Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 28th 2005
DVD 4: Vector Four
The Director authorizes the use of Number 35, the deadliest of all the Diclonius, to hunt down Lucy, but Kurama has his own ideas about how to handle matters. Meanwhile, Nana struggles to adjust to life with Kohta and crew and reconcile herself to the fact that Nyu may be the same body but not the same personality that she fears. But the hunt for the escaped Diclonius makes bloody confrontations inevitable, and this time Kohta does not remain oblivious to what – and who – Lucy/Nyu really is. What dark memories will be aroused when he finally sees Lucy's true nature? What is the full extent of their past connection? All will be revealed in this final volume.
The year's edgiest and most intensely graphic series concludes with a trio of episodes which resolve most of the major plot threads, serves up a couple of surprises, and finally reveal the full truth behind the incident in Kohta's past which caused him to lose part of his memory – and no, that isn't one of the surprises, since anyone who's been following the series to this point should at least partially anticipate that revelation. A couple of points are brought up in the final few minutes which strongly imply that there's a lot more story to tell, but then the series ends on a note of anticipation. This will doubtless frustrate many fans, and a few plot points are left hanging, but overall the ending feels right. Kurama's story is resolved in the only reasonable way it could be resolved given what leads up to it, and while some may question Kohta's reaction to finally realizing who Lucy/Nyu really is, it does not feel at all out of character.
The healthy doses of nudity and gory deaths in Elfen Lied (and this volume is no exception) invite comparisons to Gantz, but whereas the latter is almost pure sensationalism framed within an action-oriented story, Elfen Lied is a true horror story with some romantic elements mixed in. Sure, it's got its shock value, but it also has a bit more story, a lot more substance, and tremendously better pacing. The background of Lucy showcases the stress factors that can shape one already predisposed toward psychosis into a monstrous killer, while the contrasting case of NANA shows how the influence of, and belief in, a father figure can shape one so predisposed in an entirely more socially acceptable direction. The extreme dichotomy between the Lucy and Nyu personalities, when combined with the final bits of background revealed in this volume, raises the possibility that Nyu's absolute innocence may be less a writing gimmick than a plausible psychological reaction to feelings of extreme guilt on the part of Lucy. Events revealed in this block of episodes also suggest that Kohta's motivations for taking all these girls under his wing might run much deeper than his character being a typical anime nice guy. The writers also didn't forget an important rule of horror tales: some of the scariest and most disturbing villains are cute children filled with malicious intent and/or a callous disregard for human life.
One should not be quick to overrate the depth and complexity of the storytelling, however. This is still a pretty straightforward story loaded with plenty of nude girls (even in the opener and closer!), bodies getting torn in half, and various body parts exploding to satisfy those with more prurient interests. The victims in this volume aren't always adults, either, so the series is still nearly as edgy as it was in the previous two volumes. On the more pleasant side, seeing the subtlety in Yuka's envious reactions to Kohta's friendliness with the other girls, instead of the bombastic reactions we normally get in such situations in anime, is a refreshing change of page.
While other top-end titles may surpass Elfen Lied in writing, it has few equals in technical categories. This is some of the sharpest and prettiest traditional anime artistry to be found in any anime series, especially in its detailed renditions of backgrounds and strikingly vivid (but never garish) use of color. Character designs beyond Lucy are unoriginal, but that can easily be overlooked given how exceptionally well-rendered they are, and the series continues to do a great job in visually differentiating between the Lucy and Nyu personalities through alterations to her expression, posture, and manner of movement. Even the gore is very well-handled, though it cannot be stressed enough that the series pulls no punches on showing it. Animation is also amongst the best of recent series; the only obvious CG effects are the vectors used by Diclonius, but movements are consistently smooth and fight scenes lack typical anime shortcuts. The only reasonable complaint here is that the series slightly overuses flashbacks in the final volume, but do keep an eye out for a brief flash scene showing how Kurama's life with his wife and daughter might have gone had Mariko not been born as a Diclonius. (It passes by so fast that you'll have to slow it down just to comprehend what you're seeing.) Let's not forget the beautifully-drawn opener, either.
In its sound production Elfen Lied is in a class by itself. There may not be a better-sounding animated series that's ever been made, in this or any other year or country, nor one which better-exploits a surround sound system. Some of the credit for that goes to a top-rate soundtrack based around the soulful, elegant Latin opening theme “Lilium” (which, as it turns out, is actually a plot device) and buttressed by suitably creepy or dramatic musical scoring in other places. It's in the use of background noise and sound effects, and the way everything is balanced between multiple speakers, where the sound production truly excels, though. This is a Hollywood blockbuster-caliber effort.
ADV's English dub, originally the weak point of the series, has made great strides since the first volume. While the English casting has always produced very good matches for the original Japanese voices, the performances at the beginning were a little weak. The voice work has steadily improved since then, partly because the VAs have clearly found their respective characters' proper tones and partly because the Japanese vocals they were patterned from have also improved. The last three volumes also give the VAs more of an opportunity to show off their characters' emotions, and this is generally done well. The English script still wanders a bit, but it is tighter than it was in early volumes.
As with previous volumes, ADV serves up a good set of extras with this one. Clean opener and closer, extensive character and production artwork, and company previews are once again present. The special feature this time is a collection of cover artwork from the Japanese DVD releases, while the liner notes explain the translation and composition of the lyrics for “Lilium:” they're an amalgamation of phrases taken from Biblical verses, hymns, and Nicholas Melchior's Alchemical Mass. A reversible cover is also present, and the creepy sound effects used on the menu screens of past volumes are back.
Elfen Lied is definitely not for everyone. This isn't a series that children should be anywhere near, and it's not for the prudish, squeamish, or anyone else that doesn't have a very high tolerance for nudity, extreme graphic violence, or general cruelty. For those who can handle it, though, it is a horror series of exceptional merit, and its final volume does the series justice.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Best-ever sound production, outstanding artistic merits, oodles of intensely gory violence.
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