Writer: Lynn Okamoto
Genre: Drama, Psychological, Seinen
First complete run: 2004
Regular episodes: 13
Elfen Lied is a deeply traumatic 13 episode experience. Let me be absolutely clear: if you're squeamish, or easily bothered by extremely graphic scenes of violence, rape, and torture, you should stay away from this one. Elfen Lied is, in my opinion, a relatively well-made anime, but it can only be appreciated when contextualized for a strictly seinen audience. The show takes place in an alternate reality in which a new, genetically engineered strain of the human race called "Diclonius" have emerged. Diclonius look like humans except for two horns coming out of their head. Additionally, the Diclonius females have an extra set of arms called "vectors," which are transparent, telekinetically controlled arms that can cut anything within their reach. Frequently tortured, persecuted, and sexually assaulted, the Diclonius are deadly killers with a grudge against humanity. The conflict between the Diclonius, especially a powerful girl named Lucy, and the scientists responsible for the mutation forms the crux of the anime.
Elfen Lied does everything you could ever want horror to do, and then some. It asks deep philosophical questions about the meaning of humanity, and it doesn't exactly spoon-feed you the answers. The anime will frighten you, shock you, and offend your deepest sensibilities, but it usually feels like the violence has a thematic purpose, and isn't just for the sake of shocking you. The drama is tense and suspenseful at times, sickeningly accompanied by comedy at others. The Ring doesn't even come close. And of course, with all the murderous horned girls running around, an interspecies romance involving Lucy is inevitable. Technically, the anime is very sound. The dialogue and plot structure are always fluid and not clumsy, weaving a careful and valuable story. The accompanying score is also wonderfully done. Interestingly, the Elfen Lied incorporates the OP into the story; the song has a thematic purpose in the anime as a whole. If you can stomach it, Elfen Lied is an extremely well-constructed story about brutality, love, and what it means to be human.
One stipulation: the ending blows. The anime diverges from the manga a little bit, particularly towards the end of its short length. It tells a complete story, it just feels rushed at the end in a way that the more slowly developed manga does not. For fans of the anime, I strongly suggest reading the manga to do justice to the dramatic end to this franchise.