Elfen Lied Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What They Say
Imprisoned under tight military security, Lucy, a genetically-altered human known as a Diclonius, escapes her confines in a wave of bloody violence and brutality. Now lost, alone, and stricken with amnesia, she wanders into a kindly family that takes her under their care, oblivious to the latent destructive power that this innocent-looking girl harbors!

The Review!
Take one nubile young woman, attach horns and then give her a number of invisible hands that can tear flesh apart like a blade and you have the opening volume of Elfen Lied.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. A rarity in general, but this release has a 5.1 mix for this language and it's nicely done for the most part though it's not a hugely immersive experience. Some bits of dialogue are thrown to the rears here and there and some of the action sequences provide an overall sound field but it's fairly minimal. When we do get the ambient effects there and music, it's done nicely to enhance the atmosphere but it's fairly brief and not terribly consistent. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Being of such a recent vintage, the source materials here look really good and essentially as clean as can be. The one area we were afraid of was with all the blood and red coloring but that came across without any problems such as bleeding or dot crawl. There is some color gradation effects visible at points throughout the show but that's more a source issue than anything else. The episodes here run the gamut of locations and different backgrounds but all of it just looks nice and tight and problem free.

Using the character art from the limited edition release of the first Japanese volume, we're given the image of Lucy as her helmet shatters and falls away but with a very different background, that of a moonlight sky and sea instead of material from the opening sequence backgrounds. In addition, some changes were made to the character artwork; whereas the bottom half of her body was one shadowed, we instead get a lot more skin. And her right arm is covered in a lot of blood to emphasize that this is a violent show I guess instead of leaving it clean. Interestingly, there was an "appropriately place" sticker on the front cover with the series logo even though you really don't see anything there that you can't see on dozens of other releases. The cover fits into the "all right" category but I just don't like the changes to the character artwork. The back cover is done in black with splotches and streaks of blood across it with a small picture of Nyu in a blood covered top kneeling down. The summary covers the basics of the show and the discs extras are clearly listed. As has become a welcome standard, the technical grid lays out all the info needed to asses what makes up the disc in an easy to ready if slightly busy format. The insert replicates the front cover artwork without the series name on one side while the other provides a text interview with the executive director of the series. It does warn of spoilers right from the start, so we skipped this entirely.

While there are a number of average or plain menus out there that simply exist, there are precious few menus in the anime world that I simply don't like by Elfen Lied managed to succeed there. Going with what I guess is some sort of in-theme piece with the medical/lab atmosphere of the first episode, it's a gray piece on a black background that has line art rotating through one part while another has a large black hand across it and the menu selections are listed along the bottom. Over the course of the thirty second menu, blood drips down as the creepy noises play out and then you get a big crunch and lots of blood flying. It just doesn't look good or sound good but is at least easy to navigate, if you get your selections made before the big blood spurt that is. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation itself pretty straightforward. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets properly and played without issue.

The extras are a bit thin here and are probably the extent of what we'll see for the series. A pair of artwork galleries is included with one devoted to character artwork and the other to production pieces. The opening sequence is provided in clean format as is the end sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Elfen Lied, a thirteen episode TV series, is the kind of title that after watching it reminded me heavily of ADV's roots. It's been many years since their first releases but one that stuck out a lot from back then was Guy: Double Target. I don't remember much of the show other than lots of blood and shredded bodies. Elfen Lied features a lot of that and a number of similarities to the other series in current release, Gantz, especially in the new apparent love of making people limbless. There's simply nothing more exciting than watching limbless people.

The first four episodes of the series set up the basics and really don't go much further than that. What we get is an idea of just how violent the show wants to be while alternating it with standard cute material, presumably in an effort to shock us or make us complacent for when the next round of violence starts. It opens up inside of some mysterious heavily armored laboratory compound where a young woman is chained up and wearing only an armored completely head covering helmet. She's managed to break free of her confinement and is walking slowly throughout the halls of the complex as dozens of armed guards take aim with their semi automatics and try to fill her with lead. It's all pointless though as nothing hits her but when she gets close enough to the guards who are now paralyzed with fear, their bodies simply rip apart. It's a brutal and violent scene with equally disturbing sound effects to go with it. All of this goes on until the woman, apparently named Lucy, is able to get out the back door of the complex and disappear into the sea, sans helmet.

