Lucy is a Diclonius, a being that looks human but is capable of telekinetically ripping apart anything within two metres of herself. This is graphically demonstrated when her captors at the research facility make one tiny mistake and soon find themselves being reduced to a gory spray of body parts. She murders almost everyone, from the wounded and helpless down to random secretaries who happen to stumble across her path, until a sniper puts a bullet in her head. Unfortunately this doesn't kill her.
Nyuu is a bubbly, enthusiastic girl with horns and probably brain damage. She can only say one word ("nyuu"), she doesn't have a problem with public nudity and she soon becomes emotionally dependent on Kouta and Yuka. They're two cousins who find this stranger standing in the sea and take her home.
Unfortunately Nyuu also happens to be Lucy.
This show is like Chobits, but created by someone whose children were being chained to a wall and beaten with sticks. Superficially it slots into all the pigeonholes. Cute pink-haired girl with amnesia and no particular attachment to her clothes? Check. Hapless boy who finds himself living with her? Check. A female childhood friend of said boy, with a crush on him? Check. Clean-lined character designs that make the cute characters even cuter, like a million anime before and since? Wow, you guessed! There are further specific similarities with Chobits. Like Chi, Nyuu is a complete innocent with horns and a one-word vocabulary. (Chi's horns were input-output computer sockets, but Nyuu's horns are just horns.) Neither can dress themselves, which causes embarrassment for their respective male guardians. Both have hidden powers.
The difference is that Chi's powers involved mystical computer control. Nyuu's powers involve telekinetic decapitation, dismembering people's living torsos or just torturing them to death for kicks. The first time we see her, she's buck naked from the neck down and shredding a research facility's security forces in a splashy shower of heads, limbs and internal organs. She's also no respecter of non-combatants... I won't go into details regarding that unfortunate secretary.
However it's not simply the violence, but the whole attitude behind it. This is a show where innocents will be exploited, raped and/or die gurgling in their own blood. The fluffy stuff is there deliberately, for contrast. You've got tame-but-heartwarming relationship comedy with a little sexual misunderstanding. You care for the characters. You understand Yuka's feelings for Kouta. You want everything to end happily... but you also know that this sweet slice of escapism has been cut-and-pasted into something as near to a video nasty as this sheltered genre may ever get. It's brutal. Some day, somewhere, someone will probably go further than Elfen Lied, but I'm not holding my breath.
This may sound like a cock-eyed combination, but in fact it's almost impossible to stop watching. Either half of the show could have carried a series on its own, but it's their juxtaposition that gives Elfen Lied its punch. Unrelenting splatterfests can often get boring - but that's never a problem here, not with a little girl and her puppy wandering around.
As the finale looms, you'll be convinced that Elfen Lied is building towards an apocalypse. It is, but it also isn't. Yes, the final body count is up there with a small military invasion. No, you certainly can't expect all the cast to survive. However in its own bloodsoaked way it's surprisingly optimistic, if you can overlook small details like gratuitous murder and the possible doom of mankind.
The simplistic character designs are appropriate for the nice guys, but a bit crap for the gritty bastards. However in other respects the animation is impressive and doesn't hold back where it counts. There's nudity and violence a-plenty, with razor-sharp nipples and buckets of blood. (Often both simultaneously.) The painted backgrounds can be downright beautiful and there are often lots of lovely touches in the animation, for instance with showers of falling petals. There's underage nudity too... and I'm not talking about fourteen. I'm talking about eight.
They could perhaps have trimmed one or two of the flashback montages. The backstory of this show is all-important and takes several episodes to work through properly, which does detract slightly from the present urgency. My only real grumble is that the ending leaves enough unresolved as to feel almost sequel-hunting... yeah, good luck, guys. Dream on. The reason for this is that Okamoto Rin's original manga wasn't completed until 2005 and the anime only adapts the first 60 of its 107 chapters. Nevertheless even as it stands the anime's ending feels satisfying and sufficiently complete that most fans are happy for the remaining chapters to remain un-animated.
There's an OVA episode currently only available on Japanese R2 DVD. It was released on the last disc but takes place during an earlier episode, so has been variously called Episode 14 or Episode 10.5. Scarily it's a more light-hearted instalment in the series with a cute ending, despite the fact that in it a child gets shot in the head. However it also answers one puzzling question from earlier in the series, so I personally regard it as a must-watch.
Elfen Lied is one hell of a show. It's shocking, sad and sometimes even funny! The character designs are inappropriately cute, but deliberately so. It's also less traumatic than you'd think. I react badly to depressing stories but I enjoyed the hell out of this. Arguably it relies too much on shock value to be truly great, but for me to be making that criticism is in itself a compliment. This series certainly won't be for everyone, but for the right audience I couldn't recommend it more highly.