Elfen Lied – 13 (Fin) – A Brief Dream in This Hell

As Kouta wanders home in a daze, his memories returning thanks to the violent sights he’s seen, Kurama fishes Nana out of the water, saving his daughter once again and admonishing her for not moving much, much further away (though his instructions should have been more detailed). Lucy neutralizes Bando (though notably doesn’t kill him), and Shirakawa’s assistant keeps the dormant Mariko safe—and keeps her self-destruct safely in his hand.

Mariko’s powers return and she escapes her captors, and then she and Lucy find each other and have a duel. It’s a testament to Lucy’s experience and toughness in Diclonius combat that she manages to last as long as she does against a far superior opponent. But while she loses a horn and a fair amount of blood, Mariko fails to kill Lucy off…because her dad arrives in time to stop her.

Just as she could tell her “mother” was a fake, Mariko can instantly sense that Kurama is indeed her father, and is shocked when he pulls his gun on her. When she spots Nana with Kurama, and hears her call him Papa, Mariko’s jealousy spills out and she proceeds to beat Nana up with her Vectors.

Then Kurama drops his gun, draws in close, and wraps his real daughter in his warm embrace…for the first time. He carries her off while ordering the assistant to activate the device. This time the child whose life he takes is his own, but he goes out with her, assuring her that both her parents loved her to their last breaths.

The assistant is about to shoot Nana, but his head is blown off…by Lucy. She can’t go back home to Kouta after what she’s done, but Nana is innocent and good and kind, so she asks Nana to do what she can’t and live a good and happy life. Nana obeys.

Back at the facility, Kurakawa reveals he’s a wannabe Diclonius just like his son, while Arakawa quietly hides Kouta’s record, feeling bad for him. We’ll never know if she ever got that bath…

Then we have an extended and emotional goodbye between Lucy and Kouta, who finally realizes that she, Nyu, and the girl he met at the orphanage were all her. Lucy tells him the happiest days were the ones with him as a boy. They were a brief and beautiful dream in the hell that was her life, and she survived this long so she could tell him how sorry she was for what went down.

She turns to leave, but Kouta won’t let her go just yet. In fact, he wants her to stay, even if he can’t forgive her. They kiss and embrace, reenacting the Klimt painting, with Lucy flashing an El Greco hand. We then see Lucy on the bridge, facing a huge military force, and a battle ensues…with an intentionally ambiguous result.

Some time later, the household of Kouta, Yuka, Mayu and Nana is a happy one. Nana’s cooking skills are improving, and they have an extra place setting for Lucy. Then they hear Wanta barking outside, and Kouta goes to see who it is.

The silhouette behind the paper door looks a lot like Lucy in her dress, but before he can open the door to confirm it, the grandfather clock Nyu always messed with, which he could’ve sworn was permanently silent, begins to chime.

And so we say farewell to the brutal, haunting, and poignant Elfen Lied, a story as much about how some can continue to endure, love, and be loved after living through unspeakable suffering—and how some can’t—as it is about scientific arrogance and ambition gone awry. Heck, it’s about a lot more than that, and I’ll be thinking about its hard-hitting symbols and themes for a long time.

Elfen Lied was also a blast from the past in the best possible way. Anime character design and animation has evolved quite a bit in sixteen years, but like the Dicloniï that evolution wasn’t necessarily all for the better. I’ve also rarely seen a series mix body horror and comedy with such effectiveness. What could have been a tonal mess only draws you in deeper and made me care about the characters more. You feel every horrible act of violence and cruelty, just as you feel every pulse of warmth and kindness.

Finally, the series is greatly elevated by music from the duo of Konishi Kayo and Kondou Yukio (who’d go on to score House of Five Leaves and … sigh … Pupa). I don’t think I’ll ever see or hear an theme as hauntingly beautiful and sad as “Lilium”. Mine eyes welled up Every. Damn. Time. They truly don’t make ’em like they used to.

Elfen Lied – 12 – Total Recall

Shirakawa and the assault team can only stand around and watch in horror as Mariko continues to toy with Nana like a child rips wings off an insect. Only Nana is, horns and prostheses aside, a human being. Despite this, they allow 35 to have her way with Nana so she’ll be more cooperative. It’s frankly sickening to see other humans stand by and let this happen.

I know they see Dicloniï as an existential threat to humanity, but Shirakawa and the soldiers are abdicating their own humanity by allowing such sickening, wanton cruelty to occur. Lucy may be one thing and 35 another, but Nana is living, breathing proof that Dicloniï can coexist peacefully with humans. Mayu sees Nana and Nyu as sisters and Kouta and Yuka as their mom and dad.

And it’s Kouta who comes to Nana’s aid when no one else will, putting his own life at grave risk. Not only is Mariko eager to have more “fun” killing people, she resents the fact Nana has a friend, something Mariko didn’t believe was possible because, well, she’s been encased in a giant steel enclosure who whole damn life! I can’t blame Mariko for being the way she is, which is a direct result of the dehumanizing, self-defeating actions of the researchers at the facility.

