Review: Elfen Lied

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Some people just really like dark stories. Like really dark stories. Like we’re going to kill your pet puppy because you’re a horned freak dark. Anyway, Elfen Lied is a manga written and illustrated by Lynn Okamoto, who has really done anything else big as of yet. It was serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Young Jump from June 2002 to August 2005. The television show was produced by the studio Arms and was licensed by ADV Films here. The anime ran in 2004 from July to October, before the manga’s end, which means it had a different ending than the source material. For once though, that seems to be a good thing.

The story focuses on a new mutation of the human species, called Diclonius, who have horn like protrusions on the forehead and the ability to summon invisible telekinetic arms. It specifically follows one Diclonius, Lucy, who for a long time has been held captive in an experimental facility. She escapes and ends up with amnesia, due to an all too convenient head injury, under the new name Nyu. From there she meets Kohta and his cousin Yuka who proceed to care for her. And the story only ramps up from there. Lucy has to remember who she is and continue her fight for the Diclonius as their “queen.”

Now, this series is famous. Well, maybe not as famous as it used to be, but back in my day Elfen Lied was how you knew if someone liked grimdark anime or not, if they were hardcore. I remember watching this in a hush hush situation when I was too young to understand why a lot of the themes were a bit too extreme for a fourteen-year-old. Now the reason the series was famous was because it just went all out on nudity, gore, sexual themes, all around dark themes, and otherwise. Lucy escapes nude and spends a lot of time nude killing people in really gruesome ways, often to the point of excess. That isn’t to say that the series is good, because it really isn’t that good, but it was stretching what mainstream anime could be in 2004. Which is saying a lot. In hindsight though, at points, it seemed like it was just trying to be hardcore for the sake of it.

With the main characters I am about to introduce, I’ll focus on the anime as it is the part of the series I have actually seen.

Our lead character is Lucy or Nyu, who is probably the most advanced of the Diclonious. From a young age she was alienated by others and it caused to her to have a very bad outlook on the human race, to the point of having little to know feelings for them at all. She has a sadistic personality, often leaving others to bleed to death because she can, if not murdering them brutally. Lucy may have a past with Kohta, though it takes a while for that to be revealed. However, has Nyu she is very childlike, unable to say many words beyond ‘nyu’ and ‘Kohta.’ She is essentially all that is good in Lucy. However that doesn’t mean she isn’t cringe worthy at times, like nearly all the time.

Kohta is the story’s male protagonist who has decided to stay with his cousin Yuka while he is attending college. He has a bit of memory loss concerning his father and sister, but knows that they died horribly, but not how. He and his cousin find ‘Nyu’ on the beach and take her in. He’s your average bland male character who doesn’t have a lot of depth to him. He’s there for Lucy to have angst over and to be the token male character in what could have easily been a harem anime.

Yuka is Kohta’s cousin, who may or may not be attracted to said cousin. For a lot of the story she appears upset that Kohta doesn’t remember the time they spent together as children, despite the fact his memory loss is caused by horrible trauma. She is the mother character in the series, who essentially takes care of or cares for all the others. She also is there to be jealous of the tension between Kohta and Nyu. She much like Kohta doesn’t have much of a personality beyond these few traits.

Mayu is a young runaway who ends up living with our protagonists, Kohta and Yuka becoming her guardians. Before though, she was living on the beach with a stray puppy named Wanta, having run away from an abusive household. Over time, after moving in with the cousins, she begins going to school and ultimately has cheered up as a person. She acts as the core of the makeshift family, often breaking up fights.

Nana is a diclonious like Lucy, but treated much better, known as number 7. She is used as a test subject at the very same facility that Lucy escapes. However, she is treated as a daughter by the very man attempting to find Lucy, Kurama. This makes her almost the exact opposite of Lucy, as she is warm and has never harmed a human before. Originally, she is sent to capture Lucy, which she fails to do and ends up severely hurt, but alive. After the failure she ends up living with the other protagonists, but not without initial distrust towards Nyu.

There’s other characters, all who have their own arcs and what not, but the story ultimately falls around Lucy. The characters affect her and how she reacts. So, in hopes of keeping spoilers down and interest possibly up, some characters will be shelved for now. The characters, besides the ones stated above, are also not exactly the most interesting.

The art is one that is very dated by its 2004 airdate and it shows, especially in the face of the characters. The facial proportions are extremely off, but comparatively the rest of the body is on point, everything else is fine. The eyes are just too big at times and don’t match with the rest of the face and it hurts to look at sometimes. The faces are awkward and it shows greatly at times, but at other points, especially with Lucy, the faces are beautiful. Especially in the later episodes as the story begins building up.  It also has a problem with the colors, at times seeming to rich and while yes it is animated, that doesn’t mean the color should be so forced and dull. One of the greater aspects of the animation was the opening, which made reference to Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and others with similar styles. The anime is definitely stronger art wise, as the manga seemed to have no aspect of actual anatomy and was at times almost too cutesy to match with its much darker themes. It’s one of those series that tricks you into thinking it’s going to be cutesy by the art, but then really is just a complete bend, like Higurashi. It also doesn’t have the beautiful opening, which accentuates the story perhaps the best within just a short amount of time. The anime was directed by Mamoru Kanbe, known for his work with Cardcaptor Sakura.

The sound for the anime was not the best, at least not the dub. However, it has perhaps, one of the most iconic opening themes in anime. Lillium, composed by Yukio Kondo, arranged by Kayo Konishi, and performed by Kumiko Noma. It echoes a sort of Gregorian chant and really echoes the feel of the story. The ending theme is not that much of note, especially in comparison to the beauty that is Lillium. So far as voice acting goes, the dub was subpar, the only person of note is Kira Vincent-Davis who played Lucy/Nyu, though she’s not much better than the others. The acting in the English dub is just so bad, it’s dry and emotionless, the delivery is just… Sad with what could have been a brilliant dub. Ultimately though, the Japanese is the better choice, especially in a series like this where some liberties were taken with the dub. Still, the series with sound seems to be just meh in general.

The series isn’t good, but it has aspects about it that seems to capture people. It really seems like a fever dream at points. People know about it, something that’s like sharing some secret with your best friend. Honestly, the show isn’t awful to get through, it might be hard at times, but honestly it’s one of the shows that seems to be a guilty pleasure for some. I can’t say much about the manga other than general appearance issues, but maybe it’s worth a try. However, you should only be watching the series if you are of age. This is a series with adult themes, gratuitous violence, and nudity.

Overall Rating: 6.5

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