What do you get when you combine beautiful women, dark pasts, and extreme violence? Why, Elfen Lied, of course!
Elfen Lied starts like many other typical action anime with a collage of violence. Countless guards are relentlessly torn apart by a naked girl in a mask, as she makes her escape from prison. However, unlike most other anime, the violence on display here is unbelievably shocking and graphic. Limbs are torn off, pens are shot through heads, and this is all being done by the girl's invisible arms, called 'vectors.'
Eventually, the girl, called Lucy by those trying to capture her, finds her way out of the compound and onto a cliff bordering the ocean. A sniper attempts to shoot her, but instead he hits her mask, dislodging it from her head and throwing her into the ocean.
Meanwhile, our male lead, Kouta meets his beautiful cousin Yuka, whom he has not seen since childhood. Both are in college now, and they will be living in the same city. The last time they saw each other was during a summer long ago in that very town, much of which was spent on the beach. Therefore, they travel down to the beach to reminisce about the last time they were together.
What they find there is not quite what they expected. Standing on the beach is a beautiful and very naked girl with small horns and pink hair, who seems to be excessively happy and can only say the word 'Nyu.' They decide to take her back to Kouta's place, where they give her clothes and conclude that they will bunk her here. Much comedy ensues in the later part of the first episode, introducing the viewer to the duality that takes center stage in the story of Elfen Lied.
The viewer later finds out that Nyu and Lucy are one and the same, a Diclonius with invisible hands that can be used in any number of twisted ways, as displayed at the beginning of the first episode, and even more effectively during a later Diclonius battle. It seems as if she can change from the bloodthirsty, although controlled at times, Lucy to the cute and lovable Nyu within seconds, depending on the situation, adding a feeling of tension to the story at all times. Despite her violent tendencies, Lucy seems very withholding when it comes to attacking Kouta...
As Kouta attempts to adjust to having such a beautiful woman in his home, jealousy arises within Yuka, as she remembers his failed promise from so many years ago. There is actually a relatively ample amount of fan service and humor in this scene, signifying a duality in the show that is seen in upcoming episodes. Unlike other anime that have attempted similar approaches with their storytelling, Elfen Lied does it with maximum effort and care, making sure not to overemphasize one aspect of the story or make it too sentimental.
Based on the manga by Lynn Okamoto, Elfen Lied's juxtaposition of multiple genres and story elements adds a sense of intrigue not found in many other anime. The best possible way to describe it is as a combination of Chobits and a variety of hyperviolent anime, such as GANTZ, with sprinkles of harem elements. This fact alone makes it a great show, especially considering how balanced it is when taking all of these elements into equation. This also means that the show could go in any number of directions in the future, something that I'm looking forward to seeing.
A show like Elfen Lied would not be good if it didn't have decent production values, and in this aspect, it delivers. The town is rendered beautifully in warm, but subdued hues, matching well with the tone of the show whichever way it goes. The environments are absolutely stunning, with little to no excessively obvious CG, something that is refreshing these days. The action scenes are well-animated and paced fairly quickly. The Diclonius-on-Diclonius battle is especially impressive, with their invisible arms being the only instance in the show of noticeable CG. Blood flows fluently, and the characters move about in a surprisingly lifelike way. The character designs are colorful and nice to look at, and the design of Lucy is almost ironic.
The show's score is also extremely well done, from the eerie yet beautiful theme song "Lilium" to the screeching violins in the battle scene. At times, there is no score at all, adding to the effect of the violence. The sound effects are fairly standard, but a limb being torn off in 5.1 surround sound is sure to send a shiver down many a spine.
Volume 1 is already out in the U.S. from ADV, and you'll be haunted for life if you don't do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. There is also a one-shot OVA that fits in somewhere in the series, though I'm not sure whether or not a stateside release is planned. Gore, raw emotion, and comedy have never fit so well together. Buy it now.