What is a sociopath? The word refers to someone who cannot or does not feel empathy for others or remorse for their actions. Sociopath is an older, less correct term for someone who has Antisocial Personality Disorder. (The “antisocial” part doesn’t mean that they’re quiet or don’t like hanging out with lots of people; it means they are driven by self-interest rather than pro-social values.) Those with Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) can be diagnosed by a psychiatrist and have the options of joining support groups or behavioral therapy, but as far as we know, they cannot be “cured.” If someone truly feels no empathy for others as an adult over 18, then nothing can change the fundamental self-interest of their brains.
I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist, but I believe the ability to feel empathy exists on a spectrum among all humans. Some are closer to the one end of the spectrum “feeling empathy for nobody” and others are a closer to the opposite pole, “feeling empathy for anybody.” Just as nobody can be completely empathetic all the time or in all cases, I don’t believe someone can be 100% without any empathy for anybody in all cases. That’s just my opinion. Now, how are people diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder?
According to the DSM 5, there are two major categories of criteria: problems with personality functioning and problems with pathological traits/tendencies. The personality problems as concerns the self are: 1) an Ego-centric identity, and/or b) Goals determined by self-interest and never law, morals, or pro-social ethics. Personality problems as concerns interpersonal relationships are: a) Lack of ability to feel empathy or remorse, and/or b) inability to have intimate relationships without being exploitative. As for Pathological Traits, these four are categorized under Antagonism: manipulativeness, deceitfulness, callousness, and hostility. These three are listed under Disinhibition: irresponsibility, impulsivity, and risk-taking. (To be diagnosed, you need two items from “personality problems,” and all or most of the 7 pathological traits.)
Now let’s look at some of Elias’ behavior in the anime and find at least one example of him exhibiting these criteria. Even from episode one, you come to understand that Elias is driven by self-interest without any clear sense of ethics. (At the same time, he’s not cruel.) He needed an apprentice and a future bride, so he bought Chise. He cares about Chise, but not in the same way a normal human cares about their loved ones.
Chise is more like Elias’ treasured possession, or his pet. (Indeed, Elias calls her “My Puppy” at least twice in the first episode.) She will always be treated well, protected, and allowed certain freedoms. And Elias will tell her whatever she needs or wants to hear, as long as it suits his goals. Another reason Elias wants Chise is so he can learn more about humans. Either way, because Elias wants something, he will keep that thing happy and healthy. But human pro-social values and true altruism do not factor into his goals or decisions.
Elias does not feel empathy for humans (or really anything else). There are a ton of examples where this shows, but let’s just stick with episode 13. Chise realized during her stay with Lindel in episodes 11-12 that she dearly loves him. She manages to tell him that he’s important to her and even closer than family. But Elias cannot feel the same. “Say, Chise,” Elias says, “how does one feel when they care for another? How can one tell? As I’ve said before, I cannot empathize. Even if if I wanted to say to you what you said to me, I would be lying.” (This is just after after Chise says she’s not scared of him, but scared of him leaving her.)
(Elias adds, “I… I was horribly cold while you were gone. What would you call that in your words?” Chise says, “Loneliness, maybe,” and Elias embraces her, seeming as if he’s deeply pleased. In episode 11 we learned that Elias is a monster tied to the magic element of shadow and the attribute of thorns. He takes on a semi-human form and lives as if he’s a human after his many years training as Lindel’s apprentice. So my theory is that Elias is capable of evolving human emotions. In fact, he’s already developed a complex emotion like loneliness. Missing Chise didn’t just make him feel cold– it also reduced his productivity in the study and the garden, as we saw in episode 12. Over time, as he studies and lives with Chise, I believe he will be able to feel empathy and other emotions on occasion.)
Elias rarely feels remorse, but there are signs of it being a possibility. In the famous episode 18, which turned some flimsy fans away from the show, Elias turns into his monster form, restrains Chise, and half-suffocates her in a fit of angry jealousy. He stopped squeezing her only when Chise threatened to harm herself with a knife, which woke him up to the fact he doesn’t want any harm to come to Chise. But after he has withdrawn, Elias is hunched over, with his skull-ish face fully hidden by the red veil. (In all other cases he opens the veil when alone with Chise.) He apologies twice and acts subdued for the rest of the episode. I believe Elias felt remorseful. There’s no way to know if this was an act, of course.
There’s equal evidence of him not showing remorse at key times. After Elias tried to save Chise by killing Stella giving her the girl’s life-force, Chise stops it and leaves Elias. She tries to make a deal with Cartaphilus but ends up almost being killed. Elias saves her and the two of them make up and start living together again. But Elias never apologized or showed any signs that he regretted the choice he made. If it means lengthening the lifespan of his pet and apprentice, Elias won’t hesitate to sacrifice the lives of other humans.
