Title: Elfen Lied (Elfin Song)
Format: Anime (13 episodes) Studio: Arms
Creator: Lynn Okamoto Director: Mamoru Kanbe
Genre: Romance, Horror Licensed by: ADV Films
What can a review for Elfin Lied say? It’s a series that everyone knows, to some degree or another, but nobody knows what to make of. There’s not much point going over the characters, basic story, and presentation, because if you’ve paid any attention to the anime community, you have already heard plenty about that. And some people argue that’s as far as a review should go. An explanation of the bare bones facts of the work.
If you’re an anime fan, you know what Elfin Lied is. What you may not know is whether you should watch it, and that’s the question a review, generally, should really be concerned with. Not answering that question, but preparing people to answer it for themselves. So, today on The Anime Harvest, should you watch Elfin Lied?
For those who don’t know, Elfin Lied is an action, horror, suspense, gorefest, romance. That last one isn’t thrown in for comedic juxtaposition. At the core of this big, violent mess of an anime is a genuine love. That’s right, we got ourselves a yandere story. The yandere story before Future Diary.
It’s about our “hero” (if you can make sense of that term here, Lucy, and her quest to exterminate humanity. We open on Lucy committing one of anime’s most well-known mass slaughters, as she escapes a high security research facility where she’s seemingly been a prisoner for some time. An obsessive anime fan with too much time on their hands might make a big deal out of this scene, but the main point is clear, Lucy is a fucking monster. The kind of woman that would make Alucard a feminist. She fights with several long, invisible arms called “Vectors” growing out of her back, which are strong enough to lift a truck. She can sponge bullets, rip right through people, and survive an anti-tank shot to the head. Though with a split personality.Cut to cousins Kouta and Yuka on a beach, when they stumble across the other side of Lucy’s personality, Nyu. The pokémon comparison is a little overused when talking about Nyu, but you can’t deny it’s on the nose.
They take her in, try to take care of her, but every once in a while her Lucy personality comes out and she sneaks off to kill someone, or kill someone, or horribly maim someone, or kill someone.
As the story carries on, we piece together her goals and motives. Lucy is a Diclonious, a type of person from a new branch of human evolution, which have horns that make them visible, and vectors. Whether their killing talent is natural or something they just all tend to pick up somewhere is unclear, but they are really damn good at killing.
Lucy hates humans, and wants to wipe them out. She’s not all that good at it, considering she spends most of her time fighting other Diclonious, but hey, at least she’s trying. Why she hates humans is explained by a number of flashbacks that fill out the middle of the show. To reign her in, the organization Lucy escaped from sends out other, more obedient Diclonious, such as the probably-someone’s-waifu-but-to-me-she’s-just-annoying Nana.
And it all ends in massive standoff between Lucy and large military force.
The overall structure of the show is actually pretty well thought out, considering the conflict is a barebones all-out manhunt, and the inner workings of the characters is what’s really interesting. We have the opening scene, which establishes the conflict between Lucy and this military organization. The middle, which does two things. 1) It fills in the little battles and search process for Lucy. And 2) it spends a lot of time either in flashbacks to show the audience who Lucy is and what made her that way, or with other characters to hint stress the horrors going on with the research facility Lucy was kept in. And finally the ending comes full force back to the present, to show that there is a conclusion to everything that’s been built up.
The characters are both the make and break of Elfen Lied. On the one hand, there are the Diclonious, Lucy, Nana, and Mariko. It’s them that make up the thematic core of the show. On the other hand, there’s Kouta and Yuka, who suck.
Lucy and Nana are diametric opposites. One hates her human captors and is broken by a desire for revenge against them. The other has a pathological love for them. Together, they help us answer whether Diclonious really are natural born monsters or not, and while this does come down to a nature versus nurture question (with the show having pretty obvious leanings one way), it’s elevated by the fact that the Diclonious are not purely sympathetic beings. Lucy really is a monster, and the show tries hard to makes sure that understanding what made her that way doesn’t make you forget it.
It’s not a cheesy “humanity is the real monster” approach. Lucy is definitely a monster. But by the end, when every step leading to the conflict has been established, everything and everyone is so fucked up that it’s impossible to judge. Which is sort of the most import point of Elfen Lied.
Every review I’ve seen of this show seems to struggle with one thing. Why is it beautiful? And it really is beautiful. It’s not just the pretense of dark romance and a nice soundtrack; if it were, the cheap animation, terrible writing, and hentai fandub level voice acting would wash that away instantly. And, more to the point, people who aren’t bought in by that stuff also have trouble coming to terms with the fact that something exists in Elfen Lied that is worthwhile.
Jesu Otaku once call this show nihilistic, and this is the closest I’ve come to understanding that. There is no clear villain or hero; only the facts of some sad fucking stories. It is impossible to judge, instead you just get wrapped up in the happenings of the story.
Another common part of every review, this scene.
But exactly why is for another article entirely, and will probably require me to rewatch the entire series yet again.
You may have noticed I haven’t really talked about Kouta and Yuka. That’s because, despite one being the love interest of main character, they are some of the least important characters in the show. Kouta’s presence is important for Lucy’s character, but he, in his own right, is, well, a male character in a schlock anime. The most important reason for him to be there is for the mostly male audience to have a perspective they can intuitively take on. And like most characters that serve that purpose, he’s a boring, vanilla, fuckwit. At least most of this type of character are plot important, but Kouta’s just sorta there, as a random person for Lucy to fall for. Which is at least better than Yuka, who I still can’t find any purpose for. She loves her cousin Kouta. She’s jealous of Nyu and all the other girls suddenly surround Kouta. She gets over it. The end.
Speaking of useless characters, Bando. He’s a big macho military type who gets his ass kicked by Lucy a few times. In their first round, he discovers her as Nyu, and is supposed to execute her. He doesn’t, bonks her on the head instead, and comes face to face with Lucy… until she rips his face off.
The introduction of the Lucy Nyu split could have been done a million other ways. The scene isn’t needed to establish Lucy’s a badass, because we already had this.
And Bando never develops himself, or helps any other character. So why the hell is he an unforgettable part of this show? Well, his dialogue. At least in the English dub, Bando is the only character with a distinct voice. Everyone else’s lines are virtually interchangeable. Goes to show what a difference a little writing effort can make.
Elfen Lied is indeed every bit as much of a mess of a show as people say. Its technical qualities lack quality, and its creative gravity remains grounded in clichés and predictability. But there is something about Elfen Lied that makes it, if nothing else, more memorable than your standard anime gorefest or trite romance. And, as best I can tell, it’s the nihilism with which it gets the viewer to view all its tragedies and monsters. Nihilism isn’t emptiness, it’s openness. And Elfen Lied uses it to prey an incredible amount of sympathy out of its viewers for all of the events that are happening. Which is what makes it incredibly hard to look at from a critics point of view.
Don’t Lose Your Way