(Content warnings: Mentions of incest, grooming, abuse, slavery, sexual assault)
So this is sort of a remake of a post I made numerous years ago, although I'm not sure anyone read it back then. The way the Sound Horizon fandom seems to broadly characterize Elef and Misia's relationship has bothered me for quite some time, especially since the release of Nein—people have always shipped the pair romantically, which isn't surprising knowing the nature of fandoms...but since then, people seem to take it as not only canon that the two are romantically involved in Moira, but that this is meant to be a good thing. However, even beyond any personal objections to incest, I think doing so fundamentally misunderstands what's going on in their story.
I do understand a bit where this comes from, even beyond Horny Fandom Brain: Elef and Misia clearly "love" each other deeply (more on that later), the plot largely revolves around them becoming separated and searching one another out again, and they use very emotionally charged language. But while I can understand why it might seem romantic in a vacuum, it doesn't hold much credence within the context of Sound Horizon as a whole, or even Moira itself when one looks deeper.
Two people who deeply love each other, and are separated somehow and seek one another out is a common motif for lovers in SH (März and Elisabeth, Luna and Endymio, etc)...it's also commonly used for parents and children, for example (Hiver and Etoile and their respective mothers). That doesn’t particularly mean anything.
Even the emotionally charged language doesn’t mean much to me, both in the context of other SH albums and within Moira proper. Why do they consider themselves two halves of one whole? Why are they so important to the other? Is it romance? The answer lies in the plot of Moira itself.
We see a glimpse of how Elef and Misia are as small children: living an idyllic life in the mountains, playing and frolicking around, perfectly carefree. This is abruptly and violently upended when Scorpius drops by, murders their adoptive parents, and sells the pair into slavery. And of course, as though that’s not traumatic enough, they’re quickly sold to different masters. Within the blink of an eye, everything—everything—they ever had, ever known, is gone. At this point, their fates diverge wildly—which I think that, too, is also very important to all this.
Misia is sold to a pair of wandering courtesans as their apprentice; luckily, she escapes this before she begins to sincerely “work.” We don’t get much indication of how they treat her; they don’t seem kind, although if they’re genuinely abusive, it’s only vaguely alluded to. They appear too briefly to make any definitive statement.
Elef, meanwhile, is sold to the state of Illion. He’s forced into hard labor, building their walls despite being a young child (which, in actual Greek mythology, were said to be built not by men, but gods—to give an idea of their nature), and watches other workers die all around him. Alongside this, he’s watched over by a priest who proceeds to physically and sexually abuse him. He grows overwhelmed with anger and hate—who wouldn’t?
After Elef and Misia reunite, they are promptly torn apart. Misia is able to settle down, learn to love the world as it is, and accept her fate, whatever it may be. While life isn’t perfect, this passivism has worked out in her favor before—Elef was the one who freed her from her slavery, after all; and then, she was lucky enough to meet a kindly priestess and live happily for a time. She’s satisfied with her life as it is, and although she misses Elef, she’s perfectly content staying put. Even when her fate takes a turn for the worst, it must be for the best, surely. She learns to “accept death” and “become happy.”
Elef has no time for waiting around, it’s never done him any good before. Although he meets a kindly poet, he devotes his life to finding Misia again. She’s not just his family...she’s a symbol. She’s the last remaining link he has to the innocence and joy of his childhood—and he, especially, needs that. It’s something I find interesting about their tale: on the surface, it seems sweet...but is it really for the best? Is it really that good that, instead of learning to find joy in life as it is, Elef is always striving to return to a past that no longer exists, neglecting his present to do so?
This is why I don’t view their love as romantic—how can it even be romantic, when they don’t even know each other anymore? Was it romantic when they were children? It doesn’t seem like it. In my opinion, Elef’s obsession with Misia is, more than anything, an obsession with his innocence. She’s the one link, the key to his idealistic past; one could say she is his El. And this is why he goes ballistic once she dies...it’s not just the result of his family dying. Any chance he has of returning to that pre-trauma state is, literally, dead. Rather than willingly accept the world as it is, he’s forced to. Understandably, he doesn’t take to that well. It’s not romantic love that makes him grieve, it may not even be “love” that makes him grieve at all...he grieves for the life he’s lost.
