Elfen Lied (2004) Review

I am normally not into anime/manga. Despite how often I joke about it, there are some things that I like from this style/genre of media. That said, I don’t usually look for new anime/manga to watch/read. I kind of just discover them randomly. Thus was the case for Elfen Lied. The exact way I stumbled across it is kind of embarrassing to me, but basically I clicked on someone’s Twitter profile and one of their first tweets had this picture saying to watch Elfen Lied:

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Sick, dude!

Nothing quite like dark humor. As morbid as it sounds, it caught my eye and I decided to look it up on Wikipedia. The stereotypical anime aesthetic and story usually doesn’t interest me, but the stuff that seems royally screwed up can. As edgy as that sounds, I do have my reasons for that and the overall story and characters still have to be interesting for me to go through with dedicating to something. Hearing generally positive things about it helps a lot too. Anyways, the basic synopsis that I read interested me so I decided to check it out. Boy, did it take me for a ride.

I do want to point out that there are some (mostly minor) spoilers in this review. If you avoid that or just don’t want to bother reading the whole thing, I have a fairly simple pros and cons list near the bottom that is basically a summary of all my thoughts.

Voice Acting:

It should be pointed out that I watched all 13 episodes with the English dub. I always look up which one to watch for this kind of stuff and I had heard neither the English or Japanese voice acting was particularly good so I figured it didn’t matter. I always prefer hearing it in a language I understand anyways. If I don’t have to read subtitles, I prefer not too. They can be a little distracting on occasion but that’s just me personally. As those online had said, the voice acting was definitely subpar, but I didn’t think it was anywhere near as bad as anybody had said. Lucy/Nyu’s (younger and older) voice was great. Kurama’s was pretty solid. Mayu and Nana’s I thought were decent, but some varied acting outside of the purely cute-sounding voices could’ve benefitted the characters a bit more. Banto’s was also decent but a bit over-the-top at times. Kohta and Yuka’s voices were a pretty mixed bag. I thought they were fine a fair amount of the time, but at other times, it kind of threw me off. The rest were a mixed bag too. But all-in-all, I didn’t think it detracted from story or anything at all. I definitely can’t call it “good” voice acting, but it’s…acceptable, I guess. Maybe I’ll watch some bits from the Japanese voice over to see if it’s actually worth suggesting over the English.

Characters:

Moving into the characters themselves, this is definitely a strong suit of this series and one of most important things to me personally.

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More or less, all the main/relevant characters in the series

The most notable characters to me were Lucy, Mayu, Nana, and Kurama. Being pretty much the main character, naturally Lucy stood out to me. As a Diclonius, it was fascinating to see all she went through. Her split personality between Lucy and Nyu is interesting and both have separate development. Mayu is that poor little girl you always hope has things turn out well for her. She doesn’t really trust or want to rely on people very much at first, but by the end she realizes she can. Plus she has Wanta, the cutest little puppy ever. Nana is the other main Diclonius in the story. She’s very innocent and naive and a lot like Mayu in some ways, which is probably why the two got along so well. Even though she hadn’t been onscreen at much at the time, it broke my heart when I thought she died. Both Nana and Mayu are also absolutely precious. Then there’s Kurama. At first he seemed like an antagonist, but as you learn more about him, you begin to like him. You realize he’s actually quite the tragic character (like most characters in this series). With all these characters really, I sympathized deeply for all of them and even related to them in some ways. I want things to turn out well for them, even though that likely won’t happen for most of them.

The only main character I found to be on the weaker side was Yuka. Her constant jealousy and misunderstanding of Kohta’s interactions with other females was, at times, annoying. She didn’t really develop at all either, not really until the very last episode. It seemed like it could’ve been a turnaround for her, but it was already over. I’m interested to see what happens with her in the rest of the story, though I’d obviously have to read the manga to get that. The head of the research facility was also a fairly flat character, though he’s not really a main character. He just seems like your typical evil leader. There was a bit of a plot twist/cliff hanger at the end with him so maybe there’s more to be explored with him, but, again, that’s for the manga.

Probably the most intriguing relationship to me was that between Lucy/Nyu and Kohta. It was interesting to see Nyu grow through Kohta’s care for her and even more interesting was the past Lucy and Kohta shared and how Lucy was trying to deal with it and Kohta slowly remember it (the trauma he suffered caused him to forget it). It’s a great dynamic between the two (three?) and would like to see where it might lead.

As far as the backstories of the characters go (for those who got one), they are all important to understanding the story at large. They were all also very captivating…and also quite depressing in all cases. Mayu’s was particularly sad because it’s something that could happen in real life. A lot of the themes in the backstories are all still applicable to the real world, they just often involve the Diclonii.

Story, Concepts, and Themes:

That’s one of the other major things about this show. It explores dark and controversial themes and does so very well. It’s not afraid to shy away from hard topics, not holding back in showing how terrible people can be sometimes. One thing that you constantly question while watching is if the Diclonii are actually violent by nature or if it’s the horrible torture that they endure pretty much since birth that turns them on humanity.

