S.O.S. – Everything right with Elfen Lied
A lot of people associate anime with cartoons and deem them suitable only for children. Along with this mentality also follows the notion that anime depicts only light and fuzzy themes, showing happy kids and their carefree school days. When they include war or anything resembling violence they are usually labeled as something inappropriate. As it’s Halloween season, a bit darker anime is definitely in order.
Whether it be a drama anime, psychological one or horror, there are some anime that are simply special and so well made they serve more purpose than merely having fun watching heads being chopped off. Here’s why I think you should watch Elfen Lied!
Elfen Lied is often counted and considered among the best horror anime. It’s a combination of action, horror, psychological aspects with a tiny bit of supernatural, romance and drama. It finished airing in October 2004, making it one of the older, well established anime. It fits well into the whole Halloween spirit as it serves up a lot of bloody scenes along with a deeper, underlining meaning. I’ve heard so many recommendations for this anime not just online, but from my close friends, including those who don’t even like anime in general. There’s just something about this one that attracts a lot of different people. If you haven’t seen the anime yet and have been successfully avoiding spoilers, I recommend you read this blog post later!
Starts off with some gruesome killing, body parts flying, blood spattering all around. The killing seems to be done by an imprisoned girl. She’s considered dangerous and a killing machine. Yet in the same episode, we get to see her as a scarred little kid, obviously harmless. First four episodes are more or less introducing the new characters, explaining some of their backgrounds. The girl with killer instincts is later called Nyu (or Lucy). Her origin has been sort of explained up to this point. She’s something called Diclonius, a mutant with a special ability. Some sort of vectors in the shape of invisible hands, making her dangerous opponent. Easily recognized by the horns coming out of the sides of her skull. The first couple of episodes made me wonder if this actually qualifies as horror anime.
Is this really horror anime?
Even up to episode four we don’t really get away from the violence, gore and nudity. Lucy is being chased by private military in order to terminate her. Considered too dangerous to be let outside in the real world, she becomes a target again. As viewers, we get to see her in a totally different light. She seems like a nice, caring person. Upon being attacked, it appears she switches between two personalities and becomes very dangerous in a matter of seconds. We can’t escape the blood and flying body parts, but somehow that makes the whole thing look more comical than not. Or is this just me? My initial response was surprise and then I couldn’t help laughing. That was until I started analyzing what I’m seeing.
Considering this is supposed to be a horror anime, I wasn’t impressed at first. I do get the whole psychological package they have going on. Everything wrong from identity questions, corrupt official channels, the killings and the obvious fear, pain and manipulation. Anyhow, it just doesn’t strike me as a horror anime. Elfen Lied really jumps around a lot. From emotional scenes of friendship and family to romance and happy-go-lucky moments at Kouta’s house. And quickly back to massacre and pain. Until I got to episode 5 and immediately felt sick. It starts with explaining why Mayu was homeless and what happened to her and I don’t really feel like explaining in detail, because it makes my stomach lurch on its own. As Mayu gets her sort of happy ending the whole relaxed atmosphere doesn’t last long. Lucy being spotted by doctor Kakuzawa turns the mood in a matter of seconds. The doctor is some sick, perverted psycho as well, stating Lucy and him will be the new Adam and Eve of the new human race. He intends to use her as the mother of his children. At this point I really hoped, I will never have to find out.
Little quirks and irritations
Interesting they included, in a way, traditional male/female roles in such an anime. I would have expected a bit more moving forward. We get to see a young boy, living alone in a huge house that he got as an inheritance. He finds Lucy and brings her home, then Yuka follows and moves in as well (out of concern or jealousy, maybe both). And because a party of three is not enough, they meet Mayu, a homeless little girl and take her in as well. Yuka is the only sort of responsible here, taking care of the bunch. I don’t know why I got so stuck on this. It just irritates me. The girls are later shown doing chores and Kouta running off saving one or the other. Seriously? What century are we in?
How to dehumanize?