And this brings us to Nein, the album that ruined everything forever (I’m. Semi-joking). So what the fuck is this shit? Does it make all of this moot, and actually confirm they’re lovers after all? I’ll deal with Elef and Misia individually, beginning with Elef.
The conceit of Nein is that one “factor” of the characters’ stories are changed: one decision plays out differently, and it changes the course of their lives. In the Moira song, it is a decision Misia makes that is changed. So, I believe that this means Elef’s actions in Nein are compatible with the canon of Moira, as nothing about him is explicitly changed.
The way Elef acts with Misia in Nein is uncomfortable, to be sure...but it doesn’t feel romantic, and I don’t simply say that out of a desire to prescribe how romantic couples should act. I’m not sure if any romantic couple in SH acts remotely like this; they’re not so hyperactive and...childish. There is one pair of characters who act similarly: Elef and Misia as children. What comes off as cute—or cloying—when done by a child becomes violently uncomfortable when mapped onto an adult. But this is what Elef wanted: to return to the carefree innocence of his childhood. While, to me, it seems ambiguous whether his quest is really for the best in Moira, in Nein the answer is emphatically “no.” As for why, beyond the obvious, let’s turn to Misia.
As previously stated, due to the nature of what Nein is, right off the bat I don’t think we can consider Nein Misia (here on N!Misia) as the exact same character as Moira Misia (here on M!Misia). The core trait of M!Misia’s character revolves around her acceptance of Fate, be it pleasant or painful—forcing her into something else warps her into a different character entirely. Therefore, N!Misia’s actions aren’t really a reflection of M!Misia; however, I think she does reveal quite a bit about the themes of Moira, and about Elef.
The core theme of Nein is, very clearly, about turning your back on reality and retreating into a fantasy world. This is why R.E.V.O. rewrites the characters, because the stories are sad and of course it’d be better if they’re happier, right? This is what I find interesting about N!Misia—is she not like Elef? Does Elef’s story not involve him attempting to turn his back on the real world, as it is now, and retreat to the idyllic world of his childhood? That’s why she, too, is playing into this uncomfortable relationship: instead of accepting the world as it is, now she’s now attempting to return to the past.
However, Misia—to me—has always seemed the more mature of the pair...and so, with this change in perspective, she becomes highly manipulative of Elef in order to maintain this toxic delusion. Although Elef has now achieved his dream, it is the nature of life that we all must grow up eventually: in spite of himself, he can’t help but be drawn to where there is suffering and war—because, when he’s not caught up in his delusion, a core part of his character is his desire for justice. N!Misia, cognizant of the fact that it was Elef’s search for her that kept him from finally maturing, manipulates him so she herself can have the “luxury” of returning to a “happier” state. They’re not just abandoning Moira, abandoning their fate in a literal sense...they’re abandoning the inevitable fact that we all must grow up and face reality.
The consequences of this are explicitly disastrous, for both Elef and Misia personally, and the world at large. For the world at large, it’s implied that Scorpius essentially creates an empire, felling multiple civilizations—and the slaves are still in their chains, with nobody standing up to help them. For Elef and Misia personally, they live their life constantly on the run from people trying to kill them—abandoning their freedom, their peace, all to chase a distorted version of a past long gone. Elef becomes a victim at the hands of Misia; his fire—his drive, his purpose—all snuffed out so they can play an immature game of pretend. His fire fizzles as the world around them burns.
Lastly, I must address that one Nein live; while I know the concerts aren’t considered canon, obviously what shows up in them shows up for a reason. At the end of one, it is indeed essentially shown that their relationship takes a turn towards being flagrantly incestuous, as they pair are shown to have a baby...and they surely didn’t just randomly find it. But to say this means, yes—they were always “in love,” this is a happy ending!—seems...extraordinarily obtuse, to say the least.
