Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes
I'll start this review by saying that this anime is extremely difficult to put a number on. I loved this show, but I definitely understand the arguments against it, and I'll try to address those below.
Elfen Lied's one-sentence gimmick is creative, but it's not the first to toy with the idea. A new species is born from humans with evolutionist priorities, and it seeks to eradicate existing man-kind, replacing us with its own people.
That said, Elfen Lied is really a story about a young girl, what it means to be utterly betrayed, and the true effects that immense suffering has on the human psyche. Keeping this in mind, many of the show's weaknesses, like shallow supporting characters, become more or less irrelevant.
Feel free to skip ahead to the story/animation/sound/character portions, down below.
Problem: There is too much unnecessary nudity and gore, which distracts from the show and is frankly disgusting.
Problem: Many characters, notably Yuka, are extraordinarily shallow and one-dimensional.
Now that the main problems have been addressed, I'll talk about what I loved most. Though the anime didn't get as far as the manga in terms of the sci-fi theme of the Diclonius, it was quite interesting on its lonesome. The characters that were given depth, like Nana, Lucy, and Mayu, had extremely deep back stories that made me fall in love with each of them.
Elfen Lied should truly be considered a Gothic work. There is a high emphasis on breaking down the viewer until he is vulnerable, and then packing him full of emotional tragedy until he can no longer stand it. Many people despise this for the same reason many people despise Oscar Wilde, though I find this form of literature absolutely beautiful. As an avid reader of Gothic literature, I would rank Elfen Lied quite high on my list of most impacting Gothic pieces.
Character Designs; Animation: 7.5/10
Character designs are where the show really falls flat on its ass. Facial expressions aren't always accurate, and the animation just feels generally weak for 2004. Aside from this, all other visuals were beautiful. There is great attention to detail in the scenery, and the beautiful, Klimpt-inspired images in the intro and outro are, quite simply, excellent. I would recommend watching these even if you decide not to watch the actual show. This score is unfortunately dragged down by subpar, bordering on lazy character designs.
Characters; Character Development: 8
This is a tough one to grade. Some characters were so damn shallow that they could have been replaced by anything from a frenzied dog to a vibrating sex doll, and have little effect on the show. The main villain, the owner of the facility that restrained and studied the Diclonius, is never killed or finally stopped, and his backstory is severely limited in the anime.
However, some characters had such sublime depth that I found myself wanting to repeat the series ad nauseum just to better understand their thoughts or feelings, and the character development among these characters was very beautiful and deep. This lifts the score from a low 6 or so to a solid 8.
Sounds and Musics: 9/10
I can state with confidence that the intro song, "Lilium," is the most powerful and pertinent introductory song I have ever heard. It is the main song played throughout the episodes as well, with variants ranging from strings to choir, and everything in between. It was not overplayed in the slightest, and was able to make me cringe, cry, or smile as fit.
The rest of the OST was also very good; songs like Uso Sora or Heji are permanently engraved into my mind. They boast their ability to instantly shift your emotions from excited to horrified to somber.
Ah, the big one. This is very, very hard for me to grade. If we are looking at it as a study of chaos and immense depression and isolation, and the effects these factors can have on the psyche of a developing youth, then Elfen may very well receive the only 10/10 I have ever given. However, we do have to include the fact that many sub-plots are underdeveloped, and that the ending provides extremely little closure. (for all we know, since the leading scientist survived, the entire story repeated itself after the credits rolled by) This drags an otherwise perfect score into a solid B.
I won't give this a score, but Elfen Lied definitely had it. I can't describe it, and it may very well be what makes you hate the show, but this indescribable notion made Elfen Lied stir my emotions more vigorously than anything else I have ever watched, ever.
Elfen lied is a horrifyingly realistic Gothic account of a girl and her beautiful depression, that is marred with poor supporting characters and mediocre animation. I would recommend this to anybody who enjoys the psychological beauty in human emotion, like myself, or to someone who simply likes to be mercilessly emotionally beaten by what they watch.
I would say this is a four-star anime that ranks close to 9 points out of 10. Its star ranking shouldn't separate it from other four-star holders, but that "special something" gives it the extra "umph" that throws it very near A- territory.
Additional Notes: Do not watch the English Dub.
Thanks for reading!