“Begegnung (A Chance Encounter)”
The view from Igirisu:
For the last year or so I have been challenging my non-anime-fan friend Mike to watch some anime series and write about them on an episode-by-episode basis. We started with a deliberately challenging choice, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and then moving onto two of the best thrillers anime has to offer, Erased and Another, before tackling the Haruhi Suzumiya spinoff The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan. Now it’s time to push Mike as far out of his comfort zone as he can possibly get with one of the most controversial anime series ever made: Elfen Lied. Each week we will feature my review of the episode, followed by Mike’s. Let’s see if the quality of the series and the themes and ideas it explores so expertly can win him over, against the backdrop of so much violence and nudity. As always, a note about spoilers: we will both do our very best to avoid spoiling future episodes, but these will be detailed articles, so we suggest watching each episode before you read our reviews.
If you didn’t know that this is a series that isn’t going to pull any punches, you’ll be fully aware of that within the first few minutes. We start with the opening sequence, featuring Lucy naked in a Gustav Klimt art style, while Lilium is sung in Latin. It is a collection of Christian prayers, psalms and hymns, and also features briefly later in the episode being sung by Lucy, indicating that it might have some significance beyond the opening.
The first shot is a severed arm with a twitching hand, and what follows is one of the most violent sequences ever made in an anime, with Lucy slicing and dicing almost everyone in sight during her escape from captivity. What is striking about this sequence is the economy of storytelling. It is actually far from being gratuitous, because almost every moment is imparting some important detail to the viewer. Within the first four minutes (including the opening titles) we have learnt that this girl can kill people somehow while she is still tied up, she can make objects float to her while her arms are tied, she can open huge security doors apparently without touching them, bullets do not work on her because she can protect herself from them, and she cannot hurt people from more than two metres away directly but can utilise objects to do that. After another four minutes we have learnt that there is some kind of invisible hand thing going on, as she is leaving bloody handprints everywhere, she has spared the life of a man who appears to be in charge, for reasons unknown, while mercilessly killing everyone else in sight, we know her name is Lucy, and she can be injured if she doesn’t protect herself. There is even time during these first few minutes to establish a new character, Miss Kisaragi, make her somebody we feel we know well already with a few shorthand characterisation tricks (she’s a klutz) and then have her killed off straight away. Remarkably, within seven minutes somebody is killed who we care about. If anyone needs to learn how to structure the introduction to a new story, to establish the facts and make us care about what’s going on, they need look no further than the first few minutes of Elfen Lied. It’s a masterclass.
The next characters to be established are Kouta and his cousin Yuka, who are meeting again for the first time in a while, long enough that he doesn’t recognise her. The backdrop to this meeting is a striking contrast to what we have just seen, some stunningly beautiful scenery with falling blossom, gorgeously animated. We learn that Kouta’s little sister died many years ago, and then Lucy shows up naked on the beach. She is clearly not quite human, as Kouta notices; she has small horns coming out of her head. She also seems to be behaving very differently to when we saw her escaping. Can this be the same girl? She is nervous and seems mentally like a very young child. She is enchanted by the falling petals, which presumably she has never seen, and she doesn’t seem to be able to speak, apart from saying “nyu”. At least that allows her emotions to be expressed by the intonation of her voice, and both Kouta and Yuka are a bit slow on the uptake when they don’t realise she needs the toilet. So it is clear that Lucy has no experience of how to behave around other people or in a normal home, and no sense of modesty about her body either. She also has child-like logic. Yuka hits the nail on the head when she realises the reason why Lucy breaks the shell that means so much to Kouta:
“I think she understood. She knew the seashell made you sad.”
So that shows empathy, because Lucy sensed Kouta’s emotions, but also a child-like simplicity to her solution to the problem. She saw a way to heal Kouta, without understanding the complexity of his emotional attachment to the shell. It also indicates that she cares about Kouta already, so she is far from an emotionless killer.
The episode also has time to introduce us to another major character, a monster of a man who is being sent to kill Lucy. Bando is a psychopath and a sadist, and again that is established quickly and effectively with a few scenes such as his violent treatment of an assistant. This is also the moment the anti-military message comes across clearly for the first time:
“Every day what does this training add up to? Killing people.”
