Note: Images in this review are censored in order to avoid potential problems with WordPress. When watching Elfen Lied yourself, this censoring may be different or not present at all.
#1 One of anime’s best first episodes
Much can be said about the importance of an anime’s opening episode and many shows can be held up as examples of handling theirs right. While I could no doubt think up a show whose first episode is technically better than Elfen Lied‘s, none of them will ever get me as excited.
The first ten minutes of Elfen Lied is the kind of stuff that sells DVDs and Blu-rays, it’s freaking amazing. You kick off with the surreal visuals of the OP set to the beautiful, yet haunting “Lilium” by Kumiko Noma. Then we cut straight to main character Lucy’s escape from the laboratory, as she begins walking its halls and goring the armed guards with her psychic powers. These scenes serve to establish Lucy as an unstoppable monster, as she slowly yet determinedly marches through the hallways, entirely naked safe for a metal, face-obscuring helmet. It’s several minutes of employees desperately trying to stop her by any means necessary, and being torn to literal shreds for their effort. Blood flows freely and the violence is simultaneously shocking and absolutely kick ass.
After this action-packed opening things slow down for a bit to get character introductions out of the way and set up the story, which I’ll get back to in a minute. While this takes up the majority of the episode, it’s not like it all comes crashing down after that 10-minute mark. The introductions to our main and side-characters are all handled in novel ways that help conclude the first episode on a lighter note, while also providing some setup to get you hyped up for the next one.
#2 Amnesiac murder machine
The idea behind Elfen Lied is that Lucy is a Diclonius, a psychic mutant if you will, which are being contained and studied in an offshore lab. The first episode sees Lucy make her escape, using a set of invisible hands that can cut through most anything and throw objects so fast they effectively become bullets. As she steps outside, however, a sniper lines up a shot on her helmet and knocks her into the sea below. Our bloodthirsty mutant girl winds up stranding on the beach of a nearby city, where she is found by the cousins Kouta and Yuka.
Due to the sniper round Lucy’s personality has become jumbled. When undisturbed she is a beautiful and friendly girl with the mental capacity of a toddler (at best) that her friends call “Nyu” after the only word she knows. She is curious, fun, and very affectionate, but that all changes when she is put under sufficient stress. This awakens Lucy, the vengeful and violent Diclonius. Kouta and Yuka take Nyu into their home, but don’t realize what kind of murderous landmine they have stepped on in doing so.
Nyu is so innocent and bumbling that you can’t help but want to see her happy, and the scenes where the three main characters are goofing off with each other are always fun. Still, you always have that tension there; the knowledge that any little thing could cause Lucy to awaken and do who knows what to her friends. Still, between the two personalities I definitely prefer Lucy. Kira Vincent-Davis‘ rendition of her really cements the character as one of anime’s most badass, female characters, and her development throughout the series is fascinating to follow.
#3 Playing with the audience’s emotions
I listed this as one of my favorite anime of all times, but when prompted to explain just why, I often find myself becoming a rambling, disjointed mess. Sure, all the action scenes are amazing and I really dig the blood & gore, but any show can pull that off. Where Elfen Lied sets itself apart is that everything from the music, to the writing, and even Mamoru Kanbe‘s directing is aimed at breaking you.
Anybody that has seen this show can no doubt vividly remember what I mean with “the dog scene”. It’s probably not difficult to recall how you felt while watching it. Heck, even on a rewatch the scene retains exactly that same effect. It’s a shocking part to watch, that uses the violence this show is so well known for, not to entertain the viewer, but to actually horrify them. Not only is it sickening to see it all play out before you, it also gets you angry at the characters responsible for it. Scenes like that is what Elfen Lied excels at
The dog scene and our first introduction to Nana really paint the world as a grim and cruel place, where horrible people use their power to torment those below them. It gets you rooting for Lucy, invested in her story and character, yet at the same time it also makes you uncomfortable about her. While some of these memorable moments really make Lucy’s behavior seem justified, many others do the distinct opposite. I am going to be honest here and admit that I needed a bit of a break after rewatching Lucy’s scene in the train, for example.
The question that hovers over this entire anime is not whether or not Lucy, and to a lesser extent Kurama, have done bad things. The question is if you, as the viewer, think they can still be redeemed.
None of this would have worked, were it not for the absolutely devastating soundtrack. The directing and animation are excellent, yet the haunting tunes crafted for this show lend it that extra push that makes each scene that more special. While it pulls out maybe a few too many versions of Lilium, it’s such a good track that for a 13-episode series it can bear being repeated a few times.
#4 Violence and titties
All of that is not to say that the violence and nudity on display in Elfen Lied is always used seriously. Sometimes it’s used for world-building, character-development, or just to shock the viewer, but there are also plenty of scenes that use it let you unwind. Elfen Lied is definitely not above letting the viewer enjoy some awesome action scenes or allowing them to have a laugh at the sex-driven comedy that occurs between Kouta and the increasing amount of girls living at his place.
Being any kind of security guard in this universe is pretty much a death sentence, as many scenes will have big, burly dudes with guns die by the dozens when fighting any kind of Diclonius. There is a lot of creative directing work here and you’ll be surprised how many different ways one can find to cut a dude to pieces. My favorite battle, by far, is the bridge showdown of episode 12, especially when the music kicks in and Kira delivers her line. Absolutely great.
When the show isn’t busy with action scenes or advancing the story much, we get to watch the growing cast of characters hang out at Kouta’s place. Living with so many girls is hard on poor, old Kouta, especially since two of them have a romantic interest in him. Not helping at all is that Nyu is so unashamed and hyperactive, often running around naked or assaulting her friends as a prank. You can expect quite a few scenes like the one pictured above and I’ll admit I found them enjoyable. The character designs are appealing to look at and it’s fun to watch these people, all of which are deeply troubled, get a chance to unwind and be silly among their friends for a while.
#5 The ending (yes, I am not kidding)
The Elfen Lied anime adaptation takes on a much different direction compared to the manga and concludes the story far sooner, as well as in a wholly different way. If you read the manga first you may find a lot of it weird, as it skips a lot of interesting twists and that causes the two stories to be distinctly different from each other. Personally, I must say I prefer the anime.
All the characters get conclusions to their stories, including fantastic finales to the arcs of Lucy, Kurama, and Kouta. Some might argue the anime’s ending is too open and inconclusive, but personally I feel that is the only way they could have kept it fair to the viewer. After 12 episodes of unraveling Lucy’s past and way of thinking, everybody has probably made up their minds about her by now. To then conclusively state what happens to her and Nyu would rob the audience of their investment in the story.
Could they have handled the ending better? Yes. You do really notice that the budget was tighter at this point in development and not getting a final showdown with Kakuzawa is pretty lame. Still, the ending episode we do get is filled with great scenes, some emotional highlights, and a last few fantastic fights.