If mood whiplash could be condensed into a single work of fiction, it’s Elfen Lied, a manga series created by Lynn Okamoto and later adapted as an anime by Arms Corporation.
The story is focused on a world that has people with horns, pink hair, and advanced telekinetic powers living in it. Lucy is a very powerful “diclonius,” and when she escapes the island facility where diclonius research is conducted, she embarks on a quest for freedom and a chance at a new life. Unfortunately this new life comes at the cost of her memory, regressing her into a simple-minded girl named Nyuu. She ends up in the company of two cousins, Kouta and Yuka, who have no idea what they’re getting into when they take Nyuu into their home in Kamakura. What follows is a tragic exploration of Kouta and Lucy’s past, the hostile relationship between human beings and the diclonii, abusive parents, and madmen who want nothing more than an endless world of misery.
This is a strange blending of two genres–science fiction horror and harem comedy–and it shows in its cast. On one hand, you have protagonists like the harem hero Kouta, his tsundere cousin Yuka, and shrinking violets like Mayu and Nozomi (who appears in the manga, but not the anime). On the more serious end, you have Lucy/Nyuu, who shifts between adorable and terrifying depending on the personality; Nana, a fellow diclonius who is desperate for a father’s love and Lucy’s natural enemy; and Bando, a psychopathic soldier who lusts for a vicious battle and finds Lucy to be an irresistible target in spite of himself. Together, they make for a very memorable and dysfunctional set of characters.
Though I have the stomach for it (sometimes), I must warn newcomers that both the manga and the anime are incredibly graphic. Limbs and heads are torn apart on a regular basis, blood emerges from every wound, full female nudity is everywhere, and no innocent child goes unscathed. The anime’s use of the song “Lilium” by Noma Kumiko as both an opening theme and recurring leitmotif only makes all this carnage more poignant. This is neither a manga nor an anime series for the fainthearted. It is brutal in every sense of the word.
For the most part, I liked the manga a little more than the anime. Besides having more depth and character development than the anime, the manga also made good use of an additional character named Nozomi, one of Yuka’s friends from school. While she doesn’t seem like much–a reluctant but gifted singer whose parental abuse has ruined her self-esteem and made her incontinent to the point of needing diapers–she provides a gentle counterpoint for even more troubled characters like Kouta, Yuka, and Nyuu. Not to mention, she sings the titular song “Elfenlied.”
“Elfenlied” was originally written by nineteenth-century German poet Eduard Mörike and was later adapted into a song by Austrian composer Hugo Wolf. It tells the story of a young elf who mishears a watchman’s call for his name, comes across a feast by human beings, and hits his head on a rock when he tries to get a better look. As odd as it may seem, this poem fits the underlying theme of the Elfen Lied saga. Lucy and her fellow diclonii are magical beings trying and failing to coexist with the human world. Any attempt to make a family or a friendship only ends in failure and violence, but unlike the elf in Mörike’s poem, the violence is directed outward and results in many innocent humans dying horrifically.
Elfen Lied is hard, but worth the effort. It is a genuine tragedy mixed in with a little romance and comedy as only a good manga and anime can deliver.
The English translation of the Elfen Lied manga is available through Tokyopop. The English dub of the Elfen Lied anime is available in the US through the Independent Film Channel.
Bibliography: Elfen Lied (manga). Written and illustrated by Lynn Okamoto. Shueisha; Weekly Young Jump (magazine – Japan). June 6, 2002 – August 25, 2005.
Elfen Lied (anime). Directed by Mamoru Kanbe. Arms Corporation (studio). Madman Entertainment; Anime Network. July 25, 2004 –October 17, 2004.