|“||Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.||”|
Considered the personal enemy and counterpoint of Lucy, Kurama is a man who's carried more than his fair share of burdens as his life spirals further out of the norm. In any other story, he would be the hero, born from tragedy, rising to defeat a threat against humanity the likes of which it has never seen before. In Elfen Lied, however, Kurama is merely a man, yet he is a man who has both suffered and inflicted suffering upon others.
Initially, Kurama was studying an unspecified science at an unnamed university (likely not the 'safety school' seen in the series) and married to a gentle woman. His only real worries in life were whether or not Hiromi would finally conceive a child if her delicate health would stay stable throughout the pregnancy, and that their child would be born healthy. As such, being offered the opportunity to work for a legitimate, if discreet, laboratory by Professor Kakuzawa seemed too good to be true.
Given the nature of the National Institute on Human Evolution, Kurama learned just how true that was almost right away. The institute did indeed conduct research, but the studies were on mutants, most of whom were still children. Children with superpowers and horns growing out of their skulls presented an evolutionary breakthrough, but the experiments conducted upon them were brutal and grotesque. In even blunter words, they were being tortured. Unlike other scientists in the research facility, Kurama showed displeasure with this brutality and had to leave the room on at least one occasion due to the grievous harm inflicted upon a young child. Scientists often adopt an aloof nature over the course of their work, much like doctors who must dissociate themselves from the harsher aspects of their work to stay sane in the face of blood and harm. Kurama, however, was seemingly slower in developing this aloof nature than others. He even regretted Kakuzawa convincing him to join the facility, which he voiced to the colleague in question. However, Kakuzawa didn't share his concerns with the morality of the experiments. In his stated (though perhaps deceptive) opinion, their subjects weren't human, and conducting such research on them would only benefit humankind as a whole. Why should they care about morals or ethics in the face of studying what they considered a threat to humanity? Not merely a threat, but one that was steadily growing without any clue as to how its source virus was spreading. Kurama, with his wife and unborn child at home, continued to have difficulty with such a concept. As many parents are wont to do, he perhaps imagined his child being tortured in such inhumane ways, albeit probably not with horns on their head. As the story itself tells, he, unfortunately, would confront such fears face-to-face.
The harrowing encounter with Silpelit #3 left both Kurama and his fellow associate Oomori changed in ways neither Kurama nor the entire research institute would begin to understand until the birth of Oomori's first child. The infant was born with horns, signifying her to be a Diclonius, but under Chief Kakuzawa's new orders, no more new Silpelits were admitted to the facility for the sake of space. They were to be killed instead, with the murders explained to the public as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and Oomori's newborn was to be the newest statistic. Despite Oomori's heart-wrenching pleas as Kurama and Kakuzawa tried to appeal to his logical side instead of his fatherly instincts, Kurama came to a decision himself. However much he might have sympathized with Oomori and his situation, Kurama would take the child's blood on his own hands and spare her father the misery of having to kill her himself. It wouldn't stop at Oomori, however, as he went on to kill other Diclonius children when they turned up in maternity wards throughout the Kamakura area.
The decision to kill the infant Diclonii himself acts as the birth of Kurama's aloofness and his dissociation from the crimes he'd only then just begun to commit. While it was part of an effort to take the sin onto himself alone, he failed to recognize the cost to his soul, as it coarsened and hardened like many of his colleagues' had done. While it may have been a harsh but needed mode at first, two events would conspire to push him inside himself and blind Kurama to the real evil surrounding him.
At no time is any indication given as to how Kurama chose to euthanize the children in question.
The first stage of this ultimate hardening was the complete destruction of his family and the future happiness he thought lay just ahead.
As Oomori grieved and ultimately left the institute, Kurama and his wife Hiromi received news they had waited on for a while. Hiromi was pregnant, and the pregnancy appeared to be a stable one. In this joyous time, Kurama leaves the scientist in him behind on the island to his family's peril. While he would not at this time be certain of how the Diclonius births occurred, it should have been apparent that a colleague had this occur, one he worked with just recently in all the same places. While he could have had many reasons for adhering to Hiromi's refusal to get an ultrasound (her health, her anticipation, simply her wishes), the scientist in him should have come to the conclusion that he was possibly exposed to contagion, and that his unborn child could be affected by it. As we shall continue to see, sadly the scientist in Kurama steps aside at precisely the wrong moment, leading to disaster. His denseness in these moments arguably exceeds any such moment for the residents of Maple House, especially deuteragonist Kouta.
By the time his secretary Kisaragi tells him he must go to the hospital, many chances are already lost. The baby has been born, and Hiromi's condition is not good. Diagnosed with cervical cancer, she is now unable to have any other children, and is recovering from at least one or perhaps two surgeries, if the baby was delivered by C-Section. Many times, when a woman chooses while pregnant to give up her child for adoption, it is arranged that she never see or even touch the baby, since bonding is immediate. By the time Kurama arrives, this bonding has long since occurred, and if anything, it is tripled. It is notable that Hiromi merely holds her child, unfazed by the horns that come out of her tiny head, merely commenting on how lovely she is. While any mother might well love her child (there are always exceptions) Hiromi's adoration reaches levels not seen in perhaps two millennia of Human existence. After so many failed tries, and with all future chances removed along with her uterus, Hiromi asks not even the light questions that any other loving mother might ask, when their child has such an oddity.
