Elfen Lied, the shocking anime that inspired Stranger Things, has become all the more prevalent in the show’s recent fourth season. SPOILERS FOR STRANGER THINGS AND ELFEN LIED AHEAD…
Hit Netflix series Stranger Things – a horror epic that takes place in the small town of Hawkins – has become a cultural juggernaut, with the world eagerly waiting to see the conclusion of its fourth season next week.
The series has a multitude of inspirations, ranging from horror movies to E.T, which was also originally going to be a horror film. One could even argue that the entirety of the 1980s is an inspiration, as the series really leans into the nostalgia factor.
However, there is a piece of early 2000s media that also led to the creation of Stranger Things. And that is the ridiculously shocking anime, Elfen Lied.
What is Elfen Lied?
Elfen Lied was originally a manga by Lynn Okamoto, which was made into an anime series by Arms Corporation. Directed by Mamoru Kanbe, it played on TV throughout 2004 in Japan and 2005 in the U.S., spanning 13 episodes and an OVA.
The anime became incredibly popular, but was also considered incredibly controversial, due to its graphic violence – a facility is massacred and a woman is decapitated by a naked pink-haired girl in the very first episode – and overtly sexual nature, which was generally for shock value.
The series has almost become a joke for how “edge-lord-esque” it was, but the has still managed to inspire other creators.
The anime tells the story of Lucy, who is a Diclonius, a special form of human who has horns and telekinetic powers. She lives in a secret government facility until she manages to break out. Lucy finds refuge and romance with an ordinary human boy, while she fights against – and often murders – the government agents trying to track her down.
How did Elfen Lied inspire Stranger Things?
The co-creators of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, have cited Elfen Lied as an central inspiration for the show. In a 2016 interview with the Daily Beast, Matt Duffer stated that he “had seen an anime called Elfen Lied.”
He then added that, “There were a lot of things in there that I really liked and that made their way into the show, particularly related to the character of Eleven.”
Eleven is highly inspired by the character of Lucy, which is easy to spot in a multitude of ways. They were both held in a government facility; the test subjects there are both numbered like Eleven is, and they even call the head of the facility “Papa” in both shows.
They both have telekinetic powers, and aren’t afraid to kill people – though Eleven isn’t obsessed with murdering all of humanity like Lucy is – and they both have stories about attempting to assimilate into ordinary life, while dealing with the government agents and other supernatural beings that stand in their way. The first season even has Eleven facing a similar end to Lucy, as both characters suffer an ambiguous death that comes from fighting another monster.
If Elfen Lied was able to have a second season – its animation company declared bankruptcy years ago, so that seems unlikely – we may have even seen Lucy return in the same way that Eleven did.
Viewers may assume that these initial similarities were enough for the Duffer Brothers. However, in the current fourth season – intentionally or not – Stranger Things seems to be taking a leaf out of Elfen Lied’s book more than ever.
How has Elfen Lied inspired Stranger Things Season 4?
It’s possible to argue that Eleven is given more of an arc like Lucy has in this season.
In Elfen Lied, during Lucy’s vengeful and violent escape, she gets shot in the head, which leads to her developing a second personality. This other identity – named Nyu – is childish and innocent, with limited speech capacity and complete amnesia of her other self, which allows her to make friends with the other human characters. There are moments where she does remember her old self, and does regret her past actions, mainly due to the fact that it makes love interest Kohta upset.
It is also revealed that Lucy’s murderous urges and hatred for humanity were bred from her being severely bullied by both adults and children alike when she was young and living in an orphanage. The bullying goes so far that the other kids beat a stray dog to death in front of Lucy’s eyes, which ends up triggering her powers.
In Stranger Things, El has always struggled with her own violent abilities, and has constantly dealt with being ostracised from the rest of humanity, but this season makes it a focal point. At her new school in California, Eleven is harshly bullied, to the point where she snaps and hits main bully Angela in the face with a roller skate. The event shocks everyone, including love interest Mike, and Eleven immediately regrets her actions, believing herself to be a monster.
And while Eleven doesn’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder like Lucy, this season shows her grappling with memories that she had blocked out; memories of a massacre at her old government facility, which once again ties back to Elfen Lied’s first episode. In the facility, Eleven is also violently attacked by the other test subjects, like Lucy is at the orphanage, which is hinted – but later rebuked – to be the reason that Eleven kills them all with her powers.
However, since it is revealed that Eleven didn’t kill anyone – Vecna did – one could even argue that the Duffer Brothers are now drawing inspiration from Elfen Lied in order to create this season’s main villain.
How is Vecna like Lucy in Elfen Lied?
Vecna, the monster that lives in the Upside Down and preys upon teenagers to open portals, is arguably more like Elfen Lied’s Lucy than Eleven is.
For starters, Vecna has multiple identities. He is a young rich boy who murdered his whole family with telekinetic powers, he is a seemingly kind orderly that helps Eleven escape, and he is also the horrifying monster Vecna.
Vecna also harbors a violent hatred for the rest of humanity. The reason he makes people face their deepest traumas before killing them is because he despises how human society is always implementing self-made rules, and pretending to be something it’s not.
The way he kills people is also similarly violent to Elfen Lied; Stranger Things Season 4 is arguably the show’s most gory season yet, though not nearly as exploitative as the anime. The tentacles and long nails that Venca uses are akin to the telekinetic Vectors – invisible arms – that Lucy wields, which is what she uses to kill her enemies.
Furthermore, like Lucy, Vecna is the first of his kind. Lucy is the original Diclonius – the queen – who infected other humans with her vectors and began the outbreak in order to end the human race. Vecna, revealed to be One, was the first ever test subject at Eleven’s old government facility. He too wants to infect everyone with the horror of the Upside-Down, and he clearly won’t stop until he has murdered everyone.
And finally, there is the symbol of the clock. In the anime, while Lucy stays with love interest Kohta, she continuously attempts to repair his grandfather clock. And at the very end of the series – in which it is hinted that Lucy may have survived the final battle – the clock begins ticking again. Stranger Things fans will obviously be able to understand the connection, as Vecna’s theme of the grandfather clock has haunted the entirety of season 4, to the point where a viral trend has sprouted on Tik Tok.
Clearly, there are a lot of connections overall. But if viewers are starting to think that Stranger Things has straight up copied Elfen Lied, worry not. There are still plenty of differences between the two shows.
How is Stranger Things different from Elfen Lied?
While the anime and the show feel very similar in terms of plot, characters, and themes, their presentation is much different. For one, animation allows Elfen Lead to act out some scenes that would likely be impossible in live-action. And that may actually be for the best.
While Stranger Things is violent, it never feels overboard, whereas Elfen Lied teeters of the edge of ridiculousness. The violence is not only exploitative, it often feels inconsequential, as characters get their limbs ripped off and replaced constantly. And while Stranger Things fans may be getting antsy with the amount of main characters kept alive throughout the show, the injuries and deaths that happen still feel impactful.
Eleven doesn’t murder her love interest’s family or her bullies like Lucy does, and she doesn’t need to in order to achieve the same level of conflict. Emotional arcs are typically handled better, and there is genuine suspense rather than just brazen violent gore.
But in spite of all its faults, viewers must thank Elfen Lied for inspiring the amazing experience that is Stranger Things. Ultimately, we will have to wait and see how the anime may affect the upcoming Season 4 finale, and subsequently, how deadly that finale will be.
Elfen Lied is now streaming on Crunchyroll. Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 will premiere on Netflix July 1st.