When we enjoy a film, or a book, or a television series, it’s only natural to cast around for something similar. I’m no different with anime. Sometimes it seems to be impossible. For example, I’m still looking for anything remotely like Erased, and the consensus opinion I get from asking other anime fans is that there probably isn’t anything. But after I enjoyed Elfen Lied I was quick to ask for recommendations. I wanted more like that. Daz, who also writes reviews for this blog, mentioned Brynhildr in the Darkness and he was spot on with that. It’s certainly as close to Elfen Lied as you could get, sometimes too close as it feels like a tribute act at times.
Both series are from the same manga writer and were animated by the same studio, albeit ten years apart. That gives this series the visual edge for me, but I must admit to being biased in favour of the more modern style of animation. Also, I do think the studio have honed their craft over the years. The storyline has the same basic premise: scientists have been experimenting on girls with a variety of special powers, some of them have escaped, and an ordinary but brave and kind-hearted boy helps them. He also has a connection to one of them from the past, but one of them has lost their memory of those events.
So far, so Elfen Lied. When we look at the differences we get a mixed bag of improvements and failings. The scientists have a much greater control over the “witches”, due to a dial on their necks. There are three buttons. One of them trips out if they use their powers too much. One of them kills them and that gives the scientists the means to hold the witches’ lives in their hands by adding an extra device to trigger the button remotely. One of them is a mystery. But the scientists’ control doesn’t end there, because the girls also need pills to survive, which the lab provides, and without them they start bleeding and die within a day or two. This lends much more urgency to their situation and the balance of power feels far less in the girls’ favour than it did in Elfen Lied. If this is going to be a victory for them, it really has to be against the odds, so this is a very exciting series.
Where the series stumbles is in the fanservice. Elfen Lied had a lot of nudity but it was integrated and justified much more than it is here. That series was full of scenes of experiments and escapes in the laboratories/prison facility, and also featured a girl who understood little about human interactions and modesty, so that worked. Brynhildr has far fewer scenes set in the labs, so in that respect it is actually less uncomfortable to watch due to the lack of scenes of abuse that were so common in the earlier series. But what it lacks is a good reason for the frequent nudity. That’s not to say there isn’t a reason at all. These girls don’t think they are going to live for more than the few days they have until their pills run out, they want to make the most of the time they have left, and there’s a very kind and brave boy helping them who they want to jump on. But it’s frequently clumsy, with absurd contrivances such as a remote school club location where they can stay over night, that just happens to have hot springs attached to it… because you always get those next to an observatory, for the exclusive use of a handful of unsupervised school kids, of course…
So despite a very similar premise and the urgency of the danger feeling much greater than it was in Elfen Lied, far more time is given over to horny rom com shenanigans, and this is at times an uneasy mix of harem anime and sci-fi action. The last episode, when the fanservice stuff is abandoned in favour of the exciting final battle, shows just how amazing this series could have been if it had been better balanced between rom com and action. It’s just skewed a bit too much in one direction. That direction makes for a lot of funny viewing, and if you like those rom coms where the guy has the pick of a lot of girls then this series does that competently, and has a hugely exciting sci-fi storyline to go with it. It also hits all the right notes emotionally, with moments of joy and tragedy to draw you in. Most of the characters are well-rounded, with their backstories explored sufficiently to shed light on their different motivations and behaviour traits. I was especially drawn in to the story of the main character’s loss of his childhood love, and the tantalising prospect that she might have survived her apparent death. The relationships between some of the girls are heart-warming to watch, as some of them experience what it means to have a friend for the first time, and in particular the kindness the main girl Neko shows to her paralysed friend Kana is a beautiful thing.
In the end, despite sharing the same basic premise, the same author and the same studio as Elfen Lied, the similarities all felt quite superficial and Brynhildr is intrinsically a very different series in its approach to the subject matter. But different doesn’t mean worse. Despite the issues I mentioned, I ended up enjoying this almost as much as Elfen Lied, and I think that comes down to just one thing: Brynhildr is a heady blend of fun and excitement. I can’t ask for more than that.
I’ll leave you with the opening title sequence (warning: contains violent images), which is a great bit of animation with a great tune as well. RP