Elfen Lied: Vector One review
From the moment you start watching this anime it becomes quickly apparent that Elfen Lied has no intention of holding anything back. The opening sequence of the first episode really sets the tone as Lucy is set free from her imprisonment in some unknown facility and, while making her escape, proceeds to kill the various guards and other personnel that get in her way. These killings are done in dramatic fashion, with her victims limbs being severed and generous amounts of blood spraying out. Lucy herself is completely naked, aside from a brown helmet that covers most of her head, and combined with her total silence during her rampage helps to paint her as a real monster. The conclusion to this section involves a bullet deflecting off the helmet and Lucy plummiting into the sea. While this sequence spanning several minutes is more intense than any other part of the series it does show just what to expect from it.
What is so fascinating about it though is that it is never overkill. There is a lot of gore, violence and nudity in here, but these elements help to build a strong tale rather than being tacked on for the sake of being edgy. There's a certain vulnerability expressed with the bare female body of the diclonius that is shielded behind the vectors they use to slaughter, which helps to portray how they still retain the same feelings of fear that humans would. The violence is used sparingly but it's very effective, showing a taste for revenge that burns within them. The show has no real interest in morality either, as some of the killings aren't the kind to be justified with self defence or deserved, completing the monster image of the race. These elements aren't overused either, as the series uses these kinds of scenes to compliment its story rather than them being the focus.
There is a fairly strong cast of characters to help move the story along and keep the viewer interested. Without doubt it is Lucy/Nyu that steals the show. After the incident at the facility Lucy washes up onshore and is found by Kohta and Yuka. However, the bullet that smashed off her helmet has caused her personality to split. In the waves her killer side Lucy becomes dormant and she is reduced to the level of a simpleton. She is named Nyu by Kohta due to her being unable to initially say anything else, and she has a child-like innocence and similar lack of understanding. Nyu is easily as loveable as your typical anime girl, but her Lucy side helps to separate her from the usual crowd. Whenever Nyu sustains enough of an injury she reverts to her Lucy side, mentally mature and perfectly willing to kill. This side of her is portrayed both by her change in attitude and a visual difference, with her staring out behind her bangs of hair a prominent feature that gives her a rather unsettling appearance befitting of her nature.
There are also a fair few mysteries behind her. Of particular note is how there are times when she doesn't kill someone. During her escape in the opening of the first episode she kills everyone who gets in range (even an unfortunate PA whose head is torn from her body) except for one of the researchers called Kurama, where she simply leaves a bloody handprint on his back. Kohta also almost falls victim to Lucy's murderous tendancies during her first relapse into her killer side until an image in Lucy's head stops her, indicating some connection between her and Kohta.
Mayu and Nana also appear as strong story characters. Although not a main lead, Mayu features prominently in the story. A runaway who scrapes a living in the rough outdoors, Mayu's predicament is truely an emotional one, and you can't help but feel for her as she tries to keep warm and when she crosses paths with Kohta. Her loneliness is what makes her interesting, and yet she still retains the moral caring attitude one might expect from such a girl. Nana is another diclonius who is sent to locate Lucy so that she can be killed or captured. Nana's affection towards Kurama (referring to him as her father) helped her to survive through the ordeals she suffered as a test subject, and it is her desire to please him and her mix of innocence with the knowledge of darker aspects of humanity that makes her intriguing. The events that unfold in the fourth episode will no doubt leave quite an impression as Nana's scenes there are so moving.
The main leads of Kohta and Yuka work well enough, but compared to the others in the cast they could use with being developed more. There are some distinct moments for both characters, such as Yuka's obvious affection to Kohta, Kohta's desire to protect Lucy/Nyu and Kohta's odd behavious at times. However, each one also has a tendancy to slip into boredom. Conversations between them tend to simply drag on with not much meaningful talk happening and at times their responses to situations seem too passive.
Bando is perhaps worthy of note too, as a psychotic soldier sent to kill Lucy. His first appearance displays a killing intent not too dissimilar to that of the diclonius, as he guns down civilian targets in a target practice range and punches an assistant in the face when she approaches him to relay some information. Bando really works as an undisciplined killer without morals and he works as an anatagonist for Lucy. He's the guy you love to hate.
There are some notable sequences in this set of episodes that really help to push the series along. In addition to the initial slaughter there are a few action sequences, such as the battle between Lucy and Nana. Rather than simply throw overpowered actions everywhere these sequences more demonstrate the brutality of the diclonius and the cold reality of their existance. Other set pieces help develop the story, such as Mayu coming to Kohta's house or Professor Kakuzawa's less than honourable intentions. The emotions involved come across really well and allow the viewer to truely care about what is happening.
Elfen Lied is already a success based on its story alone, but the series also excels in other areas. The amount of work gone into its visual display is amazing. The different locations are beautifully detailed and really do look the part. Characters themselves are very well drawn and animated well. Blood might look a tad bright but it's used well enough for its purpose. The visual depictions of the vectors - as long semi-translucient arms - is also brilliant, allowing the viewer to see the powers at work while looking as natural as the setting allows for. There are some issues with the appearance though, such as the horns of the diclonius looking too much like cat ears at times and the odd occassion where distant characters look a little weird, but nothing that would bring the visual quality overall down.
This visual excellence is demonstrated no better than the opener to the episodes, which goes down a more artisitic route with Lucy in prominent poses and an abstract appearance of the surroundings. Combined with an amazing opening song called Lilium, which fits in perfectly with the mood of Elfen Lied, it is probably one of anime's best openers. The closer to each episode isn't nearly as strong but is still excellent, opting for more of a J-Pop music tone while retaining some of the artistic nature of the opener.
The musical score doesn't just shine at the beginning and end though. The rest of the tracks match the mood set by Lilium and work well to highlight the events that are happening, as well as enhance the melancholic feeling of the series. Melodies that are gentle to match heartfelt scenes to horror sequences being paired with more intense instrumental riffs. The way the sounds are used to depict brutal killings also works well and is believable, as are the other sounds used throughout to depict various actions and events, such as the falling rain or the snapping of a shell.
The audio isn't perfect though, which is where we come to the vocal collection. The voice actors in the roles are not bad by any means, but the delivery of some of the dialogue tends to come off somewhat dull and flat. Exceptions are Lucy and Nana, although whereas Lucy's voice is most fitting for the role Nana's voice just sounds a litte too high-pitched all the time. This isn't something unique to the English dub either, as the Japanese audio seems to suffer almost the same problem. It's better, but not by much and possibly not worth switching to it and subtitles for. Speaking of which, the subtitles are very clear and easy to read, so you'll have no problems if you need to use them. There's even a German audio track in here too, but things don't sound any better there either.
The menu in the DVD has a nice layout. The menu options are neatly arranged along the bottom-left, with a good portion taken up by character art that 'sketches out'. Blood splatters across the screen at times, giving some colour to an otherwise monotone view. It suits the dark theme of the series well.
In terms of disc extras there are surprisingly few. Aside from a preview for the next disc there are art sets for characters and locations and textless versions of the opener and ending of the episodes. The art is nice to look at, although the inability to personally scroll through them (and thus having to wait for the disc to cycle through them) is somewhat annoying. The textless sequences really aren't anything special, although it might be worth going through them once to see the artistic designs in their full unobstructured glory. There's also the company previews, but ADV seems to put them on every release.
Despite a few nagging issues Elfen Lied is off to a fantastic start. It's definitely one that'll leave an impact on the viewer, for the better, providing you're able to handle the nudity and bloodshed. The different elements meld together for a truely engaging story that will keep you gripped and eager to see the next episode.
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