Kurama sees and knows immediately just what little Mariko is, and the instinct he has developed euthanizing such births kicks in tenfold due to the danger he must know is coming. Until now, he has compartmentalized his awful task, perhaps even telling himself the couples he deprives of their daughters are better off, and that he is doing them a sad favor. For Hiromi, weary and recovering, the only thing her overwrought mind sees is her beloved husband attempting to strangle the child she has prayed for and perhaps sacrificed part of her sanity to have. Kurama knows what the child will likely one day do, and he must act against his own as surely as he did to the child of another. But in his rigid sense of duty, he fails to truly see the dagger he places in the fragile guts of the woman he loves.
Her sudden rise from her hospital bed apparently tears some of Hiromi's sutures open, and the frenzied despair she displays is also no help to her overall condition. As she is sedated and Kurama torn off of Mariko by hospital staff, he is forced to think about why this has befallen him. For reasons not given, hospital staff neither ban Kurama nor press charges of any kind for his behavior. This could be for any reason, from Kurama's standing with the government, to a hospital used to seeing distraught parents after births, particularly ones involving oddities like the one possessed by Mariko. In the midst of his worry about his wife, Kurama saw the connection that led to solving the riddle of the horned births.
The one thing that connected both him and Oomori in an absolutely unique way is the encounter with the escaped Silpelit, Number 3. Her vectors transmitted the birth virus to both men before their wives conceived. Except for Lucy, he now knows all there is to about where the virus emerges from. Not yet known is that Mariko was born differently even from other Diclonius. For while Number 3 and all others known to that point were created from Lucy herself infecting the fathers, Mariko alone (Oomori's daughter having been killed) was made from the vectors of a second-generation (fixing Lucy as the first, though arguably this was her own mother) and was a mutation of a mutation, eventually emerging with raw power that could easily defeat even Lucy herself, at least in theory. If Kurama somehow suspected this, it really didn't matter. His mind locked into his dread habit and knowing this child will present a danger to all around her, he proceeded to the neo-natal ICU and decided he must finish what he started, even at the cost of Hiromi hating him forever.
Even as his hands again met Mariko's throat, a badly bleeding Hiromi, somehow sensing his intent and presence, begged him to stop even as she began to die. Collapsing, she pleaded a promise out of him to save their child's life. For Kurama, this promise would lead both further down the path of fell damnation, while also opening up his eventual possible salvation.
The series reveals no precise details, and indeed few vague ones, about just how Mariko entered the custody of the Institute. Some things are made clear. Kurama did save his daughter's life, by way of a deal that seemed to put his past objections to Institute policy aside entirely, and give complete obedience and acquiescence to Chief Kakuzawa. This agreement also kept Kurama out of Mariko's life and care entirely, and at least for much of her life put her under the control of Doctor Saito and possible manipulation for control. Unknown is to what extent Mariko's unique generational status had already made keeping her alive desirable for the power-hungry Kakuzawas.
Kurama's path would continue to zig and zag, but now was mainly locked into a dark pattern. He had made agreements and now had to live with them. Two new players would force him further along his divided path. The timeline is vague on what happened first, but here we first proceed to the start of his path out and away from his isolation. Among the many unknowns in Elfen Lied is exactly how and why and when Kurama gained an attachment to the Diclonius Silpelit Number Seven, commonly known as Nana. While the attachment seemed greater on her part, and did not seem to afford her any protection from the brutal experiments performed there, by the time we meet her in-series, Nana refers to Kurama as 'Papa' without any preamble or hesitation. A greater unknown might be why the ever scrutinizing Chief Kakuzawa allowed this relationship to proceed, though his desire for control can explain this, since Nana's well-being was in fact eventually used as a leash on Kurama. While Kurama seemed to have kept a public level of detachment towards Nana, their interactions were frequent and deep enough to instill a deep respect for all life in Nana and place the best argument against Diclonius being natural born killers.
But the other player would end up placing Kurama's soul in the greatest jeopardy imaginable, initiating an enmity and pursuit with shades of Captain Ahab, Inspector Javert and the Count Of Monte Cristo. This was of course the series' main character, protagonist and anti-hero/anti-villain, Lucy.
While the two versions of the series differ on how her existence was ascertained, as a scientist, Kurama would know that any outbreak has an original infecting or infected party. A class photo from Lucy during her time at the Orphanage marks her off as existing prior to the first known birth, and her at-first clever but finally overdone tactic of causing cardiac episodes in multiple people showed another anomaly in the same area as the outbreak. Lucy herself was on a twisting path during this time, thinking of her lost friend Kouta and how to one day approach him with her regrets, all while committing more of the same atrocities that had ended their special friendship. While Kurama and Professor Kakuzawa might well still have tracked her down given her now-predictable patterns, it was an attempt to reconnect with her distant humanity that placed Kurama's path and Lucy's on a tragic collision course.
Befriending the abused and despairing Aiko Takada, Lucy, having learned some lessons from her encounter with Kouta, elects not to kill Aiko's lowlife father, only for Aiko herself to do this later, perhaps on purpose, perhaps by accident, but almost certainly driven in part by years of his behavior towards her. With both girls now accused of the killing, Lucy insisted they first fulfill Aiko's desire to meet her mother, while she is in town for an art exhibit. The scrutiny their pursuit brings leads Kurama and his forces to converge on the exhibit site, where the worst occurs when Kurama, seeking to shoot young Lucy, is blocked by Aiko. Agreeing to surrender in exchange for medical care for Aiko, Lucy begins three long years of isolation and captivity. Kurama, for his part, begins a period just as dark and lonely, inflicted by his own hands.