At the same time this happens, we're introduced to Kohta and Yuka at the nearby town of Yagushima. Kohta's arrived there on the train that day to attend college in the area and it's also where his cousin, a young woman named Yuka, lives as well and has for most of her life. Kohta used to come out here many times when he was younger but that stopped eight years prior after a train accident that resulted in the death of someone and a traumatic experience for him. But now that he's here, his aunt has put him up in a vacant traditional style restaurant establishment for his house and his only duty to it is to keep it clean on a daily basis, which is how he'll pay the rent. One of the old adages is that a house that's empty falls into disrepair faster so this is an ideal solution.

The pair check out the local beach they hadn't been together at for such a long time and it coincides with the arrival of Lucy there as she staggers out of the sea. Unlike as we've seen her before, her expressions and mannerisms are much softer and she seemingly has no recollection of what she just underwent. Even worse, she doesn't understand anything that the pair says and can only say "Nyu" in response to everything. Rather than take her to the police like any normal person would, the two bring her back to Kohta's new place where they try to get her to settle down and figure out what's wrong with her. This leads to standard confusing conversations, piddling on the floor and the breaking of important mementos. Before you know it, Lucy no known as Nyu takes off into the cold rainy weather as she feels she can't stay where she is.

Since her escape from the containment facility, those there have put into action a plan not to retrieve her but rather to eliminate her. We get to see a variety of teasing bits about what she is, something called a Diclonious, and how if she gets into the general population she'll destroy mankind. One of the plans that's put forth has a small military group of SAT's going after her, which has one comical character named Bandoh in there who loves to kill and has a weird sense of honor about it. Another method that gets brought into play later on is another of the Diclonious is sent out after her, one that's far more controlled and controllable than Lucy is. Each of these things shows up in the little seaside town and causes quite a lot of trouble for Kohta and the others and has Lucy/Nyu going through split personality moments as they try to cope with the threat while also feeling safe with living with Kohta.

The draw to the show early on here, other than cute naked chick, is that there's a lot of violence wrapped up in a pretty bland mystery. Based on the opening sequence you have visions of the kind of back story and mythology that supports something like Evangelion or RahXephon, but what plays out within the episode is far more standard and simple and filled with huge amounts of blood. Some of the sequences go on so long that you wonder if they ran out of red paint to get it all done with (and yes, I know it's all digital). Watching as Lucy takes care of those who oppose her is interesting at first but it gets pretty repetitious within the first episode alone so that even in the fourth episode when she's fighting another Diclonious there isn't anything that's really surprising. I think they made a real mistake at one point as well in showing that some people can see the hands and arms that they generate. When we couldn't see it, it left more to the imagination and much more deadly.

From a violence and action perspective, the first four episodes are fairly fun to watch and will keep most peoples attention. If you're in it for the characters, you'll want to slap a lot of them early on. Lucy is fine what little we get of her but Nyu you just want to abuse. I've long lost the interest in characters who only talk in cutespeak single words and all the comedy that goes with it so this was difficult to watch. The actions of the other characters make little sense as well, such as not taking Nyu to the police or anyone else. There's also the obvious hints of a relationship that Yuka wants to have with Kohta which means we've got to spend time on the past which will probably tie into the Lucy storyline and we have to find out whether they're really cousins or not.

The character of Bandoh is amusing at first and he fits into the show very well since his main purpose is to kill and that's it. Lucy provides him his first real challenge and he revels in it until it really starts going badly but he's the kind of character that you love to hate from the start. Another character that comes into play and hopefully has some real purpose here later on is Mayu, a thirteen year old runaway who lives on the scraps at the docks and beaches. She's got a little puppy with her that she takes care of and is friends with and is primarily there to scare the viewer into thinking it's going to get chopped up as well.

In Summary:
In watching these episodes, especially within the same timeframe as Gantz, I'm left with a fairly uninterested feeling about the whole thing. The setup is pretty standard if a bit minimal and I did like some of how they portrayed Lucy's powers at the start, but the cast is so uninteresting or unlikeable and they act in such ineffective or unrealistic manners that it pretty much has me rolling my eyes more often than not. It's got some good designs and the animation is nicely competent without many really visible shortcuts, but at the end of the fourth episode even with the revelations made, there isn't any overpowering drive to make sure the next volume is the first thing to go into my player.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean open and ending animation,Character and production artwork

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: D
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Elfen Lied