Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Manga review: "Elfen Lied"

I liked "Elfen Lied" anime. It was the sixth anime I ever watched (not counting "Dragon Ball", "Sailor Moon" and "Digimon", which I watched on TV years before). Before it, I watched "Naruto", "Hellsing", "Claymore", "Ghost in The Shell", "Berserk" and "Basilisk". As you can see, it was first anime set in modern and normal Japan (well, except the diclonii) which featured teens as main characters. I was surprised with one boy living alone with several girls with no adults around (he he, naive me). I was drawn by interesting plot and suffering characters. I was also occasionally disturbed, but that only served to give "Elfen Lied" its unique sense. I was so delighted by this anime that I added it on my top-five list on AniDB.

But now, almost three years and 170 anime later, I don't have the same opinion. Either my tastes have changed (grew, if I'm optimist) or anime adaption is much better that the original manga, because I can't say I enjoyed reading it. I watched "Berserk" even earlier that "Elfen Lied", but I nevertheless liked the manga which I read at the end of the last year (I think it was just a bit before I started writing this blog). Same goes for "Gantz" and "Shigurui". I was surprised with the effort I had to put to complete it.

"Elfen Lied" revolves about interesting idea: what if evolution for humans has not stopped or slowed? What if there is an evolved version of humans already among us? Actually, I remember watching one season of TV series that was based on this same premise (it was 10 or so years ago, so I don't remember the name anymore). This is actually a great idea and it could develop to different directions. Focus could be put on science of it, or the social relationship between humans and their successors; it could become an action manga where they develop their powers... Unfortunately, the author focuses on emotional problem of a teenagers and preteens. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with that. There is a bunch of anime than feature teen angst but behind or parallel with it deal with something else (look at legendary "NGE"). But here, it is done just poor and repetitive.

As I said, the show includes some kind of evolved humans, which are called "diclonius" (plural "diclonii" - Latin, for those wondering why), for two horns on sides of their heads (it is actually named after a dinosaur). Except the horns, there are two main differences between them and humans: they have "vectors" (invisible ghost hands that vary in size, number, strength...) and an instinct to kill humans when they reach three or four years (starting with their parents - killing usually includes ripping their heads off). At the beginning of the series, we see a diclonius named Lucy (all diclonii are females, not one older than 18) escaping from some secret laboratory and finding herself on a beach with amnesia. There she will meet Kouta and Yuka. Kouta is young boy from country (well, although this describes at least 30% of male main characters, it doesn't have to be a bad thing by itself) who came to Kamakura for college. And Yuka is his cousin, secretly in love with him (out of all disturbing things, this is a least one). Being nice people, they will shelter Lucy (or Nyu, as they start calling her, because that is all she can say at first) and even hide her from police later. Of course, facility she escaped from won't be happy with the fact they she escaped, especially considering the fact that is the most important diclonius. Also, it will turn out that this is not the first encounter of Lucy and Kouta.

Well, not delving too deep into the plot, it is actually not so bad plot. It is not very intriguing nor does it surprise the viewer too much, but it's not boring or too predictive. In later stages you can notice that author didn't have some overall plan, since he randomly adds new elements. What I object to this series is not the plot, but almost everything else. Characters are total cliché: naive young boy, split-personality girl, crazy scientist(s)... Also, they are quite static and don't grow during the series. Nevertheless, they are not totally without charm. For example, however the character of Bandou is actually unimaginative, I liked the guy.

But there are two things that bothered me most. First, the level of violence and nudity goes to totally unnecessary levels. As I mentioned, all diclonii in anime are actually young girls. And I don't think there was one who wasn't shown completely naked. I mean, I don't mind violence and nudity anime or manga, even when it's exaggerated (I wouldn't like "Gantz" and "Shigurui" then), but scenes like tons of naked girls (with bags of their heads!!!) dismembering and decapitating bunch of soldiers are not my kind of thing. I got the feeling that both nudity and violence exist only for themselves. Even the ecchi parts don't look normal ecchi. Second, I refuse to believe that people are as bad as this series describes them. Oh, I believe that some of them (even a good portion of people) are bad (evil, selfish, insensitive... however you want to call it), open any history-book to prove it. But nevertheless, there were maybe three adult persons here that are not totally bad and even those three are not people you would be friendly with... I mean, I know there are disgusting people all around (concentration-camp-torturer type of disgusting), but I don't have to read about them torturing main characters and getting away without deserved punishment (accidental death is not deserved punishment in manga or anime - it has to have a meaning).

To technical side: this manga has 12 volumes, around 200 pages each, so it's not a long read. Art looks pretty nice, characters especially. I didn't like the ending, but graphically looked very good. Characters look unique and have distinct names, so you don't get lost who is who... Not that there is many named characters. Author is Okamoto Lynn and this was his first work. I don't know are his later works famous, but I didn't recognize any. Oh, I liked how visible was when Nyu switches with Lucy and vice versa.

While I was writing this, I kept asking myself why I did like the anime so much and not manga. Were the reasons I stated at beginning the only ones? Now, I think there is one more. Anime adapts only first half of manga and that is the good part. So it is concentrated on introducing original concepts and characters and the important part of the plot, and you don't see that there is not much behind them.

In the end, "Elfen Lied" is not a manga I can recommend to anybody. On the other hand, I can recommend the anime version. So, definitely watch the anime (be prepared for severe violence and nudity), and if you really like it and don't have anything else to do, read the manga. And feel free to quit it whenever you feel like to, because you will not miss anything valuable.

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