In this instance, Kurama acts foolishly and very much unlike a scientist. With Lucy as his captive, not only does he not gentle the blow of Aiko's death, he all but twists the knife, taunting Lucy about the murder accusation against Aiko and how (in his view) Diclonius unwillingness to co-exist made something like this inevitable. All this earns Kurama for his trouble is a vow of vengeance against all those he holds dear and one can presume, a subsequent complete lack of cooperation and communication from Lucy. All this is made worse by the possibility that Kurama lied about Aiko's death for some reason or other.
While never stated outright, Kurama seems to have assigned to Lucy the cause for the ruin of his life.It is not an entirely irrational placement; Had Lucy never been born, there would be no Diclonius, and he would be a happily married man with a child and not be employed in a scientific torture dungeon, bound to morally repugnant employers who were even more dubious than he imagined. Yet he himself chose to work there, his ego stoked by shallow flattery. While Lucy's body count was high and would become higher still after her escape, it was not she who killed a girl Kurama by that point likely knew had mitigating circumstances for the crime she was accused of (one can assume she was investigated as an associate of Lucy's). Even if Aiko could be completely verified as alive, that Kurama was taken aback by shooting her was confirmed by a flashback very late in the series, as he again sought to shoot Lucy.
Kurama has assumed a grim satisfaction about Lucy's capture. With births scrutinized heavily and Lucy no longer roaming, new infections would likely stop. Lucy could be contained and studied for the rest of her life, knowledge gained and the public kept safe. The three years Lucy spent at the Institute seem to have been completely uneventful, as their post-Aiko confontation is, narrative-wise, the last we see of either of them until the events of the series' first scenes in either version. The only thing we can presume is that Kurama's makeshift parental relationship with Nana developed and deepened during this time.
When the series begins (narratively, not chronologically) Kurama is attempting to convince a visiting official from the Japanese government that not only are the tax dollars that fund the facility needed, even more is needed when placed against the existential threat Lucy poses. Kurama rapidly gets what he wishes for, complete with the ancient rejoinder of why one should be careful of that. In a chaotic heartbeat, Lucy's planned-for transfer to an even more secure chamber is upended, she has escaped, and many people, both officers and tragically, Kurama's ever-unready secretary, Kisaragi have been brutally murdered. In Kisaragi's case, it is also the first sure portion of Lucy's vow of vengeance.
The case of Kisaragi is one that often has readers/viewers asking why he kept such a clumsy helpless creature in a potential kill zone, even forgetting about her lack of secretarial skills (or perhaps inability to use those she may have). Kurama in the manga states that she is made nervous by all that goes on there, and is not suited to handling what she may know of what goes in within the Institute. Yet this may well be the reason Kurama kept her around, even ultimately at her mortal peril. He had watched many others, most of all himself, become inured to the horrors that went on there. Someone unable to shrug it off might well have been an essential link to his remaining humanity, though that link was literally severed by Lucy.
Kurama is forced to think immediately of the threat Lucy poses, both the direct threat of casual murder and the existential threat her spreading of the birth virus raises. Wishing an effective response, and wishing to honor all his debts, wanted and unwanted, he opts to unleash Japan's elite Special Assault Team, a blunt force precision group to deal with a blunt force precision threat. Upon hearing that two young boys saw a college couple taking in someone who could have been Lucy (and was) on Yuigahama Beach, he keeps it in mind yet also somewhat dismisses it, since Lucy's murderous ways go against such a peaceful scenario.
Here again, some flaws in Kurama's compromised reasoning process emerge. In the past, the entire reason Lucy was not caught out sooner was her ability to lie low and not commit endless rampages, even while revealing herself in other ways. In short order, the recovery effort ends with one dead and one severely maimed SAT agent, the latter of whose bravado and showboating caught up with him in the worst way possible. Kurama's debts and obligations now weigh down upon him so hard, his logic is faulty, especially where it concerns Lucy. Like a general always fighting the last war, his next approach to recovering Lucy uses this hard lesson but fails to consider others.
Somewhere along the line, the values he (likely, no in-series confirmation is given) helped impart to Nana became paramount to her, and his request for her to seek out and assassinate Lucy is flatly refused. Kurama is caught between his parental feelings for Nana and his need to bring down the fiend he sees as having destroyed his life, so even in his next request he fails to think things through. He instead asks that Nana only act as a locator for Lucy, telling her to radio him when she has made contact. It is unclear exactly when the Institute determined that Diclonii can sense one another, but at this point, Kurama obviously knows it and is in fact counting on this fact to locate Lucy. Even if Nana had obeyed his orders precisely, or had agreed to try and kill Lucy, either way, this six or seven year-old girl was in for pain, because the sense of another worked both ways. It is hard to imagine someone as reactive and violent as Lucy simply letting Nana 'ping' her location, as it were, without at least attempting a highly aggressive pursuit.
