Elfen Lied Vol. 2

Elfen Lied seems to be getting a lot of conversation these days, and for good reason. One of the goriest anime in recent years (and certainly the most violent animated TV show ever, with the possible exception of Gantz) is becoming a hot button. And yet its reputation is not totally without merit. The first volume of the series contained not only searing brutality but also interesting characters and an engaging storyline. As we reach just past the midpoint of the series with the second volume, we start to develop our side players even further. The show trades in a bit of its ultraviolence this time out, but takes on some disturbing sequences that may make squeamish those who can handle gore while mowing down their popcorn. It's still an impressive show, but this time, it may have pushed the limit a little too far. (As this is the second review in the series, be aware that the following material refers to the first volume and may contain spoilers.)

At the end of the last volume, Kouta and Yuka had taken in a young teenager, Mayu, only to have her run away. Why did she leave? She's had some serious problems of her own, as the show vividly demonstrates. However, Kouta and Yuka find her and bring her back to their place, and within a few short days, they become her guardians. Mayu heads to school and the older two head to college with Nyu in tow. Unbeknownst to them, one of their professors is actually very aware of the experiments and recognizes Nyu as the killer Diclonius Lucy. Tricking Kouta and Yuka to leave Nyu in his care, Professor Kakuzawa exposes his real intentions and brings out the Lucy personality...not a good sign. As the episodes progress, the relationship between Kouta and Yuka deepens as they start realizing their affection for one another. Two old enemies return from the near-dead, and as Kouta and Yuka realize the mistake they made handing over their friend, the search is on for Lucy/Nyu from several different quarters. Question is, can anyone contain a devil with multiple personality disorder?

This time around, I really enjoyed the artwork on Elfen Lied quite a bit more. Though not a wonder of animation by any stretch, many of the backgrounds were nicely detailed, and the look (at least by my memory) has improved. It was never bad to start with, and though it's not to a Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo level of animation, it's impressive to watch. The music in this one also really gets a creepy atmosphere going. Relying on themes based around the Latin dirge-hymn that opens the show, it makes some scenes far darker than they would seem without it.

For the most part, Elfen Lied is still a worthwhile show to watch. I'm quite curious where everything will lead over the final two volumes, and certain character developments are proceeding nicely. However, this volume has two significant problems I have to address. The first has to do with the circular plotline. This volume consists of multiple searches for missing people, and that can only stretch so far. Sure, I understand that the bad guys are after this creature our clueless heroes have adopted, but there's a little bit too much "cat and mouse" going on here unnecessarily. There are also a few too many contrivances. Just how many major players can run into each other by accident? I like how everything is developing, but I'm being asked to believe in just a few too many coincidences, and I've seen enough search parties.

The other issue is one of gratuitousness. Now, if anything, this second volume is actually far more reserved than the splatterfest opening disc. There's only one short scene of graphic violence, along with a brief scene when the aftermath is discovered, in the whole of the three episodes. There's also much less fan service this time around. However -- and this is where the rub comes -- what's here is far more disturbing and far more calculated. Although the camera is carefully placed and not present for the worst of it, there are a few disconcerting moments when Mayu's stepfather sexually abuses her. The question is not whether this plotline should exist; it does define her person and her internal struggles. Yet it could have been done in a much less exploitative manner. In a certain way, it is voyeuristic, and it goes too far, particularly considering that she is a minor.

In that same vein, though there is less nudity in these three episodes, there are more brief "whoops" shots that feel both forced and manipulative. I was sorry to see the show go this route. Does it make it unwatchable? No. But the first four episodes, despite their considerable nudity, felt much more organic. It's as if the creators thought that people would stop tuning in if there wasn't a certain quotient of fan service in the program, and that's too bad.

I'm going to keep watching Elfen Lied. For my reservations, which are not slight, I am still fascinated by where we might be headed. This is a show for adults, and appreciated as such, I'm still convinced it's a good title. But this volume may very well offend some who weren't offended by the first, which is probably a good number in and of itself. I suggest proceeding with caution, but proceeding nonetheless.

Elfen Lied Vol. 2 -- graphic violence, nudity, strong profanity, sexual situations involving a minor, rated TV-MA -- B