*This review contains spoilers
An anime can be critically successful for many reasons, it could be due to a well written and engaging plot, innovative ideas that are perfectly handled or even have a deep plot revolving around thought-provoking themes. More so, "depth" has been a cause for the critical success of many anime over the course of time for example "The tatami Galaxy", but for a show to have a level of depth is not an easy task for any writer. However, superficial depth can be achieved easily and even more easily confused for genuine depth. Such superficial depth ranges from cheap shock factor to random philosophical questions which have no relations to the core plot or characters and Elfen Lied is a prime example of such superficial depth.
The harem genre has never been an interesting or innovative genre in terms of plot and character since the beginning of time. Most harem shows consist of a bland protagonist surrounded by fetish fulfilling bimbos, who are head over heels for the bland protagonist for the most stupid reasons. Pandering, useless fan service and sometimes being an insult to one's intellect; most harem shows lose all entertainment value to a mature audience. The mass production of such shows led to the belief that "anime" is only meant for kids and adolescent teens and have nothing of value to offer for someone more mature. However, this notion surprisingly changed after the release of the infamous, Elfen Lied an original story written by Okamoto Lynn which got a one cour anime adaptation, produced by studio ARMS who are also famous for producing other works like Ikkitousen, a ton of hentai titles and Genshiken.
At first glance, Elfen Lied is anything but a harem. The show starts with 10 minutes of outright nudity and gore which leaves the viewer in a state of utter shock and terror. These 10 minutes were enough to drive away the weak hearted. However, after these ten minutes, the story is just a hackneyed amalgamation of cliche, plot devices, plot conveniences, plot holes and last but not the least some "smart" and fetish pandering wrapped up into a harem. Plot conveniences and cliche are in abundance, for example, Lucy, loses her memory (amnesia cliche) when shot with a bullet in the head with a magnum sniper and floats down to a beach. One would expect the military to be present there, anticipating her arrival on several shores as she is indeed a top secret project and above that a threat to the human race, but she conveniently meets up with her one and only friend she ever had, Kouta. The author tries to handle pandering with different tricks such as using "horns" for cat ears(Kemenomimi). The whole amnesia cliche is further used as a plot device and conveniently too which involves Lucy, regaining her memories and her other personality whenever the plot asks for it and reverting back to her childlike personality whenever the plot asks for it. As the story progresses the writer cleverly turns what could have been a genuinely mature story about racism and discrimination into a cunning little harem. Every female character introduced is forced upon with some miserable past. It almost seems like the writer is a misogynistic sadist who creates female characters just to torture them. One would expect the writer to use these angst-filled backstories to weave up an emotional tale but fails at doing so as how forced these backstories come off and the overall lack of any development of the character doesn't help either. The story also tries to be dark but only fails as it's an edgy mess due to the abundant amount of unnecessary fan service and the whole over the top nature of the show.
Many claim this certain title, Elfen Lied, to be "deep", though I fail to understand why. It touches upon the concepts of racism and discrimination in the most superficial way possible. Lucy and other diclonius were born to kill humans, just like the wolf is born to prey on the sheep. It's in their genes, it's a natural instinct. Now if a man were to cage a wolf and let his sheep roam free, it wouldn't be discrimination, but an act of defense. The same logic is for elfen lied, where most diclonius are caged up and kept in miserable states so that they don't end up wiping out the human race. This is not racisms, neither is this discrimination, it's just simple self defense. This is not depth, this is just ridiculous and superficial handling of a theme that could have been done well.
The plot progression in Elfen Lied can be only described as utterly stupid. As mentioned before, a "TOP SECRET PROJECT" washes through the sea only to land upon some beach where there are no military personnel to take care of such an important event. Then the couple who encounter Lucy, a naked girl with random horns, takes her home, because yeah, when you meet naked a creature with horns, you take her home and give her a nickname as if it were a stray dog, instead of going to the police to report the event. The military sends the worst soldier to find Lucy. Seriously, what kind of a soldier goes ahead and beats up his own comrade when going up against a man killing diclonius. Then the secret military group sends another diclonius to capture Lucy. It is to be noted that Lucy is the queen of diclonius species, and as a queen, she has the ability to order other diclonius to do her bidding. What kind of a "secret" organization sends an inferior being of the same species to take out its queen, specially when the queen has the ability to order the other around at her bidding through telekinesis? After this attempt fails they send in another diclonius because, yes, when "plan A" fails, you repeat "plan A" again. This organization must be run by a bunch of retards. And when one thinks of it, it's even more stupid as the second diclonius has been known for its sheer hate for humanity to the point of killing any human at sight. What kind of a secret organization sends in such a creature to an inhabited area with the ulterior motive of "saving humans"? Is this some sort of joke? Kouta later finds out that it was Lucy who had killed his entire family and ends up forgiving her in the blink of an eye. Completely logical.
The show is comprised of two clear phases. One phase where Lucy regains her memory where the anime becomes edgy and over the top. The other phase is when Lucy is in her amnesia mode where the anime becomes a Harem/SOL. The writers tried hard to make her cute but she is nothing more than pathetic. Roaming around naked for fanservice to the point where she needs help to even change her panties.The changes between these two phases depend absolutely on the convenience of the plot and we yet don't know when she decides to be a pokemon and when a mindless yandere.
The characters are the blandest bunch of characters to be ever written and this might not even be an exaggeration. One would expect to have sympathetic feelings towards Lucy due to her tragic past, but everything is so "plot convenient" that the tragedies seem fake and lose any impact if possible and come out extremely forced. Other than Lucy, every character is just a bland stereotype. Kouta is your generic harem lead and Yuka is the "imouto in love with her brother" archetype. Oh! you thought the bullshit ended with random gore and nudity ? You're wrong, the writers also decide to introduce an incest romance subplot that goes nowhere and just add to the convoluted mess. Other than Lucy and Yuka every other female in the show is a stupid loli as if the "clever fan service" wasn't enough already. There's no development to any of the characters. To sum it up all, the characters are just a bunch of retards and lolis who lack development and any core personality.
The opening sequence is probably the best part of the whole show. With the beautiful soundtrack "Lilium" there are some artistic scenes which have no damn relation to the convoluted mess of a plot. The ost is nothing special either and a bunch of them are reused and rehashed constantly but yet fail to be anything memorable. The art and animation is rather average and have nothing special about it. The show lacks aesthetics and any sort of artistic detail. The only details that are probably put in, is during the gore scenes where the disturbing images of the bones of the characters can be seen. The character designs are repetitive to the point where three characters have the same hair color. At least give them some more distinguishable features ffs?
Despite trying to be deep, Elfen Lied fails horribly by only touching on its themes very superficially hence lacking any message at the end of the day. It transforms itself into a generic harem with its seemingly "clever" tricks to fool the audience that it's something mature, but at the end of the day, it's just another mindless harem. Also, a useless incest romance subplot that goes nowhere (why is this such a big thing in Japan?) The characters lack personality or development and the art and music is nothing particularly special either. It tries to make up for its flaws with the help of conveniences, cliches, mindless gore and nudity which only worsen the show and makes it "edgy" as all hell. This show might appeal to a gore fan, an imouto incest fanatic, a lolicon, a misogynist or a mindless harem lover. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them.
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