Those endings hammer it in one final time how making everything seemingly “happy” isn’t what it’s made out to be; for example, at the end of the Elysion song it’s revealed that, whoops, Stella is actually wasn’t cured of her Murderer Syndrome after all, etc etc etc. Like all other instances of incest in SH, it’s shown as an abomination—it shows the corrosive influence of them abandoning reality, forsaking the entire world to only have each other and the broken, distorted recreation of their childhood that’s now festered into a different beast entirely.
“Wait, so if you believe N!Elef can reasonably be said to be the same as M!Elef, does that mean the latter really had incestuous feelings, deep down, after all?” Well, here’s the thing: in Nein, Elef is being relentlessly manipulated and abused—with how childlike he is in Nein especially, I’m not sure it’s out of the question to even call it grooming.
And—I’m sorry to get personal for a second, but to further my point: as someone who was groomed by an adult as a teenager...I know what it’s like. That didn’t happen to me because I was ignorant of the fact she was too old for me, or too stupid to understand why adults dating teenagers is a bad thing. That’s how grooming works: your boundaries and own good sense are eroded through careful manipulation. In Nein, considering Elef is extremely traumatized and very explicitly isolated from the entire world...well, he might as well be a wounded gazelle thrown into a den of lions.
As for whether this shift in the character of Misia reflects on M!Misia—“all that was changed in Nein was her attitude towards fate, would it change her character that much?” In my opinion, the answer to this is also no, it doesn’t reflect on her the same way. What changes about her is...actually a little deeper than just not following the will of fate anymore. M!Misia believes that whatever is fated to happen is ultimately “good” in the end—even if it’s not good for her specifically, it’s for the best in a cosmic sense. She is selfless, willing to sacrifice herself if it might save another. Conversely, N!Misia doesn’t turn her back on Fate because she doesn’t trust in it, like Elef. She still believes the will of Moira is for the greater good... she abandons it because, she decided, from now on her life exists for her own pleasure—literally everyone else be damned.
I don’t believe incest was initially one of those desires, or even one at all in Moira—to me, it seems an incredibly strange proposition considering how she acts. She wants to see Elef again, but makes no effort to find him, and happily lives in her little temple as a priestess. Both in the context of other couples in Sound Horizon, and in my own personal opinion, that’s an odd way to act about someone you’re supposedly in love with—why would she essentially not care if they never meet again?
Why it would develop into a desire with concert!N!Misia (?), I don’t have a definitive answer, but I have many ideas. One is that it is metaphorical, if that makes sense: rather than naturally arising, it’s a metaphor to show the corrupting nature of their new way of life, devolving into something obscene.
It may be an extension of her change in character, where now she violently throws out all her principles—everything she’s ever been taught about what constitutes a noble life. This development seems to be directly referencing one line in Moira that I always found confusing and out of place, yet it retroactively makes far more sense in the context of Nein. At one point, Misia’s mentor tells her: “Love is not a slave to be used in bed / Nor yet is it a tool to be used to conceive a child.” Love is not a tool of manipulation for sexual desires, nor is all love sexual in nature...which concert!N!Misia proceeds to wholly ignore.
Lastly, I also wonder if it’s perhaps a consequence of her not quite having the same vision Elef has for her “ideal life.” Elef wants to return to childhood, but Misia has already come to accept it’s gone before her death. Perhaps she wants to get swept up in his vision, but just...can’t fully. Maybe it truly shows how futile their return to childhood is: no matter how much they try to escape the real world and become children again—such a thing is literally impossible. They’re both adults. They can’t escape their own adulthood...even if it’s in one of the most awful ways possible. I suspect this development is a mixture of all these things.
So, hopefully that all sufficiently explains why I believe deciding Elef and Misia’s relationship in Moira is supposed to be a sweet (??) incest story...doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Elef’s greatest desire is to return to his past, escape his trauma; Misia has largely moved on, and is simply living out her life in peace. Nein further elaborates on this, showing fully how much Elef’s intent is just to regress, and that an incestuous relationship would only happen between them as a part of deliberate abuse—abuse that’s completely out of character for M!Misia.
