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tek's rating: meh and a half

Elfen Lied, on AT-X
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Caution: spoilers.

The title is German for "Elf Song." This is a 13-episode series based on a manga series which I haven't read, and as often happens, the anime only follows the story up to a certain point, then changes the ending. And the ending of the anime apparently came well before the end of the manga. So, I have no idea how different the two mediums may be for this series, and I don't really think I'm ever going to look into the manga. There's also an OVA, which isn't included in the box set I have of the series, so I don't expect to ever see that, either. Not that I care. Before I got even halfway through the series, I was thinking I'd rate it "dislike," which isn't even really a rating for me. It's sub-"meh," and "meh" is typically the lowest I ever rate things. But eventually I decided I might as well just rate it "meh," because it's not like there's nothing to like about the show. Still, if it had been much more than 13 episodes, I probably wouldn't have bothered watching the whole series. Ultimately I rated it "meh and a half," mostly on the strength of the final episode, which actually had a lot of genuinely moving drama. If the whole series had been that good, I certainly would have rated it a lot higher.

Anyway, it begins with a girl named Lucy (who is naked except for a weird helmet) escaping from a maximum security facility, using apparently telekinetic powers to violently kill everyone who tries to stop her. So, right away we can see the series is going to have plenty of gore and nudity, which is why it's probably never going to air on any American TV channel. At the end of her escape, she's finally shot with an anti-tank cannon, which only succeeds in breaking off her weird helmet, and she falls into the ocean, or whatever.

Elsewhere, a teenage boy named Kouta arrives in Kanagawa, to begin attending college. Soon after his arrival, he's met by his cousin, Yuka, whose family I guess owns some old, now closed restaurant called the Kaede House, and they're going to let Kouta stay there (by himself), as long as he takes care of cleaning and whatnot. It seems Kouta and Yuka were friends as children, along with Kouta's younger sister, Kanae, who died when she was still quite young. Anyway, now Kouta and Yuka meet this strange naked girl who appears out of the ocean, and they take her back to the Kaede House, and give her some clothes. Despite being about their age, she acts as if she's pretty mindless, like a very young child (or I'd say more like a cat or something, at first). The only thing she says is "Nyu," so that's what they begin calling her, though later in the series she does start talking like a child. Of course, Nyu is actually Lucy, or rather a split personality, seemingly the polar opposite of Lucy. So the show can switch between intense violence and goofy comedy.

The military (or police or special forces or whatever) wants to find and kill Lucy, so some troops are sent out, most notably a guy named Bando, who is apparently the best marksman they have. He's also about the biggest asshole you've ever seen, and kind of crazy. (He just as easily could have been a violent criminal as an employee of the authorities.) Anyway, when he finds Lucy, she damn near kills him, which of course makes him want to get revenge, if he can ever find her again. (And after the organization repairs his injuries, he goes rogue.) Meanwhile, there's a scientist named Kurama, who has a position of some authority at the facility where Lucy had been imprisoned. (He's called "chief," though he's obviously not the ultimate authority. There are numerous other people there, none of whose names I ever bothered to remember, though the one who's in charge of everything is obviously completely heartless.) Um, I need to mention that Lucy is a Diclonius. Diclonii are a species of mutant humans with two small horns on their heads, and two or more invisible hands and arms called "vectors," which is what accounts for what I thought at first were telekinetic powers. And the organization says the Diclonii instinctually want to wipe out humanity. (Apparently, most of humanity isn't aware of the existence of Diclonii, but the authorities have a program that basically involves killing them at birth.) However, some, such as Lucy, are kept to be studied. Kurama has been acting as a surrogate father to another Diclonius, whom he calls Nana. (Everyone else involved in the project calls her "Number 7," and since "nana" is Japanese for "seven," I have to wonder if there's even any difference between what they call her in the Japanese version. If not, maybe the English dub more accurately conveys Kurama's different attitude toward her. I dunno.) Anyway, Nana gets sent out to kill Lucy, but of course Lucy nearly kills her. And the guy in charge of the project orders Kurama to kill her, but instead he lets her escape.

Meanwhile, there's a 13-year-old homeless girl named Mayu, who has a little puppy named Wanta. She had encountered Bando shortly after his initial battle with Lucy. Later she meets Kouta and Yuka. And I guess Yuka had started staying at the Kaede House with Kouta and Nyu. And eventually they invite Mayu to stay there, as well. At one point, Mayu encounters Nana during her battle with Lucy. And she meets Nana again after Kurama had freed her from the facility, and the two become friends, and she invites Nana to the Kaede House, which is of course a bad idea, because Nana still wants to kill Lucy. Though she comes to understand that Nyu is... different from Lucy. Which temporarily eases the tension, but not by much, since Nana still knows that Nyu could revert to Lucy at any time.

Well. There are lots of potentially interesting concepts in the series, but for the most part it just didn't work for me. Of course all the girls are cute, but that's just about the only thing I like about the show. Most of the "comedy" in the show I just found painfully cringe-worthy, though I suppose there were some things I found sort of amusing. Probably more of that was the show's unintentional redonkulousness than it was the intentional redonkulousness. It's like the writers were trying to make a show where about a third of the plot is a typical "harem comedy" anime, which I suppose usually involves dumb humor, but there are animes that can make even dumb humor genuinely funny. This one, I felt, just didn't get it right, somehow (it was more like a bad soap opera). (The other two thirds are "sci-fi/action" and "serious melodrama," which I guess were better than the comedy, but not enough to make me actually like the show, as a whole.) It also bugs me that Yuka is in love with her cousin Kouta, which might bother me less in a show or movie set in an earlier era, when such things were more common (at least from a Western perspective). But in the present, it just seems kind of squicky. (It's somewhat understandable since her feelings started when they were little kids, which can't really be taken seriously. But for her to still be holding onto these feelings when they're college-age, even after not having seen each other for years, seems weird.) Her jealousy regarding Nyu (whom Kouta isn't really interested in that way, in spite of the compromising situations that arise through no fault of his own) is annoying. And the fact that she can get mad at Kouta even when he does something she clearly wants him to do is even more annoying. But really, I rarely found any of the characters particularly likable, even when they're being nice. It's like people can only be jerks or idiots (or both), but never simultaneously nice and... possessed of even a shred of common sense. I guess the most likable or at least understandable character is Mayu, mainly because one can't help sympathizing when we learn why she ran away from home. But her incessant timidness can wear thin pretty quickly (even if it is psychologically justified), and she can act just as stupidly as any of the other nice characters.

Anyway... eventually we get flashbacks to when some of the characters were younger. Kouta had some repressed memories of an intensely traumatic event, but events in the present finally unlock those memories. Meanwhile, the organization sends out yet another diclonius, Number 35 (aka Mariko), to kill Nana and/or Lucy (I wasn't entirely clear on the specific goals, and I won't reveal whether they were successful or not). But she's not just some random diclonius... aside from being apparently the most powerful one ever, she has a personal connection that I don't want to spoil, which adds to all the drama at the end of the series. And... I don't really know what else to say, except that I felt bad for just about everyone, including characters who were basically monsters. And yet... once Kouta remembers the whole truth about his past... his feelings, I think, are more confused than they should be. (Don't get me wrong, there should be nothing simple about his feelings, but still... eh, I can't get into it without spoiling too much.) Oh, and the series ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, though I think I'd rather not see it resolved, anyway.

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