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.