At first the excessive nudity and comical elements such as having baths together, running around naked with only foam covering body parts may seem stupid and hilarious, but it quickly looses all light touch. The nudity seen in the lab and later in the anime, is basically more in the element of dehumanizing and depersonalization of the character. Making it a meat suit for specific purpose, taking away anything that would make it relatable to the people causing the mutants pain and maybe even to the viewers. Creating a distinctive barrier between »us – humans« and »them-mutants« can be applied to real life experiences of many people around the world in history as well as in the present day. Also the roles of male and female characters are presented in a sort of traditional way – females the care takers and child bearers, being exposed to sexual abuse from the early years on.
Distractions and anger issues…
The dynamics between Yuka and Kouta sort of pisses me off. I get they are some sort of relatives, which doesn’t explain why she’s so in love with him. It also doesn’t explain her passive aggressive questions and statements. For example – »Would you cry for me if I was gone, like you cried for her?«. It’s true that Kouta is a very basic example of an idiot guy that doesn’t really see much around himself. Except what he wants to see (that being Lucy), but can you please stop with the passive aggressive statements. Those statements make Yuka’s character appear dumb. Later on she sort of throws herself at him. I’m not sure if the translations was right or not. It went in the lines, that she doesn’t mind being his property, because she doesn’t want to be separate away from him. Ehm, what the actual f**k?
Lucy seems to only awaken when her life is in danger, otherwise she pretends to be Nyu. As she doesn’t really speak, she appears harmless and good-natured. By the end of the season we get a full back story explaining how she knows Kouta and what her connection is to him, making it even harder to see her as the villain of this anime. The questions of identity, personality and morals rise up while watching the development of her character. From torture, neglect, pain to her being an abandoned kid with no one to take care of her. And back to cold-blooded killings and then protecting the people she loves and protecting herself. It makes the viewer question his own morality – should we condemn her for the huge pile of corpses she tends to leave in her wake or understand why she is the way she is and help her?
Oh, the horror
Violence is what makes this anime suitable to be described as horror, but at the same time it gives it that something more, making you think and analyze. The opening shot starts with a twitching severed limb. Lucy’s skill with killing is in a way enviable – from decapitation, amputation to high-velocity pen from the start. I am used to piles of bodies and blood in anime or any other platform, so this was really a sight to see. Not wanting to sound like I enjoy inflicting pain on others, it does make for an amazing scenery. The more gruesome it gets the more interested I am.
For the love of …
Since the first two Diclonius we meet have developed a sort of bond and live together, the Kakuzawa facility decides to include third one. In order to eliminate Nana they try to use another Diclonius, No. 35. I mean, seriously, do you never learn? It’s obvious this is not gonna work out as you plan, if you can’t control them! No. 35 is actually chief Kurama’s daughter, making her an exception to the rule – all babies with horns need to be terminated. If you couldn’t sympathize with the characters before, you most definitely will now. The love of a child and the need to be loved, as well as the unconditional love of a parent kinda breaks all boundaries here. It seems like Kurama wants to take all the guilt and pain upon himself, killing babies with his own hand. When it comes to his own child, he can’t do it. The final outcome is all the same, but with the two in question reconnecting and ending the cycle of pain.
Coming full circle
Elfen Lied offers a surprising combination of violence and emotions. Granted, it may not be to everyone’s taste. Even those of you who love horror anime might not like it. After my initial sort of negative response to it, I must say I would recommend it to basically anyone who isn’t afraid of some harsher topics (and a lot of blood). Elfen Lied may not be a classic horror anime but the psychological element is overpowering the first half of the anime. If it doesn’t make you feel sick at some point, then you probably don’t have much empathy. Or you can easily detach yourself from whatever it is you’re watching. This post was full of spoilers, but I wanted to shed some light on more than just the usual horror scenes. Exactly what bothered me more than the usual killings and gore, because I think this anime offers a lot more than that. It gives an insight to many things wrong with this world we live in. At the same time it manages to make it surreal, like none of those things can happen to us in the safety of our own little bubbles.
Thanks for reading don’t forget to leave a comment below on how you felt about Elfen Lied!