rave of the series. Sex and violence always sell and EL happened to have an extremely amount of both. Also, there wasn’t anything remotely similar airing on mainstream channels back then and that made the impact to be tenfold.
There are many who can say that is was Dragonball who got them hooked to anime. Others that it was Naruto or Sailor Moon. But all these people already were ready to accept the weirdness of the Japanese culture. They had their mindset ready to watch silly boys throwing energy beams and klutz girls with magic wands. There were not many of those around, I guarantee you that as I was one of them. EL happened to hook to anime a far more broad group of people, who until then only saw anime as silly and childish. But splatter, nude, a haunting intro and a story full of misery and social issues around cruelness? That was so political incorrect that drew people in by the thousands. Because after all, the more political incorrect something is, the more attractive it appears to young people. And let’s face it, all other anime at that time had the archetype of the stupid teenager helping innocent people and defeating bad monsters. EL was nothing like that. Everyone was either crazy or evil; there were no clear good guys and bad guys. Plus, it was the first series that directly presented on mainstream channels in the west a world where humans are not good by default and are tormented by monsters. No sir, here the humans are sadistic little bastards who like tormenting little girls and are being slaughtered like pigs as revenge. Even children and women were not spared! When was the last time they showed even women and children being killed? Heck, even kicking puppies was quite cruel and rare back then.
So as you understand, it was all so original and extreme back then most immediately fell in love with it for being so damn different. And needless to say, thanks to it the anime communities worldwide were doubled in a few years. “Anime are cool; look what they show” many were saying and showing scenes of the series to their friends, not afraid to be called geeks anymore because it was so damn violent and sexy it could not be labeled nerdy. And many of those friends actually became fans themselves and got to bring in more of their friends to the gang. As petty as it sounds having gore and sadism to be the magnet of interest, it is a fact that in order to be an anime fan you just gotta love that sort of shit. It is a fact…
Now let me make it clear that in the following years all the elements of EL were copied in following series. Mainstream anime nowadays are far more sexual and violent, something that EL helped visualizing thanks to its gargantuan fandom. People wanted sex and violence and that is what they got. Open any recent anime and there is little to no chance to not see nude, splatter, lolis and all the sick stuff successful series like EL helped to establish.
So far so good, sounds like the best anime in existence, right? … Not by a longshot really. It does feel shocking and different and special if you are a newbie in the field without any previous exposure to this sort of anime but otherwise it feels quite ridiculous by itself if you are already a veteran viewer. As I was the first time I watched it. You see, I got to watch far more dark and brutal titles since I was 6; many years prior to watching this anime. How is that possible you ask? Well, it is simple, adults back it the 80’s couldn’t imagine an animated series to be violent so they pretty much had no age indicator on the VHS titles. Everything was labeled “for kids” and was placed on the same shelf. So this is why I was watching fairy tales on one moment and heads jettisoned away the exact next. Yes, I got to watch Birth, Windaria, Choujin Locke and Nayuta before I was even 8. Anyone familiar with those really old titles will easily ask why I didn’t become a serial killer by being exposed to such gargantuan amounts of violence in such a tender age. Ok, I admit, those movies affected me to a great extend and now I am this loli-lover, Angry Video HS Nerd you all tolerate through my reviews. What I mean is that I was already exposed to far more sinister stuff way before EL and guess what, it didn’t seem worth not even half of what everyone was raving about. Because the shock value was low.
And here is where this series most aims at in order to impress. Shock value. The more it shocks you, the better it appears to be. Because without it, it feels as silly as watching Goku eating a mountain of food without gaining a single pound.
Let’s get now to more conventional analysis, starting with the animation. The intro song is marvelous and artistic, a very good initial impression. But the rest of the series is actually more about bright colors and cute albeit crude character figures than actual quality. The bright colors are actually a smart move as they make the splatter scenes to appear even more shocking. You wouldn’t expect so much violence in a series with cheery colors. At the same time they give that harem fuzzy feeling of multicolored hair bimbos doing silly stuff all over the place. It helps to hook you by the extreme amounts of fan service it has. There are panty shots and boobs almost every 5 minutes, while underage girls are most of the time shown being tortured. Yeah, great eye catcher stuff for sadists.
Still, the actual amount of detail given to character figures is quite simple and almost crude, as the girls have ridiculously huge eyes and simple face structure, while the gore scenes themselves are not really paying attention to body anatomy. This of course sounds as peanuts as you can get a boner by even two spheres that are supposed to be boobs as well as being shocked by 5 fishsticks which are supposed to be fingers, being severed from a hand. So although the quality of the animation is not really high, it gets the message across even if it was just wireframes.
