Elfen Lied volumes 1-8: It just doesn’t grab me in the way that the anime did

In the course of Earth’s history, it has inevitably been the case that one species has risen to dominance, only to eventually be superseded by another- and with the emergence of the two-horned Diclonius, it seems that humanity’s time has inevitably come. Able to manipulate matter with invisible hands known as vectors, and consumed by the desire to kill all humans from an early age, the Diclonii are deadly and dangerous- and college student Kohta has just unwittingly invited Lucy, the most lethal of them all, into his home. Fortunately for him, however, a blow to Lucy’s head has caused a gentler and more benign personality named ‘Nyu’ to emerge, but how long will it be until she reverts to her murderous state? Whatever the case, it looks like Kohta has become irrevocably woven into the lives of both the Diclonii and those who wish to research them.

All too often on this blog, I have expressed my dislike of gratuitous violence and fanservice, explaining how easily they ruin my enjoyment of a series. When it came to Elfen Lied, however, something was different- no matter how much I told myself that it was effectively a harem series with overtones of gore, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. What was it that made Elfen Lied somehow acceptable? Perhaps it was the OP, a simple yet compelling fusion of animation and music; perhaps it was the production values that made the settings and character designs so aesthetically pleasing; maybe it was even the simple fact that I like the shade of Lucy’s hair- whatever the case, even though it wasn’t something I’d rush to watch again, it was still worthy in its own way.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in due course I would turn to the manga version of the tale- after all, how many times has the original manga proven to be much better than its anime adaptation? When it came to Elfen Lied, however, this was not the case. Without the visual flair that imbued the anime with its appeal, the manga truly could not be anything more than a needlessly over-the-top parade of fanservice, violence and more bodily fluids than its own good. Whilst at least a portion of it obviously had to be present to make the story what it is, some scenes proved to be utterly pointless- why, for example, does Nyu have an uncontrollable desire to squeeze everyone’s breasts? What was the point of creating a character who loses bladder control when nervous and thus has to wear a diaper (couldn’t she at least use a more discreet incontinence pad)? Yes, shocking the audience with extreme content can have its place, but there is such a thing as taking it too far and just ending up with a distasteful mess in the process.

Whilst all this certainly makes the manga far less enjoyable than the anime, it should at least be said that Elfen Lied in manga form isn’t a complete loss. The biggest draw is, unsurprisingly, the fact that it takes the story beyond the anime, and whilst the animated version was largely self-contained, it is interesting to see where the story should have gone next as a new arc picks up some months later. Also of note are the darker themes such as rape and child abuse that feature heavily in the series, and whilst they aren’t as cutting as some may imagine, they do lend a measure of emotional depth to the series- after all, murderous as the Diclonii may be, doesn’t human cruelty run much deeper?

When it comes to the cast, it is almost impossible not to think of the series as “Kohta’s Harem”, with an increasing number of girls coming to live with him as the series progresses. Although there is some back story between certain characters, they are generally a well-defined if not particularly developed, having distinct traits but never really evolving into anything more beyond their introduction.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the artwork, the manga once again proves to be a disappointment in comparison to the anime. Although the quality does improve with time, the early chapters are extremely rough around the edges, and even the mangaka’s best work cannot capture the alluring the visual style of the animated version, with only the cover art really standing out.

Final Thoughts
With its disappointingly mediocre artwork and bizarre determination to plumb the depths of crudeness, the only real card the Elfen Lied manga has to play against the anime is that it continues the story beyond the boundaries of the animated version. Even so, it is only recommended for those who liked what they saw of the Diclonii on their TV screens, and even they should approach with caution.

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