So far, we’ve seen there’s evidence of Elias meeting the first two criteria: being self-interested without pro-social values, unable to feel empathy, and debatably unable to feel remorse. However, he does not seem to be especially egocentric, since he is able to value Chise and tries to make her feel at ease. What about the seven pathological personality traits? The first one is being manipulative. There’s one good evidence of this early on. In episode 1, Elias says that Chise is now like family, and gives her what he says is a necklace with a naturally river-smoothed stone. He puts it on for her and says he believes it will protect her.
This moment is what convinces Chise that she is valued. And it’s true, even if Elias was lying about feeling like family, he does value her in a certain way. Later the same day, Chise is almost tricked into being trapped in the Fairy Realm, but Elias saves her. When the fairies ask how he knew Chise’s location, Elias indicates the necklace and says, “She has a bell and collar.” He had cast a tracking spell on the stone in the necklace.
In episode 5, this is discussed further by some shady people who treat nonhuman creatures like shit, but believe humans alone should be treated well and have freedom. They try to convince Chise she is a victim and has been manipulated by Elias. Chise makes it clear she’s staying with Elias of her own free will, that she doesn’t care about the “collar and bells,” and that even if Elias lied about being her family, he still values her and gives her more attention than her real family did. Anyway, the necklace with the tracking device and the sweet words about being family are certainly examples of Elias being manipulative, even though Chise doesn’t mind.
Deceitfulness is the next pathological personality trait. There are few examples of Elias being deceitful, though. He often doesn’t mention important things, but when they come to light somehow or other, he tells the truth about them, simply because there’s no point in going out of his way to lie. An example of him trying to hide the truth as long as possible is when he and Ruth captured Stella and were going to use her as a sacrifice to lengthen Chise’s life, in episode 21. Some might say it was deceitful of Elias to not tell Chise about his past and how he ate humans a hundred years ago or more. And indeed, when Chise finds out the truth from Lindel, Elias says he will erase the memory of that truth from Chise’s mind with magic. (In the end, Chise convinces him she’s not actually scared and she doesn’t need her memory altered.)
After deceitfulness is hostility. Elias is not hostile toward Chise except in two cases: in episode 9 when he feels tempted to eat Chise when she sleeps in his room and in episode 18 when he has his “temper tantrum,” and forcefully restrains her. Perhaps those cases are evidence enough. When it comes to dealing with others besides Chise, Elias is not normally hostile either, but if someone hurts Chise, he will attack them in his mindless monster form. Also, Elias later takes Stella captive and tries to steal her life-force to give it to Chise. It’s hard to tell how much of it is intentional, but Elias often seems to intimidate others. This may be a form of hostility.
Callousness is also one of the pathological personality traits. Elias is a bit deadpan with his flat voice and being unable to change his face expression much, but still, he’s very polite to others and isn’t purposely insensitive. He’s good at reading the emotions and thoughts of Chise and others, so even if he’s “acting,” Elias tries not to come across as callous. Of course, he says a lot of things to Chise that would be offensive/callous to anyone but Chise, who doesn’t really care. (For example, calling her “my puppy”.) Again, in 21, when Elias tries to kill Stella as a sacrifice, he is being callous. And perhaps you could say that anyone who can’t naturally empathize with others is callous by definition.
As for the pathological traits listed under Disinhibition, they are irresponsibility, impulsivity, and risk-taking. I don’t view Elias as irresponsible. He can be impulsive on occasion, but for the most part, he thinks ahead and has a strategic mind. The risks he takes are mostly due to the nature of the nature of his profession as a Mage. In general, I don’t think Elias is the uninhibited type. He’s contstantly trying to make himself more like a human and control beastly behavior.
So we return to the question, is Elias a sociopath? First of all, there’s no way to really diagnose a fictional character with a psych disorder, so this is all for fun anyway and there’s no exact answer. Secondly, Elias is not human, so it should be obvious his mind and behavior can’t be judged in quite the same way as a human’s. In terms of meeting the criteria, Elias is almost entirely self-interested, cannot feel empathy or remorse. On the other hand, he’s not egocentric and he is able to have an intimate relationship. While he is not at all the like uninhibited variant, he has all the pathological personality traits of the antagonistic variant. In short, if judged by human standards, he can be said to have Antisocial Personality Disorder; he is a sociopath.
If judged by different standards, Elias is a remarkable creature and comes very close to being truly considerate and able to feel a form of “love,” even if it’s more like the love one has for a pet. With his mind’s unique ability to evolve, Elias went from being a mindless shadow monster who ate humans to a civilized, human-like individual who is constantly trying to be more human and to adopt human emotions. Someday, he may be able to empathy and/or altruistic love for Chise, and perhaps for a few other humans and magical creatures, too.
With this post, hopefully you’ve learned a little about how Antisocial Personality Disorder is diagnosed, and a lot about the character of Elias. Thanks a bunch for reading! Your time and attention here is greatly appreciated. Be well, and I’ll see you next time!
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Image credit: Mahoutsukai no Yome. Dir. N Naganuma. Wit Studio. 2017.