The music part is a threshold. The opening songs is amongst the best music pieces in anime history while most of everything else in it are subpar and forgettable. The dialogues themselves are retarded as hell but it is all part of the “so extreme it is no longer stupid” feeling of the series. If there are two words I clearly remember from the series, that is “Nyu” and “AAAARGH”. The rest were nonsense I have deleted from my mind as the story I will now criticize is for me one pig pile of steaming manure.
Ok, the story is essentially about humans being sick bastards who like tormenting little girls in an attempt to not be exterminated by a new race of horny (literally) red haired lolis which are genetically created and programmed to kill everything that moves. So, the story gets more complicated when the female ringleader of those lolis has convenient memory loses and turns from a heartless killer to a playful pussycat everytime the scriptwriter wants to prevent the story from ending. Also, the characters keep behaving in the most ludicrous way possible as means to not end the whole mess in 10 seconds by implementing common sense. And if you don’t believe me, think of this:
“Hey, mister police officer, I found a naked girl on the beach. Better take care of her because I am a male teenager living alone and can’t just take her home where anything can happen.”
There, see, he just took her home and didn’t do anything to her, despite being defenseless and amnesiac, all excused by the fact that he was very pure in heart … and missing a dick. Then follows a long line of enemy waves who want to capture Lucy, the ringleader. But are all so damn stupid, they can’t even breathe without chocking to death. Imagine sending in a sadistic military dude to capture Lucy. He will be talking for half an hour about what a bastard he is instead of just capturing her, until Lucy conveniently gains back her memory, cuts him to pieces and then conveniently forgets everything again. Then imagine a girl who was being molested by her father and another horny girl who was almost killed by Lucy, to be accepted in Kouta, the dickless boy, in his house. Supposed, they are safer in the house where Lucy kills someone every now and then than just going to the police. Or the police themselves being so autistic they never do anything about the dozens of people who are being found in pieces right outside of that house. Wait, that could be because they are in league with the villains, right? … Sure, and that is the only reason the dickless boy and his harem of lolis don’t leave that house despite being targeted by manslaghtering sadists every two days. Add to this the way they throw in incest and even more amnesia for other characters just as extra shock value that has nothing to do with the story, how everyone meets (or meats lol) someone, remembers and forgets, finds and loses, in the most far-fetched ways possible and always in the most convenient times and… well… the story is written with the mentality of a 5 year old, not better than that of the other classics around that time on tv. But as I said it is all about shock value rather that realism. The plot is quite fast for its duration and shocking every 5 minutes, while there are many social messages to leave you something to think about. Still, as I said, it only works if you are a newbie in the field who never thought of such things up to that moment. The logic of the drama is paper thin to fall apart while the ending is left so open to interpretation, it hardly feels as closure. Many remained faithful waiting for the sequel but there is nothing you can’t get by reading the rest of the story in the manga… Which becomes even more extreme and obscure to the point of “so stupid it is no longer smart”. But hey, the vagueness and ludicrous behaviors are all part of its appeal too. Even the manga ending is made to feel like the good ending of a date sim, proving that it was essentially made to please otakus and not other people. Yes, it was a series by otakus, for otakus after all.
In all, if it got to shock you the first time, it is bound to become your fav for many years and even open a portal to you, leading to the darker regions of the otaku realm. It has done so a million times already. All I can say is that it is much harder for someone to be impressed today by it because most modern anime are far more violent and sexual. Heck, even cartoons are. Also, after other titles like Higurashi or Mononoke came along, the throne of grimness is no longer EL’s for most. In fact I know many who admit that they have no idea why they liked that series so much. Simple, the shock value faded away and left behind only ashes and bones. So while I give it a high Value for its very important contribution in mainstreaming anime (for good or bad; I kinda hate the way most modern anime are all full of fan service) I must still give it a very low mark in Enjoyment because it doesn’t work if you are not a newbie and in no chance in hell it feels good if you are a veteran viewer. I got the same messages the series has in Akira, the same type of gore in Choujin Locke and those felt far more realistic and credible, without fan service and ridiculous behaviors fooling you to consider “idiotic” as “brilliant”.
Before watching Elfen Lied, I expected it to be a terrible cliche ecchi story of some dude trying to harbour a murderous chick. But boy was I wrong. This is by all means a serious seinen psychological anime, with aspects of sci-fi and mystery. I don't feel right saying this is an ecchi genre, since this anime is not at all perverted and is very serious, despite all the nudity. It bravely chooses to successfully explore some very controversial themes and given the right changes, it could have been a horror anime. I will say this now, this anime isn't childfriendly and not because of the nudity either. I really enjoyed this one after low expectations. Serious mature themes (not ecchiness) feature heavily in this anime. And this is all coming from someone who despises ecchi and pointless pervyness/nudity.
