Since it's Halloween, I figured I'd do a write up on one of my favorite shows that just so happens to fit in with the horror spirit, the violent classic Elfen Lied. However, let me give you a bit of context.
Fall 2004 was a pretty good time in my life. I just got my DS, I was having a helluva time at college and, more importantly, finally started going to my university's anime club. Through that venue, I learned about dozens of shows that I would eventually watch and, in some cases, bond with the people that lit my nerdy path. One name that I heard mentioned often was Elfen Lied, though every time it was said a derisive laugh would follow and the assertion that there was no way in hell it would be shown at my university. I figured it had something to do with the overall quality of the show, so I let it slip from my mind and went about watching what was onscreen.
Little did I know that was missing one of the most violent and surprisingly emotional shows out there. Granted, I don't expect everybody to have the same feelings for it that I do, but Elfen Lied is one of my favorite shows and I think that it should be a must see. That is, if you can stomach the gore. Hit the jump to find out more.
At the beginning of October, a close friend of mine showed me a couple of insane screenshots of a naked girl ripping groups of armed men to shreds. At the end of the caps I saw this girl rip the head off of some secretary and used the body as a bullet shield. I…was quite surprised to say the least. I found out this was the Elfen Lied the guys were talking about and, knowing the rather conservative policies of my university, understood why there was no chance in hell it was ever going to be viewed publicly. I decided to take matters into my own hands and I downloaded every episode that was out at the moment. With my blazing (at the time) DSL connection, I managed to get the first ten or so episodes in a couple of days and began watching it. I couldn't wait to reach the point where that naked girl was going to go apish!t taking out her attackers. That's got to be some crazy, climactic plot point, probably nine or ten episode in. Well, I didn't have to wait long. That scene was the first ten minutes of the first episode.
No joke, the opening shot is a twitching severed limb, freshly removed by Lucy, the aforementioned naked girl. Lucy proceeds to kill everything in her way via decapitation, forceful amputation and a high-velocity pen in one instance. If you wonder why security doesn't try to shoot the naked lass, believe me, they try. Lucy blocks them all with the a pair of invisibly tendrils, coincidentally the same pair of transparent limbs she uses to conduct her killing. Near the end of her escape, Lucy is met by a large group of guards and Kurama, one of the higher ups at the facility. At this point, a cute and clumsy secretary stumbles in front of Lucy and becomes the lady who gets her head popped off like a Coke tab. Lucy slaughters the guards that get in her way and as a little goodbye gift, leaves a bloody handprint on Kurama's back. After a couple of swats, the last door opens up and Lucy walks out onto the nearby cape. Right when escape is so near, a high caliber anti-tank round manages to surprise her. Instead of killing her, the shell knocks off her helmet, revealing long red hair and a pair of horns on Lucy's head. The blow is enough to render Lucy unconscious and she topples over the edge of the cape and into the water.
In a dramatic change of tone, we're introduced to Kouta, a rather clueless college student with quite the traumatic past. He's offered a place to stay by his cousin's family in Kanagawa, so he takes them up on their offer and moves in. There he reconnects with his cousin Yuka, who he hasn't seen since the death of his father and sister. Yuka is surprised that Kouta doesn't remember the correct circumstances of the tragedy and plays dumb when the topic comes up. The two go out for a walk on the nearby beach, which Kouta remembers going to with his sister before her death. While reminiscing, the injured Lucy appears on the beach, completely regressed into an infantile personality that Kouta and Yuka name Nyu. From there, the show balances between a stereotypical romantic comedy and a hard-boiled horror show that revels in the blood it spills.
Thus the central conceit of the show is set up. Kouta's rather relaxed intro compared to Lucy's chaotic escape is a good microcosm of the show as a whole. Light-hearted moments are balanced by the constant possibility that Nyu can become a heartless monster, and a complex monster at that. Yes she kills any human that crosses her like flies on a wall, but the lines she creates in her head as to who she kills and the reasons for doing so are a bit more complicated. Her actions are never justified, but you can't help but feel pity for her. At her most vulnerable, Lucy understands the gravity of her actions and what they did to Kouta, one of the few people that ever cared for her. Once again, it isn't enough for forgiveness, but considering the events that lead up to her capture you can understand a little better.
I would be remiss if I didn't go into detail about the kind of creature that Lucy is. The diclonus, a genetic mutation that resembles a human with a pair of horns on its head, is almost always depicted as a cold-blooded monster that's main instinct is to eliminate human life. Their main method of destruction are their 'vectors', psychic extensions with variable length, strength, abilities and numbers. For the most part the vectors are capable of reflecting lower caliber bullets and tearing human flesh with ease. We're introduced to several other dicloni through the show with varying levels of mental and psychic control. Of all the ones introduced, only one is capable of living amongst humans and that's through her lab-focused upbringing. I'll get more into the specific dicloni in a bit, but it's important to note that the natural inclinations of this creature is one of death.
Over the course of the show, several lost souls join Kouta, Yuka and Nyu at the Kaeda house. There's a homeless girl named Mayu, pushed away from her foster home by a sexually-abusive father and a jealous mother, is the first to come along. While not having much to do with the story besides witnessing one of Lucy's rampages, she's an example of the kind of person that Kouta wants to take care of. Later in the series, Mayu says that Kouta and Yuka are like the mother and father of the Kaeda house, which is an apt description when you consider the romantic arc of the series. Besides that and the puppy that she brings with her, she doesn't add much else.
The other girl to live in the Kaeda house is Nana, a diclonus brought up to not have murderous inclinations despite being subjected to constant horrible tests in a lab. Nana is interesting on a couple of levels, mostly with how she's diametrically opposite to Lucy. First off, she doesn't attempt to kill her targets or any one really. Even when she's sent to take care of Lucy, she tries to not kill her and pays quite a hefty price for it. Second, she has somebody that she looks up to Kurama as a father figure. It's explicitly stated that dicloni will kill their human parents if they are allowed to a certain age, so they're typically euthanized when they are found in hospitals. For whatever reason, Kurama's organization decided to keep Nana alive and the poor girl fixated on Kurama to keep from going insane in the lab. That positive influence is enough to prove that not all dicloni are monsters, but unfortunately most of the others aren't put in similar conditions and even with that influence she has one moment where she slips into a typical diclonus rage. In essence, Nana represents the possibility of all dicloni, one that will likely never reach fruition.
Without a doubt, I categorize Elfen Lied as horror. As to why exactly, it's a little tricky. On the surface, there's a ton of blood, violence and wonton murder that you can point at. However, I feel that it goes deeper than that. By the time you see how quick Nyuu can turn into Lucy, you know that there's no way things can end well for anybody around her. Several times she goes from a lost, mewling lass in one moment and turns into murdering machine due to a memory trigger or physical blow. There's also the casual way that the dicloni slaughter humans. They absolutely believe that they are an evolved, better species and the only reason that Kouta avoids death is through his bond with the younger Lucy. Much has to be said for the soundtrack, which is appropriately creepy at the just the right times. The music director did a great job in creating beautiful music to be used as a juxtaposition of the awful things happening to these characters.
I recommend Elfen Lied to everybody who isn't put off by intense violence. It isn't high art by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining and has made more than one person shed a tear at its conclusion. At a time where incoherent violence is used with little or no meaning, I feel that the death and murder that goes on in Elfen Lied have meaning in the end.
9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.