I must open this theory with a disclaimer. I’m aware of the fact that many design choices that Capcom has made in the past regarding their characters, from impossible natural hair and eye colors to characters listed with exaggerated measurements (characters who are underweight, female characters with large bust sizes, etc.) However, for the purposes of this theory I ask you to keep an open mind, as while there is scientific precedent for everything I am about to disclose, this theory is exactly that: a theory. It is speculation based on what is canon in Street Fighter as well as scientific research done on a real genetic condition. I must also state that this theory is not intended to trivialize nor glorify the condition of those who have it nor is it meant to criticize the people who do. Again, this is merely speculation based on analysis, and must be treated as such.
The design of Elena has been praised for its unique aesthetic. She is a Kenyan master of capoeira with a sunny disposition who wishes to go around the world to make friends and experience new things. She also broke new ground as the first female black Street Fighter character. While her design has been well-received, in giving her the cosmetic design they did, Capcom unintentionally may have given her a rare genetic disorder as well. This disorder is called Waardenburg Syndrome, a rare condition characterized by the recipient having blue eyes and white hair, in addition to more severe symptoms including hearing loss and webbed digits. Information on this disorder can be found at the following websites:
There are four classified types of Waardenburg Syndrome, and if Elena does have it, it must be determined which of the types she is likely to have.
Type 1 is characterized by the presence of dystopia canthorum, which gives the appearance of having very wide-set eyes. Hearing loss may also be present.
Type 2, the most common type, is characterized by hearing loss from birth and, sometimes, heterochromia of the irises, or having two differently-colored eyes.
Type 3 includes the person with the condition having upper limb abnormalities, particularly webbed fingers, and vitiligo, a change in skin pigmentation.
Type 4, the most severe version of Waardenburg’s Syndrome, includes characteristics listed above as well as an intestinal disorder called Hirschsprung’s disease, in which nerves are missing from the intestines and includes a myriad of symptoms which will not be discussed here.
There are other signs of Waardenburg syndrome, including neurological conditions such as ataxia. However, in Elena’s case, we can deduce several signs that she doesn’t have. Her motor control is pinpoint, and even though she has an awkward gait, there are no signs of her having any sort of neurological condition. We can also eliminate Type 4 Waardenburg’s Syndrome, as it’s very unlikely she has any form of intestinal disease, which leaves only the first three types of the disorder to analyze.
However, due to artistic privilege, information is admittedly very inconsistent. Something Elena may have in one source may not be present in another, so each piece of information must be carefully scrutinized.
As stated previously, one of Type 1’s characteristics is the presence of wide-set eyes, and in artwork for Street Fighter III, it appears she does.
However, these are the only pieces of artwork that exist that show her having wide-set eyes. We can chalk this up to artistic license and move on from there, eliminating Type 1 Waardenburg’s from the list.
In Elena’s sprite for Street Fighter 3, Elena is seen with having both webbed feet and webbed toes.
However, in every other piece of her official artwork, she is shown with normal digits. Also, from what can be seen on her body, she does not appear to have any uneven skin color, and unless Capcom outright states that she is hiding her vitiligo underneath her jewelry, we can safely say she does not have Type 3 Waardenburg’s either.
This leaves only Type 2, characterized by hearing loss. So, this leaves a question that most people may not have thought of: is Elena deaf? If she is, it would give her repetitive theme song, “Beats in My Head,” a whole new meaning. Since she can’t hear anything, she would literally be dancing to her own rhythm that she has in her head.
Fortunately, this is not the case. In her Ultra Street Fighter 4 intro, her immediate reactions to characters when they speak when she isn’t looking directly at their faces prove she can hear and isn’t doing any sort of lip reading. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6VEHRrJ4gs
So now that it’s proven that Elena does not have hearing loss, the question is could she have the condition at all? The answer, surprisingly, is yes! On the NIH site in the description section, it clearly states, “most people with Waardenburg syndrome have normal hearing.” In Elena’s case, her condition would most likely be caused by a mutation of the MITF gene, which primarily deals with pigmentation. In other words, she can have Waardenburg Syndrome without the extreme symptoms. However, it doesn’t mean that Elena’s out of the woods yet. Her condition and her active lifestyle means she is extremely susceptible to melanoma, perhaps more so than any other character on the Street Fighter roster.
A case can be made that she dyes her hair and has contacts, but unlike those who live in a more urban environment, such as R. Mika, or who are more well-off, including Karin, and Hakan, Elena would not have immediate access to cosmetics. Also, because of her status as the princess of an isolated tribe, the idea of her having outsider DNA to explain her hair and eye color is too far out for even this theory. We also know her condition is genetic, as her brother also has white hair and blue eyes, but other members of her tribe do not.
Lastly, if Elena (and her brother) has the condition, it also answers one final piece of Street Fighter lore concerning Elena’s family. Capcom has officially stated that her father acquired a Ph.D while studying in France. With his children having the condition they do, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say he wanted to know more about it and, with many prestigious schools in France such the University of Strasbourg, studied genetics while he was there.