As we get older, we should mature mentally and attain more knowledge. It's been about four years since I made any serious revisions to my review of the worst thing ever stamped on to film, Elfen Lied, and even a review with this much airtight logic needs some tweaking.
I first saw Elfen Lied back in May of 2008, after a bunch of its fans swindled me into buying it by telling me that this anime was one full of gore and nudity yet also had a brilliant story with a strong message about the human condition. I was so disgusted and enraged by what I saw, I nearly gave up on the entire anime genre. Thankfully, some hope was restored after opening my mind up more to anime put out by the likes of Studio Ghibli and Satoshi Kon (RIP), though I'm honestly not too optimistic of anime today, but that's a different topic altogether.
The plot is that there's a mutated race of humans called the Diclonious, which are mostly girls that have horns that look like cat ears and invisible arms called vectors that can tear apart anything. Their goal is to wipe out humanity, many of them are studied in a research facility in Japan. One of them named Lucy breaks out of her cell and begins killing people left and right. A sniper nearly kills her but only winds up shattering her helmet and causing her to plummet hundreds of feet into the sea. Kouta and Yuka find her naked on the beach and decide to take her home. The research facility wants her back and sends assassins, the army, and other Diclonious to get her back or kill her.
Elfen Lied is an anime meant for adult viewers that not only wants to be taken very seriously, but also wants to be seen as one of the deepest and smartest anime titles out there. However, in order to be taken seriously by an intelligent adult audience, you have to flesh out a story and characters that are believable in a real world context. Elfen Lied drops the ball bigtime because all the characters in this anime are some of the most contrived and absurd for an anime that's supposed to be serious, deep, and intelligent.
The best example of this is that the main characters, Kohta and Yuka, are walking around the beach one day and find a stupid, naked girl bumbling around, and take her home without telling anyone about it. You think they would at least take them to the police department or a public shelter, but no, because logic is apparently scorned heavily by this anime. Other examples are with Kohta and Mayu. Mayu for the fact that she's way too upbeat for someone who's been molested by her stepdad and had to live off scraps thrown away by a benevolent baker. Kohta has some of the worst character development because aside from being the cliché mousy male that's been done-to-death in harem comedy anime, he doesn't show a single shred of resentment towards Lucy after he finds out she killed his dad and little sister when he was a kid. I wasn't expecting him to go “Rambo” on Lucy, but you think he would at least give her a back-handed slap and scream at her.
Lucy is quite possibly the most abhorrent character in the entire anime genre (possibly in the entire world of animation as well). She has the extremely cliché split personality in the forms of Lucy and Nyu. Lucy is nothing more than a naked meatgrinder with a melodramatic backstory you'd read in the lyrics of your typical nu-metal song and an extremely uncreative split personality.
We're supposed to see Nana as some sort of tragic figure since she's constantly getting torn up and pummeled but I think it's just her fault since she's so unbelievably passive.
It also doesn't help that so many of the female characters feel extremely cliché as they perfectly fit the mold of those you'd see in a stupid harem anime like Tenchi Muyo.
CARELESS GENRE MIXING
It's like the monkeys operating Microsoft Word couldn't decide to write a serious anime loaded with gore and nudity or a silly one with plenty of erotic humor and dumb faces, so they made the most detestable decision and made an anime that had both in great quantities. The truth of the matter is that the extremely serious and extremely silly types of anime have totally different audiences and are just too different from each other to exist in the same anime. I honestly hate the overly silly anime replete with diabetes-inducing cuteness, and that's the last thing I want to see in an anime that's advertised as something full of gory and lightly erotic grindhouse content. It also doesn't help that Elfen Lied's attempts to be funny are some of the most cringe-inducing in the entire anime genre. Oh look, Yuka is berating her loser male cousin and Nyu is grabbing Yuka's mammary glands, how hilarious!!
In my last serious revision of this review, I originally described the grindhouse content in Elfen Lied as “pornographic,” and I take this back because that's insulting to even the worst pornography out there.
PLOT-HOLES, CONTRADICTING THEMES, BAD ENDING, AND BAD CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Right from the beginning, Elfen Lied is asking you to leave your brain at the door prior to watching it. Lucy escapes the research facility as is knocked unconscious by a sniper's bullet striking her helmet and forcing her to fall into the ocean. Aside from not dying on impact from the water (she fell hundreds of feet), how does she not break any bones and not drown? She's unconscious, she can't swim, so how does she survive being in the water?
There's a smorgasbord of other things in this anime that don't make a lick of sense within its own context. It turns out that light caliber firearms are ineffective against Diclonius beings, though grenade launchers and .50 caliber firearms can kill them, so why are the security staff at the research laboratory armed with guns that can't do squat to them? It's also shown that Kohta moved in to the house to where he's at in this series to go to college, yet he's only shown in class ONCE in the whole series. Even worse, given that Kohta and Yuka don't want Lucy/Nyu to be discovered, they take her to class, even though she acts like a complete idiot (and does so in class in a desperate attempt to provide even more terminally-unfunny comedy to the table).
