Monday, November 17, 2008

The RM 225 Report of the Diclonius Project: A Criticism of Elfen Lied

The first seven minutes of the anime series "Elfen Lied" revolve around a woman escaping from a secret government facility with calculated, deadly precision. Using only her mind, she stops bullets, lops off limbs, hurls sharp objects through flesh and decapitates helpless guards and staff members, all while she is naked, I might add. I sat back with rather piqued interest. I had heard the praise and accolades for this show as the premiere horror anime and I was ready to be astounded.

"Elfen Lied" tells the story of a young girl named Lucy (Kira Vincent-Davis). She is a Diclonius, an evolved form of human that have horns on their heads and mental vectors with the shapes of arms and hands that can do their bidding. When Lucy escapes from the government facility where she is being held, she gets hit in the head by a rouge bullet and develops another personality. This second personality is named Nyū (also voiced by Vincent-Davis), a childlike girl who doesn't have a huge vocabulary, does have an infinite curiosity of the world around her and possesses no knowledge of what she's really capable of. Nyū is found by a young man named Kohta (Adam Conlon) and his cousin Yuka (Nancy Novotny), who proceed to lodge her in Kohta's newly acquired, spacious house (it was formerly a restaurant).

I was looking forward to finding this anime a powerful and emotional experience. What ultimately transpired was one of the most disheartening and dejecting experiences I've ever had watching the visual medium. Now I've heard most of the negative complaints about the show, most of which aren't very drawn out. So I feel that I must get my two cents in, for the sake of my own sanity and to give a proper voice for the dissenters of the series.


I feel most film and TV is a two way conversation. The art presents a story which has certain elements which invoke certain things in me. That in turn allows me to interpret the story in my own way using elements of my own life and the world around me as inspiration. There are some cases where the conversation is one-sided, but it's left in the hands of the viewers. A good example of this is Robert Bresson's 1966 film "Au Hasard, Balthazar," which tells the story of a donkey with numerous owners in its lifetime, some good and some evil; but the film itself refuses the luxury of having the characters emote. This leaves the viewer to fill in the emotional blanks themselves, making it a much more difficult but more personal viewing experience.

The worst type of stories are those where the conversation is one-sided but it's led by the story, brandishing a shotgun and forcing you to go a certain way. This is one of the main problems of "Elfen Lied." The story and atmosphere of the show are diametrically designed to make you feel sorry for the Diclonius, hate the bad guys and admire Kohta and Yuka for taking Lucy and the rest of her kind in his (Kohta's) house.

The most prominent way this feeling is achieved in the show is by portraying humanity in a very negative light. The Diclonius themselves are not generally known by the public since they're being bred in secret, but whenever a Diclonius interacts with a typical human being, they either get berated, whispered about or treated snottily. When a younger Lucy falls down to the ground, she is yelled at to stand up because she is blocking the road. When Nana (Sasha Paysinger), another Diclonius, is trying to figure out how to buy some food, she's treated with very little respect just because she doesn't really know what to do. While she walks away, two girls whisper about how dirty and unclean she looks. These facts wouldn't bother me so much, since humans are not necessarily the nicest of species, if it didn't pertain to almost every single normal human on the show. Sadly, it does just that.

This is further compounded by the fact that most of the men on the show are either jerks, misogynists, moral deviants, sexual deviants or any combination of those traits. Besides this fact offending me emotionally, this offended me as a man. Consider the operative character, Bando (Jason Douglas). In the first scene you meet him, he's pleased at the prospect of being able to just kill someone without question and knocks the lights out of a poor woman who was just walking behind him, calling her a bitch. The magna, the source material from where the show is based, has a supposedly more three-dimensional treatment of him, but I guess the creators of the show thought it was a bad idea to make him nothing more than pure, angry testosterone.

This is also true of many of the more knowledgeably capable people on the show, including many of the scientists. One of whom has a scene where he has Nyū naked and chained with intenstion to rape her, with full knowledge that she is also Lucy. This leaves the "good guys" without very many natural resources, thus leading them to become slaves to the plot. Things happen to them, they don't implement.

Another story to consider is the backstory of Mayu (Cynthia Martinez), a young runaway who lives in a storage area on the beach outside of town. Once again, it should be noted that I don't hate tragic backstories. If you count how many times an anime character's parents have kicked the bucket, you're going to need more fingers and toes. When they showed how she was molested by her stepfather, however, I felt sick. Not just because of the idea of molestation, which is sick in itself, but how explicitly they portray her getting violated. They literally have a young naked girl, with her head down and on all fours. It just reeks of desperation and exploitation.

The greatest straw breaking moment is one that many fans and non-fans talk about a lot -- the puppy. Yes, the puppy. During a flashback we see Lucy befriend a puppy as her only friend since she isn't really liked at her orphanage. Unfortunately, her fellow orphans (her tormentors) find out about the puppy and proceed to beat it to death in front of her (offscreen, but still) for their amusement.