As far as the overarching story goes, it’s very good. Plenty of twists, turns, and what have you. After each episode, I always immediately wanted to watch the next. I had to know what was going to happen next. There are a few things that are confusing, but they’re fairly minor and perhaps I just misunderstood some stuff the first time around. Since the show was made before the conclusion of the manga, it does not have a completely conclusive ending. This is definitely because they want you to read the manga, which is fine. All things considered, the ending is relatively satisfying for something that wasn’t finished in the first place. Though it definitely still leaves you wanting more.

The whole show is also very unique in many ways. The most obvious is which is the matter of the Diclonii themselves. They’re a very interesting concept with the most unusual part about them being the invisible hands they control aka their vectors. Though the researchers in the world of Elfen Lied would have you believe that all Diclonii want to do is violently eradicate humanity and repopulate the world with their own kind, the main 3 that are presented in the show would have you believe otherwise. They’re all distinct in their personalities and goals. Lucy seems to always be violent, yet she never seems to have the intention of killing Kohta, Yuka, or Mayu. She even willingly spares Banto at the end. Nana only seems to want to please her “Papa” or just find some way to be happy. It is said that she had never even turned her vectors on humans before. Mariko seems to fit this stereotype at first, but she really just wants to have any sort of fight. Be it against mankind or a fellow Diclonius. And even then, she just really wanted to be with her real father and mother, who were human. Anyways, the very nature of a Diclonius and their vectors also make for some interesting and unique fights. Even though the watcher can sometimes see them onscreen during action sequences, they still make for unorthodox fights.

The invisible nature of vectors also makes horrifying scenes even more horrifying. You often know when something horrible is about to happen, you just never know exactly when because vectors are invisible. You’re just waiting for that moment and then it just suddenly happens when you don’t exactly expect it. This show manages to do horror better than some dedicated horror movies and games try to pull off. I have a fairly high tolerance of violence and what not, but there were still some parts that kind of shocked me. If it wasn’t obvious from the picture near the beginning, Elfen Lied is definitely not for everyone.

Anyways, despite the horrific, terrifying, and brutal natures of some scenes, there are also romantic scenes and even comedic ones. I especially wasn’t expecting comedy out of something like this but it actually manages to pull it off most of the time. Elfen Lied somehow manages to constantly shift between these various tones and pull them off very well. These aren’t 3 elements you see pulled off together very often. As briefly mentioned before, there’s also plenty of moments that are meant to be purely cute. The characters of Nyu, Nana, Mayu, and Wanta are all basically meant to be cute for the most part. This is not something I admit often, but I am a bit of a sucker for things that are adorable, at least when done right and I think it was in this case.

Like it’s hard to imagine that the art on the left below is from the same material as the scene on the right:

But they are. If I had only seen the art on the left, I probably wouldn’t have been interested at all. To me it makes it look like some silly cute schoolgirl anime or something where the girls just do something relatively normal through the power of friendship or whatever. Meanwhile, the scene on the right looks like some over-the-top violent action anime that would probably have minimal story with emphasis on the action. However, Elfen Lied isn’t really either of those.

Visuals:

I do have to say that, visually, this show still looks pretty darn good even by modern standards despite being over a decade old now. The animation is of fairly high quality. It particularly excels during the action scenes. The actual action itself as well as the constant dismemberment. It’s quite detailed and pretty horrifying at times. There are a few things here and there that look a bit off in the animation, but it’s nothing too bad. I’m not one to care too much for visuals anyways. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the thing of characters with huge anime eyes, which you can see from the leftward picture of Nyu and Nana above. I’ve never liked that kind of thing and still don’t, but I can look past it given everything else this show had to offer. And it did help distinguish Lucy from Nyu a lot better than without it, I’ll give it that.

I’m not sure if this really counts as “visuals” but I don’t really know where else to put it: fanservice. Never really a fan of that either. I can accept there being some, but a lot of it was pretty unnecessary in this case, even looking outside of my own standards. I felt like a lot of the nudity, even outside of the fanservice, was completely unnecessary as well. Like for the Diclonii that are in the research facility, why couldn’t they have been given patient gowns or something? There are some parts where having nudity was “acceptable,” but did it actually have to be shown on screen? Especially for the younger characters? It’s uncomfortable enough as is, I don’t also want to have to look at it when I don’t see it coming.

Overall, I do like the visuals, there’s just some gripes I have about them.

Miscellaneous:

I feel like I’ve gone on for too long already, so I just going to briefly mention a bunch of miscellaneous things I want to mention.

I found it really cool how they had the opening song actually tie into the story itself. Or they made the song for the story and then just put it as the opening. Regardless, it’s pretty cool and fairly unique to this show. The opening itself is also very unique and symbolic. I know some of the visuals in it are cultural references (as is the title of the manga/anime), I just don’t know exactly what they are myself.

