Review for Elfen Lied: Complete Collection
At the end of 2012, anime fans in the UK got a fair bit of good news, not least of which was the arrival of two new anime distributors on the scene to add to the triumvirate of Manga, MVM and Kazé. Anime Limited has yet to release a disc, but they have made a splash in the cinema, and some of their forthcoming licenses look very delectable indeed. On the other hand, 101 Films were first up to the plate when they announced that winter 2013 would see their first two anime releases. They went to the back catalogue for their first titles, a couple of ADV releases that have been out of print since the company went under some five years ago. Anime fans would have cheered at the arrival of a new company, and they would have cheered even more at the first two titles announced, the controversial fan favourite Elfen Lied, and my favourite Shinkai, The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
The first piece of bad news was that no sooner was The Place Promised in Our Early Days listed on e-tail sites, than it was delisted as well. It was a tad disappointing, but the subsequent news from Anime Limited made up for that, as it turned out that they had picked up its licence, and they were instead releasing it on Blu-ray later this year. Still there was Elfen Lied, and fans had a chuckle when it appeared on retail sites, no doubt at the obvious misprice. That chuckle died down when it became apparent that 101 Films were indeed asking £59.99 RRP for a 9-year-old anime show, and simply a re-label of the old ADV discs at that. No new transfer and certainly no sign of the OVA episode that ADV originally licensed but never released. In a market where new thirteen episode series typically RRP for between £24.99 and £29.99 on DVD, and around five pounds more on Blu-ray, expecting a vintage series to be re-released for twice that is pie-in-the-sky to put it mildly. The release date came and went, and two weeks later, the show was in the bargain buckets for £15. No need to read between the lines when at this time, there is no further anime scheduled for release from 101 Films, although they apparently do have some Marvel motion comics on their books.
Anyway, Elfen Lied is my last guilt trip. I was a little late on the broadband wagon, and there were only a few months between my getting hooked up, and Crunchyroll becoming a full blown legitimate anime streaming service. In those few months though, with no other option available, I did take the chance to stream a few fansubs for shows that I had missed out on, or hadn’t been released in the UK, just to see what every other anime fan had access too. Most of those shows were ADV titles, shows that were no longer available after the company’s closure. Subsequently the guilt trip hit, and in the next few months, I went about getting those shows on DVD, importing if I had to, and made easier by the pre-credit crunch exchange rate. There’s only so much guilt that my shelves can bear though and Elfen Lied is the last such show I’m going to buy. Let’s face it, there are only three episodes of Angelic Layer worth watching, and no amount of guilt will ever convince me to shell out for Bubblegum Crisis 2040. I missed out on Elfen Lied during the ADV warehouse fire-sale, but figured around £15 would be a worthwhile price.
In a secret research facility all hell breaks loose when a mysterious girl escapes. She was shackled, naked but masked, but she broke loose of her bonds, and with unfathomable powers, she went about reaping the facilities’ security contingent, and indeed anyone else that got in her way, literally rending them limb from limb. She almost got away when a sniper’s bullet felled her, striking her head, and she fell into the ocean. The bullet wasn’t fatal though.
It’s something of a homecoming for student Kohta in Kamakura. It’s been several years since he was last there, and he’s reunited with his cousin Yuka after all this time. As they catch up on old times, it becomes clear that Kohta’s memories of his last visit there aren’t all that reliable. Visiting the beach to remember his late sister Kanae, the two of them are shocked to see a naked red-haired girl walking out of the ocean. The odd thing is that she has horns on her head. The other odd thing is that she’s mentally an infant, can’t even speak, and the only sound she can make is “nyu.” Naturally they call her Nyu, and take her home where they try and figure out who she is, and where she belongs. That question is about to be answered in the most ominous way, as the research institute want their test subject back at any cost, while Nyu may not actually have lost all of her memories of who she is and what she is capable of.
13 episodes of Elfen Lied are presented across 4 discs from 101 Films.
1. A Chance Encounter
3. Deep Feelings
6. Innermost Feelings
8. The Beginning
13. No Return
We’re distinctly old school with this release, with the old ADV discs offering a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer of the NTSC-PAL persuasion. ADV’s conversions in this regard were pretty good, with the animation clear and free of judder, and without visible interlacing artefacts. That said, we do have to put up with the lower overall resolution and distinct softness inherent in these old transfers. Also, Elfen Lied is prone to shimmer on fine detail, which while it isn’t much of a problem in the show itself, it does really let down the spectacular opening sequence to the episodes. The animation itself is a little dated now, with simplistic character designs and somewhat limited in terms of motion and energy. The contrast also shows as Elfen Lied’s world design is pretty well realised, detailed and with more complex colouring than the characters. The two aspects of the animation don’t always mesh well. But the action sequences come across with impact, and the one-two punch of gore and nudity make sure that the anime still hits the controversy on-switch.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 English, Japanese, and German, with optional English and German subtitles and signs only tracks. I was happy enough with the Japanese audio, with some entertaining, if predictable voice actor performances. The English dub on the other hand is just as schizophrenic as the show, and it seems the voice actors had a harder time reconciling the cute aspects of the show with the horror. As it is, the cuteness seems forced, while the horror is underplayed. As usual, the English 5.1 audio is an up-mix, but I get the feeling the Japanese 5.1 track is an up-mix as well. Certainly the unsubtle placement of effects, and more in particular off-screen voices seemed affected and obvious. I enjoyed the show a lot more when I set my player to down-mix to stereo, and keep everything at the front of the soundstage. Subtitles are free of significant error and are accurately timed.