Apparently, EL's theme is that humanity is monstrous to beings it sees as "inhuman," which is supposed to explain the scientists torturing and killing the Dicloniuses. I wouldn't have a problem with that if the message didn't contradict itself. The Dicloniuses kill people on instinct and the head of the company doing these experiments, who turns out to be a Diclonius, WANTS them to kill of humanity. Also, the fact that this guy is a Diclonius doesn't make sense since he's in charge of this company and therefore in charge of the torturing and killing of his own species. If I cared about anyone in EL (I don't), I'd want to see the Diclonius race get exterminated because the writers screwed up their "message" that badly.
EL leaves a lot of things unexplained since it not only reveals that the company head is a Diclonius towards the end, nothing is fleshed out about that afterwards. It also has the worst ending I've ever seen in film since NOTHING is explained. I don't mind "spoiling" it for those who haven't seen this abomination since it leaves you thinking that Lucy MIGHT have been killed (of course, they take the pretentious route by not showing it to leave you guessing) but Kohta comes to open the front gate of his house with a shadow on it and once he reaches for the handle, it ends. WORST ENDING EVER.
Many fans have tried to defend the painfully incomplete ending by saying you have to read the manga source material to get the whole story. This is the worst defense of bad writing of all time, because that would be like watching Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, having it suddenly end, and finding out you had to read Stephen King's novel of the same name to get the whole story. The purpose of an adaptation is for a creative mind to not only create their own interpretation of an existing piece of fiction, but also for it to be able to stand out on its own. The fact that you have to read the Elfen Lied manga to understand what should have been fleshed out in the anime adaptation renders the anime adaptation totally worthless.
We're introduced to Lucy as seeing her as a beast, but they later change her a little to make her sympathetic to audiences. Apparently, seeing Lucy as Nyu is supposed to make me like her, they failed miserably. All Nyu does is shamble around naked and say "Nyu" as she breaks things, this is supposed to make me overlook her insatiable blood thirst? It's like they can't decide if they want me to see Lucy as a monster or an infantile bimbo; either way, she's an abhorrent character. There's a lot of "deus ex machina" moments that really kill off any plausibility this might have had like when Bando and his comrade corner Nyu and RIGHT before they kill her, she turns to Lucy and attacks. This is some of the worst writing in animation, period.
There's plenty of sentimental gunk that would fit right at home with a Lifetime or Hallmark movie. One that immediately sticks out at me is that pukey scene with Mayu's birthday, the baker who gives her unwanted scraps made her a very small birthday cake, and I guess Kohta and Yuka get it before Mayu does, and they throw her a birthday party. I think that scene had Mayu crying and whatnot, and I was groaning at how sappy this was. I thought that scene in Fist of the North Star where one of the female characters finds a flower and cries over “how beautiful it is” was bad, but this was way worse.
Another is towards the end, where Lucy apologizes to Kohta for what she did to him and goes on about how he was the only one who was nice to him. Again, this feels like something right out of a Lifetime movie, except I would feel less cheated in the case of a Lifetime movie because I would know what I was getting into.
I hate the way everything looks in Elfen Lied, especially the character designs. Since EL is extremely violent and pornographic, the fact that the characters look like they were plucked right out of Love Hina or Chobits (they have a "cute" look) will make any rational person grasp their skulls with both hands and groan continuously out of anger. In and of themselves, the overbearing saccharine appearance of those girls with their freakishly big eyes makes me want to vomit my guts out. Mixing "cute" with gratuitous violence and nudity is like using 20 year-old motor oil as a condiment for the Classic Italian sandwich at Quiznos. It's certainly different, but it's the polar opposite of good.
The animation and artwork certainly had a lot of effort put behind it, but for an anime that's supposed to be gritty and harsh, the extremely clean imagery totally works against it. I detest the Diclonius designs since they're basically the stereotypical catgirls, despite the fact that this anime's fans will go out of their way to tell you that those are horns on their heads, when it's all too clear they're meant to cater to those who gush over catgirls.
VIOLENCE, NUDITY, AND INCEST
None of the above things offend me whatsoever since I'm not a stranger to either. However, these things look like they were shoved in EL to attract fickle anime fans (which it unfortunately has) and to offend anyone who is a "prude."
This anime has a ton of bloodshed, limbs getting torn off, female nudity, and even some moments of "cousin lovin'" between Kohta and Yuka. The first episode really overdoes the bloodshed to the point that it becomes rather boring after the episode is over. To top it off, there's a scene of Nana and Mayu taking a bath together (who are both underage), and while many fans will try to defend this by saying that it's supposed to show the innocence of the two characters and in Nana's case, shows a contrast to how she was treated in the laboratory. These defenses are totally wrong because so many of the nude scenes in this anime are meant to be exploitative in nature, and the "tasteful nudity" scenes just feel like they're adding more exploitative scenes just for the sake of it.