Trivia: Elfen Lied is translated to Elfen Song in German. There is also some German text in the intro/outro sequences.
Something extra, this anime initially reminded me of Highschool of the Dead, which tried to similarly mix an amazing story with ecchi aspects and failed miserably because of it. Elfen Lied on the other hand actually managed to pull it off and the nudity remains in context and is done in a tasteful manner. No oversized boobs here and again, I'm usualy the one complaining about things like unnecessary nudity.
The animation was unfortunately the worst bit. The style is okay, and in some instances it adds certain expressions that acentuate the mood. The intro and outro were among the best pieces of animations and the intro is especially artistic. I believe it is even based upon real life art. But the animation style reminded me a lot of school days, especially Kouta looking like Makoto and brought bitter feelings because of it. The quality was hit and miss and I've seen 2003 animes do much better. Yes half the time it looks amazing, but the other half the quality is close to cringeworthy. They really should have been more consistent, since the good animation quality scenes are let down by the terrible looking ones. There is a lot of gore and the way the gore is done is the best bit about the animation. It isn't half-assed, they go full monty on the gore with the technology they had at the time and it all shows. A real shame they couldn't do the same for keeping the quality consistent. There is extensive nudity (topless) and this is mostly because the intro and outro sequences have it. There is a full frontal close up, but they were tastefull enough to mannequin the crotch (i.e. draw no details), so I really don't see why they couldn't do the same with the breasts that appear often. However this nudity can be mostly justified in the most part as it is done in a serious and tasteful fashion. There are a couple of scenes where the ecchi almost comes through and the serious mood is broken, as those scenes attempted to provide a bit of ecchi humour, which is bullshit since ecchi is almost never funny in any circumstance. The nudity is arguably unnecessary but the rest of the anime was so good and the nudity was done in a serious manner, so I can't exactly complain. Therefore in my opinion, the animation quality was the worst part of this otherwise great anime.
The sound design surprised and amazed me. A very serious soundtrack that really adds to the atmosphere and enhances just about every scene. It contributes to the moods and feelings and the style of music is unique. I was very tempted to go for the soundtrack of this anime and I didn't. Partly because the genre of the music used was not very diverse. But one could argue other styles of music wouldn't match. I beg to differ, since some orchestral scores would have further enhanced the already great sound design and would have made me jump the fence and get the soundtrack. Other animes have married multiple genres of music together very well and because it could do the same, it misses out on perfect sound score. This anime is available in English and German dubs, as well as the normal Japanese. Why German? Because Elfen Lied itself contains a few German references and text. I believe the artwork in the intro are from Germanic artists from a century or few ago.
The characters are the joint best part of this anime, especially since they are very well fleshed out and believable. I could even understand the psychologically unstable characters and empathise with them. They are all human, with few exceptions of course. The best bit? Not a high school student in sight! That's right, it's even more unique than the average anime.
The main character is Lucy, a teenage girl who has a split personality as Nyu. This character is something called a Diclonius, which has horns (looking like ears, when they aren't), invisible arms and defining pink hair. They are something that aren't quite human, genetically speaking and that itself is discussed in this anime. At the start, she escapes from containment on an island facility. She is very violent and spiteful and she hates all humans. Nyu, however is innocent, clumsy and can barely speak. She tries her best to make others happy and some of Lucy shines through in her actions. Throughout Elfen Lied you can really see how Lucy develops as an individual and why she becomes the person she is. You can really feel the human emotions fuelling her and on multiple occasions we are reminded of her capability to be humane. One of multiple examples in this anime that hate begets hate. I could go on about this character, but it is best to watch this anime since there are things I could potentially spoil discussing Lucy, like her relationship with Kouta.
Kouta is another main character and he is a man with lost memories. He is a university student and in Japan (and the rest of the world) you must be at least 18 to apply. His age isn't mentioned, but he is literally an adult because of that fact. He lives with his cousin in the large family house that used to be a restaurant. He has a traumatic past that involves the death of both his sister and his father. However he barely remembers his past and it could be that his memories have been subconciously repressed. He owns a music box that plays a sad song: the Elfen Leid. His outlook on things is positive and he feels it is his duty to help people. He seems incapable of hate and that might be because he understands things well. He is quite the opposite of a pervert and shys away from ecchi things. He's also very clueless about many other things like the fact that Yuka is in love with him. Once again, can't say more for the sake of keeing this free of spoilers.
Yuka is also a university student, therefore technically an adult and she is also Kouta's cousin. Possibly my least favourite character, bcause she is a Tsundere who is possessive of Kouta because she loves him. I understand the culture in Japan is different, but love between relatives is still incest! I can rage, rant and complain about it all day but I won't waste my time. Probably the only character who actually uses violence against Keita on purpose, likey due to her Tsudere character trait. She gets jealous when Keita pays other girls attention, even though there is no romantic interest between Keita and other girls (except...).
