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Preview: "Elfen Lied" Offers Bloodspray, Breasts, Cliché

Anime can do a lot—everything from poignant, realistic dramas to surreal, hyper-stylized fantasy worlds to madcap comedies. But like any medium, it’s got its share of clichés and crutches: generic evil secret organizations; nudity and violence in lieu of story and character; angst-ridden male leads; formulaic harem relationships. There are various and sundry other story cheats as well as a wide variety of animation cheats that can be used instead of actually doing the drawings. Usually though, a show will only fall prey to one or two of these. Elfen Lied though, is one giant robot, one hot-blooded ninja, and one transformation sequence away from being one of the most clichéd, vapid anime series ever.

Elfen LiedWe open on a detached arm, writhing on the ground, covered in blood. We pull out to see a security guard clutching a bloody stump. We pan up to find a naked girl (and it’s not just Barbie-doll nudity, either) being held under pretty tight restraints. There’s more to this girl than just her fully detailed breasts, though: one nod from her and the security guard’s skull implodes. Naked, skull-crushing chick then uses psychokinetic powers to free herself and escape the stereotypical animé sci-fi/military lab in which she’s being held. Over the next seven and a half minutes—about one-third of the first episode’s running time—she kills just about everything that even accidentally strays across her path. A sharpshooter manages to get a shot at her, but it only cracks the metal helmet affixed to her head and just barely grazes her skull. Insert episode title card.

Cut to a happy spring day. (You can tell it’s spring because of the blatantly CG cherry blossoms streaming awkwardly down.) Kouta, a generically angsty kid who has been dumped on all his life (dad died, sister died, etc.) is talking with his cousin and childhood friend Yuuka. (Cousin and childhood friend? That’s two stock harem girl-types for the price of one.) Kouta is going to college in a town he used to visit as a kid, but, what with his troubled childhood, his memory of it is pretty sketchy. Trying to jar his memory and maybe get closer to him (a girl holding a crush over an insanely long time? I smell Sentimental Journey), Yuuka drags him down to the ocean. But Kouta’s little emo flashbacks are interrupted by the arrival of skull-crushing, psychokinetic naked girl. Fortunately for our shonen romantic hero—and unfortunately for the rest of us—she seems to have spent all her energy and doesn’t put him out of his misery. She’s also got amnesia, it turns out, and not just a little bit of it. She can’t say anything other than “Nyu” (boy, that sure doesn’t sound like Chobits, except that it does), so Kouta and Yuuka take her back to his new place, where it turns out she’s also forgotten how to use the bathroom. Anyway, once the floor is clean, Kouta and Yuuka do some more reminiscing, and Kouta even brings out a seashell that his sister once gave him. Naturally, he gets depressed (like I said, he’s the angst character,) so Nyu snatches the seashell out of his hand and snaps in half. Kouta flies off the handle, and skull-crushing, shell-snapping, floor-befouling, psychokinetic naked girl runs away. Thus endeth the first episode, about nineteen minutes too late.

During the next two episodes, stuff really begins to hit the fan. The military organization that made Nyu goes after her with elite commandos (the most egotistical/psychotic of whom ends up only a couple of limbs away from mimicking the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and then goes after her with Nana, another girl of Nyu’s species. Nyu’s real name (Lucy) and background are somewhat revealed: she is a Diclonius, a human mutant with horn-like protrusions and four psychokinetic arms called “vectors.” She’s also a threat because she can reproduce even though her species is supposed to be born sterile, meaning she could very well overrun the world with monsters. She’s also got a dual personality (making her harem girl-type #3: the unknowingly evil one who is infantile the rest of the time) that can be switched with a sharp blow to the head. (Hey, this totally isn’t like Launch from Dragonball; we are not getting sued.) A homeless girl with a cute dog (she’ll probably be harem girl-type #4, the Lolita, but the baggy sweater she’s wearing with no pants doesn’t make her figure apparent) finds the aforementioned mutilated commando and an umbrella that Kouta had dropped while looking for Nyu, which leads her to …

Oh, why bother? Basically, a lot stuff happens, but most of it is just setup for this gratuitously complex composite of clichés disguised with heavy bloodspray and sexual comedy/innuendo. None of which I would have an issue with if it were at all artistic, but here it’s just another wedged-in, lazy crutch.

Technically, Elfen Lied is not much of a success either. Though the animation, backgrounds and cinematography are decent, the compositing and effects animation are all over the place. The character design is pretty bland too. The sound production and dub are okay, with ADV providing a very solid, listenable dub. The music is not bad either, and the opening—a lovely classical piece with nice choral elements in Latin—is probably the show’s best attribute. But that’s thin praise for a thirty-dollar disc.

Elfen Lied cribs and steals pretty much everything it has from other shows. The result is a mad, unwatchable jumble: a harem show, a sci-fi show, an introspective drama, and a splatter film, all cluttered together. If you’re looking only for raw gore and sexuality, this show is for you, because that’s all it’s got. Maybe it gets more of a story later on, and I’d like to see if it does, to see if it can justify its means with an interesting result. However, if you want a good, fresh story from the get go, Elfen Lied doesn’t deliver.

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