So what do you get for that £59.99 RRP? The packaging is pretty nice. Four discs are presented in an Amaray style case, two overlapping at the front, two at the rear. The case comes in a card o-ring style slipcover, which has an extra flap on the front held closed by a Velcro tab. While the front of the slipcover mirrors the DVD sleeve, the flap conceals some appealing artwork from the anime.
Inside the case, you’ll also find a fairly substantial two sided poster, with production artwork on one side, and a large character image on the other.
The discs themselves are simply re-pressings of the old ADV discs. The label art may be new, with a 101 Films logo added to ADV logo, but in playback the discs are identical to before. It’s no surprise that the extras are the same as before too.
All discs get animated menus, and jacket pictures (the wrong one on disc 2) to look at when the discs are at rest in compatible players. On insert you get UK and German flags leading to the menu for that language. The German menu is preceded by an anti-piracy advert. In the extras menu on each disc, you’ll find a link to DVD credits. On that page you’ll be able to play the English language end credits for each episode (A 6 minute reel on disc 1, 4½ minutes on the others), and a generic German credits reel. The episodes themselves only display the original language credit reels. From the German menus, you also get German language ADV trailers.
All discs also get a couple of art gallery slideshows with the same runtimes on each, Production Artwork (3 mins), and Character Artwork (4 mins). You get the textless credits, and for the first three discs, previews for the next volume in line.
Trailers across all discs comprise Gilgamesh, Mezzo DSA, Final Fantasy Unlimited, Full Metal Panic, Lady Death, Kino’s Journey, and Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Elfen Lied’s big selling point when it was first released, and indeed when I first watched it online, was the controversy it engendered. That is no less true today, and I get the feeling that a minor reason why the ADV discs were simply re-released, and it wasn’t re-mastered for native PAL playback and the OVA added, was that doing so would have required recertification, and I doubt the BBFC would have been half as lenient the second time around. I do not understand why this got a 15 from the BBFC, with a ‘strong violence and sexualised nudity’ warning. Strong violence is an understatement. Think Scanners, but with little girls.
We have an ‘institution’ keeping little girls naked and bound and experimenting on them. These girls have telekinetic abilities, vectors that can literally slice people apart, body parts flying all over the place, blood drenching the walls, we have dark themes such as child abuse and repressed memories, and to top it all off, it’s made just a tad more controversial with strong biblical overtones and religious allegory. Then Elfen Lied goes and compounds the controversy by drenching the show with cuteness and moe elements. These psychopathic girls are all adorable and huggable, and when they aren’t on a slaughter trip, they’re all tugging on the otaku heartstrings by making cute noises and wetting themselves. If Chi from Chobits was actually a Terminator...
But beneath the controversy, beneath the violence and the gore, beneath the naked girls, and beneath the cuteness, lies... not very much at all. Elfen Lied’s story only works because of the most outrageous plot contrivance, a small world coincidence that is compounded by not one, but two cases of amnesia. It also comes up with a resolution that strains the bounds of credulity, but which I won’t proceed to spoil here. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your own WTF! moment.
Anime shows and movies are usually put together by production committees, studios, sponsors, broadcasters and record companies all chip in to get a show made, and it’s one reason why licensing shows can be such a maze. But Elfen Lied seems put together by a committee in the traditional sense, in that a group of people got together, with the aim to sell a show, and listed down the elements that would appeal to as many fans as possible. Sex, violence, and breaking taboos, coupled with the sort of cuteness of character that ensures the sales of tie-in CDs, posable figurines, and character body pillows. With a situation like that, the story really comes as an afterthought, and it’s to Elfen Lied’s credit, that despite the plot contrivances and the lack of believability of its characters, its story just about hangs together.
It’s best if you don’t ask too many questions of it, as it doesn’t do much of a job in explaining. The Diclonius, the little girls with horns who go around slicing people into bits in between being cute, are apparently the next stage in human evolution. They propagate through some sort of virus, infecting pregnant women and turning their unborn children into some sort of cuckoo. Just why this is happening is never made clear. The institution is set up to research them and somehow stop them from prevailing. Of course all such institutions are run by absolute nutters, and the one running this one actually wants the Diclonius to prevail. Why? We never know.
It’s a mishmash of cute and horror that I just can’t get my head around. But somehow Elfen Lied just about works. Its characters are engaging enough, despite being utterly daft at times. Its story holds the attention, even when it isn’t making any sense, and there is something to be said about the controversy behind it. Its Latin opening sequence, Lilium, and the amazingly detailed and engaging imagery that accompanies it promises something deep, dark, depressing, and laced with allegory and layered meaning. The actual show fails to deliver on that, offering something more visceral and immediate, while its animation is simple and not that effective, maybe one reason why all the death and dismemberment only earned a 15. But the episodes do somehow manage to mix dark and light in a way that resonates. And while there are cute moments within, most episodes do end with that death and dismemberment, and overtones of child abuse at the forefront of the mind. Then the end theme by Chieco Kawabe, “Be Your Girl” plays, a wholly inappropriate j-pop ditty that makes your toes tap and puts a smile on your face.
Still, the forthcoming Deadman Wonderland has the same kind of impact as Elfen Lied while being a lot more entertaining and well written, so the formula itself can work, even if Elfen Lied isn’t quite as good at it. The controversy that initially sold Elfen Lied is still there, but it’s really only good for one watch. The second time you watch it, you’ll be picking holes in its flimsy construction until it just falls apart. 101 Films’ RRP is patently ridiculous, and even now you’ll be able to find it in a bargain bucket for not much more than the £15 I paid for it. That’s still too much though, as Elfen Lied hasn’t dated that well. There are better shows out there.