Worse than this, Kurama fails to take Nana herself into account. For all her apparent age and maturity, she is a child, one who has never seen the world outside the Institute, and most of all, one who has a deep need to make the only parental figure she has proud of her. Unsupervised and filled with pride of place about her 'Papa', her tragic decision to try and capture Lucy not only places her against a powerful, ruthless opponent, but by mentioning her 'Papa' (not by name, but it's reasonable to think Lucy inferred this) she placed herself into a bitter blood-feud she knew nothing of. By sending her, Kurama both failed to acknowledge the full depths of his feelings for Nana, and certainly of her feelings for him. By the time he is able to respond to the signal, Nana has been dismembered and is on the verge of being beheaded. Either regaining his access to his own feelings or losing his composure, Kurama responds to Lucy's taunts by striking her, fully expecting to die. Yet again, the depths of Nana's love exceed Kurama's expectations, as Nana in her agony had already disabled Lucy's vectors. To the shock of all on scene, Lucy merely flees while armed soldiers, well aware of her savage reputation, hesitate and while Kurama had to turn his attentions towards Nana, who was in the process of bleeding out from four missing limbs. The worst was yet to come.
When Kurama returned to the Institute, he was given a grim order and received apocalyptic information. Somewhere within his literal God-complex, Chief Kakuzawa took a form of twisted pleasure in watching Kurama struggle against his guidance and influence, trying to thwart him but never to do so in time to make a difference. One of the things he seemed determined to do was to force Kurama to kill his own daughter, once even stating that one could not pick something up without dropping something else. In this case, the daughter he wanted Kurama to kill was Nana herself, contradictorily arguing that she was now useless, yet also still a danger as well. But now his complex and conspiratorial ideas were placed in stark relief as Chief Kakuzawa stated his desire to mate with Lucy and thereby be seen as God by the new species as they took over.
What Kurama actually thought of his employers up until that point is unknown, but it seems likely he considered them ruthless in keeping down the Diclonius threat while providing the government of Japan with information gained from that research, to do with what they would. If he suspected anything more, it was likely a passing thing, and one he would dismiss as unworthy or foolish. Now, not from a third party or found file or anything remotely disputable, he heard insane plans emerge from the mouth of the man fully capable of trying to enact them. Though the manga series' run of chapters took the focus off of himself and Nana for a good while, it seems that Kurama made immediate plans both to save Nana and to extricate himself from this madness. His obligation to Kakuzawa was able to be superseded in part because of a greater obligation to Humanity, and because Kakuzawa had broken his own oath, perhaps several of them.
However, as with so much of the series, how he proceeded, who he made contact with and where he went while and after leaving the DRI is not revealed at all. His next actual appearance would be in the midst of pure chaos and battle, but his time away from the spotlight may also provide further insight into both him and his superior turned adversary.
Again not clear is how he withdrew from his duties at the Institute. Nana's outfitting with new arms and legs is depicted after an extended flashback into Lucy's childhood (at least in the manga) but like so much of the series, actually occurred quickly, seeming to have happened soon after her maiming, and like as not soon after Kurama's eye-opening conversation with Kakuzawa. With Nana's deceptive euthanizing (although not enough to fool Kakuzawa), Kurama likely made good on his own departure, possibly with the connivance of his subordinate, Shirakawa, who later in the narrative, was revealed to be a spy for the counter-Kakuzawa organization Saseba. However this alignment occurred, the next time readers saw Kurama, he intervened as his two daughters were at each others' throats.
In the interim, the world of Elfen Lied speeds along. Bando, maimed by Lucy when he pursued her at Kurama's behest, withdraws from view and prepares a long-term rematch with the Diclonius Queen. Lucy, disabled by Nana, once more becomes the child-like Nyu, until the schemes of Kurama's former friend and associate, Professor Kakuzawa, culminate in her reawakening and his death. While equally unmourned by Kurama and by his own father, the Professor's assistant, Doctor Arakawa, takes over part of Kurama's role at the Institute, albeit at literal gunpoint. Chief Kakuzawa, feeling that Kurama has violated their old deal, decides to use Silpelit Number 35 - aka Mariko Kurama, as a weapon to re-capture Lucy and kill Nana. Kurama's assistants, Shirakawa and Isobe, are forced to oversee Kurama's monstrously powerful daughter, who, in an ominous sign for Kurama, kills the only mother she ever knew, although this may have been in retaliation for manipulation. Meanwhile, Nana achieved exactly what Kurama would have always wanted for her, just not where he would have wanted it to occur.
Kurama's intent had been for Nana to find somewhere well outside of Kamakura and presumably, the direct influence of the Kakuzawas. But even if, in the manga, he had used his anime method of recording his words of instruction rather than writing a note to the illiterate Nana, her ability to follow these directions, indeed to even comprehend their urgency, was limited to non-existent. Nana had followed a regimen her entire life, and while cruel and harsh, it was all she knew. She had plenty of money, but no idea what it was or how it could help her. Happily, she met up not with a predator, but with a girl staying at the same house as Lucy when she was in her Nyu persona. Mayu managed to guide Nana back to Maple House and past confrontations with Lucy and Kouta. Nana reasoned that she would need to keep watch over Nyu in case Lucy came back, but it is possible that, even if Lucy had not been there, Nana might have found an agreeable home and housemates too much of a draw to move on the way Kurama wanted. But Lucy was there, and this possibility combined with the personal devotion to Kurama he once again underestimated to keep Nana in place for when his past and present collided in a cyclone of events.
