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.
For Kouta and Yuka, finding the bloody naked young girl on the beach would change their lives forever, for better or for worse. Unable to speak or function as a normal human being, she is named Nyu by the duo, and taken into their home in an effort to save her. But what neither teenager knows is that this innocent young girl is actually a killing machine -- an experiment gone terribly wrong -- and it is only a matter of time before the murderer in her awakens again...