Monday Anime: Elfen Lied

Oh, boy. Here we go.

Since I first started blogging anime reviews, I knew that sooner or later, I was going to tackle this show, and have been dreading it. Not because it’s a bad show, but because it’s insanely hard to talk about in a way that makes any kind of sense to somebody that hasn’t seen it.

Elfen Lied is actually an absurdly good show, I’m just not sure, even at this very moment, how to convince you of that, if you don’t know anything about it. It’s one of those kinds of shows.

Before I get too much into this, I do want to say that Elfen Lied is probably one of the most brutal shows you will ever see. Not just in terms of graphic visual content, but graphic everything. Yes, it is one of the goriest animes ever made, but the subject matter is often even more violent. So, please, be advised, if you are not okay with everything from decapitation to rape to puppy murder, think twice about watching this.

Well, not okay. Obviously, no sane person would be okay with any of that. I guess the better way to say it is not prepared. Cause Elfen Lied don’t give a single fuck if you are. It’s gonna shove things in your face and force you to look a them, then leave you no choice but to think about what you have you just seen.

It is, again, a brutal show, that according to some reports, almost got banned in Japan.

Now we have Corpse Party, which while gory, has none of the heavy subject material of Elfen Lied, so that should tell you just how heavy some of this gets.

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This is mild for Elfen Lied.

First off, Elfen Lied is a 13 episode series, released in 2004, from studio Arms, the same studio that brought us Ikki Tousen and Queen’s Blade. So, Elfen Lied is sort of the thing they did that was actually good before they ended up doing lots of soft core porn.

The series follows a young woman named Lucy, who is a Diclonius, a mutated form of humanity possessed of two horns, and capable of controlling what are known as vectors, invisible arms with hands capable of grasping and manipulating anything. It’s a weird form of limited telekinesis, but is able to block bullets and slice through people like a hot knife through butter.

Which is kind of our introduction to Lucy, as she slaughters her way free of the facility she is being held at, all while completely naked, except the helmet on her head that is suppose to limit her abilities somewhat. While this is graphic, it’s just the show getting warmed up, so prepare yourself for a lot more stuff like this as Lucy is frequently somewhat naked, and ripping people apart.

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Though, she’s creepy in general, so, ya know.

As she escapes, a sniper manages to get a shot at her, but hits the helmet, which saves her life, but leaves her a fragmented personality. She is soon found, washed up on a beach, by Kouta and his cousin, Yuka, who decide to take her in when she displays a child like persona only capable of saying the word Nyu.

The two soon find themselves caught up in the government’s hunt for Lucy, and her own occasional murderous rampages that are sparked whenever her life is in danger and the Lucy persona takes over, then regresses again.

If that was all there was to the show, I wouldn’t be reviewing it however, as naked bloodbaths do not make an anime unforgettable. Most of the series actually revolves around exploring Lucy’s past, and how she and Kouta are actually connected, as well as what has made Lucy into the homicidal person she is.

Trust me, this is where the show tend to get really fucking dark, because it doesn’t just make you sympathize with Lucy, but wonder if her idea of just killing everybody is maybe the right approach. After all, nobody is born a monster, and neither was Lucy. She was made one.

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By who, you ask? By everyone she met. By people. Lucy was made a monster by people.

Which is where we get into the themes this show explores. The main one, the big central theme, is how humanities tendency to discriminate against one another creates so much of the strife in the world. Much of Lucy’s backstory and present day story arc revolves around how she was turned from a child who just wanted to be loved, into a murderous monster that cares little for human life, by discrimination, sexual assault, and cruelty aimed at her for being “the other”.

It naturally transitions from there into explorations of genocide, as humans, who are frequently presented as the real monsters, and Diclonius, of which Lucy is but one of many, slowly build to a war of total extermination, due to humanity’s inability to accept something other.

Pretty much every horrible thing humans do to each other is explored, often in blunt fashion. The nudity isn’t just nudity, but a commentary on how female nudity is used to dehumanize women. The violence isn’t just violence, but commentary of how accepting humanity is with slaughtering other human beings for the most minor of differences. Every aspect of this show, no matter how graphic it is, serves a purpose in exploring the darker realms of human nature, and how giving in to that pushes others to do the same.

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Lucy is not evil. She’s just fed up. She’s sick of being tortured, hated, beaten down, and treated like a wild, dangerous animal for something she had no control over. Her birth. If people really want her to be a monster, then she’ll be a monster, and woe to them for it.

The real genius of Elfen Lied is that it introduces us to a monster, then shows us how she was the victim, casting all her decisions, and those of others who don’t understand where she came from, into a void of moral uncertainty.

Like I said, Elfen Lied is a brutal damn show, and even now, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of just how brutal it really is. I have not prepared you for what it will show you, and force you to think about. Only watching it can do that, so if you’ve never seen it, just brace yourself. It gets ugly pretty damn fast, and it’s all downhill from there.

All in all, Elfen Lied is a very adult anime that somehow managed to find its way into the mainstream market. Which it then murdered violently, and desecrated its corpse.