During her transport to Enoshima, Isobe learned that Mariko falsely believed neither of her parents had ever wanted her, when one died to ensure her life, and the other cast himself into hateful servitude to secure it. This hate was never more evident than when she confronted her unknown 'sister', Nana, who, now also devoted to Maple House and its residents, left their protection to seek Mariko out. Isobe noted the irony that the good father Nana worshiped and the bad one who supposedly abandoned Mariko were in fact the same person. Kurama arrived in the company of soldiers, either from his new allies in Saseba or ones misappropriated using his former authority from the Institute. In any event, these soldiers never defied or questioned his orders, and perhaps some officers among these overrode existing Institute troops, for no jurisdictional disputes arose.
His first act was perhaps a father's most basic one, covering Nana, who had been stripped by Mariko like a doll, with his own coat. He then lapsed into the series'second longest extended flashback, detailing his past up to Mariko's birth. He made absolutely clear that, whatever his own failings, Hiromi had loved their child through the moment of her death and had done everything she could to save her. But his own purpose in coming there was made equally clear as he prepared to kill Mariko, feeling his hypocrisy in sparing his daughter had led to this flashpoint.
His resolve was met by several obstacles. One was Nana's confusion about not being Kurama's daughter by birth, and her blanket opposition to killing Mariko. Another was the rage-induced return of Mariko's powers, briefly taken away by Nana, aimed at punishing the father she had always wanted to meet, bent on ending her life. The clever, battle-improvised aid of Bando was only able to turn Mariko back, till Kurama apologized for his inconsistent and hurtful behavior towards his child, a tender moment that was either a set-up or had the worst timing imaginable. A moment after Kurama and Mariko reconciled, a dummied-out missile struck the area around the reunited family, seemingly killing both father and daughter. Yet the lack of explosives, which kept the area from being atomized (the construct's impact was horrific all by itself) combined with Mariko's vast power saved both of them, shaking Kurama up and reducing Mariko to an infantile state like that for Lucy to Nyu. But while Nana remained steadfast in opposing Mariko's execution, two greater dangers now asserted themselves. If Kurama had any hope of focusing long enough to discharge any of his self-perceived duties, these two additions erased any of that.
Once more, the narrative remains unclear as to whether Kurama was full in on Saseba and Shirakawa's status as a mole within the Diclonius Research Institute. But if somehow he wasn't, Shirakawa's arrival on the beachside battlefront changed all that fast. By this point, Mariko had killed Isobe, also seizing control of the bomb-supressing remote control that could shut down the explosives embedded inside her--bombs that Shirakawa admitted to having recommended out of jealousy for a child born to Kurama by another woman. Yet she also arrived with the worst news possible. Chief Kakuzawa had completed weaponizing the Diclonius Birth Virus, and was even as they spoke, enacting a plan to spread it across first Japan and then the entire world.
Now an innocent added to all their worries, and brought a bare moment of false hope. While the police and military crowd control entering Enoshima was not taken out like in the anime, it was still ineffective against controlling the bounding Nyu, who left Kouta's side in an earnest attempt to bring Nana home for dinner. While he was in no better condition to act on this information than Lucy herself was during her later final confrontation with the Chief, Kurama learned some things he had never considered.
Lucy had an alternate infantile personality. Nana had been in effect living with their enemy, yet in peace. Lucy was impossible to find, because for long swaths of time, Lucy wasn't there to be found. Whether any of these insights could have aided him in his overall quest became instantly irrelevant, though, as Kurama focused on stopping Kakuzawa by bargaining with Lucy's life and existence, a stated pillar of the Chief's plans.
As often happened in the series, and in particular with Kurama and Lucy, all was done in a relative heartbeat. The Chief's plan to infect the world was not able to be stopped or even slowed. It seems possible that even threatening Lucy's life would not have achieved this, if Kurama had managed to contact the Chief in time. Kurama's decision to execute the helpless Nyu to deny the Chief his other goal only succeeded in awakening Lucy yet again. Active, Lucy swiftly killed Shirakawa, also destroying the remote control that kept Mariko's embedded bombs from exploding. Mariko, having reconciled with her father, asked her unofficial adopted sister Nana to care for Kurama while she faced down Lucy. While Mariko had no plans to survive this fight, she still suffered horribly, losing her legs and facing decapitation before the bombs inside her detonated, seemingly forcing the Nyu persona into permanent dominance. As Kurama began to sink into a gravity well of grief, despair and self-loathing, the small bit of light in his existence asserted herself when she once more refused to let him kill Nyu, promising to watch against Lucy's return instead. Alone, he attempted to commit suicide against the loss of his child, the final breaking of his promise to Hiromi, the triumph of his wicked former employer, and his failure on every level. For reasons likely both pragmatic and honor-driven, Bando prevented Kurama from killing himself, dragging the shell of a man to his beachfront station, where he still hoped to face down Lucy on a battle arena he himself was preparing. For six months, Kurama sat vacant-souled, seemingly numb much of the time, hellish reminders of his life, failures and broken oaths haunting him any time his mind became just coherent enough to remember.
At sometime during those six months, the light of his life found its way into his darkness, however indirectly. A young girl Bando had met (befriended might not quite be the right term) brought the rough man food, some of which found its way to Kurama, with later deliveries having something just for him. This girl was named Mayu, and in the course of the half-year, she had grown to be a sister to Kurama's 'adopted' daughter Nana as they lived at Maple House with another victim of Lucy's wrath as their makeshift father. At no time did Mayu realize that this man was the Papa Nana may or may not have spoken of to her. Kurama's obligations had broken him, but they also would not let him rest forever.