The outro song, on the other hand, is very strange. It really doesn’t fit at all. Particularly when an episode ends on something dark and depressing, and then it just cuts to this whack, upbeat song for the credits. But I do like the preview of the next episode after the credits, although it sometimes felt like it showed too much. The narrator for it was pretty cool. Reminds me a bit of the Void opening narration of the 1997 Berserk anime.

One thing I could never get over is the fact that Kohta and Yuka are cousins. I know that’s entirely weird in Japan, but it still doesn’t make it right in my eyes. Call me ignorant if you want, but I still stand by that. I like to pretend that they were just childhood friends instead, but it still lingers in the back of my mind. Even without that, I think their romance could’ve still been developed better. It was kind of just forgotten about near the end.

I don’t know if I’ve been able to portray this very well in my review, but I just want to say flat out that this entire show gives you so many different feelings. It’s a huge emotional rollercoaster. It will constantly play with your heart in so many different ways. It might end up being too dark and depressing for some people overall, but I think it’s worth experiencing if you can handle those types of things, some of the horrible subject matters covered, and, of course, the brutality and violence.

That’s about all I have to say and if you want a summary of my thoughts, here you go:

Pros:

  • Very interesting concepts and themes, some of which are often difficult to explore
  • Interesting characters; Lucy, Nana, Mayu, and Kurama all stood out to me
  • The dynamic between Mayu and Nana is adorable
  • Character backstories are all interesting…and depressing
  • Legitimately horrifying at times, even does it better than some things that are purely horror
  • Great action scenes, particularly unique with vectors given the invisible nature of them
  • Great emotional roller coaster
  • Wanta is precious
  • Character development is strong
  • Always a fan of over-the-top violence, rarely seemed overdone since the brutality actually adds to it instead of just being there purely for being edgy
  • The way the opening song actually ties into the story is very cool
  • Weird but unique mix of going from dark themes and violence to abundant cuteness and comedy, somehow works(???)
  • Opening sequence with Lucy’s escape really sets the overall tone
  • Many of the comedic moments are actually enjoyable
  • The dynamic, romantic and not, between Lucy/Nyu and Kohta was great
  • For the most part, the shift between the comedic, romantic, and darker tones work and makes it unique
  • Still looks pretty good despite being from 2004
  • Make me want to read the source material for multiple reasons

Cons:

  • Not a fan of the “huge anime eyes” style
  • Not as bad as I was lead to believe, but still mostly subpar voice acting
  • Not a fan of a bunch of fanservice either. Some is acceptable, but overdone here. Not really an advocate for it in general
  • Even when it isn’t fanservice, a lot of the nudity was still unnecessary
  • Yuka is a fairly weak character, development at the end was good though
  • Cultural differences or not, Kohta and Yuka being cousins is still weird; even when trying to pretend they’re just childhood friends, I just couldn’t keep it out of the back of my mind
  • Even ignoring the whole cousin thing, the romance between Kohta and Yuka could’ve still been developed better, it was kind of forgotten about near the end

Conclusion:

Overall, despite some gripes, both major and minor, I loved Elfen Lied. It hooked me very quickly as I finished it in 2 days. Had I not been self-conscious and been responsible in studying for finals, I definitely would’ve finished it in a single day. Like with my experience with Berserk, it makes me want to read the actual manga and not just because the show doesn’t have a definitive conclusion. Unlike Berserk though, I know this manga has long since finished and isn’t anywhere near as long. Regardless, I’m looking forward to starting it and seeing both the differences and the continuation. Oddly enough, there is no official English translation so I’ll just have to settle for whatever I can find. I hope it has some sort of a happy ending, but I won’t get my hopes up.

I would definitely recommend it to people, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. There are also some tropes that non-anime fans (myself included) wouldn’t really like either, but I still find it great in spite of those. I would say it’s one of my favorite anime, but that would be kind of pointless since I’ve barely seen any.

To give it a score range, I’d say:

8.5-9.0/10

One last thing, I also find it awesome that Elfen Lied actually had some inspiration on the Netflix show Stranger Things. This was actually one of the factors that made me interested in it too, though I was thinking of checking it out regardless. That fact was just icing on the cake. I had seen Stranger Things first and I can definitely see a lot of similarities. One of the easiest connections to makes is the one between Nana (really any of the Diclonious, but her especially) and Eleven. Calling the person in charge of them “Papa”, the invisible powers (telekinesis and vectors), and the young, innocent, and naive nature of both characters. Though a major difference between their “Papas” is that Kurama legitimately cared for Nana whereas Brenner only seems to pretend to care for Eleven. Anyways, I’ll just leave it at that. It was cool to see the inspiration for a show I enjoyed, especially when I only randomly discovered it by chance.

I’ll just leave anyone who read this with a Tweet I made in regards to my taste/interest in anime and manga:

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2 thoughts on “Elfen Lied (2004) Review

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