Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Elfen Lied

Elfen Lied; animated science-fiction horror thriller-drama series, Japan, 2004; D: Mamoru Kanbe, S: Chihiro Suzuki, Sanae Kobayashi, Mamiko Noto, Yuki Matsuoko
Lucy, a member of the mutant human race Diclonius, escapes from an underground laboratory in which she was trapped using her "vectors", telekinetically controlled arms. However, she gets shot and loses her consciousness, getting adopted by the young Kohta and Yuka who find her on the beach. The secret organization wants to trap her again, though, which causes numerous bloody battles. With time, it turns out that she was a good girl as a child, but the abuse by her fellows mates made her aggressive and she killed Kohta's sister and father 8 years ago. Kohta remembers everything and forgives her. She disappears while he, Yuka, Mayu and Nana live from there on as a happy family.

„Elfen Lied“ is one of the strangest experiences of anime by its grasp of some of the most taboo themes in the world, which is why it divided people into a group that calls it „genius“ and into a group that calls it „garbage“, but, just like „RoboCop“ and „Oldboy“, it presents the sole main theme, the search for humanity in a cruel world, in the most extreme way. The anime starts off with a Katyn type of massacre in the first episode that is horrifying: using her telekinetically powered invisible arms, the so called „vectors“, since she is a girl from the Diclonius race, the naked heroine Lucy, wearing only a helmet on her head, massacres around 30 guards or employees by cutting off their limbs, heads, slicing them with a pencil, pouring blood out of their bodies or simply ripping their heart from their chest, and escapes from an underground laboratory into the outside world, into freedom. After watching that 7-minute blood bath, and taking into consideration the depressive-dreadful song in the intro, the viewers could safely give up upon this show and dismiss it as a disaster. Indeed, the first episode really is garbage, but the violence drops after that – one could safely say that around 50 % of all deaths occurs in the first and the last episode – and turns more towards drama. Because it turns out that the Lucy who did that at the start was not really herself nor did she ever want to be like that, yet her personality split as a schizophrenic into her evil and her good, innocent original self. Furthermore, if the viewers watch it until the end, they will notice an incredible change of their initial opinion: as it goes along the way, „Elfen Lied“ actually starts showing more and more signs of improving talent. It is kind of annoying at first that Lucy's good alter-ego Nyu is presented so innocently (yet logical later on since she has a split personality) and some of the attempts at „fan service“ humor are lame (Kohta wants to take off Lucy's wet clothes so that she won't catch a cold, but just as she is lying half naked on the floor, Yuka enters the room), yet despite splatter-violence, one must admit that Lynn Okamoto's story has some hermetic stylistic perfection.

It also has at least four excellent characters. One of the them is another Diclonius girl, Nana, who was also imprisoned and underwent brutal experiments in the underground laboratory all her life, but somehow made herself believe that the chief researcher, the cold Kurama, is actually her „daddy“. It is a strange and at the same time fragile sight seeing her chained naked in her cell and yet smiling when he enters it. When he and his organization set her lose to find Lucy, she is happy to assist him and only demands his tie to wear it as a headband. The following battle between (the evil) Lucy and Nana on a graveyard is virtuoso directed, both using their „vector“ powers to move tombstones. Right there, this anime performs the impossible: it blends splatter-violence with gentle emotions. Namely, in a moment of carelessness, Lucy slices Nana's leg off and massacres her heavily. As Kurama shows up with his team, he boldly approaches the scene, sees Nana in blood and takes her body in his arms. But the only things she says is: „I'm sorry I made your tie dirty. And I'm sorry I disappointed you.“ He then stands up and punches Lucy, who then escapes. Afterwards, he again returns to comfort Nana. Such example of devotion is one of the most touching moments of all time, and maybe this is the only way it could have been achieved. The story is, in its own way, unusually addictive, and the only way to watch it is to not deny yourself the experience. It also has moments of romance (the beautiful first kiss between Yuka and Kohta), compassion (when Kohta takes the photo of his deceased sister Kanae and tells how he would have liked to apologize to her befoer her death, Lucy cuts her hair to look like Kanae and tells him: „I'm Kanae now! I forgive you, Kohta! Don't cry!“) and philosophical touch (it turns out Lucy was a good person until some boys started abusing her when she was a little girl, because she is a Diclonius. After a heavy emotional abuse, she tells to one of the boys: „The only one who is inhuman, is you.“) with a powerful metaphor of how cruelty and alienation can make *everything* go wrong in a person, whereas the persecution of the Diclonius race reminds a lot of history of racism. Some complaints could be raised towards some inconsistencies, contrived scenes and the rather shaky final episode. Ville and gory, but this horror-melodrama is unbelievable in showing so many wrong things and yet in the end sending a positive message.



Cowboy Dev said...

Um... What? I'm just going to quote something my friend to a guy who thought this was a "Masterpiece" and Cowboy Bebop "underwhelming":

"The idea that Bebop would seem "underwhelming" after the craptacular piece of maudlin slop with all boobs and no brain that is Elfen Lied is utterly incomprehensible to me. EL is "bipolar" because it plays up every single cliche in the book in a massive attempt to appeal to every nook and cranny of the Otaku community and even gives the series a sheen of artistry to try and lure in the sophisticated types, but underneath it all just one big lie with characters who act so ridiculously unlike humans they should be completely unsympathetic if they weren't so cutesy and moe. I won't mention their pathetic attempt to offset the gratuitous violence by putting "srsmusicissrs" in the background. The opening of EL is awesome, the rest is an amalgamation of the worst proclivities of anime and reinforces everything that's negative about the medium.

Bebop is one of the finest examples of spectacular craftsmanship in anime. To me, this is like comparing The Third Man (Bebop) to some bad grindhouse flick from the 70s."

Apples and oranges I suppose.

Marin Mandir said...

Cowboy Bebop is indeed far superior than this. And far more even in its narrative.

I first saw the pilot episode of Elfen Lied a couple of years ago and thought: this is garbage. So I refused to further watch the show. Then, two years ago, a friend said he found an anime that has weight - and I was in dismay when I found out he meant EL. He screened the first episode to me again and tried to explain it to me, but I again had to conclude that the pilot of EL is simply awful. However, he suggested me I should give it a try and see the whole show before judging it.

For about three months I postponed watching EL, not only because it had a disturbing amount of violence. Still, I decided to give it a try. I was skeptical, but, to my surprise, I suddenly started making sense out the story and was intruiged when they introduced Nana. Believe it or not, that afternoon I only intended to watch one episode of EL, but ended up watching half of the show. It was addictive.

I do recognize it has flaws and that it is heavy handed, but this is one of the few stories that are a "horror-melodrama" - it is both incredibly touching and incredibly scary. Till date I haven't seen it for a second time, so I cannot know if my opinion will change the second time around, i.e. if I will somehow find plot holes while re-watching it that undermine my initial impression.

Unknown said...

I dont know i thought the first was still good because yes it had alot of blood like a shit load but there was somthing i found psychologically scary about a woman that is rapping people apart but you cant see her doing it because she has invisible hands and arms called vectors and if put yourself in one of the victims of lucy's attacks you would see your friend's arms Wild by themselves and in your own that's pretty scary when you think about it