When the phenomenon that is Stranger Things first hit our screens, many in the anime fandom perked up their ears, twitched their noses, and started asking questions. We didn’t even need to watch the first episode; the trailer was enough to make us wonder, “Is Stranger Things based on Elfen Lied?”
Five years later, we are no longer wondering; we are sure.
Stranger Things is riddled with pop culture references to other iconic media. From classic horror movies, sci-fi, and the works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, to 1980s film and television and a whole John Carpenter vibe, Netflix created one seriously genre-savvy show.
And yet, the parallels between Stranger Things and Elfen Lied are so prominent they go beyond a brief nod. For those of you familiar with Lynn Okamoto’s dark fantasy/science fiction epic, you likely got a serious case of deja vu watching Stranger Things.
If you’re a fan of horror movies, check out our list of the best folk horror films, ranked…
Stranger Things Is Ending, But Where Did It Begin?
With the first half of the fourth (and final) season of Stranger Things set to hit Netflix at the end of May, it’s the perfect time to binge-watch (or binge-rewatch) seasons 1-3 to recap what’s happened so far. After all, it’s been over two years since the release of season three, and there’s much to keep track of.
But before you do, read on, because understanding where the show came from makes it even more fun to watch.
Parallels Between Elfen Lied And Stranger Things
For those who have yet to watch either or both shows, SPOILER ALERT…
The plot goes something like this: kid meets another kid, they recognize an imminent threat to their way of life (or the whole world), and team up to thwart it, ultimately proving the power of friendship triumphs over evil. While Stranger Things and Elfen Lied share this common thread, that can be said of most anime and manga as it’s a central theme of the genre.
Yet the similarities between the two go far beyond this.
Elfen Lied follows a young girl who endures torturous psychological experimentation at the hands of ‘Father’, who gives his subjects numbers rather than names and raises the girl to become the ultimate weapon. The girl develops psychic powers due to these experiments, escapes the lab, loses her memory, and is found by a group of kids who call her Lucy and take her home. Unfortunately, she’s hunted by the research facility and ultimately sacrifices herself to save her new friends.
Meanwhile, on Stranger Things, a young boy goes missing, which leads to the investigation of a mysterious lab experimenting on children. One of these kids – Eleven, or ‘El’ as she comes to be known – escapes the clutches of ‘Papa’ and befriends some local children. She has psychokinetic abilities and sacrifices herself to save her new friends.
The choice of the number ‘Eleven’, as ‘Elfen’ is the German word for ‘elves’ and ‘elf’ in German translates to ‘eleven’. . The diligent observer can pick up other homages to Elfen Lied, including the fact the second episode takes place on Maple Street, while the Elfen Lied featured Maple House, and El’s music box. In Elfen Lied, Lucy is given a music box by Kouta – the boy she befriends – when they first meet as children. The box plays Lilium, a lullaby, which is the show’s opening theme and a recurring sound that features prominently in the series and triggers some major plot points.
For those wondering if this might be a coincidence, showrunner Matt Duffer revealed while speaking to Esquire and later to The Hollywood Reporter that the series was heavily influenced by Elfen Lied. He was surprised by how quickly people picked up on it.
Interestingly, the Duffer Brothers have also pointed to Akira as an inspiration for the show, connecting the dots and creating a train of influence beginning with Akira, which may well have sparked Elfen Lied, which inspired them to pen Stranger Things.
The Legacy Of Awesome Anime
Spotting references to shows we love in other shows we love is one of the great joys in life. While many underestimate anime as a genre, assuming it’s just ‘cartoons’ that are ‘for kids’, it in fact harbors powerful themes, messages, and plots, which frequently crop up in more mainstream media.
2010’s Black Swan bears a striking resemblance to Perfect Blue. 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman boasts numerous parallels with Princess Mononoke. Pacific Rim came out the following year and wowed us all with its similarity to Gundam Wing. And let us not forget the extent to which The Matrix scurrilously stole from the plot of Ghost in the Shell.
Another influence on The Matrix is somewhat less obvious but has already been mentioned here: Akira.
Whether it’s blockbuster movies or hit Netflix shows, the influence of anime cannot be underestimated. If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, go watch Elfen Lied. Then watch Akira. Then take a look at Ghost in the Shell and follow it up with The Matrix.
If you enjoyed one, you’re sure to love them all.
Looking to binge some anime next? We rounded up the best animes available on Netflix.