The Displaced Self in "Elfen Lied"
The self that is the sum of two or more identities, which are often incongruous, appears regularly across various genres in Japanese manga (comics) and anime (animation). Through such characters – from cross-dressing princesses to cyborg assassins – manga and anime challenge the boundaries of gender, humanness, sexuality and class; and in so doing, explore notions of the self and other. In a traditionally conformist, group-oriented society like Japan, manga and anime create space for displacement and discovery outside of rigid social pressures.
To examine the fragmented self in detail, this paper will analyse "Elfen Lied", a manga (and anime) series for young adult males. The female protagonist of this often gory narrative, about a race of violent mutant humans subjected to experimentation and abuse, is severely fragmented. This work is one of many which incorporates the cute, sexualised, powerful and yet abused female lead character, and this representation of femininity is, in itself, worthy of examination. However, this paper will place particular focus on the way in which "Elfen Lied" displaces the self. That is, how does the fragmented female protagonist of this series express the experiences and concerns of the male target audience? Further, what can male identification with a fragmented female character tell us about males, masculinity and patriarchy within Japanese society at present? "Elfen Lied" functions not only as an expression of the impact of social pressure, and the conflict inherent in defining the self and other; it is also one of many texts indicating the blurred, uncertain, changing position of men in Japanese society.
Keywords: Japanese Manga, Identity, Self
Christie Lee Barber
PhD Candidate, Japanese Studies