These also aren't really that offensive taken by themselves since they're used so numerously that they no longer have any provocative value to them after about 20 minutes of exposure. For those of you who are claiming that the constant use of these three things is somehow "extreme," go watch Doomed Megalopolis for an excellent horror anime that utilized violence, nudity, and incest to make the overall experience unnerving rather than tedious.
It's time to focus on the most overrated anime song ever, "Lilium." Everyone thinks this is such a strong and emotional song, but it's a joke. It's nothing more than extremely boring symphonic music with female vocals and Latin lyrics to make Elfen Lied look "deep" and "artistic." Take a look at Kenji Kawai's dark ambient tracks found on the first Ghost in the Shell soundtrack or Joe Hisashi's music for Grave of the Fireflies for truly chilling and emotional anime music. Also, this type of music fits NOWHERE in this Love Hina-style dramedy disguised as Hostel. Not only does "Lilium" have such a non-existent effect on me, these monkeys with Microsoft Word thought it would be great to put a freakin' J-pop song at the end of each episode, which further nullifies any provocative effect the over abundant violence and nudity might have had in this POS. Also, “Lilium” is played ad nauseam throughout the episodes of this anime, wearing out any artistic credibility it might have had really fast.
When symbolism is incorporated into a movie or series properly, it enhances the viewing experience. With EL, however, the symbolism is carelessly thrown in to make it look "deep" and "intellectual." For one, the clock symbol in EL didn't do anything to make this any better. "Oh look, the broken clock represents Kohta's broken past and at the end it's fixed, and so is he!! How genius!!" Give me a break.
I guess there was also supposed to be a symbolic link between Lucy and that stupid music box, as I think there was supposed to be a moment after that moment in the last episode where we thought that homicidal moppet was killed and the music box stopped working, but again, it's more lazy use of symbolism to cover up deplorable story and character development.
While not really symbolism, I find the use of German names in the series's name and of the names of the episodes to be loathsomely pretentious, and I don't care that this anime is named after a German poem.
This probably isn't symbolism, either, but as a pretty big fan of Batman, I was extremely disgusted by the fact that the animators decided to have Kohta wear a Batman shirt in some parts of this deplorable series.
ABUSE OF GUSTAV KLIMT'S ARTWORK
The use of Gustav Klimt's paintings on the opening credits is more examples of self-awarding pretentiousness since Klimt's artwork is splendid and when saccharine-looking anime girls are thrown into his paintings, it's a severe clash in artistic styles and looks just plain silly. If Klimt was alive to see this happen, he'd be highly revolted by this bastardization. This cheap move is just one of the many, many fronts used to cover up the ultimate lack of good story and character development. You know, the qualities that really matter when making any sort of show or movie.
Contrary to what the Elfen Lied fans convince themselves and others to think, referencing 20th century painters isn't enough to make anything good. You need those basic principles I mentioned above because those are universal in making any movie or TV show worthwhile. Without those, you can reference Gustav Klimt and old German poems all you want and it won't change the fact that the final product is a detestable cocktail of various toxic slop. This is like trying to make a giant pile of elephant excrement appetizing by covering it with butter cream frosting, sprinkles, and candles then selling it to an unsuspecting customer as a birthday cake. Smart people would immediately realize what they're really eating is sheer filth, but so many anime fans fool themselves into believing what they're eating is really cake in this case.
It's like the people who created Elfen Lied wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. Contrary to what the Elfen Lied fanbase would say, Lynn Okamoto (original author of Elfen Lied) and Mamoru Kanbe (creator of the anime adaptation) aren't people who work to provide artistic merit in their entertainment, they feel more like soulless salespeople who are out to line their pockets by creating cheap entertainment disguised as high art loaded with all the worst anime and manga cliches out there. The more scathing criticism these swindlers get, the better.
I think it's amazing that Hey Arnold, a cartoon mainly geared for children (though it's a really good show appealing to kids and adults), had two episodes dealing with the human condition called “Pigeon Man” and “Helga on the Couch,” and despite being labeled “kids' entertainment,” did a far, far superior job of executing its messages than an anime made for adults. Those Hey Arnold episodes had plenty of subtlety (though the show itself is rather subtle as well), whereas Elfen Lied had less subtlety than a Union Pacific locomotive hauling flammable liquids in a head-on collision with a Barnum & Bailey circus train.
If you're looking for a dark and gritty piece of media dealing with just how awful the human condition can be, read Punisher MAX Vol. 5: The Slavers. That comic is replete with down-to-earth realism in its story and charaacter development that makes it such a masterpiece in graphic novels geared for adults.
If you want anime titles that are much superior, seek out these titles instead.
Grave of the Fireflies
Ghost in the Shell
Rin: Daughters of Mneomosyne
Serial Experiments Lain
Voice of a Distant Star
Shigurui: Death Frenzy
If you live your life by logic and reason, and know the fundamentals of creating worthy fiction, Elfen Lied will be trauma-inducing agony for you.
What did you think of this review?