As he lay nearly insensate inside the beach shed (likely used for storage or maintenance), a great battle took place just outside between sworn enemy Lucy, his ally Bando, and his dear Nana, with a vicious operative of Kakuzawa's rounding out the mayhem, along with Kurama's unwitting helper, Mayu. Events moved at their usual breakneck pace when a fight started, leaving two combatants dead, and Lucy again reduced to Nyu, albeit the more mature version that had come forth in the six months since Mariko's death. When this Nyu, confused by events and starting to realize her savage other self existed, returned to the beach, just as so many events had reawakened a sleeping Lucy, so did her presence (once removed) start to stir Kurama.
This is only speculation, but the seeming death of Bando may also have been enough to partially rouse Kurama, putting him in contact with their Saseba allies. This in turn got aid for the not-quite-dead Bando, who was raised up by technology taken from the recovered body of the tragic Number 28. That said, it is equally possible that Saseba kept tabs on Bando or had tracking equipment placed on his person, perhaps in his existing bionics. In any event, Kurama had begun to emerge from his mental fog.
It is unknown why Kurama was headed in the direction of Maple House, but not long after, he did arrive, one of the only major characters never to reside there, at least so far as is confirmed. As he did, forces loyal to Kakuzawa (or who appeared to be so) had already invaded the home, with devastating results for both the residents and the attackers. Once again, Lucy had fully awakened, oddly enough as the defender of the closest thing she could conceive of as her family, though as always, her focus was the young man named Kouta, shot while attempting to protect those he held dear. Her rage had expanded and extended her powers to the degree that the mentally absent Kurama had walked past downed helicopter gunships/transports on his way to the house. Yet if this was nothing new in Kurama's world, the next thing he saw would begin his final jolt back to sanity.
The revenge or simply the games of Chief Kakuzawa did not end with the death of Mariko Kurama. Far from passing with the little girl, her use and certainly abuse literally multiplied by four directly, and by over a thousand indirectly. Clones of Mariko, at least four of them viable, were made part of the force attacking Maple House, three present and one disabled. Powerful in their own right (though not as much as the original), they made short work of Nana and easily held Nyu against a wall once she was recognized. But the shooting of Kouta caused even Lucy's gentle personality to gain the use of vectors, which she unleashed against the soldiers backing up the unit, also splitting the Mariko clone Cynthia in two. When Nyu was overmatched, Lucy emerged in full, taking down the mobile and air support for the attack. After Lucy had sport with and seemingly killed clones Alicia, Barbara and their creator, Doctor Nousou, she herself was disabled by the lead Agent on the ground directing the dying Cynthia to shatter one of Lucy's horns. A frenzied Kurama (who was either not known to the Agent, also secretly a Saseba asset, or she could not recognize him in his shattered state) seized the dying Cynthia, cradling her upper half and calling her Mariko. Sadly for him, but perhaps mercifully for someone with as hard an existence as Cynthia's, the clone seemed to recognize him, calling him 'Papa' before passing away. Kurama was devastated anew. Through his tears, he heard Lucy taunt him over this, reminding him of Aiko Takada's death before the Agent shot off her other horn, taking her to Chief Kakuzawa. Kurama for his part withdrew, holding the split body of Cynthia as he pulled back to his beachfront 'home'. Alternating between a sense of loss and a sense of elation over his reunion with 'Mariko', he stewed and rotted inside until someone again came to visit him with food. This was sustenance for his body, his soul, and his lost mind, but he would be forced to take it in, badly needed though it was.
In the course of a few days (perhaps even merely one day; time-frames in Elfen Lied are often difficult to judge), Nana had endured as much as she had in perhaps the entire rest of her brief life. Her new home had been invaded, with her 'sister' Mayu threatened as well, she had seen another battle with Lucy that ended in a lethal draw, followed by a full-scale military assault that wounded many in her new family, including Kouta, whom she had just come to care for. To make matters worse, Yuka's mother, the owner and landlady of their home, had made it clear she did not want Nana, a Diclonius like Lucy, living in their home any longer. While Yuka seemed set to oppose this, Mayu sensed Nana's pain and asked her to take the food she had made to the man on the beach. Determined to show her good nature to Yuka's mother and to put on a good appearance, Nana feigned optimistic enthusiasm for the task, grabbing the food and taking it to that same well-traveled stretch of beach. Nana, who had assumed all along that her 'Papa' would come back to get her, instead found him as a broken shell of a man, cradling the upper torso of Cynthia, pretending that she was both alive and the original Mariko. Nana's attempts to draw him out of his stupor elicited a nearly heartbreaking response.
Kurama, clinging to his grisly keepsake, loudly denounced her, saying that Nana had never been anything more than an experiment in his eyes, quickly bringing the girl to tears. However, Nana not only refused to leave his side, she somehow gets him away from the beach and into a more wooded area, perhaps near to the rest shelter seen a few times in the series. Moreover, Nana had gotten Cynthia's remains away from him, finally granting the clone of her adoptive sister a proper burial. It would be simple to write this sad scene off as a man in mental and spiritual anguish lashing out at one who would never strike back at him. But there may be more to it than Kurama simply hurting the one he loves best of all.
