Tentacle-Free Anime: "Elfen Lied" (2004) Review
- by Kazekun, 2 September 2013
Gore, emotional trauma, and relationships that dabble in the taboo and are outside of societal “a-okayness”, are just some of the areas stories are free to explore, while in real life doing so would be looked down upon. That’s why stories allow us the freedom to talk about such things; they give us a window of opportunity to explore parts of our psyche that will be found less weird because the work is that of fiction. And sometimes, when you throw it all together, you get what the majority of the fanbase calls a “masterpiece.”
I feel the above quote sums up perfectly my feelings towards Elfen Lied, or at the very least, what I feel it is saying to me as I finished it and wondered what all the hype was truly about. Perhaps it is because I went in with unreal expectations, as I have always heard the series called a “masterpiece” and then, just as I had borrowed it from a friend, they offered me a few words of advice as to what to expect from the show. These expectations were not met… but I digress. The thing about Elfen Lied is that isn’t anywhere near a masterpiece - far from it, but it isn’t a bad series either. It’s simply… over crowded with such little time to give to each and every character presented in the show.
I feel this is what helped really cement the series in the fandom everywhere as one of the truly great masterpieces of the medium but where it falls short is that, as I stated above, the series overcrowds itself and while some big relationships come to a head in interestingly realistic conclusions (almost unheard of in anime, then and now), many are still left off to the wayside and the series as a whole really does feel incomplete. Especially with one scene in the end that I feel should’ve been cut from the anime entirely and would’ve helped my outlook tremendously.
To compare this to another series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, that utilizes a lot of the same elements; that series balanced its cast nearly perfectly by keeping the background characters in the background, but always giving them just enough to do to make them matter. Elfen Lied has the exact opposite problem. By bringing many background characters to the forefront in contrived ways that makes them feel less like a serviceable part of the story and more like fluff to pad out a series that doesn’t need it, heck one of the fights we’re teased about throughout the entire series between Lucy and a soldier with a grudge is cut out entirely at the end in a cheat shortcut in order to find a way to fit it in, but not really, because the studio only had a few minutes left in the anime to wrap everything up.
A lot of the characters that were treated as “important” do absolutely nothing in the finale and to me that really hurt because of how much I had grown to like any of them, and was waiting patiently to see what hell or heaven awaited them in the finale.
The series isn’t all bad though, really it isn’t, it is entertaining and there are plenty of moments where I had my jaw dropping to the floor because events I did not see coming happened, and that was pretty much how the series continued the whole way through, shocking and aweing me in ways that I hadn’t seen before, by taking some subplots that were built up and ending them abruptly in ways that actually did make sense if this was a real life situation.
The gore and nudity did not bother me, as both were explainable, and not in an expository kind of way but in a “okay, that really does make sense” kind of way that you get from paying attention to what you’re watching. The first half of the anime is filled with nudity, but as the character Nyu matures, and she’s the biggest culprit of it, the nudity does slow down tremendously and the gore, while obviously there for shock value and little more, at least has something to back it up in the way that the Diclonius’ use their aggressive powers if you want to explain it to someone. The mystery of Kouta’s past and how it ties into everything is also intriguing and I found myself more invested in that than anything else as I excitedly watched it unravel slowly throughout the story.
The artwork is gorgeous, and there is more attention to detail here than I’ve seen in a lot of series, but it doesn’t completely stand up to modern anime in the fluidity department. There is a lot of times in the series that everything can appear stiff and have limited movement which can be grating to watch. The style here goes for a more realistic look to the world it surrounds, and the way the story plays out is generally more realistic in nature, as if you can believe that if these creatures did exist in reality, this exactly how they would act and we would react.
Basically, Elfen Lied has a lot going for it, but sells itself short in the end by not allowing itself time to breathe and not opting to take out unnecessary characters and allowing the story to play out more organically. It’s still worth checking out though, if for the sheer fact of saying you saw it and if you want to be proven why anime isn’t always for kids. The main characters are engaging, and the mysteries intriguing, but there are subplots that just don’t get paid off and moments I feel should’ve been taken out altogether.
Final Score: 2 Diclonius’ out of 5
Bonus note: The special episode is really episode 11.5, taking place within the narrative of episode 11 of the main series and actually explains key threads not touched upon properly in the main story. So watch it after episode 11 and before episode 12. It is not, as many will tell you, a sequel to the series finale.
Have you seen "Elfen Lied"? Enjoyed the review? Let us know in the comments!
Tagged: Tentacle-Free Anime.