Elfen Lied Review: Crushing One Poor Soul At A Time

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Released over 10 years ago, Elfen Lied remains as heartbreaking and important as ever.

There are some anime that like to take things lightheartedly and embrace fun and happiness. And then there’s Elfen Lied.

Elfen Lied was brought to our screens in 2004 from the studio Arms, and my god it was a rollercoaster! I was first introduced to this show back in high school, and the 13-episode experience definitely changed me.

The show contains one of the most powerful and compelling narratives I have ever seen. It achieves this by not shying away from any uncomfortable topics so that the audience can truly connect with the characters.

In doing so, however, Elfen Lied becomes one of the most gut-wrenching, stomach-turning and heart-breaking stories in anime. Here I will detail a few of the ways it accomplishes this. [SPOILERS from here on out!]

Nana and Mayu Elfen Lied
Nana and Mayu – IMDB

Elfen Lied showcases some brutal and twisted imagery

Sometimes you come across a show that displays something so twisted that you can barely stand to watch. But all the same your eyes are fixed on what is happening on the screen.

Well, Elfen Lied takes that up to eleven. This anime has some deeply disturbing imagery that makes you feel sick. And yet somehow doesn’t feel irrelevant or unnecessary and makes you want to keep watching.

A prime example of this is Lucy’s massacre of the Diclonius Research Institute, where she tears her captive’s limbs apart in an effort to escape. It seems like overkill at the time, but when context is drawn to how she was treated there, her sheer rage seems justified.

Another brutal example is the murder of a stray dog that Lucy befriended. While a recluse, their relationship showed us how kind she used to be, and to witness something so merciless as she did made us chant for her to take her revenge. And that is exactly what we got.

One scene on the more disturbing side of the spectrum was the montage of Mayu’s past and explanation of why she ran away. Sexual abuse is a real issue in society, and audiences were shown exactly how upsetting and manipulative it could be. I personally wanted to be sick during the scene in question, but couldn’t look away from the pained expression on the young girl’s face.

Elfen Lied certainly never shied away from dark subject matter. But being so close and personal to their experiences made us all the more attached to the characters and why they became the people that we see.

Lucy Elfen Lied
Lucy – IMDB

The show has an incredibly powerful and emotional score

I can’t even think about the music from this show without tearing up. The score for Elfen Lied is so raw and genuine that not even the most heartless of viewers could remain untouched.

The show seems to know what scenes required flicking the switch for emotional music perfectly. It just made the experience of watching all the more moving. As someone who has a great love for music and its emotional power, I felt these effects particularly strongly.

Scenes such as Nana listening to Kurama’s farewell message, Kurama telling Mariko how much he loves her despite everything, and again the death of the dog are particularly strong in this regard.

A special mention must be made to the show’s main theme – Lillium, a latin hymn performed by Kumiko Noma. The piece was used masterfully throughout Elfen Lied, whether in its simpler music box version or in its complete orchestral glory. The montage to this song in the final episode makes me cry every time I watch it.

The Kaede Household Elfen Lied
The Kaede Household – IMDB

The character narratives are twisted, but still relatable

While Elfen Lied clearly brings out its psychological power through both audio and visuals, this would not be possible without having the emotional character arcs to back it up. But as horrible as these stories are depicted, they are actually quite relatable.

Lucy has been persecuted her entire life for being a Diclonius – something beyond her control. She has had to lie and kill just to survive. This is easily analogous to racism and persecution that can be observed throughout history.

Nana and Mariko’s narratives tie together in a story of broken homes, step-parenting, adoption and reconciliation. These are so prevalent in modern life, and yet it is almost never touched upon in fictional media (at least not this heavily).

Mayu’s sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather and the apathy of her mother is a terrible example of how people abuse and torture those they can control. Sexual abuse in particular is a predominately taboo topic to cover, and that’s what makes this story so important.

Elfen Lied shines the most in developing its characters. Seeing these broken and hurt people come together, in ways we may have experienced, is so heart-warming and beautiful. It makes you root for the characters to find their happy endings in a way that not many stories can.

Nyu Elfen Lied
Nyu – Elfen Lied Wiki

Elfen Lied is an emotional powerhouse, but one worth enduring

Elfen Lied is a gem of modern storytelling. It does such a good job of keeping the audience enthralled and entranced by its characters. It never shies away from uncomfortable topics, and there lies one of its greatest strengths.

However, having the beauty of its visuals and raw power of its score makes it a work of art. The story couldn’t have the same impact without the same emotional weight behind it.

Elfen Lied is by no means a happy story, but don’t let that put you off. It is a story that will stay with you for a very long time, and is definitely worth experiencing.

Click here for an interview for with anime expert Michael Basile, discussing all things anime.

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