Nana uses her remaining strength to keep him from being hurt, demonstrating she’s far more human than those who wish her dead. She ends up falling off a bridge into the water, and her fate is left unknown. However, when Nyu finally catches up to Kouta, she slips on a pool of Nana’s blood and hits her head. Lucy reawakens and kills Shirakawa and the soldiers one by one right in front of Kouta, whose long-repressed memories finally surface.

The story that unfolded in episode nine is thus completed, as Lucy followed Kouta’s family on the train out of Enoshima. Kanae claims to have witnessed a “girl with horns” killing lots of people at the festival, but Kouta doesn’t believe her. When Lucy appears, Kanae confirms she was the killer, but Kouta won’t hear of it, slaps Kanae, and orders her to apologize.

Kanae just wants to get Kouta away from Lucy, worried he’ll be her next victim and putting herself between the two, but Lucy snaps her in half, and then beheads Kouta’s father. When Kouta asks why she did these things when he thought they were friends, she calmly responds in her cold Lucy voice: “I didn’t kill you because we’re friends,” then vows to kill Yuka next.

Let me be clear: Lucy is this way because of humans. She killed the bullies because they bullied her; had they been nice to her she’d have been nice back. She punishes Kouta by killing those close to him because he lied to her. It may have been a white lie meant to protect her, but someone with her past didn’t make that distinction, and it doesn’t change the fact it was not the truth.

Back in the present, Kouta finally reconciles those newly surfaced memories with Nyu’s true identity, but he has little time to process them as Bando arrives ready to kill Lucy. She flees, baiting him to follow her, and urges Kouta to meet her at the stone steps. Kouta and Lucy have hurt each other gravely, but perhaps, like Shirakawa briefly hoped, there can be a resolution that doesn’t involve killing. Okay, that involves minimal killing. Bando obviously has to go.

Attack on Titan – 07

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We quickly learn this week that those intense flashbacks to when Eren and Mikasa first met, and Mikasa found her purpose in life—to be with Eren—was all simply building up for the moment Armin tearfully informs her that Eren died to save him.

It’s another cruel blow to someone who’s already endured so much pain; in fact, it figures to be the final blow; after all, Mikasa has been going on over and over about there being no other reason for her living than Eren.

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To Armin’s surprise, and mine too, however, Mikasa doesn’t break down; not outwardly anyway. Instead, she seems to shut down right then and there. Her eyes lose their sparkle. But for now, she sticks to her duty. She gives a big speech about being far stronger than all of them (which is true) and calling them pathetic cowards.

She’s going to go fight and live, even if she has to do it herself. Others follow her, whether due to a sudden spark of motivation from her words, or out of shame. Elsewhere, it’s so grim one soldier successfully loads a gun so he can put it in his mouth and end it all.

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But like Armin, we know something’s not right about how Mikasa is proceding. She’s going too all out; killing with extreme prejudice until her gas supply is totally exhausted. And with no gas, she has no mobility, and no more hope of suriving the gathering Titans.

She kneels in an alley, waiting for death…but she reflexively doesn’t let herself die, in spite of herself. As a Titan comes at her, then another, she remembers Eren, and dodges, and fights back, like he did, to save her. Then one of the Titans kills the other, and leaves her alone. Wait…what?

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This “ally” Titan—with familiar unkempt hair and steely teal eyes—is Eren in another form, to my eyes. And he kills the other Titan with the same raw ferocity he killed one of Mikasa’s captors; as she puts it, putting “all the manifest anger of humankind” behind his righteous blows that rip his own fist apart, only to re-heal instantly.

It’s too soon to be sure, but this “unique variant” may be humanity’s first real effective weapon against the Titans. If he pans out as a reliable human ally, he certainly won’t be a total game changer; he’s just one “good Titan” against countless scores of Titans of all shapes, sizes and strengths. But I for one am glad Mikasa and the little people have scored a break, even if it’s a temporary, incomplete one. Like them, I’ll take every break I can to stem the rising tide of blood and anguish.

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Attack on Titan – 06

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I wasn’t all that enamored of Armin’s extended whimpering at the beginning of this episode, but his realization that not only is it a cruel world where the strong slaughter the weak, but it has always been so; he just had to lose his best friend to realize it fully. And messed up as he is, he can still look at a desperate Hanna performing CPR on her clearly-dead Franz and think stop…he’s already dead. I am weak. We are weak. But we don’t have to fall to the strong today.

While Armin laments the apparent loss of Eren and the rest of his unit in its entirety, Mikasa bags her first Titan (or at least the first Titan we see her bring down), an “abnormal” that runs a lot faster than the others and was about to go to town on a throng of evacuees who weren’t able to escape because a haughty merchant is blocking the gate with his wagon full of goods.

Mikasa’s job is to kill Titans, but she’s killing Titans to save lives, not goods. So she clears the gate a blade less than an inch from the merchant’s eye, then goes back to work killing Titans once the evacuation can proceed. Her superior wonders what the hell this kid went through to become so tough and unyielding. I too have been wondering where she got her seemingly superhuman strength…and how she, and Ackerman, came to live with the Yeagers.

