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Elfen Lied (エルフェンリート) Review

September 1, 2009


For once, you can judge a book by its cover.

Synopsis: Diclonius are a horned human-like species that have the ability to sprout invisible appendages from their bodies that act as retractable arms, which also allow them to rip and tear through human bodies with relative ease. Consequently, they are feared for their powers and kept under heavy scrutiny in a remote military research facility. Lucy is an especially vindictive example of a diclonius who, during a successful prison break attempt, brutally murders the guards and workers who try to stop her. During the scuffle, a sniper is able to land a successful hit on the head, shattering her headgear and knocking her unconscious as she falls off a cliff into the ocean below. When she comes to, she finds herself in an unknown town in Japan, stark naked and without her memories. In her amnestic state, she meets Kohta and his cousin Yuka, who decide to take her in at Kohta’s old home until they can figure out who she is.


This review contains minor spoilers.

Barely half a decade after the show’s end, and Elfen Lied [pronounced leed] has garnered an established following that is enough to supersede cash cow franchises like Haruhi Suzumiya. And while I usually try to disconnect from the first-person when doing reviews, I believe that this particular series warrants a personal take because of how brazenly disappointing it was, given all the hype it gets. All comity aside, Elfen Lied is a sloppy mesh of infantile contrivances that strays farther and farther away from its focal point with each new episode.


Lucy is a highly deranged diclonius who doesn’t harbor any qualms about taking the life of another individual. After getting shot in the head by the sniper rifle in the first episode, she intermittently suffers from fits of amnesia, marked by her second personality, Nyu. Unlike Lucy, Nyu is unaware of her powers as a diclonius and is childish, playful and completely harmless. Housing two different personalities can be troublesome for Lucy as they jolt back and forth at inopportune moments. Kohta and Yuka invite Lucy to live with them, unbeknownst to the fact that they once knew Lucy from childhood.

Throughout most of the introduction, Kohta meets a few side characters and gets himself nearly killed a number of times when he inadvertently steps into Lucy’s schemes. For one reason or another, Lucy doesn’t have it in her to kill Kohta and Yuka. It’s clear that Lucy has a bit of a soft spot for our leading male, but it’ll be a while before the line becomes less muddled.

The show mainly appeals to the tragic backstory of Lucy. In later episodes, we’ll learn that Lucy was actually an ordinary child who was integrated into society and even attending elementary school. She’s physically and verbally bullied regularly by her classmates for her horns, having her personal effects tampered with on occasion. Without anyone to talk to, she makes friends with a stray dog. During this time, her diclonius instincts awaken inside of her, and her invisible arms, or “vectors,” start to take shape.

The climactic scene in this part of the series explains the motivation behind Lucy’s murders. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if it weren’t so terribly forced. The recurrent theme in Elfen Lied seems to be that humans are savages at heart, evident in the juxtaposition between the fragile pre-psychosis Lucy and the antagonizing bullies. But the idea loses all credibility when you realize you’re looking at three elementary school boys beat a small puppy to death out of enjoyment in the middle of class.


While I’m certainly not the squeamish type, I can understand why a lot of people would be turned off by the show on content alone. It’s not so much the gruesomeness of the show itself that deters me, but rather the disingenuous way it overplays the shock factor. After a certain point, the show stops measuring itself in substantive narrative and instead relies on excessive gore and violence to shock the viewer into thinking the show is anything more than terrible fanservice.

The series sets up a bunch of parameters as to how the diclonii race is instinctively homicidal and how humans are obligated to look after them because they are apparently tied to the extinction of the human race. It also offers some logistics behind how the vectors function and how they are actually malleable for each diclonius. But none of these ideas come full circle. It would have been nice if all of those evil head honchos and malefactors of the military base served a more definitive purpose other than a glorified blockade against Lucy and the other diclonii survivors.

So what exactly is the message here? Humans are evil and depraved mad scientists who care more about a fruitful advancement of the self, and that we blithely ignore things like altruism and empathy? It’s not a terribly though-provoking parable, and it doesn’t help that the story is vapidly drawn out and senselessly ineffective. I wouldn’t be so harsh on this title if it weren’t for the fact that it tries to clumsily disguise itself as something with even an iota of austerity.

Lilium is a beautiful song, and I’ve actually listened to it separately before I even got into watching the show itself. The OP is apparently a reworking of an old portrait called “The Kiss,” which, just like any other so-called latent symbolism in the show, is completely nonsensical. The ED song, Be Your Girl, is a jarringly loud and upbeat J-pop song that feels about as misplaced as a Britney Spears song during a funeral.


I’m willing to bet that any active Anime fan who is reading this right now has already seen the show, or has seen enough to decide if it’s something they like or not. Frankly, I’m stunned that such a show was able to gain so much traction on word of mouth alone. But then again, we all know popular doesn’t always make right.

Art/Animation: B+
Story: C-
Music/Soundtrack: B

Overall: C

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ltpress permalink
    September 3, 2009 12:26 am

    elfen lied esta genial

  2. Anonymous permalink
    September 4, 2009 6:42 pm

    Your blog is a pretty good read when I’m bored during the day. As for Elfen Lied, I remember watching the first few episodes when it was airing, but dropped it due to it being so gory. From all that I’ve heard about it, it seems that dropping the show was a good decision.

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