The Anime, Elfen Lied
A Meditation on Child Abuse
Os justi meditabitur sapientiam
(The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom)
- Iilium (lily), words and music by Kayo Konishi and Yukio Kondoh
I am watching the adult animated Japanese series Elfen Lied, despite, or because of, having been warned that it was sad...The boxed DVD promotional cover sticker (over Klimt pictures) reads, in part, "Gleefully nasty and incredibly stylish"-DVD Verdict; ... "Nyu is a babe in the woods, Lucy is a viscious killer; if only they didn't share the same body!"
I remember being self conscious, about fifteen years ago, during a breakfast with about a dozen people including science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold. I decided to take the plunge: I said I knew a few people with multiple personality disorder (MPD) and so I was touched that Lois didn't exploit a major character in her Miles Vorkosigan series. The character had been purposely tortured as a child into having "split personalities" so that he could be a spy. I relaxed as Lois told us she had received three fan letters of thanks from persons with MPD. At the time my best friend had the first stage of MPD.
While society thinks that MPD is extremely rare, that isn't my own experience. There is an other world out there, a world that writer Lynn Okamoto of Elfen Lied knows about. When Lucy, her main character, has a vicious personality I thought at first this symbolized how in Japan homicidal rages are not unknown, partly due to the everyday repression of anger. But no, when I saw she had more than one personality I knew then she symbolized child abuse.
In this thirteen episode series a boy and girl who are newly adult move into an abandoned inn which includes a bathhouse. There they take in runaways, survivors of abuse and neglect. One of the kids has never even seen a hot bath—let alone a Japanese bath house. At her place they always washed her down with a hose of cold water.
I am thinking... of how, early in the process of women's liberation, a woman might go through a phase of avoiding all men. Similarly, I'm sure, child survivors, even when legally adults, may have a natural phase of seeing all parents, or people over 30, as the enemy. A big safe house of young people with a big safe bathhouse, in Elfen Lied, is the children's first ever place of happiness. Here they can converse in the kitchen and share things like, in the subtitled version, (not in the dubbed) a girl saying in despair she will never be good enough to be a mother.
In Elfen Lied (EL) a young lady in a lab coat says to other adults, sweetly, "every girl needs a mother." This same lady, from a child's point of view, is evil: she manipulates a young orphan to kill. The grownups in EL—smaller eyed and lacking the hair color variation of the kids—are not pretty inside.
From my adult point of view I can see how in real life many parents who do indeed, at one level, love their children, don't seem to do so. They may be over stressed and lacking in coping skills. Many years pass. After they exchange the harsh sprawling ranchhouse for a nice cozy condo, after they go from overworking to retirement, then at last they may seem to be, and actually are, sweet grandparents. But in the growing years their children may find them baffling and infuriating. It's understandable, then, that many episodes of EL have lots of blood flying around. This symbolizes—well, maybe it just symbolizes a good plot.
Another good plot detail is memory repression. It occurs to me that some viewers may have trouble believing that people could "forget." I believe it: our society barely knows the concept of "denial." In the film The Great Santini, played by Robert Duvall, there was a scene (later satirized in an Austin Powers spy movie) where the father, Santini, repeatedly bounces a basketball off the back of his son's head saying, "Are you going to cry now?" In the mass media version, safe for society to see, the mother talks to their son afterwards, defends Santini, and sincerely reminds her son that Santini has never hit her. How nice. The semi-autobiographical novel, by Pat Conroy, doesn't stop there: the boy immediately goes to his dresser drawer and takes out a T-shirt he has been saving for a year. He tells her that she always says that, but look, here is her own blood... I like that scene because I can refer people to it as an example of denial. I would feel foolish trying to tell of real life denial. Society, just like the mother—"No, no!"—doesn't want to hear it.
Unlike other anime, EL cannot be categorized, except to say that compared to other anime it has a lot of blood, and a lot of nudity. An internet site tags EL with a really long list of categories, but declares, in the end, EL is "not classifiable."