The series is based on a manga by Lynn Okamoto, who also created Brynhildr in the Darkness. The manga is pretty lengthy, so Arms was challenged by having to keep it to only thirteen episodes. Since it was pretty much their first project, it’s understandable they didn’t have the finances to go longer, and considering how unforgettable the anime is, you could definitely say they succeeded. There will always be those who will argue that the manga is better, and that’s fine. As an anime, Elfen Lied still stands as a testament to what the medium is capable of.

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The director for the series was Mamoru Kanbe, who was also the director on shows like Cardcaptor Sakura, if you really want to get whiplash from his talents. He also was in charge of other shows, like I”s Pure, Demon Prince Enma, Sound of the Sky, and Kimi to Boku. So, he’s got range, is what I’m saying.

With Elfen Lied, he directs with a sledgehammer to your face, capturing the essence of the story and handling the themes it presented with an unflinching brutality that pretty much destroys any faith you had in humanity, while at the same time, making you think that maybe we, as a species, aren’t a total lost cause. He never shies away from the graphic, and uses it to help tell the story with an expert skill that I find myself pretty envious of.

The script work was handled by Takao Yoshioka, who did writing for shows like DearS, Freezing, Garo, Groove Adventures Rave, High School DxD, Ikki Tousen, and somehow, Working!!, among his wide variety of credits. Really, this guy has handled a ton of high profile animes, be they comedy, drama, horror, or fan service laden weirdness.

He does an excellent job of condensing the sizeable story of Elfen Lied to just thirteen episodes, all while remaining faithful to the central themes and ideas the story presents. His dialogue especially is well done, as it used to not just explore the characters, but how they view the atrocities that humanity is capable of committing, from defending the necessity of them to outrage that such things could ever be done. It’s excellent work, and a fine example of his skill as a writer.

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I have no idea who handled the music for the show, but I’m guessing it was some or all of the folks involved in crafting the OP, which is a veritable work of art unto itself. I’ve considered talking about it for my Striking The Right Note series, but the OP contains copious amounts of nudity, so I’ve always refrained.

The OP was arranged by MOKA, who also arranged the OP’s for I”s Pure, Pupa, and a bunch of other stuff I’m not overly familiar with. She’s pretty bad ass at arrangement, though, I’ll say that much. It was performed by Kumiko Noma, I think, and pretty much sounds like something that you’d hear in an old Christian monastery during the middle ages. It’s weird, but hauntingly beautiful.

Which kind of sums up Elfen Lied in general. It’s weird, dark, graphic, and unsettling, but at the same time, manages to be hauntingly beautiful.

Sadly, even now, I feel I’ve utterly failed to properly explain or explore this series, what it’s like, and what the experience of watching it is like.

All I can say is, if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t seen what anime can really do as a medium. Just brace yourself. It’s rough.

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7 thoughts on “Monday Anime: Elfen Lied

  1. I am very glad to see this anime here. Elfen Lied kinda blew me away and I still don’t really know what to feel about it but it was one hell on an experience. The opening scene has to be one of the most striking ones in anime history.

    I think that Lucy’s character is the best part of the show, a perfect example of a monster that’s not really a monster but is also kind of one. Yeah.

    That puppy killing though…I never wanted random fictional characters to suffer as much as I did in that moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s kinda the thing about this show. It’s almost impossible to really explain it to others who haven’t seen it, because you are never really sure how you feel about it all yourself. It handles the themes it presents with both graphic brutality, but a blunt honesty as well.

      Lucy, while a monster who is absolutely a monster, is also a victim, a survivor, a sympathetic anti-hero, and in her own strange way, a selfless hero. She is as complicated as real people tend to be, motivated both by her own past, her present day circumstances, what she wants, what she needs, and what those around her she cares about want and need. She’s never a one dimensional character, but that makes it hard to say how you feel about her, because while we can sympathize, we are also horrified at what she does, even as we understand why she does it.

      Which is, again, what makes talking about it all so hard. Nobody is really the hero, or the villain.

      Though, I do have to agree about the puppy killing. That’s probably the hardest scene in the show, and how you feel about it after Lucy punishes them is morally conflicting. Was it justified? Did they have it coming? Does anyone ever really have THAT coming?

      That’s the brilliance of the show, though. It makes you ask those questions, and really think about your answers to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have, by some strange coincidence, seen a lot of reviews for this series pop up all of a sudden, I have ofcourse heard of it, but not yet seen it. Having just finished Blood-c, which was seriously gory as well, I might be watching this one next, after having finished the second season of Knights of Sidonia. Your review is really interesting, and has convinced me to start watching it. I really like it when shows are hard to explain, but still seriously awesome😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This one is definitely hard to explain, and generally speaking, folks either love it, or are kinda meh about it. Though, nobody really seems to hate it, at least, that’s I’ve seen, so that’s something.

      Just be prepared for a lot of horrific shit. Seriously. So much horrific shit.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Ya know what, I fully support your plan. With the way things have been going, I kinda hope you’ll be an old fashioned fire and brimstone God.

          We all need a little fire and brimstone in our daily lives these days.

          Liked by 1 person

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