Commentary on Elfen Lied

Elfen Lied was originally a manga (Japanese-style comic book) series that was adapted into a 13-episode anime TV show airing in the summer of 2004. A lot of people seem to think that anime/manga is something that’s just for children, but Elfen Lied is definitely NOT for kids. Your children will be traumatized for life if you let them watch it. The only anime programs I’ve seen all the way through are Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, so I’m not the best at giving commentary, but the plot and themes of Elfen Lied struck a chord with me and I wanted to write about it.

The story is about the Diclonii (singular “Diclonius”) that exist because of a viral mutation occurring in humans. They look exactly like humans, except for two horns growing out of their heads. Diclonii are extremely dangerous; they possess great amounts of psychic/mental strength and invisible hands called vectors, both of which they plan on using to destroy the human race and repopulate the world with their own species. A Diclonius girl called Lucy escapes from the lab where she had been contained (causing immense bloodshed along the way) and ends up washed onto a beach with a new, far less murderous personality (she had been injured while escaping the lab). Two college-aged kids (Yuka and Kohta) call her “Nyu” and invite her to live with them. Meanwhile, researchers from the lab are looking for her because they want to kill her based on the incredible destruction she can cause to humanity now that she has escaped. Of course, when you have a mutant with dormant psychic powers living with two unsuspecting college kids and a group of researchers looking for said mutant, you’re going to have a rather interesting story.

What I liked about Elfen Lied¬†was that it defied classification into any one genre; it’s got elements of horror, science fiction, drama, and romance, and also elements of a Japanese anime genre called “harem” — in which one boy lives with a whole bunch of girls who cause him a lot of grief (sort of a mix between romance and comedy). I liked the mix of genres, because when I write, I don’t like to think about genre.

At first, Elfen Lied seems to be eye candy for teenage boys — plenty of blood, guns, and naked women — but each of the major characters has a detailed backstory explaining how the present elements of the story took place. I think Japanese screenwriters do backstory a lot better than most American screenwriters — character motivations are very clear because of the backstory. The story has a lot more depth than mindless killing; it delves into matters of jealousy, bullying, molestation, childhood trauma, the self-destructive pattern of humanity, and quite a few other heavy topics. The writers managed to put a lot of story (and backstory) into just thirteen 21-minute episodes, so there was hardly any “fat.”

My main complaint about the series was that the voice acting (I watched the English dubbed version) sounded too mechanical; it never seemed quite natural to me. I would rather have seen it in Japanese with English subtitles because that’s how I watched Evangelion.

My other complaint was that the ending didn’t tie up enough loose ends (so perhaps the anime might have been a little too concise). It left a lot to speculation, and made me wish that there had been a 14th episode to explain things that I felt didn’t get adequate explanation. Sometimes I like endings I can continue to think about after the show’s over, but this time, I wasn’t satisfied. Certain elements came full circle, but I still had way too many questions.

All in all, Elfen Lied‘s plot and characters were¬†enjoyable (only in ways a horror movie can be enjoyable, with all that blood and those cringe-inducing moments). If you can get past the gore of the first nine minutes or so, I’d recommend it to any horror/sci-fi fan.

7 thoughts on “Commentary on Elfen Lied

  1. It’s definitely intense. I also enjoyed it– and I can confirm that the Japanese voice acting was superior (or at least, I thought so).

    I think the focus of the anime was about trauma (interesting, given how the outbursts of violence can be seen as traumatic in and of themselves), and how characters deal with it. Lucy’s response is anger and retribution, Kouta buries his past through suppression and amnesia, Nana engages in self-blame and idealizes those who hurt her, and Mayu runs away from it entirely. Ultimately, all of them are forced to confront their past experiences in one form or another.

    If you’re interested in other good SF anime, I strongly recommend these two: Darker than Black, and Stein’s Gate. I think you would really enjoy both of them.

  2. Elfen Lied definitely was an interesting series, and I felt the characters were very well written. The biggest problem I can see with the story is that the one requirement for the story to really have the intended effect on the viewer was missing, or rather, drowned out by all the flashy violence and over-the-top themes. That requirement, the ability to take the series seriously, was blown away very quickly by the idea of “These writers are trying to shock me in any way possible.” Its way to easy to become very detached emotionally from the series to the point when someone dies or gets molested, you just roll your eyes and keep watching.
    I agree with Ben though, Steins; Gate is a great series that does not try to shock you, but you are introduced to it as the natural progression of the series. Which is why I feel Evangelion’s story was so good. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni plays with the idea that the violence is expected, the interesting part is figuring out how it will ultimately lead to the character’s downfall.

    • Right – the thought that all that violence might have been for shock value might cause people to not take the anime seriously. Shock value or not, it was still very good.

  3. I haven’t watched the manga, but there was scenes from it behind an audio track on Youtube. It really caught my attention – in fact, it was the sheer violence of that little girl that inspired Scarla’s bloodiness!

  4. It is obviously a anime with a offering of a wide variety og genres but if given attention to the backstories of the charachters and the last episode it can be verified as a tragedy genre anime..After the final episode..i was in a kind of depression for a whole week…..It was quite sad seeing the family together without seeing the innocent “nyu” around…cheers

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