This page attempts to parse the meaning and symbols in Elfen Lied's memorable opening and ending credit sequences. Bear in mind, this article is entirely subjective.
Opening Credit Sequence
The opening credits of any anime are the most vital part of the entire show. A good opening credit sequence with appropriate music will hook the audience like the introduction paragraph to any book and keep you seated until you get to the memorable opening scene. Elfen Lied's opening sucks you into it with a woman's voice carrying a song of prayer and beautiful imagery to leave a haunting impression on those who are none the wiser.
The opening sequence begins with a shot of Lucy's teary eye opening and closing, and pans downward to follow a tear as it drops down from her eye. The next shot is a slow pan outward from Lucy holding a robed figure. What look like stalks of wheat rustle in an imaginary wind as the following shot shows us the title of the anime embossed in gold, followed by another slow crawl up the screen to show a portrait of Lucy being held by a horned mannequin, with another image of Lucy herself in the background and borders showing the words "BEATUS VIR QUI SUFFERT TENTATIONEM." As the camera pans up, portraits of Yuka, Mayu, and Nana (respectively) appear for a second before the crawl resumes sliding up toward Lucy's face. The next shot is of Kouta bending to kiss a blue mannequin in the style of The Kiss, followed by a moving shot of Lucy resembling the old woman segment of Die drei Lebensalter der Frau. Across the background, "KYRIE, IGNIS DIVINE, ELEISON" repeats as the line is sung. On the last note of "eleison," the view is filled with Lucy's chest, hands clasped over her heart, with her left hand showing the Loyolan gesture. The image of Der Kuss repeats, bordered by "QUAM SANCTA, QUAM SERENA, QUAM BENIGMA, QUAM AMOENA," but this time, as the camera pans up, Lucy has taken the place of the mannequin and likewise, Kouta has been replaced with a blue mannequin. The next portrait is again of Lucy as a sort of mermaid. Once more she's performing the Loyolan gesture, bordered by the words "O CASTITATIS LILIUM." The opening comes to a close with an inward pan on a portrait that looks like Die Erfüllung, though this time, Lucy's head is tilted back, and the anime's title appears in its trademark font.
The first shot of Lucy's face resembles not a work of Gustav Klimt's, but a work by Anne-Marie Zilberman called Larme Do'r. Zilberman's art is very Klimtesque in style and color, but since it is unclear when her art was first published, it's hard to say for sure if Larme Do'r was indeed an influence for Elfen Lied at all. The second showing of Lucy is a portrait modeled after Die Erfüllung. The third is a combination of several pictures. Lucy being held by the horned mannequin imitates the mother and child segment of Die drei Lebensalter der Frau, while the image of Lucy in the background is an amalgamation of the two forms of Adam and Eve from an unfinished work.
The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was commissioned by her husband Ferdinand, who loved Klimt's art and supported him monetarily and through praise. Frau Bloch-Bauer was the only model Klimt painted twice. The portrait recently returned to the spotlight thanks to the movie Woman In Gold, which tells the story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian-American Jewish refugee and the real life Adele Bloch-Bauer's niece, trying to reclaim the portrait (and four other portraits Klimt painted for the family) after it was stolen by the Nazis in World War II and subsequently retrieved by and held in custody of the Austrian government.
Mayu's portrait takes after the portrait of Ria Munk. This painting is the third in a series of three portraits the Munk family commissioned of their daughter after the young woman killed herself following a falling out with her lover, writer Hans Heinz Ewers. In her third portrait, Ria smiles serenely; a fitting image of who their daughter was before her untimely death.
The portrait of Mäda Primavesi (as well as the portrait of her mother Eugenia) was also a commission by her father, Otto Primavesi. Nine-year-old Mäda's pose is lighthearted and confident, fitting with the cheery background around her.
The images of Lucy and Kouta modeled after the famous painting The Kiss are some of the most recognizable and striking of the opening. The Kiss (1908) is stated to reflect Klimt's fascination with eroticism, made obvious by the golden phallic symbol behind the male and female figures. It was created as a response to criticism against his Vienna Ceiling series, which was seen as "pornography" and evidence of "perverted excess."
The other images of Lucy are based upon the old woman part of Die drei Lebensalter der Frau, her resembling the mermaid of Wasserschlangen I, and finally, Die Erfüllung once again, but with her head tilted back and her left hand visibly clutching at the robed figure holding her.
But what does it all mean?
