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[Elfen Lied box art]
AKA: エルフェンリート (Japanese), Elfin Song, Elven Song
Genre: Horror drama
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks.
Content Rating: 18+ (nudity, graphic violence, gore, portrayal of the dark side of human nature)
Related Series: Elfen Lied OAV (Side-Story)
Also Recommended:
Notes: Based on the manga by Okamoto Lynn.
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars
 

Elfen Lied

Synopsis

See original review.


Review

What kind of show do you get when you pluck characters who vaguely seem to be cookie-cutouts of harem anime regulars from their respective shows and have them deal with subject matter that pertains to the conflict of human desensitization in regards to non-human life as a means to convey profound existential questions of the underlying difference (or more precisely, indifference) between human and non-human life?

You get Elfen Lied: a neat little package of gore, nudity, and fervent emotion (but more on the gore and nudity).

To start off, there are mainly two ways for me to look at Elfen Lied: the first way being to look at it as a fairly intense, but approachable and kinky, quasi-harem drama; the other way being to look at it as some kind of evocative tragedy in the vein of high art. If I look at the show in the context of the latter, it just doesn't work. I can point out so many problems with director Kanbe Mamoru's relatively unsophisticated execution that it isn't even funny.

First of all, the manner in which some of the intellectually-loaded ideas are conveyed comes off as clunky and overly blatant. A perfect example is Kanbe's use of the grandfather clock (which was probably meant to symbolize time as perceived by the main characters) that is commonly seen in the household during the series. The initial execution might've been subtle here and there, but at points, I felt that Kanbe was beginning to overstate it to the extent where entire scenes would just pause for the sake of reaffirming its already obvious presence. The same can be said with one of the main character's resurfacing problems and how that character chooses to cope with it. There were several other symbols in the series, like Kanae's seashell and such, all of which executed as palpably as the last; it didn't exactly take too much effort to figure a lot of this stuff out.

As far as the effectiveness of using violence as a potent visual metaphor to convey visceral monstrosity goes, Kanbe falls a little flat in that regard mainly because of his tendency to be overly blatant. There was a specific scene somewhere in the series that depicted an animal being brutally murdered. The main point of the sequence was to demonstrate that, regardless of age, humans have laid deep within them an innate affinity for cruelty. Here's the problem: it felt totally tacked-on. What's worse is that it actually played a very significant task in moving the story and characterization forward and even played a somewhat integral role in the psychology of the character involved later on. It was just forced; there's no way for me to look around it.

Then there's Kanbe's execution of his drama. It relies too heavily on a sentimentalism that reaches back into the past (a past of which is arguably one of the most contrived ever). Although this doesn't necessarily become a problem even though one is not initially aware of where everything is coming from; it's intentionally kept mysterious. But while Kanbe does takes some effective steps to divert boredom, overall, I'd go as far to say that Kanbe's drama comes off as pretty uninspired because of all the devices he needs in order to hold the viewer's attention and communicate his interpretation of the original source (the manga). Between the overused Gregorian chants and the all-too-familiar harem ambience, the clumsily dressed-up thought-provoking ideas and the fair amount of tits-and-ass in my face, the lack of well-placed subtlety and recyclable character designs (which were shoddily animated by ARMS, I might add), there really isn't much room for sophistication in here.

Just because you can present a show as being artsy doesn't necessarily mean that it is (the main theme is still awesome though). I regularly don't like to scrutinize shows in this manner, but I'm tempted to do so, in detail, if I find myself intimidated; the show seems to have this air of arrogance about it that just rubs me the wrong way and makes me want to criticize it after having read deeper into everything.

So, why do I designate Elfen Lied a neat little show even with all of this said?

It's because I don't look at it as an evocative tragedy or some unique ground-breaking execution of visual expression. Some may go as far as to claim that the experience of Elfen Lied has had them reassess society or something, but why the hell would I ruin the experience and partake in such an unnecessarily extravagant mindset when I can clearly see all of its shortcomings on a directorial level and then some? It's just not any fun or productive for me to do things this way.

Oh yeah, and disregarding the fact that a lot of the ideas are forcibly deep for that matter really helps the experience, tons.

As per regular with my newer reviews, we have the English track. Elfen Lied's ADR production was directed by Jin Ho Chung, whose other directorial works consist of ADV shows such as Princess Tutu and the last 8 or so episodes of David Harrison's Super Gals!. As far as acting quality goes, on one hand, you have Kira Vincent-Davis (Lucy/Nyu), Jay Hickman (Kurama), Jason Douglas (Bandoh). and Luci Christian who all put out some seriously great dramatic / bad ass voice-work here.

On the other hand, you have everyone else.

It really feels like Jin Ho Chung spent most of his time with only half of the cast since the level of acting doesn't seem to be the same between actors. It could get awkward at some points listening to a character playing off of another character who was off in his or her delivery. In fact, it would actually feel like an actor was carrying the weight of the other actor who was slacking behind; these problems don’t exactly help make the dialogue flow better. I really wished that Jin Ho Chung worked harder on making the acting more uniform since it puts a blemish on the actors that were otherwise delivering excellently.

Also, on occasion, the editing of the dialogue feels like it was botched since the level of projection doesn't feel consistent during some scenes; it's like they took two separate takes and then spliced the wrong ones together which lead to an unwarranted disruption in the flow of single lines, garnering somewhat unnatural results.

Negative comments aside, I still found the English track enjoyable on the basis of those four excellent key performances from Luci, Jay, Jason, and Kira. George Manley was a lot of fun too; it's ironic though how that Kira's take on her character in Elfen Lied is one of my favorite roles of hers (the other being Osaka in Azumanga Daioh with that hardcore Texas accent), so it's a little disappointing that things weren't the best they could've been in order to accommodate this. The sheer contrast between her readings for Nyu and Lucy is very impressive and almost unlike anything I've ever heard before in an English dub.

Going back, I'd be dishonest to say that I wasn't overly impressed with the series (and its ideas) at one point; in fact, I was pretty mesmerized by everything initially. So much so, that it took about five re-viewings of the entire series to finally get my head back down to the Earth to realize what was what.

But still, I did enjoy myself and can't deny that.

The characters, while presented as to being quite complex, were pretty accessible since the motivation wasn't all that hard to understand and that the development was easy to follow. And the story was pretty touching as well (albeit border-line maudlin). The violence was fairly afflicting on the first go, but I grew desensitized by the second watch. On the brighter side, some of the atmosphere and emotion was still fairly engrossing even after subsequent viewings, regardless. When it comes down to it, Elfen Lied is really a genuinely good watch even with all of its problems mainly because ... it's interesting!

In closing, while Elfen Lied hasn't really opened any new doors to revelations about humanity that make me want to rethink how our complicated civilization works, I will say this:

"Elfen Lied has successfully made me rethink moé."

Deduct two stars if you don't like graphic or disturbing content or if you find anything to do with a harem-esque setting to be awkward or distasteful. — Dominic Laeno

Recommended Audience: Adults only. Not for the rampant nudity, but for the excessive violence and the rather graphic showcases of the darker sides of human natures.



Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Elfen Lied © 2004 Rin Okamoto / Shueisha / VAP / GENCO
 
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