Don’t let that innocent-looking cover art fool you. Elfen Lied may feature some harem-manga tropes, such as having a hapless, every-man protagonist living under the same roof as multiple lovely, young ladies, but this is in fact a brutal and bloody science fiction/horror manga. Be prepared for graphic violence and dark themes if you decide to give this one a try.
Lucy is a Diclonius: a mutant species with horns and deadly psychic powers that can slice people to ribbons. She is so dangerous, she has been locked up in a research facility under heavy guard for the majority of her life. When a security slip-up gives her an opening, she seizes her chance at freedom and breaks out, but is injured during the escape. Lucy ends up washed up on the beach with no memoires of her past or what she is. She is found by Kouta, a university student, and his cousin, Yuka. The two take her in and care for her, giving her the new name Nyu. As she starts a new life with her new friends, Nyu’s former captors desperately try to track her down and will stop at nothing to bring her back, as the Diclonius are a threat to the entire human race.
Elfen Lied is an uneven thing to read. It does a decent job of building tension around the threat of the Diclonius and Nyu, but it’s attempts to mix in harem-manga tropes and gags are awkward at best and upsetting at worst. I suspect the intention was to create a subversion of the typical sex-comedy story found in such manga as Chobits, but it just ends up feeling like Kouta and Yuka wandered into the wrong manga by mistake. In-between action scenes, where people are dismembered and/or killed, Kouta winds up in various compromising situations with Nyu, who seems pretty into him even though he has all the charisma of a sack of potatoes. Kouta, creep that he is, never makes any meaningful effort to disengage from these situations. This, despite the fact that Nyu has amnesia and seems to have the mental age of a child. Yuka, of course, always happens to walk in on them and smacks Kouta around a bit… and then they all just carry on with their day. None of these characters ever react to anything in a normal or believable manner. Kouta and Yuka routinely make bizarre decisions, like deciding to take Nyu, who they found naked, bloody and unable to communicate, back to their house, rather than, say, to a hospital or the cops. They also don’t spend all that much time worrying about why Nyu has horns on her head or why people are hunting her. It’s bewildering and I quickly found myself rooting for the people at the evil research facility.
The other major problem with Elfen Lied is that the art is just plain bad. Dramatic and suspenseful moments are routinely under-cut by poor anatomy and characters with dopey-looking facial expressions. I seriously laughed out loud at a few of the especially goofy looking panels. Even the artist themselves acknowledged that this isn’t an attractive looking book! In and author’s note included at the back of the manga, the creator had this to say about their art: “But no matter what you see here, rest assured that I was always giving it my best.” Well, I don’t want to rag too much on someone who was trying their hardest, so, I think I’ll leave it at that.
The concept of juxtaposing cutesy-looking character designs and elements typically found in light/comedic stories with gruesome horror imagery is a good one, in theory. I have seen this setup used to great effect in other works where it has made the violent parts more jarring and impactful. Here, the romantic antics just make the main characters seem like idiots and sex criminals, and the overall experience is marred by a messy execution and poor art. I confess that I don’t read a lot of horror manga, so perhaps this series would be of more interest to genre fans or fans of the anime adaptation. Beyond that though, I recommend that you give this one a pass.
Final Score: 4 out of 10
For more information on Elfen Leid, visit Dark Horse Comics website: https://www.darkhorse.com/Books/3002-488/Elfen-Lied-Omnibus-Volume-1-TPB
Be sure to let me know what you thought of this manga in the comments. How do you thin it compares to the anime adaptation?