For to love and hold Nana dear was to again fail his poor dead Mariko. Kurama had gained his child back, or at least had something his fevered mind could pretend was her. Nana had committed a great sin against his delusions, this by being real. He held a suffering child's recreated body, the symbol of all he could have had and lost not once but on multiple occasions now. Nana was the symbol of the life he made after his losses, and indeed, she was the apex of that life, to be hated and despised all the more for the sacrifices and pain they had both gotten past to reach that summit. It could be that Kurama even felt dead, determined to rot as Cynthia was certain to soon (though in depiction, her body had not yet begun to decompose, either the result of a quick timeframe or some unknown effect of being Diclonius). His wrath towards Nana could be described as a vengeful dead thing woken from its rest. If the dead weren't walking in that forested area, they would be.
As Kurama tried to chase his mind and soul off, the cold Doctor Nousou found his moral center. With two out of the four Mariko clones now dead and one more mortally wounded, fate unknown to him, he discovered that he cared for the girls like his own daughters. With regret for his treatment of them and what their loyalty to him had cost them all, Nousou freed clone Barbara from her restraint device. Rather than thank or embrace him, or simply taking her leave, Barbara casually murdered an innocent and then let Nousou know in no uncertain terms the depths of her hatred and resentment. As he mustered a simple apology, she killed Nousou and then took off to find the fellow horned girl inexplicably living among Humans: Nana. Barbara now seemed to embody all the worst aspects of her template's tortured personality, and in her bitter murderous rage she planned to execute Nana.
As the two met, Nana had experienced only marginal success in bringing Kurama out of his stupor. His reaction to seeing Barbara was predictable for him, but appeared to put Barbara off badly as he once again sought to reunite with lost Mariko. Nana took her threats and assertions of not belonging badly, and conflict quickly arose between them. For once, Nana had every advantage in power and experience, but still not in ruthlessness. With Kurama's life in Barbara's hands, Nana surrendered, her only prayer that her 'Papa' be safe, and that she be reborn as his biological daughter.
The conflict that arose in Kurama's mind is difficult to decipher, but we can speculate based on its final results. To his mind, and on some levels factually, he had failed in keeping his promise to Hiromi, failed to save Mariko, broken his oath to serve Kakuzawa, however hateful he was, and failed to keep Lucy under control. In Cynthia and Barbara's cases, his lost mind saw a chance to make things right with Mariko, to save her, to honor his vow to dying Hiromi, and to make his servitude to the Kakuzawas worth it. But none of this was happening, and in fact none of this was possible.
His vow to Hiromi might have been impossible to keep so long as Kakuzawa's apparatus was about, for right from birth Mariko was marked for destruction, unless somehow the Institute wasn't already alerted about her status. If this were the case, Hiromi could have died resisting soldiers instead of persuading her husband. Mariko was set up by her handlers at the Institute to figuratively and literally explode at some point. The Kakuzawas were primal oath-breakers and had deceived not only him, but the entirety of the Japanese government. Lucy's escape was part of a plan by the same Kakuzawa who had recruited him; her persistence in avoiding recapture was due to an aspect of her past that arguably he failed to learn of by shutting down communication with her, or that she might never have told him of no matter what. While Kurama rightly bore much responsibility for these things and had blood on his hands from enforced infanticide, he had made the mistake of trying to take it all on his shoulders, and as a result, he had drowned in insanity as his burdens broke him.
But Barbara had outright rejected him, and now she seemed set to kill Nana, who had stood by him even as he verbally savaged her, and who in the end he had saved, both in somehow passing high ideals to her, and by getting her away from her old life in a dungeon to a new one in a troubled but loving family. His love for Nana helped refocus his mind, but the simple act of choosing to kill Barbara brought him back entirely. Barbara had not been Mariko, and poor Cynthia certainly could not be, despite both showing somehow that they recognized their genetic father. Worse, Barbara was going to kill the only promise he had been able to keep, the only loved one he had successfully protected. To the extent his actions and foibles mattered, Kurama had indeed failed to fulfill many obligations and broken promises. His guilt he never tried to deny; his failures he constantly tried to mitigate or undo, often making things worse. After shooting Barbara, Kurama made several observations. The first was, that Barbara seemed to know of his attack, but for some reason, refused to hurt or kill him. The second was that perhaps he had finally fulfilled the desire of Chief Kakuzawa for Kurama to kill his daughter. The next was that he had finally decided that his sins could only begin to be expiated neither by dying or walking in a fugue-like living death, struggling to regain what he had long ago lost, but by living. His final observation was that put-upon Nana was indispensible to him, especially as he now resolved to end Lucy's existential threat once and for all.
The Chief had once privately observed of Kurama that he had failed to heed his advice of having to drop one thing in order to grasp another. But whether or not Kurama ever took in this self-serving admonition, that is not what he did here. For it was not his surrender of dueling goals for the sake of one of them that saved Nana and thereby himself. For one, Nana, the reality, was about to die at the hands of Barbara, a delusion of flesh and science mixed with the memory of a sad little girl. This would have been his absolute final failure, and the only way to stop it was to surrender the idea that he was even holding anything that could be dropped. He had to admit to himself he was a failure on many fronts, and that these goals could not be regained. In an odd way, Kurama once and for all shook off the influence of Chief Kakuzawa by acceding to his wishes. One can almost believe that Kakuzawa, who fancied making himself God, never wished Kurama to actually fulfill the act of killing his child, hoping that his unwillingness to do so would lock him in for all time. In what could have been a simultaneous event, Chief Kakuzawa died while failing to control Lucy, this as Kurama put his works aside for good.
