This review does NOT contain story-related spoilers.
What attracted me for the first time to this anime was the unusual name. Likewise, all the episodes have German names, which also striked me as odd. Not to mention the half-naked girl in the cover. So, I thought to myself: "Let's see what's this about".
After being mesmerized by the eerily beautiful intro song, I was brutally (and I underline brutally) awaken from my slumber by the first 5 minutes of the show. You'll know what I mean, when you watch it. My next thought was: "Holy freaking s**t" and I continued to watch, in awe.
After adapting to the brutal start of the story, I continued to watch the adventures of Nyuu (cute as hell :D). I was carried into a montagne russe of extreme violence and gore (severed heads, legs and other body attachments sent flying like a paper plane), scenes of pure slapstick comedy which almost made me fall off my chair and deep, tragic moments.
You wind up actually caring for the characters, feeling their pain, joy or anger, trying to make up excuses to justify their behavior.
Oh yeah, before I forget: Elfen Lied has nudity. I've seen many reviews and sites which consider this anime to be ecchi or even border-line hentai. I strongly disagree for two reasons:
1) Nudity is present, but it's not sexual nudity.
2) Nudity is advertised in this anime to underline the main idea: the dehumanization of the Diclonius (the race Nyuu is part of). The Diclonius aren't human, as far as the scientists are concerned. You don't dress a guinea pig or a lab rat, why would you dress a being submitted to all kinds of horrendeus tests (like firing a canon at it to see if it dies)?
You must've noticed I use the word "it" for describing the Diclonius. That only underlines the principal human feature presented in the anime: humans are exceptionally cruel.
Being made in 2004, the animation is not fantastic (by modern standards), but the details are exquisite: backgrounds of terrible beauty bathed in the rising sun, fluid fighting scenes (with extremely real anatomy, I might add) etc. I can also give a + to the character designs, which are cute when they have too and more than serious enough when the time is right.
The animation in Elfen Lied gets the job done. Well, I might add.
The music is sublime. Like I said before, the opening gave me goosebumps. It captures the character's despair and horror extremely well. The ending, on the other hand, represents a ray of light in the never ending night. The overall sound helps create a very enticing atmosphere, but it has it's flaws.
I enjoyed the fact that in 13 episodes, they managed to develop almost all characters. Each and everyone of them has a raison d'etre; they all made tragic mistakes or have been through hell and back, but in the end managed to stride above it all and continued to live on. That feeling of hope made my day. :D
All in all, Elfen Lied manages to accurately depict human nature when faced with the unknown. It brings you this cruel and deep analysis of the human soul on a silver plateau, then it leaves it there for you to pick it up and digest it. Elfen Lied brings forth ideas like I've rarely seen in other animes: the human need to control all, greed, love, hate all brought together in a wonderful pack.
PS: Due to the extreme content and ideas presented (torture, child molestation) I strongly advise a 18+ age limit. Besides, a child could not understand the sublime ideas presented in this anime and the in depth analysis of the human soul.