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The Anime That Inspired Stranger Things – and Why It’s Still Worth Watching Today

The massively popular Stranger Things was inspired by a classic anime – and this series is an absolute must-watch. Here’s what it’s all about.

The sci-fi/horror TV phenomenon Stranger Things has amassed an enormous legion of fans worldwide — and they are desperately waiting for the rest of Season 4 to launch. Interestingly, parts of its story were inspired by a classic anime, and it’s the perfect show to watch while waiting for Stranger Things’ thrilling conclusion to land on Netflix.

In a 2016 interview with the Daily Beast, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer talked about what influenced the popular series. Matt Duffer said that he “had seen an anime called Elfen Lied” and notes that it was inspired by Akira. He then adds 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.”

Related: Cowboy Bebop: How a ’70s Thriller Classic Inspired The Series’ Most Disturbing Scene

Elfen Lied, written by Lynn Okamoto, started out as a manga in Weekly Young Jump in 2002. In 2004, it was turned into an anime with Mamoru Kanbe taking the director role and Arms handling the animation. Elfen Lied tells the story of Lucy, who is a Diclonius — a new species that are not human despite looking like them at first glance. However, they also have horn-like things on their heads and the ability to control Vectors.

Vectors are basically telekinetic invisible arms that allow the Diclonius to manipulate things in ways a human cannot. At first, Lucy is held in a government facility where they subject her to horrible tests and experiments. Eventually she goes on a rampage, killing her captors and escaping from the facility.

During the escape, however, Lucy gets injured and develops a second personality. This personality is childish and innocent, with limited speech capacity and complete amnesia of her other self. Two students, Kouta and Yuka, find the girl and, dubbing her Nyu, opt to take care of her and try to nurse her back to health. However, this unknowingly puts them in the center of a massive government conspiracy as various groups try to recapture Lucy.

Related: The Original Girl Who Leapt Through Time: The Novel That Inspired the Movie

It is easy to see how Elfen Lied inspired the character of Eleven in Stranger Things, as she too was kept in a secret government facility due to her special powers. Like Lucy, Eleven escapes and is taken in by an unknowing person. Both shows also explore the idea of a strange otherworldly force trying to attack and eventually wipe out humanity for its own mysterious ends, turning a previously mundane world into a horrific battlefield. The idea of young people trying to balance everyday problems and an existential threat is prevalent, with Kouta and Yuka having to navigate life and romance while also dodging government agents.

While Elfen Lied and Stranger Things feature similar themes, the anime is darker, more violent, and more willing to be extremely cruel to its characters. This leads to several moments that will turn the viewer’s stomach and stick in the memory long after the show finishes. The concept of the human-like Diclonius and the group’s often confusing nature is handled well, and the story puts a fascinating twist on several outsider themes. It also asks what it means to be human in both the biological and philosophical sense. The programs are quite different aesthetically, as Elfen Lied uses the anime medium to fantastic effect, creating several scenes that would be impossible to replicate in live-action.

It is fascinating to see how Elfen Lied helped inspire Stranger Things and many other stories. However, while the two share similar themes, they both approach and handle them in vastly different ways, both aesthetically and thematically. This makes Elfen Lied well worth watching, as it is a fantastic and gripping show in its own right. Viewers who dive in now will have a whole new appreciation for Stranger Things — and a greater understanding of why Matt and Ross Duffer handled Eleven how they did.

Elfen Lied is now streaming on Hulu and Prime Video.

Jonathon Greenall has been writing for many years and has written for several websites, poetry collections, and short fiction collections. They’re also an analog game designer who has written and published several popular roleplaying games.

A lifelong anime fan ever since their first exposures to Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, Jonathon loves talking about anime, from big hits to the weird and wonderful corners that are often overlooked.

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