At Nana's suggestion, Kurama went with her as they sought Kouta, who she thought somehow could help them in their quest to be rid of Lucy. But in this otherwise logical pursuit, Kurama would once again find a self-imposed burden of obligation preventing him from seeing straight. Finding that Kouta had left his hospital bed (prematurely, placing himself in danger), Nana and Kurama pursued Lucy (presumably via Nana's ability to sense a fellow Diclonius) to where she stood with Kouta atop the Enoshima Sea Candle, as the pair tried to hash out their past together. After much persuasion of the angry Kouta (whose memories had fully awakened regarding Lucy killing his family), Lucy finally got his permission to seek an ambulance to take him back to the hospital. This had only been accomplished by way of her promise to never kill again while resuming her life at Maple House. If Lucy suspected that this would be difficult to keep to, Kurama was to prove her correct, lying in wait as she came down the steps with his gun drawn and ready. For her part, Lucy (and perhaps Nyu inside of her as well) was ready to accept death in order to keep her promise to Kouta. There was another present, however, who was not.
Perhaps because he learned this so close to his complete breakdown, Kurama did not seem to process the presence of Lucy's other personalities. Certainly, while he had briefly been exposed to Nyu, he had never even gleaned the existence of Lucy's third personality, either her at her most savage and uncaring or the actual embodiment of her DNA, driven to replace and erase non-horned Humans. If Lucy had the ability (rarely shown) to hold back on her actions, the DNA Voice Personality never did. While Lucy thought the Voice was merely an urging and dark advocate, in this instance it showed its ability to seize control of Lucy's body by cutting off Kurama's arm. This dark moment could be partly traced to Kurama's needless antagonizing of Lucy when she was first his captive, since that ended any further communication between the two. On the other hand, Lucy herself was unaware of just how deeply the entity had its hooks in her, so even averting that past mistake might not have been enough. While a badly timed Kouta chastised and nearly abjured Lucy for seemingly breaking her vow, Kurama desperately focused past his pain and refocused to fire on Lucy. Yet Kurama had once again failed to take a lesson in while focusing on past vows: History repeats itself, as it tragically did at that moment.
Kurama, both focused on his goal and perhaps not capable of believing that Lucy could ever have real friends or loved ones, had instead shot Kouta, who had jumped in the way, just as Aiko Takada had. While the volatile mix of emotions that drove Kouta to this (some mix of regret over his sister's death and his denied love for Lucy) are one side of the equation, Kurama's reaction to it is to finally recognize how far his journey has taken him, and to realize how much he has lost. Another innocent who will likely die because of him lay right before his eyes, but not for very long. In a sad way, Lucy did what Kurama failed to. In seeking vengeance, she looks right past her old sworn enemy, but not in a healthy way. Dying from power overuse in any event, this final loss in a life laden with losses drives her to fully unleash her power and attempt to destroy the world. Whatever blind spots he possessed, Kurama couldn't help but see his role in the end of creation. As the Sea Candle lighthouse tower disintegrated around him, it became difficult to tell if Lucy tossed him off or if he merely fell, but since she could easily kill him, it seems likely he fell, his fate no longer of concern to the grieving Diclonius Queen.
Just as his mental and spiritual fall was arrested by Nana, so it was for his physical one, as Nana was either flying, or has been said, merely 'falling with style'. With so many events occuring simultaneously, it is hard to say these two came at the exact same moment, but across the frenzy, two enemies twisted by years of hardship, mistakes, secrets and pain came to a similar realization. Tying off his lost arm's base, Kurama did the one thing he could never have expected of himself, telling Nana to gather with her friends while he stayed back, in effect penalizing himself for shooting Kouta (who he realized was also Nana's friend) by keeping away from Lucy's last stand. His obligations all failed at, he seemed to realize that, rather than try to wring some manner of victory from the multiple ash-piles his life had left, it was time to clean them all up.
For Lucy's part, she had turned her efforts from deconstructing the world to reconstructing Kouta. While conducting only basic tissue and organ repair (Kouta was still quite some time in the hospital after this), the precision and care this took undid Lucy's cellular integrity. When a no-longer-dying yet not quite recovered Kouta awoke, her body was a puddle, still alive and in agony. Yet as a momentous final clash between weapons, personalities, hates and loves culminated with a reluctant Kouta killing the girl he had called Nyu, Kurama was nowhere to be found. Just as Lucy/Nyu left their body and the hate-filled Voice behind them, so did Kurama leave Lucy herself in the past.
Living up to one's oaths, duties, promises and obligations is important to most people; in the culture of Japan it can be seen as paramount, as noted when Lucy was willing to let Kurama shoot her, to keep her word to Kouta, and many other instances. Kurama had taken many such burdens upon himself, yet time and again he either broke his promises or was left unable to fulfill them by other circumstances. His personal circumstance was doubly damning, for ending his life was less of an option than it might have been. Many of the goals he sought, seeking vengeance for loved ones, destroying Lucy, halting the Kakuzawas' schemes and more all required his presence, not his memory. The final burdens he places upon himself as the story ends are finding the many conspirators who enabled his former masters and seeing to their punishment and figuring out a way to respond to Nana's desire to be more than a daughter to him.
Unlike the anime, Kurama goes on and must live with what he has done, and who all he has failed, even to Nana. Perhaps in this the manga ending urges the imperfect residents of a vastly imperfect world to not give up in the face of our own failures, but to live and move on, seeking out what happiness we have and telling the people we love who they are to us.
|“||But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.||”|
–Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"