Elfen Lied Blu-ray Review
Elfen Lied begins with a theme song in which a naked woman is artistically, yet very revealingly, shown to the viewers. It then quickly transitions to a murder scene in which a group of people ia brutally slaughtered. They are intentionally killed in various hideous ways which, again, leave little room for the imagination. These short opening sequences are all it took for me to be reminded how groundbreakingly cruel and gory Elfen Lied was when it first came out in 2004. And to be honest, few anime have since come even close to it in terms of shear brutality. But this brutality, combined with the sense of tragedy that defines its story, is also what makes Elfen Lied hard to put down from start to finish.
The series follows Kohta, who as a child used to visit his cousin Yuka in Kamakura. Now a student, he returns to Kamakura once more to attend the local university alongside her. They happen to cross ways with an amnesiac mute woman they name Nyu (since this is the only word she can say) and decide to care for her until they find out who she is. What they don’t know is that Nyu has a split personality. One is the utterly harmless child-like Nyu. The other is the cold-hearted murdered Lucy. She is not even human, but from a species called Diclonius that has multiple invisible arms called Vectors. These Vectors are a terrible weapon capable of easily tearing a person apart. There’s an organization that captures and experiment on Diclonius for its own selfish reasons. Lucy has managed to escape from that organization and is on the run when she is picked by Kohta and Yuka. Lucy’s struggle for freedom and the bloodshed that it entails seemingly have nothing to do with Kohta. But as he is about to find out his past hides Lucy’s darkest secret. For in his paste lies an event so terrible his brain chose to erase it.
The series begins with a simple premise in which Lucy fights agents sent to kill her by the organization. This plot gradually thickens as flashbacks to the various’ characters pasts reveal why thing have degenerated to their current state. This series has a lot of action scenes, a lot of blood, tissue and other gory body-defiling moments. But it is first and foremost a drama of great magnitude. Just like an ancient Greek tragedy, Elfen Lied has a melancholic nature that both attracts and appalls the viewer. During the course of the show Kohta, Yuka, Lucy and two other characters that join later (the homeless girl Mayu and the pacifist Diclonius Nana) are seen suffering from both their past and present. My heart broke down when one episode showed how Mayu was sexually abused as a child. But then my heart broke many times over the course of the series. Elfen Lied has the power to do just that – make you feel for the characters, suffer with them and rejoice when they manage to squeeze a moment of happiness out of their lives.
Unsurprisingly the series is bogged down by the rare moments when the gore or sadness are stretched to the point of exaggeration. Nudity for example is overused in the second half of the show, rendering an initially artistic statement to a mere tasteless fan-service act. As for the sadness aspect, Yuka and Lucy tend to sway to melodramatic monologues way too often. Lucy in particular keeps angsty turning Kohta’s help down, only to fall into his arms in the next scene. Some might also find Nyu’s continues “Nyuing” a bit annoying, although this series was short enough for me to not care that much.
I’m not sure what source Section23 Films (formerly known as ADV Films) used when they remastered this series for Blu-ray but this 2004 series looks incredible in HD. It’s one of those series that had a lot of detailed backgrounds drawn into it, and they pop really vibrantly in 720p. The old trusted ADV subtitles are also there for those who choose to watch this in Japanese (which I recommend you do). The Blu-ray comes with several extras: character and production artwork reels, clean opening and ending themes and the OVA “In the Passing Rain”. The OVA is an important piece of the Elfen Lied puzzle. It explains how Lucy ended up as a prisoner of the organization as a child, as well as better explains the intentions of one other key character in the overarching story. I did notice that some words in the OVA were translated differently than in the series (probably because the OVA was not available when the series was originally released and was handled later).
Ironically Elfen Lied could have been a better series if it had toned down the violence and gave some characters a less prominent role. It does a good job of telling a compelling, sometimes heart-breaking, story but does feature some awkward moments when characters look like a parody of themselves or act in an unnatural manner. Maybe Elfen Lied does not deserve to be titled an anime masterpiece. Instead it is the pioneer of the modern tragedy-gore genre and arguably still the greatest anime to come out of that niche genre.