How Stranger Things Season 4 Was Influenced By The Rise Of Horror Anime

"Stranger Things" is a nostalgia-packed sci-fi series that takes influence from '80s slashers and coming-of-age classics, but the show also draws inspiration from an unexpected source —creators the Duffer Brothers have also cited some cult favorite horror animes as creative references for their hit Netflix series. As "Stranger Things" enters its fourth season and continues to evolve, these influences become more apparent than ever.

As an anime fan, "Stranger Things" reminded me of "Elfin Lied" right off the bat. The main character, Eleven, bears a striking resemblance to the anime's main character Lucy. The two have an incredibly similar origin story and character arc. They were both bred in a lab as weapons with telekinetic capabilities, which they harness to escape by committing mass murder. It turns out that this is no accident. As a result, they have abnormal social skills and violent tendencies. Matt Duffer said the series was "really influential" in the creation of "Stranger Things," per The Daily Beast. The director went on,

"When I watched it I thought it felt like an ultraviolent E.T. 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."

"Elfin Lied" takes obvious influence from the '80s cyberpunk anime "Akira," which the sibling duo also cited as a source of direct inspiration for Eleven's origin story. The film also features a secret government facility that trains children to have psychic abilities. The character Tetsuo, who is one of these children, later escapes from the hospital in a similar scene to Eleven's escape.

'80s cult classics were a huge inspiration

Aside from these classics, there are lots of lesser-known '80s anime that bear a striking resemblance to "Stranger Things." One example is the 1987 film "Wicked City." In this dark fantasy, an alternate dimension known as the Black World is inhabited by black tentacled demons. The Black World is incredibly similar to the Upside Down of "Stranger Things," home to spidery monsters like the Mind Flayer. The black tentacled demon from the 1988 anime film "Demon City: Shinjuku" also shares a number of elements with the Mind Flayer from "Stranger Things." Just like in the contemporary Netflix series, the demons of this anime break through a red portal into the earthly realm. Shinjuku, an area of Tokyo, becomes a demon-infested wilderness much like Hawkins.

"Stranger Things" has received acclaim for its sparse and synthy soundtrack, which provides a suspenseful and nostalgic sonic backdrop for the series. A similar score can be found in the 1986 anime film "Vampire Hunter D." The cult classic horror is set in post-apocalyptic Japan and also features giant spiders that may have been used as a direct reference for the character design of the Mind Flayer.

Season 4 is closer to a horror anime than ever

The power of mind control is played with a lot in "Stranger Things," and different characters possess different telepathic abilities. In earlier seasons, the Mind Flayer attaches itself to hosts as a means of controlling them, much like the parasites in the sci-fi anime series "Parasyte: The Maxim" (2014). The monsters in this anime also aesthetically resemble a different "Stranger Things" creature, the Demogorgon. In season four, the D&D monster known as Vecna begins putting characters under his curse. 

Season 4 of "Stranger Things" kicks off with someone being wrongfully accused of a murder that was actually committed by a demon. This may have been inspired by "Deadman Wonderland" (2011). In this horror anime, a young child and his classmates visit an amusement park full of prisoners with supernatural powers. When the other students are all murdered by a mysterious man of superhuman capabilities, one boy is wrongfully framed for the massacre. The anime also features a scene where the protagonist's eye is gouged out. This terrifying act of torture is part of Vecna's trademark in "Stranger Things."

The hit Netflix series is perhaps strongest at its most derivative. It began with direct inspiration from anime at its inception and continues to draw from it into its fourth season. Vecna's powers and character design feel as though they were pulled straight out of a horror manga. This exciting and unexpected well of creative references keeps "Stranger Things" fresh into its fourth season as new friends and opposing forces are introduced.