First off let me say, I am heavy into anime. These reviews are going to pretty in depth, or as far in depth as I can go until I start majorly spoiling. That being said, I will make my best attempts at keeping them minor or absent all together.
Elfen Lied: Infamous for its bloody mess of gore, cruelty and nudity. A combination that could make many a person turn away. Yet, a huge number of people watch this, knowing (to some extent) what they're going into. Some people call it a 'masterpiece', people some call it 'perverted', some people don't know what to say, and some call it 'horrible'. The first is true, the second is an exaggeration, the third is understandable, and the fourth is so wrong.
The first episode starts off with what is the bloodiest and nuditiest 10 minutes of any show I've ever watched, and I'll tell you this: If you live through that, you'll live through the series. And vice versa. Lucy, a naked girl of the Diclonius race, a species of mutant humans with invisible 'arms' called Vectors, is escaping from a facility (more like assaulting her way out), killing countless guards and whatnot on her way out (all in the nude). When she's finally outside, she's sniped, but she doesn't die. Instead, two teenage cousins (the two other main characters), Kouta and Yuka, discovers her on a beach. She has lost her memories, and is only capable of saying "Nyu", which is what Kouta and Yuka names her. They also decide to take her home, and...
The story suddenly drops severely in its gore level there, and slowly builds up again throughout the remaining twelve episodes. Along with the gore come cruel events upon cruel events, as more Diclonii and their sad pasts are revealed. Nyuu 'awakens' as Lucy more frequently as the story progresses, in the end completely reverting to her old self. However, there might be an obstacle preventing her from going completely psychotic...
The characters are all okay, though they do act really stupid at times (if you find a girl with horns lying drenched in blood on the beach, you don't just take her home and decide to keep here there, do you?). They've all got some back stories, which contents are mostly those of cruelty, blood and relationships. Especially note the latter; relationships. It's an important aspect of the series, as they are the main factor as to why the Diclonius are so "cruel" as they are. "Cruel" because they aren't the real cruel ones; that dubious honor goes to the humans. Treating the Diclonius as mere research subjects, being shunned by the very people who should take care of them, and being killed off for stupid reasons. Among the main characters, their love (there is a love triangle between Kouta, Yuka and Nyu/Lucy), broken promises, lies and "lies" have all had their effect on how they are in the present, and what happened some years ago is connected to their development in the present day.
The series is only 13 episodes long, and in that short time quite a lot happens, which may make it seem rushed at times; it does move forward at a too high pace. The end result however, is actually extremely good, and a really tragic, enjoyable and gory experience.
The artwork is extremely good, yet very average. While backgrounds and scenic details are very meticulous and a real pleasure to the eyes, the character designs are way below what you'd expect after seeing the backgrounds. There is too little detail on them, the coloring is too bland, and they donít fit in with the detailed surroundings in any way. The camerawork is very good at times though; at the rare occasion it reminded me more of the camerawork used in anime movies rather than anime series. The artwork during the opening theme is pretty interesting too; I think it's based an Austrian painter (Gustav Klimt)'s works.
The soundtrack is decent, with a marvelous Latin opening theme named Lilium that fits right into the series' overall tone, and an ending theme that, while a bit more cheerful, fits in with the love triangle between the main characters. The background music during the series is very repetitive at first; just a bunch of instrumental variations of Lilium. It gets better a few episodes into the series though, but overall I feel they used the variations of Lilium too much.
All in all Elfen Lied is a anime that does a very audacious thing by having so much cruelty, gore and nudity in one series, but the end result is a masterpiece anime that wouldn't have been good without it. Just remember that it isn't meant for kids for no reason - events ranging from a man watching his naked daughter to a dog being bludgeoned to death with a vase and live dismemberment takes place.