When it comes to the quality of Elfen Lied, anime fans are at constant war with each other with one side praising it as hauntingly beautiful and the other resenting it for being a crude and exploitative gorefest. Since my opinion on the highly notorious show is somewhat near the middle, I thought I’d share my thoughts about it in a review where I highlight both the pros and cons as I subjectively perceive them.
At first sight there are several interesting plot components that may not be the best ingredients for something intelligent (unless handled exceptionally well) but that should serve as the foundation of a good story. We have an individual from a recently developed species with telekinetic abilities escaping from her imprisonment in a fairly dramatic fashion, evil scientists and indications of some sort of childhood trauma in the main character.
Once you take a closer look, however, you’ll discover the harsh and unpleasant truth about Elfen Lied; its storyline is a mess. Amidst a sea of excessive fanservice and violence carried out by adolescent, sometimes naked, girls we also find certain subplots that are brought up a few times only to later on be banished into oblivion. Furthermore, the later part of the show that is often perceived as incredibly beautiful and romantic suffers from an extreme case of moral depravity that almost seems to justify the slaughter of countless innocents due to various circumstances. Most people who dislike Elfen Lied bash it for its high amount of gore, but its problems are far more profound than that and in the end the unnecessary explicitness is merely a minor annoyance in a tsunami of other issues.
It may not look quite as impressive now as it did back in 2004, but Elfen Lied has aged fairly well with bright colors, lavish backgrounds and well-choreographed fighting scenes. If the characters had been any more realistically drawn, the high amount of violence might have been harder to endure but their designs still come off as slightly off-putting and generic which is my only real complaint for the visuals other than natural and age-related flaws.
If I didn’t make it painfully clear in the first few paragraphs, this is a show that suffers from poor writing. Since that’s the case, why is it that so many people find themselves crying in sympathy as soon as a scene with some attempt at emotional resonance comes by? I have a theory; the music in Elfen Lied is absolutely haunting and beautiful. The song Lilium that plays in the beautiful opening (inspired by artist Gustav Klimt) is used frequently in the show without ever annoying you with its presence. The creators of the show may not have known how to write a proper script or develop their characters but they knew exactly where to place the music in order to get a reaction from their audience. Voice acting as a whole is fine (although nothing in particular) but the soundtrack in all of its repetitiveness is absolutely wonderful.
In the end, most of the character-related subplots were forgotten. If there’s such a thing as a thread of plausibility in Kohta’s circumstances it must have been far too thin for me to spot and the ending came with an almost offensively terrible justification that I can’t believe people overlook when they review this show. Moral ambiguity usually makes things better but absolute moral depravity in a story that wants to be beautiful and thought-provoking is offputting in the truest sense of the word.
By the end of its run, Elfen Lied has turned into a harem series determined to introduce girl after girl for fanservice or pointless purposes. Several of the characters could have been easily removed and nothing would have changed in the storyline; which is a shame because with some extra screen-time some of the core characters could have been developed beyond the realms of one-dimensional bores.
In the end, Elfen Lied wants the best of two worlds; a storyline with a pretense to beauty as well as excessive amounts of both gore and nudity. As yet another group of people is splattered to pieces you’ll find yourself wondering why they didn’t aim for a spot in the “guilty pleasure” archives rather than tag along with a story with cardboard characters and only its premise to brag about. Thanks to the fantastic music and pleasing visuals, however, this is a show that knows how to press your emotional buttons. Much like the stuff Kyoto produces; Elfen Lied is questionably scripted, poorly executed but equipped with minor well-placed virtues that create several scenes of incredible quality. In the end I’m ambivalent as what to make of this mess, but I won’t deny the show of its mediocrity; a 6 is the most fitting score I could assign.