As the episode ends, we get a juxtaposition between the words “she’s vicious” and a shot of Lucy in tears. This is going to be a series of contrasts. RP
The view from Amerika:
Roger and I have been working in the Junkyard now since the summer of 2017. Hard to believe we’ve been doing this labor of love for over 2 years. I picture two friends rummaging through an old junkyard and finding little “treasures” and calling out to one another: “ooh! Look what I found!” The last two years have unearthed many surprises for us. And it’s funny: we both love good writing and have shared a love of a TV show that has lived on for over 50 years (Doctor Who). But when we’re unearthing those treasures, I’m often surprised to see how much our reactions vary. Frequently, I’ll find some awesome nugget and Roger will brush it away saying something like “well, it’s ok, but look at this…” and he’ll show me something that I look at and boggle: what does he see in that? We agree often too! I’m not saying we are always on opposite ends of a spectrum, but when we disagree, it’s fascinating! It is frequently utterly fascinating and eye-opening. No, more than that: mind-opening. We’ve exposed each other to things we would never have touched had it not been for the others influence. When Roger brought me to the world of Anime with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya, I was given some great stories…along with some weak ones (Endless Eight, need I say more?). I wouldn’t say I was won over, but rather “on the fence”. I loved it when the story was energized and full of time travel and science fiction, but I hated the fan service as the girls in this series were, by my reckoning, too young for that sort of thing. Then Roger unearthed Erased, and I was sold: Anime has something to offer. Then came Another, a horror series that captivated me. In retrospect, of those latter two, I can’t say which I preferred. They are both MUST SEE series. Most recently, he pulled Elfen Lied out of some dark corner of the Junkyard and handed it to me. But he warned me: it may have too much fan service for you. I started episode one reluctantly…
And was blown away by the beauty of the choral music that opened the series. The opening artwork is fully of “nudity” but I put that in quotes because I didn’t see this as any more lewd than a tapestry in an art gallery. Then the episode begins and my first thought was of the 1981 movie Scanners. It’s a movie notorious for one specific image: a person’s head blowing up. When this story started, a girl in an experimental base begins a brutal path of destruction with her mind, and the first victim has his head utterly exploded. I take no issue with this sort of thing mostly because it’s over the top violence, but also because I can immediately figure that this woman is the victim of some sort of experimentation. In fact, what I was reminded of most was the superbly well-crafted 2005 PC game F.E.A.R. (So much so, that I looked it up to see if that was inspiration, but found nothing!) Like this, a young girl is unintentionally made into a psionic monster leading to immense amounts of blood being spilled and some truly scary video game moments – an absolute classic! The entire first 10 minutes of this episode (of the 20 odd minutes to the whole thing) is effectively an anime interpretation of F.E.A.R. Well, accept that this one can manipulate a bloody handprint in especially freaky ways. (I hope to come back to this in the future episodes!) The fact that the girl is naked barring a helmet did not strike me in any way as strange especially as she appears too tall, elegant, and developed to be a child. If I had any issue with the first 10 minutes of the story, it’s that the unnamed Destroyer of Heads walks through pools of blood, but leaves no bloody footprints. As she attempts to leave the island, she is shot in the head, but the bullet only succeeds in destroying the helmet and dropping her into the water, while some blood comes from her head.
We are then introduced to Yuka and her cousin Kouta. While they are at the beach talking about the death of Kouta’s sister, Kanae, our Head Exploder comes out of the water. With her flowing red hair, she’s a vision of Venus… or perhaps Ariel… Perhaps the bullet to the noggin reduced her urge to pop people’s heads like balloons but instead of testing the elasticity of the two beachcombers craniums, she hangs around with them squeaking out “Nyu”. (I had to remind myself that she was not asking for a visit to New York University, as NYU is referred to over on this side of the great divide!) Yuka has Kouta give the naked girl some clothes, then realizes there are some odd things about her, namely in that she seems to have two horns emerging from her head. (No one comments on the red eyes, but I was rather excited by that!) Rather than call the police, these two decide to take this nearly mute, naked, horned creature back to Kouta’s house. (Who am I kidding: if this happened to me, I’d be doing the same thing, so not for a moment will I criticize the story for doing this!) Once at the house, we are given some exposition to explain how Kouta can live in it – he’s basically the housekeeper and gets to live there on the cheap if he cleans it – and we can move on. Inside, Nyu starts running around but cannot communicate her troubles until she finally sits on the floor and a pool appears under her. I’ve been around long enough to identify humans from horned creatures with psionic abilities, and it is clear to me that this creature is not “one of us” so her behavior is in keeping with what I’d expect. She had to pee, and that’s that! Then when she breaks a shell that reminds Kouta of his sister, he becomes furious with her and kicks her out. She runs off, crying. Yuka realizes that Nyu did this because the shell made Kouta sad. This is definitely interesting considering what we’ve seen so far: a girl who can destroy people at a thought, but doesn’t want to see a young man hurt by loss. I can’t wait to understand more about her. I hope she hasn’t gone far! (Incidentally, F.E.A.R. isn’t the only inspiration I noticed for this series. When Nyu is named Lucy, I immediately thought of the 2014 Scarlett Johansson movie of the same name, about another girl who develops some heightened powers of her own.)
Meanwhile, the organization that created our F.E.A.R wannabe has plans to hunt and destroy this strange girl. I’m very excited to see where we go from here.
If I have any complaints with this story so far, they are both things that may pass quickly. The first is when Nyu cries: it’s that exaggerated whine/cry that some cartoons feel the need to use to express crying, as if the audience is too stunted to know crying unless it’s over the top infantile caterwauling. While this passes quickly, it actually surpasses the sound of nails on a chalkboard for making one’s head explode. Apt, I suppose. Hopefully, we will not hear a lot of this. Second is Bando, the mercenary. We are shown what a creep this guy is when he belts a woman for “sneaking up on him” when she was in fact offering him tea, but it’s his last line that troubles me: “never saw the day when this country would let me terminate a minor.” I even checked the subs. In this one sentence, we establish that the tall, elegant, naked, horned girl is meant to be a minor…
But if she’s not even human, does any of that matter? I will see how episode two plays out before I decide! ML
Our reviews of the second episode of Elfen Lied will follow next Sunday, one day later than usual, to accommodate a special article next Saturday for Halloween.