Japanese audiences, or at least anime audiences, seem to have very different expectations when it comes to storytelling. Here in the west, the audience expects everything to be explained; a show like Elfen Lied would have to end with a grand discovery of what the Diclonius are and what will happen to them in the future. Instead, we are asked to take their unlikely biology for granted, and the ending is, to say the least, vague.
The series, which hails from 2004, was famous mostly for it’s ‘darker’ elements, namely the graphic violence. But the darker elements don’t carry a lot of weight in the story, (a condition that isn’t helped by the miraculous medical technique that renders most of the injuries moot). Horrible things happen, and then everything goes back to normal; and the ‘normal’ part of the series is actually fairly cliche ridden. At its heart, Elfen Lied is a harem series.
For those that don’t know, a ‘harem series’ is one in which one person is inexplicably surrounded by attractive members of the opposite sex. Famous examples include Love Hina, Tenchi Muyo, Ai Yori Aoshi, and Fushigi Yugi. The members of the ‘harem’ tend to fall into simple stereotypes; the childhood friend, the dumb one, the young one, the sporty one, etc. The girls that surround Kohta in Elfen Lied are much the same. Lucy, the primary Diclonius, suffers amnesia (another anime-favourite plot device) and takes on the role of the dumb one whose clothes are constantly coming off at inappropriate times.
The Diclonius storyline raises Elfen Lied above the rest of its harem series brethren, giving the viewers more to look forward to than yet another episode of wacky hijinks and awkward misunderstandings; even if said storyline is only partially resolved. But keep your expectations in check; this is not a reinvention of the genre, nor is it highly introspective; it’s a pretty good harem series with graphic violence and an interesting mythology.
The Blu-ray from ADV Films (who pretty much exist in name only, at this point) is decent. The video quality isn’t a huge improvement over a good DVD, which is to be expected of a show from this era. However, unlike ADV’s initial DVD release of the series, this one features the original Japanese credits and titles, so purists can finally have their way.
Elfen Lied is a good series. What stops it from being great for me is that the two sides of the story, the dark and the light, never really merge into a convincing whole. It would have been groundbreaking to show how these horrible things effect the harem series set up; but as it is, the harem is kept in its own little box, shielded from the dark realities of the outside world.