If Lucy is the central character to Elfen Lied, why show the other characters? It's because their stories are so intertwined that it would be folly not to. The female characters in particular are shown in order of their introduction: Lucy, Yuka, Mayu, then Nana. Yuka's portrait shows her with a good-natured smile and a relaxed posture, reflecting how she usually is in the series when her love troubles with Kouta aren't involved. Toward the other girls, she is mother and caregiver, providing them with the motherly love and structure they otherwise could not have in life, so her being shown in a warm, radiant light shows the audience she's important not only to the story, but to those around her. Mayu's portrait, on the other hand, is more low-key. She's turned to the side, hiding herself a little from the viewer with her hands clasped over her chest. Though she smiles sweetly, her radiance is subdued due to the sadness of the life she's lived until now. She hides her past from those around her the same way she turns herself slightly away from the viewer, as if not wanting to reveal everything of herself prematurely. Nana's portrait is significant due to both her posture and the age of the girl the original painting is representing. Mäda was only nine years old when she modeled for her painting, making her very close to Nana's own age. Typical of many young girls, her pose is confident and shows she knows who she is and what she's about, much like Nana herself does for the majority of the series. Though Nana's sense of self-worth is tied to Kurama much of the time, she doesn't let others push her around or get away with it, as seen when she stands up to the likes of Lucy and Bandou despite her age.
Like Yuka, Nana, and Mayu, Kouta only appears once compared to Lucy, who appears seven times. He holds and kisses a blue mannequin, which, unlike the mannequin that held Lucy in the shot just before it, is not horned. This can be assumed to tie into his lack of memory regarding his meeting Lucy and the deaths of his family members. Furthermore, when the picture is shown again, Lucy has taken the mannequin's place and Kouta is replaced by a mannequin. In the original painting, the woman featured is not an object of desire like other women in Klimt's paintings, but rather, the painting expresses her desire to be kissed and loved. Likewise, Lucy wishes for nothing more than Kouta's love, but it is something she cannot obtain. She personally cannot be with him and can only truly be happy with him through Nyuu, and her inability to be on the same plane of love as him, so to speak, is shown through them holding mannequins and not each other. Only during the ending of the anime in its entirety are they shown embracing each other properly, with Lucy once more making that familiar hand gesture to call back to her only previously being able to hold a stand-in for Kouta.
The choice of Die Erfüllung and Die drei Lebensalter der Frau show Lucy in the embrace of mannequins, faceless beings who can give no true comfort, and she is only ever being held by them. She wishes to be embraced by either Kouta or humanity as a whole, or perhaps she wishes for both. The horned mannequin in particular could be the manifestation of the wish to have more of her own kind in the world, people who wouldn't judge her for her appearance since they appear the same as her. It could also represent her desire for a mother, as she was separated from her own at birth. Behind this image is one of Lucy lying back, either sleeping or in pain. Since she calls her life a hellish nightmare, perhaps she's dreaming of being in her own world, where other Diclonii love her and accept her as one of them, or perhaps she's reliving the nightmare of her life in her dreams. It might be both, as the mannequins are mere stand-ins for actual people, as she could never gain the sympathy of others and thus expects no comfort from them despite wanting it. Her wish for humanity to embrace her is never fulfilled, making the choice of Die Erfüllung almost cruel in its irony.
The weight of sin
The portraits showing Lucy all have common themes: she's either being held, or she's tormented or remorseful. The very first shot of her is of her eye, filled with a tear that falls down over her cheek. From this, the unknowing audience becomes aware she's a sorrowful character, that this story will be about her struggle even if they don't know what that struggle is just yet. The images of her based on the old woman of Die drei Lebensalter der Frau and the mermaid of Wasserschlangen I further bolster this, as does the image of her hands clasped over her chest (which does not correspond to a Klimt painting). Die drei Lebensalter der Frau shows three women in different stages of life. The infant and her mother, both surrounded by flowers, are the springtime of life, whereas the older woman hiding her face is elderly and nearing the end. No flowers surround her, as she is the autumn coming close to the dead of winter. Like the old woman, Lucy is the autumn while Nyuu is the spring youth. Even her true name, Kaede, evokes the maple trees that burn brilliant oranges and reds in the fall season. Inside, she's jaded and weathered, made older than she should be by a life of sorrow and her wrongdoings bearing down on her. Wasserschlangen I, like other works by Symbolist artists, uses underwater beings to "articulate the unexploited transcendental universes to humans." This further cements Lucy's feelings of isolation from humanity; she's not human, so her loneliness in her pain is eternal. She must bear her guilt forever on her own until she can apologize and atone for it.