For me Elfen Lied is a meditation on child abuse. I really enjoy the series and the opening song.
EL is like "apples to oranges" compared to my "favorite" child abuse anime. In my Silence and Three Favorite TV Nerds (May 2013) essay I said I liked the anime Serial Experiments Lain (SEL). EL portrays a far, far grimmer universe even though it was SEL, with an explicit child suicide, which required special permission from the Japanese censor board. The opening song for 13 year old Lain goes, "I am falling, I am fading, I am drowning, help me to breathe."
It's different for the opening of Elfen Lied: The camera pans past nice pretty anime versions of modernist paintings by Klimt. The characters are still, with closed eyes. The lyrics are sung in ...distant... sad serene Latin. And rightly so, as the kids are so cut off.
Update: I am so excited: I found an intense "review," written as a "reflection" for those who have already seen Elfen Lied. It reads like an essay; it refutes reviews that "don't get it," and it validates my own opinions.---Update-Sorry, the site got all changed, so the link is no good. (Maybe it's still in there, but so far I can't find it) The writer said the stopped clock symbolized how the damaged characters had stopped growing, had their lives on hold—I would never have guessed.
Update II: I see that since the song Lilium was composed in 2005, for the anime, there have been live action versions. Here is an in-church choir version that for me is sad.
Update III: (August 2015) I was watching the final episode on Youtube and I thought, maybe, I saw postures from the opening song credits. I don't plan to re-watch it to check. But what I did find was an explanation of how the Klimt inspired art is modelled from actual priceless paintings. (Link)
feeling tired one evening in December,
Here in town I once knew someone who's mother knew about her being molested by the father but the mother angrily told the daughter it had to continue, to save the marriage, rather like on Elfen Lied.
When I was a boy, children in institutions were hosed clean as a group; I have seen it on film. I think the water was warm, I know the practise has stopped. (National Film Board, 1969, Danny and Nicky)
In Elfen Lied the mutants can sense if another mutant is near. In one scene an especialy vicious one approaches. A girl's face changes to utter terror. "She's come to kill me!" Utter knee trembling terror. She kneels, curls over and whispers, "It's only a matter of time. She's going to kill me!"... I wonder what it is like if you are a girl in a European immigrant Muslim family, trained through violence to have obedience, and then to know, fearfull, it is only a matter of time... as you are ordered to go on a family vacation back to the country of origin, a country where you may be murdered, honor killed, to ease the family's shame.
I mentioned honor killings in Europe of women and girls in a previous essay (July 2012) entitled Intentions and Default Behaviors. In Holland the police were apparently ordered to cease recording statistics on honor killings. Now "no systematic record is allowed" by the Department of Justice. I don't get it.
In Europe they will prosecute individuals who take holidays overseas to go be pedophile sex offenders. However, they will not enforce the law when families take a vacation to have younger daughters genitally mutilated, or to have older daughters left overseas, and put into virtual slavery, with their passports ripped up. Or be murdered.
This according to a former interpeter and Dutch Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali as documented in her book The Caged Virgin (copyright 2004) subtitled An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.
Update: Story by Henry Chu, L.A. Times, London, dated Dec 20, 2008- of a woman, Humayra Abedin, being ordered back to Britain under the new 2007 Forced Marriage Act. The British high court also ordered her family not to harass, threaten or forcibly remove her from Britain to Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). She had lived for six years in Britain before being allegedly held against her will and married off in Bangladesh. A local Bangladesh judge agreed with her return saying her family's behavior was "unacceptable."
Update: Canada, too: Friday Nov 9, 2012 Calgary Sun p 20, "Edmonton-Police rescued a 21-year-old Edmonton woman who was found forcibly confined in her home as she awaited an arranged marriage outside of Canada, say cops who have charged a man and woman."
Sorry to be too tired to give advice today, but at least I can be a witness.