...While that’s technically the end of the essay, I do want to add some further analysis to this, because—all right, so they’re not a couple, cool...but what does all of this mean?
Perhaps you noticed something odd about my analysis: listening to Moira, it seems like Elef’s development is for the worst. He spends most of his life striving to return to a past that no longer exists, and then when he can’t, he lashes out. His warmongering is ultimately what leads him to unknowingly kill the actual last family he has, which leads him to being possessed by Thanatos.
However, is this actually a bad thing after all? It may seem bad for the reasons previously mentioned, but as Nein shows, it’s better for the world if he goes down this path. Someone is standing up for justice; he’s no longer holding on to childish delusions, but is maturing and facing reality as it is. And if that’s the case...what does this mean about Misia?
Misia believes in following Fate exactly, and in doing so she finds peace—at the cost of her own life. Elef believes in fighting against Fate, even if it’s futile, as long as it might lead to a better world. Elef and Misia are both right...and both wrong. What’s best for both Elef and Misia is when they both face reality—but still, in the end, both of their approaches are a bit too extreme.
With Misia, she gains peace...but she’s very passive, and does little to help the world aside from giving her life—which, while indeed a lot, it doesn’t seem like she even had to do that, beyond “well, Fate wills it!” With Elef, he fights for desperately needed justice—but it rots him from the inside out. What if Misia became more proactive, not forsaking her principles, but still had a little more fighting spirit against the whims of Moira? What if Elef learned to love the world as it is while he fought, instead of lashing out like a wounded wolf, and ultimately losing himself?
And that, in my opinion, is the real tragedy of Moira: Elef and Misia both ultimately cause their own downfalls through their faults...yet, in the end, not only could it not be any other way, it almost had to be this way.
Misia’s extreme fatalism caused her own death. However, Nein shows that a more “proactive” Misia isn’t...the best thing. Her fatalistic ideology was born from the events of her life: the only way to change that, without changing the past, would be for her to go down a dark path, deliberately forsaking all her principles.
Elef’s complete inability to accept his fate causes him to lose himself; but, in the end, he had to go down that path for the greater good. Somebody needed to stand up to the corrupt, evil systems of the world, that ruined his life and many others—but he was too distracted by trying to run away from reality, retreat into a fantasy to assuage his own sorrow. He needed at least something to snap him out of this mindset, to focus on what really matters.
In the end, the world gets a little bit better—justice at least has a chance to prevail—when both Elef and Misia fully face reality, and embrace selflessness: Misia sacrificing her life for another, and Elef abandoning trying regress and instead focus on fixing the world as it is. Yes, ideally they would both find a middle road—Misia learning to be more proactive, Elef learning to love the world as he tries to make it better—but that is the true tragedy of Moira. It is why it feels quite true to Greek tragedy in many ways, despite the actual mythology and such of Moira being “Greek-flavored fantasy” at best: their downfall is born by their innate flaws, formed through the extreme circumstances of their lives; and while it could theoretically be “better” if they were simply different characters—well, they aren’t. With who they are, as people, while Moira has a tragic ending for the characters’ themselves—if anything, as Nein shows, it’s perhaps the best outcome for both themselves and the world.
While I do think “Ai to it Na no Toga” is among the weakest offerings of Nein musically—and on a personal level, it is a little difficult to overlook the way it’s...changed the fandom—I have to begrudgingly admit that, in many ways, it’s kind of a brilliant supplement to Moira. I can’t help but love the way it reframes Moira and clarifies its themes. Even when I was younger, I questioned whether Elef’s journey was really so noble as it appears to be framed—Nein clearly shows the truth, the cracks forming just below the surface. And it is among the songs that most clearly (and perhaps, even, best) illustrates Nein’s core conceit of why it’s bad to ignore a harsh reality for “pleasant” fantasies.
I’m not really sure of a snappy way to end this, so: thank you for reading this far if you have, and I’m sorry if this is mildly incoherent: there's many different threads I tried to keep straight, but it's a bit difficult. :’^)