Elfen Lied

2 out of 5

Directed by: Mamoru Kanbe

Still being pretty new to anime – outside of the ‘required’ bundle you inevitably watch during high school and college years – I’m still trying to figure out how to feel about a lot of the genre fanservice which occurs, or rather how (and if) to factor that into my reviews.  Though it’s a bit discomfiting to shrug and accept it – and I’m very much referring to sexual content, here – I can understand I’m dealing with a different culture, and thus it’s fairly ignorant to judge the material based off of standards brewed within my culture.  That being said, I think a good comparison is the horror scene, which has oft used cheesecake and women-in-peril (if not violence against women…) as tropey mainstays, and yet there’s a way to sort of assess the approach to such things in terms of awareness, and, for lack of a better word, effectiveness.  Is the creator aware of the nature of what they’re showing, and is it used to effect something that makes sense for the film?

This obviously isn’t a black and white metric, and there’s an umbrella conversation about why the need for such a metric in the first place, but I don’t know if we could ever finish that discussion once started, so let’s just consider those evaluations as a baseline.  …Y’know, a subjective one.

And Elfen Lied, despite having some incredibly cool ideas and visuals, doesn’t quite pass the assessment, as it too often dawdled way far away from its plot to feature giggling girls and a tunnel-visioned wish fulfillment setup in which one dude has several doe-eyed teens fawning over him.  You can make a vague case for female empowerment, but this is the Dude-Bro’s argument to justify excess nudity.  …Not that nudity is exactly Elfen Lied’s issue, as it’s refreshingly rather sterile when dealing with body shots (of which there are many, though, and often of underage looking girls), it’s more that it sets up a story in which gender has a major role, and then completely forgets to deal with it.  But it doesn’t forget to include stereotypes like lecherous stepfathers and the innocent what-is-sex? ingenue, and combined with its rather shallow characterization – cribbed from other notables like Akira or Monster – for every smart or funny bit, there are a multitude of cringe-worthy ones that don’t do much for the story.  So by the time of the final episodes’ emotional and plotty revelations, I couldn’t help but feel that the pacing and story-path to get there hasn’t really earned the payoff for which they were going.

…Noting that these comments are exclusive to the anime itself, since it apparently diverged from and excised parts of the manga.

Elfen Lied – a reference to the haunting tune which plays over the titles, as well as other aspects of the story – gives us the (literally) bloody goods up front, when a horned, pink-haired teenager (though the horns look like cat ears, because anime) breaks out of her restraints in some kind of research facility and, seemingly impervious to bullets, sets about her calm escape by exploding people along the way.  The treatment of the violence here has a similar disconnect to the nudity (insert commentary on how I didn’t rant about that at review’s start): this is some garish stuff, and certainly exploitative, but it’s not played directly for kink or to satisfy gorehounds.  Rooting around in Elfen Lied are the components for a really complex tale to comment on this extremity, but it, again, never really goes there.  So we have this cold presentation, and then I suppose it’s up to the viewer to extrapolate the rest.  …But ‘the rest’ could easily be titillation, if you’re so inclined.

Once the girl is free, and has eluded an attack squad which includes the takes-no-guff, likes-to-call-girls-bitches Bando, she finds her way into the company of recently reunited – for school – childhood friends Kouta and Yuka, who take her in to the home they’re sharing.  Hard stop: Why do they take in the vicious, crowd-slaughtering mutant?  Because anime?  Nay, my dear: in the central hitch to the story’s themes and progress, ‘Lucy’ seems to have a split personality of sorts, and when Kouta and Yuka find her, it is as ‘Nyu,’ so-called because she can only spout that noise in a sing-sing voice while interacting with everything as a child would.  So they take her in, essentially, as caretakers, and do attempt to try to help her find her way home… wherever that may be.  Meanwhile, our researchers prove to he of the shady-organization type, and begin shady dealings to try to track down Lucy, for either retrieval or destruction.  And along the way we get to fill in most of the blanks as to what all of this is maybe about, and how it came to be.

Also typical relationship nonsense, as Yuka only has one personality trait – liking Kouta – and Kouta only has his some personality trait of being completely aloof.  Silly females! He’ll mutter, as several more one-dimensional ladies line up to have crushes on him.  Some of this stuff is played for yuks and is amusing, but a lot of it, as mentioned, feels like astray wish fulfillment: innocent, will-do-anything-you-tell-her girl who becomes a blood-soaked badass when needed; living in a house of females where they all crush on you despite your being a sort of ineffective jerk.  Score!

The animation is quality for the most part, though the blended CG stuff is (typically) stuff, but the English voiceover is pretty grating, due to the excessive “cute” voices – i.e. whiny and tee-her stupid.

Otherwise, Elfen Lied is an example of a lot of potential buried behind its presentation, which makes it readily watchable despite itself; intriguing you while you roll your eyes.