A forth main character is Nana, so named because she was the seventh Diclonius test subject at the facility. She is the most mentally stable of all the Diclonius since she has Cheif Kuruma as a surrogate father figure to be there for her. Still, that isn't saying much for her mental stability and she knows little of the world outside of the facility. She is good at making friends and wants to stop Lucy from killing people. She has an interesting development concerning revenge. Once again it goes to show how human she can be and that hate begets hate. She doesn't want to hurt innocent people, which sets her apart from the other Diclonius.
Another, very important main character is Chief Kuruma. This character is well ingrained into the whole story and has a shocking background that is explored in this anime. His actions may seem evil or bad, but after a while, as with many of the other characters, you see how human he really is. He works for the big bad: Director Kakuzawa and it seems their relationship is more than just minion and master.
A sixth main character (so many important characters!) is Kanae, a homeless girl who only has her dog to keep her company. She has a very traumatic history concerning how she got be homeless in the first place. She is very similar to Nana and is a kind hearted person. She doesn't want to burden anyone with her existence and doesn't like violence.
An interesting side character is Bando, a bloodthirsty sadistic soldier with no respect for human life or just people in general. Bando is indiscriminate, aiming guns at his own allies and claiming to have indescriminately killed women and children. He is hellbent on doing his job, spilling blood and is easily motivated by things like revenge. Initially he seemed like a pure evil character, but it seems that he isn't completely evil. Another depiction of the human side of these characters.
Side characters aren't worth mentioning, though I was very disappointed with Director Kakuzawa and his scientist son being obvious complete villians, with few redeeming human qualities. Arakawa provides some much needed light-heartedness in this otherwise gloomy and serious anime. And then there's the secret character...
The story of this anime is the other best part and contributes to what makes it so great. And what a great and serious story with many shocking moments. It initially appeared to be some bullshit cliche 'guy harbouring murderous chick,' but instead turned out to be very well written and thought out, complete with flashback scenes for backstory. And there is a lot of great backstory. It just got better and better, crazier and crazier. Things that I didn't even consider would be explained, ended up being explained. There are unexpected twists. And the best bit was that it bravely depicted many very controversial themes AND did it well. At first I didn't know what to think and I was on the fence about the idea, but I realised eventually how seriously they were taking things and that contributed to my eventually acceptance and enjoyment. These themes include the likes of nudity (duh), genocide, immoral lab experiments, racism, prejudice, discrimination, corporate conspiracy, incest (among cousins, idc it's goddamn incest all the same), mysogeny, mental instability, suppression of unwanted memories, split changes in personality. thoughtless killing, value of life, romance, torture, child abuse, infanticide, suicide, rape, animal cruelty, bullying, evolution of humanity, genetics and genetic disorders, morality, hatred, revenge and I feel like I'm still missing some here. I love animes that are able to make the viewer think about and discuss these important, serious matters. The main moral of the story? Hate begets hate, so by treating others in a positive manner instead of a hateful manner, people don't have to become 'bad'. The ending of the anime is potentially vague (sequelbait?) and this is probably the worst thing about the story. Though it was a great ending overall.
At the end of it, I wanted to give this anime a max score so bad. But it still has major issues, with animation and arguably unnecessary nudity among them. The one thing that this reinforced in me and should teach the viewers: hate only creates more hate. Treat people well and they won't have any reason to be evil. This anime is for those who have patience and can handle some very serious and dark themes. I've seen younger people drop this anime and dislike it, so only try this if you are an adult who's mind won't be messed up by watching something like this. And to anyone of the targeted audience who has even a passing interest in anime, WATCH THIS and watch it all the way to the end. It is one of my must watch recommended anime, because it is unique, ballsy and just so damn good!
Family-friendliness Rating: 5/5 I want to go higher but this is out of 5. Definitely not for kids (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 8.8/10 (higher is better)
About the Diclonius, they are genetic mutations in humans. Think of it like down syndrome, where there are characteristic traits associated with the mutation. It is implied in the story that a virus spreads the mutation and while this is plausible, the actual reason for the mutation is unknown. The Diclonius are a different species to humans. This is true because a Diclonius cannot breed with a human and produce fertile offspring. That factor is one of the things used to define species. However Diclonius are descended from humans and are therefore related. Their genome is different enough for them to be a different species. This is of course where the prejudice, racism and discrimination comes in. Would it be right to kill an infant/torture/do experiments on/treat badly those who are gentically different? Would it be right to do those things to people with mutations like Down Syndrome? I think that's the sort of message this anime is trying to get across.