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The show enlightens us with a gut-punch-riddled flashback. Armin’s assessment of the cruelty of the world is felt firsthand by Mikasa, whose loving mother and father are murdered right in front of her eyes. They prepare to sell her into the service of old perverts, as she’s a rare (if not one-of-a-kind) “oriental”. And that’s exactly what would have happened, had Eren not tagged along with his dad on a house call to the Ackermans.

When Eren realizes what has happened to the parents of a girl he was going to meet for the first time (and was going to weigh whether to be friends with her based on “how she acted”), he goes off on his own to rescue her, achieves entry to the criminals’ hideout by pretending to be lost, and then kills two of the men holding her, one with a knife to the gut at the door (just how Mikasa’s dad was killed), the other more viciously with a spear-broom.

But there’s a third man, and once he has his hand around Eren’s throat, it falls to Mikasa, who had always abhorred the inherent cruelty and violence of nature. Eren gives her the rundown: Fight, or die. Win, and live. That’s it. With the knife in her hands, a switch flips: she’s the strong one here; the man busy with Eren the weak one. With overwhelming force, she fights and wins, and she and Eren live.

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The two kids are shell-shocked in the aftermath of that ordeal, but Mikasa is still in tune with reality enough to say she’s cold, and ask which is the way back home. Eren and his dad welcome her into their home, which becomes her home. Eren gives her his warm scarf; perhaps the same scarf she still wears in the present.

Eren is her everything; he saved her life, and woke her up so she could save both of them. He’s the reason she’s alive, and the reason she fights, and wins, and continues to live. As long as he’s with her, she can do anything, and goshdarn it, I believe it. But what if he isn’t with her? What if he’s Titan chow? I know he isn’t, because, well, this isn’t Gurren Lagann and he’s not Kamina…but she doesn’t know that yet.

That aside, this was a tremendous flashback episode that helped humanize and further deepen our understanding of our favorite character in the show by a mile so far. I daresay it was worth arresting the momentum of the last couple episodes.

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Attack on Titan – 05

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When Eren ends up all alone with the Colossal Titan, he wastes no time attacking it, using his ODM gear to climb all over his body and delivering a blow to the back of his neck as he was trained to do. But Eren doesn’t have his revenge today; the Titan merely disappeared as mysteriously as he’s twice appeared. Just a couple of footprints where the enemy once was. And he’ll surely be back whenever he feels like it.  There’s no resolution, no catharsis…no glorious victory.

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Now in the heat of battle, Eren is the only one among his contemporaries who seems to have his shit together, and that’s because, as his instructor noted, he’s never seen anyone work with as much purpose as Eren. He’s singularly motivated to defeat the Titans, and hard-headed enough to let that drive drown out his nerves, if only partially and temporarily.

He tries with all his might to relay to those around him the importance of forgetting about what they have at stake and focusing on their immediate duties. Armin and Mikasa are brighter than Eren, but those extra smarts put them at a disadvantage here. They waver; they overthink. Eren has to headbutt Mikasa to snap her out of her feedback loop. “You’ll be fine. We’re all going to make it. Now get your ass moving.”

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Eren’s comrades on the battlements were conspicuously absent during his skirmish with the Colossal Titan, and not just because they were flung far away, but because they were to a man paralyzed with fear. Jean, enraged his transfer to the interior has been postponed, fumes about having to share his fate with a “suicidal maniac” even though he played all his cards right to get the cushy life he wanted.

Well, everyone, including Eren, learns this week that life isn’t fair, and life for the humans of AoT is a constant cycle of false security and horrendous massacre. No inspiring deeds or words from Eren can change that, but they are enough to motivate Eren’s comrades to follow him into battle. That…doesn’t go well.

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AoT is gradually starting to train me that Eren’s words about defeating the Titans and saving the world are, so far, just that and nothing more: words. And words are wind. Not a single Titan is shown being decisively killed. Eren and his mates look really cool dramatically swinging around the city, then Eren gets a bit too close to a Titan and loses a leg.

That leg is like our hope that victory is possible in this battle, but that Titan is this show, heartlessly snapping that hope up the blink of an eye and turning everything to shit. One by one, his comrades, who had enough lines (albeit mostly death flags) earlier that they’re not just pure redshirts, are plucked up by Titans and…the rest is left to our imaginations.

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Rather implausibly, Eren doesn’t let the loss of his leg (and whatever other injuries he sustained during his deceleration) stop him from literally snatching Armin from the jaws of death, only to be snapped up himself, losing an arm in the process and being swallowed, to Armin’s infinite dismay. Holy Crap, I thought to myself: the protagonist got eaten in the fifth episode.

But the Titans don’t care who you are, how much money or power you have, what your plans for the future are, or why you’re fighting. They’re only interested in what you taste like. I’ve seen few shows where it’s being a thinking, feeling, loving human being sucks this much. Where mankind has been portrayed as this damned and ineffectual. And AoT’s just getting warmed up.

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