So watching this was an experience. If I could give it an alternate title, it'd be "Explicit Discomfort: The Anime". There were a lot of moments that were difficult to watch and scenes that had me cringing or left me disgusted. And while everything I've just said may have had a negative connotation to it, I must say that it was overall one of the most memorable and intriguing watches in my time with anime.
Nothing too complicated and pretty easy to follow, the story of Elfen Lied tackles themes of racism, loneliness, jealousy, love (or moreso the lack of), and wrings all of its characters through utter despair. I don't want to say Elfen Lied was devoid of predictability, but for the most part, I couldn't tell what direction the story would head in next and I can definitely say I was on the edge of my seat for most of the time. It's a shame the ending was left a bit too open-ended, but I heard this ended before the manga did, so I guess I'll go read it later for some closure. Overall, the plot doesn't have that many layers to warrant it being deep, but it's also enough material to keep the viewer engrossed enough where they avoid falling into the pit-trap of just going along with the ride and ignoring the minor details.
Dialogue was all over the place for me. Sometimes it was brilliant and captivating, mainly when you could feel the raunch emotions behind the words spoken. But then it had its downsides, mainly when any evil people spoke. Those kids that bullied Lucy and freaking Bando were so unrealistic and mean-spirited that they were almost laughable considering no one would talk like that nowadays unless they were genuinely screwed up.
First thing I noticed was the nicely drawn backgrounds.
Well, actually the first thing I noticed was the detached arm with still-twitching fingers in a pool of blood along with almost ten minutes of footage of Lucy massacring a bunch of guards.
But then we had nice backgrounds.
Anyways, I actually thought they did a splendid job with the attention to detail during the gorey parts. We saw heads twisted off like a corkscrew, people split in half with their bones and innards visible, eyes gouged out, and other pretty messed up scenes that had careful treatment during the development process. The action involved with these scenes was pretty basic however, mostly amounting to people jumping and either shooting in front of them or using their Vectors to do the work for them.
The character design was a bit of a turn-off for me. The eyes were too big for my liking (even by anime standards) and a lot of the faces look really similar. If you took two characters and stripped them of all their features, I'm not sure they'd be easy to tell apart.
The soundtrack was brilliant. Lillium speaks volumes in its somber tones and it serves as a worthy symbol of the Elfen Lied story. The sound director also knew when to accentuate moments in the story with the right soundtrack that would enhance the scene at hand. The serene and somber notes fit this show perfectly, though only Lillium is particularly memorable.
I watched the dub for this show and voice-work was pretty decent overall. However, Mayu and Nana sounded too similar and the female voices didn't do much to distinguish between them. Though this was done a few years ago, so I chalk it up to age. Regardless, voices could have stood out more.
(minor spoilers in this section)
This cast of characters is both very layered and complex while also vapidly simple.
Any character that received some sort of backstory was well-done in my opinion, or at the very least good enough. Lucy and Kurama had the most intriguing exploration in my opinion, with Kouta and Mayu also benefiting with added layers to their characters, though their present-day incarnations don't impress as much. Kouta came off as a little plain to me up until we learned his deal and while I can definitely empathize with him, I feel the staff could have executed events better to flesh him out a little more and make him stand out rather than having him act subdued and unmemorable.
Yuka was pretty annoying. She was absurdly jealous (when did Kouta ever give off romantic signals towards Nyuu/Lucy, seriously), a little too overly emotional (I think she was a bit too upset about Kouta forgetting his promise as a kid) and I could've sworn I heard her say "you jerk" to Kouta like 10 times. And then Bando's plainly unbelievable. What kind of security force would employ a wild card like that? Especially one that would point a gun in his comrade's face? The way he acted and the things he said were things a brutish thug would say and not someone that should be working for government.
Slight aside, why in the hell would his partner Sato act like nothing happened after Bando clocked him in the head with his gun?
If you aren't squeamish and want an explicit, mature story that has a bit of action, melodrama, and themes prevailing in despair and racism, look no further than Elfen Lied. I can see why it's been watched by so many people; it has unconventional execution and directly deals with and exploits subject matter most other animes would dance around, censor, or just completely avoid in general.
And it has lots of mindfuckery, I know people enjoy it to the extent that it's become a bit of a sub-genre nowadays. No worries, this anime has it by the buttload.