Mentioned above is the hand gesture prevalent throughout all portraits of Lucy. This gesture, with her middle and ring fingers held together and her other fingers splayed outward, is often performed with her hand pressed to her chest and is mentioned in Loyolan/Jesuit spirituality, wherein those who commit sins are encouraged to place their hands on their chest in such a gesture in order to show remorse and/or moral pain for their actions. To show her turmoil more, her body is covered in swirling patterns that shine depending on if the camera has moved over her yet, but at other times, these swirls appear as hair. What she feels is not only evident on her face, but is all over her body, ensnaring her and making escape impossible.
With her hand gesture, the tendrils surrounding her, and Lilium, the opening hints to the viewer what Lucy has done and how she feels about it before we even know who she is. She has sinned horribly, so much so that her remorse is expressed through her actions and a song of prayer to a power higher than herself.
Ending Credit Sequence
The ending credit sequence for Elfen Lied, unlike the opening, consists of a single image. The only movement is that of the camera, which slowly pans in on Lucy's reclining figure until the last credits roll by and it leaves off on a close up of her face.
The painting upon which Lucy's image is based is Danaë , a 1907 painting of Gustav Klimt. According to Wikipedia, "Danaë was a popular subject in the early 1900s for many artists; she was used as the quintessential symbol of divine love, and transcendence" in the Symbolism art movement. Many depictions of her were erotic, including the portrait created by Klimt. In Greek mythology, Danaë was the princess of Argos whose father, King Acrisius, kept her locked up in a tower of bronze after an oracle divined that Danaë's future son would kill him. Despite her being locked away, Zeus visited Danaë in the form of a raining stream of gold coins and impregnated her. She would later give birth to Perseus, whose heroic exploits include slaying Medusa the Gorgon and rescuing Princess Andromeda from the serpent Cetus.
But what does it mean?
Though the ending credits lack as many portraits as the opening, neither the single image nor the song that accompanies it are lacking in meaning.
Transcendence and Royalty
Danaë is a painting representing mythology, divine love, and the transcendence from mere mortal to something more sublime. In bearing Zeus' child, Danaë became more than a princess: she became the mother of a hero. Lucy herself bears no children in Elfen Lied's story, whether anime or manga, but rather, it is her potential to bear children that links her to Danaë. As the first fertile member of the Diclonii, Lucy is the proverbial Eve of an entirely new race of people. It is her possible children who will carry the Diclonius species onward, with their children and their children's children following suit. As the mother of a new race, she could birth the founding heroes of the Diclonii, placing her on a higher pedestal than an unfortunate, tortured, and lonely orphan. Also similar to Danaë, she's surrounded by a purple veil as a symbol to her royal lineage, tying into both her "Queen" title in the bee analogy attached to the Diclonius species and to her potential placement as the Matriarch of a new mankind.
As Be Your Girl plays in the background, Lucy appears to be sleeping since, unlike in Danaë, she's not being visited by Zeus. Her dreaming form is the exact opposite of her assumed sleeping form in the opening credits. Instead of tormented and yearning for reprieve, she's peaceful, even smiling. But what could she be dreaming of?
Mentioned before, she likens her life to a nightmare in the anime's final episode, but also refers to Kouta as "a happy dream" who made it all bearable. Before this episode, and her flashback episodes as well, we can only assume by the song's lyrics that she's dreaming of simply being with Kouta. But knowing how important he was to her in her loneliness, it's also highly possible she's dreaming of the days they spent together, the "only good days [she's] ever known." Perhaps, even, she's dreaming of her childhood memories with him, as well as how things could have been had she not murdered his family. In both the manga and anime, Lucy seems to not know the exact details of Nyuu's daily life, instead only knowing in broad strokes that Nyuu is with Kouta again and letting her live with Kouta in a roundabout way, so when she dreams of those far gone days and the way things could have been, she's left with her own imagination's "what-if" scenarios of the kind of idyllic, warm days she too could have with Kouta and his motley crew of a family if she hadn't been born with horns.
While the opening credits show us Lucy's remorse and inner turmoil, the ending credits leave us with a different view of her pain: one that makes her suffering sadder in a different way than showing her in pain. She peacefully reminisces on the only good days she's ever known; the few, precious, halcyon days spent with her childhood friend, the only comfort she's ever had. And as the anime goes on, the audience realizes she can never get those days back. Lucy herself can never experience such a happy life without hurting herself and the person she loves most. She can never recreate that happy dream unless she does so through Nyuu. Nyuu lives for her in the real world, and Lucy continues sleeping, never grasping her ideal reality directly.