Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: Elfen Lied (2004)

Elfen Lied (2004) is a psychological science fiction Japanese anime. This 14-episode (13 TV episodes + 1 OVA total) series is for mature audiences due to the violent and graphic nature of the scenes. The opening theme is "Lilium" by Kumiko Noma and the ending theme is "Be Your Girl" by Chieko Kawabe.

The Diclonius (meaning "two-horned human") are a mutated, dangerous species who have two horns on their head and possess a sixth sense with powerful telekinetic abilities. It is said the Diclonius have the power to exterminate the human race so they must be captured and destroyed. They have been locked and isolated inside a secret military laboratory confinement by the Japanese government. Lucy, a young, red-haired and manic Diclonius, breaks free of her cell and brutally murders the guards. Before she could escape the laboratory grounds, a guard shoots her in the head and falls into the ocean. She survives this shooting and drifts along the island beach where two teenagers, Kohta and Yuka, discover her.

Lucy suffers amnesia and undergoes an alternate personality. Kohta and Yuka call her "Nyuu" because they is all she can say. With no place to go, the cousins allow Lucy (aka Nyuu) to stay at their hotel home called the Maple Inn. They do the best they can to help the ignorant, confused and troublesome girl. As Kohta constantly chases after Nyuu, Yuka becomes extremely jealous because she has romantic feelings for him. Meanwhile, Kouta allow Mayu, a homeless young girl, to stay with them at the Maple Inn.

Nevertheless, the evil "Lucy" is not dead yet. While Mayu isn't a major character, she does introduce and befriend another Diclonius, Nana, who was ordered to capture and kill Lucy by Professor Kurama, who heads the research facility and supervision of the Diclonius. She finds Nyuu who immediately regains her memories as Lucy. However, Nana fails in her mission as she lets her guard down in the fight and Lucy tears her limb to limb leaving her only with a head and torso. Director Kurama rescues Nana and gives her artificial limbs so that she can return to her mission.

Nana returns to Mayu and discovers Lucy inadvertently. She immediately attacks Lucy only to learn that she is playful, ignorant and innocent in this state of mind as Nyuu. Earning their trust, Nana becomes the next person to stay in the Maple Inn. Danger still lurks ahead for the group. Will Lucy ever fully recover her memories again? What will happen to Lucy and Nana once the research laboratory is still after them? Will Lucy/Nyuu hurt Yuka's relationship with Kouta? Only you can find out by watching Elfen Lied.

This is a really good (and complicated and controversial) series because of the horror and psychological themes involved: cruel experimentation, abuse/sadism, outright killings, and more. The Diclonius have vectors ("invisible arms") which can turn humans into their kind if penetrated through the skin. In a way, their DNA is highly adaptable and infectious. I know Adult Swim wanted to air Elfen Lied but it would have to undergo too much censorship and editing for television audiences. There is a lot of nudity and extreme violence scenes (I even tensed a bit at the way the soldiers were brutally mutilated and murdered. Yikes!). Yuka and Kohta don't fully understand how dangerous the Diclonius are. We never learn the full names of the characters except Professor Kurama. I don't know if I will ever fully understand the storyline: where did Lucy and Nana come from? What other powers do they possess?

The music is also fantastic. I especially love the opening song, Lilium, a slow, canonical yet gloomy melody sung in Latin with images of Lucky in Austrian Art Nouveau artist, Gustav Klimt's famous painting, "The Kiss" (1907-08), as the background. The name "Lucy" also plays homage to the oldest human ancestor skeleton discovered in Africa. The title of the series originates from the German poem, Elfen Lied ("Elf Song"), by Eduard Mörike. All episode titles are in German. I highly recommend this series but it has many dark horror scenes and not for the faint of heart. Viewer discretion advised (not recommended for children under the age of 13).

This show is available to buy and rent on DVD.

"Lilium" by Kumiko Noma (The Latin lyrics are available here.)

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