The root problem with the emotional core of the series is that it doesn't seem to trust my emotional intelligence. When I start watching something, I'm ready to empathize and care about the characters onscreen. When you start feeling like you're being directed to feel a certain way at every moment however, it stops becoming an organic emotional experience and starts becoming a dirge.


Suspension of disbelief is an aesthetic of art where the audience believes elements of a plot to be true even though they are outlandish or impossible; I, myself, practice this theory a lot. Not everyone is that willing however. Take my Dad. He has one of the sharpest disbelief sensors I know and he will openly criticize any piece of work when it jumps the gun. The biggest rule of his is if the story is taking place in the real world, you accept a certain fantastical fact at the start of the story and see if the plot stays true to both the real world and the fantastical fact.

Another huge flaw in "Elfen Lied" is that the environment surrounding the series doesn't pertain to how normal human beings would react. When the series started I could understand the idea of a government holding a special laboratory to create new human-based weaponry (a great example is from the film, "The Manchurian Candidate"). I could also understand the local police department being paid off to make sure that the town doesn't know that crazy government dealings were being done not too far from their homes. This whole setup comes crashing down when Lucy escapes. After that happens, I started wondering why there were no characters of any sort who were curious about the recent acts of violence.

What I would have liked to have seen was a cop who is wondering why his department doesn't seem to care about why his own force has been so busy and secretive. Either that or a newspaper reporter who realizes the correlation between the events now and the events eight years before the Diclonius Project started. Or how about a government liaison who starts wondering why this project he doesn't know about seems to be having problems in its area of location?

Why doesn't this series even allow for simple human curiousity to bring an outside perspective into the game? Once again, this lack of general logic purposefully casts humanity negatively and controls the viewer's feelings by marionette strings.


Both the overcompensating emotion and intermittent logic of the show ultimitely converge to the singular biggest problem of the entire story: the Diclonius themselves.

Their "dilemma" reminds me of Fritz Lang's 1931 masterpiece, "M," which tells the story of a man named Hans Beckert, played by Peter Lorre, who wanders the streets and kills innocent children. For most of the movie we are very convinced that he is guilty, but then a strange thing happens near the end. Hans explains to a group of angry criminals about how he's driven by an uncontrolled mental compulsion until he kills again. Now this doesn't make him any less guilty, but it paints a more complex emotional landscape. It starts raising questions: Is he pure evil or criminally insane? Is he mentally ill or directly motivated? These questions are part of the complex scope of humanity.

With the Diclonius however, their violent nature is ingrained in them. They understand perfectly well that they have vectors and will not be afraid to fight or kill whenever necessary or unnecessary. This includes the emotionally calmer Nana, whenever she battles Lucy to try and bring her back to the facility.

I've heard that the Diclonius represent the struggle between nature vs. nurture, but even that argument is flawed. I personally believe that we are capable of any emotion we can set our minds to, because the entire emotional spectrum is innate within us; that is our nature. What happens then, is how we consciously or subconsciously process the events of our own lives. This translates into how we act. Some have the power to change, some can't, but the most important aspect is that we almost always have the choice to ourselves.

Once you remove the choice, you ruin the moral complexity of the dilemma. When Lucy starts killing at the young age she does, it's activated by a mindset already inherent within her. It was bound to happen sooner or later. It can't be changed. It makes me think of those people who believe that Autism is a disease that can be cured...

Let me explain something: Autism is not a disease, it's a disorder. It can be stabilized, not cured with a shot like a virus.

Also the main violent vendetta placed by the Diclonius to kill the human race is logically unsound. The main issue is that once all humans are extinct and they still have that violent tendency, who's left to kill? Each other. The Diclonius are forever in a vicious cycle leading towards their own self-destruction.

With this knowledge, the series seems to make a point, whether intentionally or not, that the Diclonius would be dangerous to be left alive and should be killed. Now, I can already hear the word hypocrite being shouted at me for being in similarly mistreated group of individuals. Autistics have had their share of troubles including centuries of little understanding of mental disability to them being thrown in asylums and given LSD for experimental purposes during the 1960's. (Since when is giving hallucinogenic drugs to neurologically unstable children ever a good idea?)

So why should I defend one group of sufferers but criticize another? Well, there are two main differences. Firstly, no autistics are trying to take over the world and it would be quite hard for us to attempt since 75% of us are mentally retarded (I am one of the lucky few who is not). Secondly, we and many others have crusaded peacefully for our existence leading to studies, treatments, laws, education programs and international exposure; all because people can actually care about others, which is something "Elfen Lied" has a hard time grasping.

Ultimately the series made me feel used and manipulated, both mentally and emotionally. If that's what it was going for, then yay for you, but I'd rather leave with some shred of human dignity first.


After reading my more rational criticism, this is my revenge...

P.S. Any flaming regarding this video would be redundant since what you would like to do to me is represented at the end of the video.

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