Nozomi ends up defined by several things in the Elfen Lied series. Her absence from the anime adaptation is certainly the most often cited thing about her. The fact that she brings the song that gives its name to the story into it is another. An indication of adult-diaper fetishism on the part of the mangaka may be one of the off-putting factors enabling dismissal of the series by many critics.
But those who know the manga series know that it is her journey from timid girl to full member of Maple House that marks her off. Her journey is a shorter one, being introduced mid-series and only really featured in its final chapters. Also, much of her progress is recorded in one bonus chapter, rather than documented along with Lucy and the others in chronological segments. But if we merely step back, we see that this journey has a second traveler, too proud to call himself that, and perhaps too ashamed of his role in making her path necessary. This person is, of course, Nozomi's father, an odd mix of someone who meant well and yet is the direct cause of much of Nozomi's pain and anguish. Not a villain like some parents, he also sees himself constrained from being more like the better ones. To understand the simple steps that Nozomi took to making her life her own, we must also understand the man who ultimately allowed her to pursue her dream and why he relented after such long and ferocious opposition.
We know a great deal about Nozomi's parents, relative to a series where both primary and secondary characters sometimes have little to no background or verifiable biographic details to flesh out their characters. When flashing back to the time just after her mother's funeral, Nozomi seems very young indeed, almost just past toddling, though her small frame could work against figuring her exact age. She seems just barely to understand why her mother is gone, and perhaps why. It becomes clear that she does not comprehend or understand her father's mood or state of mind. When he directs that she not play her late mother's records (recordings of her operatic performances) her objection to this leads to a scene that, while not as disturbing as some in Elfen Lied, is certainly uncomfortable to read.
Still a small young girl whatever her age, Nozomi's father stripped her of her lower clothing, and her hands bound before her father began delivering a painful and lengthy spanking, leaving welts and drawing blood, even past the point that Nozomi lost control of her bladder. On the surface and like as not to most readers, his reaction is harsh, bordering on barbaric.
Taking a step back, some of this is explained by differing views on some cultural norms. Some upper-class Japanese families believe in intense discipline, perhaps fearing that their heirs will grow up as entitled spoiled brats and that even harsh measures are required to keep an heir from leaving themselves and their heirs destitute as they squander their inheritances. The complete removal of her lower body clothing could be less humiliation and more an effort to not ruin these clothes, which is probably expensive and ones Nozomi might wish to wear once again. As for her hands, this might be a measure to keep the child from lashing out while in pain from the spanking, and perhaps spare themselves any further trouble. To the eyes of many, though, the scene veers on the edge again of the fetishistic and more, Nozomi's father loses these defenses even as the story explains the reasons for his actions. Nozomi's desire not to see or cast her father as a villain is always in play. Yuka describes to Kouta the opposition of Nozomi's family as regards her dream of following her mother into operatic singing. Her father is all we ever see of Nozomi's family. This gap could be an oversight on the mangaka's part or a simple assumption that, while offscreen, Nozomi's family indeed shares and backs up her father in his opposition to this dream. But besides the lack of other family members in the narrative, Nozomi's backstory segment has another seeming contradiction. Nozomi's father is not shown opposing her dream, so much as he is shown blanking out the possibility of it being discussed. It seems possible that Nozomi either lied to avoid directly criticizing or looking like she was criticizing her father or that her explanation to Yuka was halting and taken by Yuka to mean something different. It cannot be said that Nozomi has fond memories of her punishment, but direct resentment of her father for his actions does not seem to be part of Nozomi's makeup.
When the time comes for Nozomi to defy her father and seek her goals despite his opposition, he relents after explaining things Nozomi hadn't known previously. He cites the fleeting gift of a nigh-magical operatic voice that both she and her mother possessed, and how losing it destroyed her mother's will to live. He also describes Nozomi as having always been a timid child, unwilling to speak up, and that he needed to see if she had the will to oppose him. A happy reconciliation and encouragement follow, but if Nozomi is satisfied to have her father on her side, however grudgingly, the reader may find themselves less so. Nozomi's father is not a villain, but he may be a deceiver and a hypocrite.
The father's opinions about the Japanese throat and capabilities for the booming, almost self-broadcasting Dramatic Soprano voice are allowable, since, supposed genetic capacity aside, custom and practice possibly worked against this ability's prior development. In effect, Nozomi's father saw this ability as even rarer in Japan than other places because it had never been developed or encouraged before. The meta-irony of Elfen Lied's anime (which excludes his daughter) having an iconic theme sung by a Japanese operatic genius (a theme even harsh critics of the series praise) remains just that, and cannot be used to criticize the character himself.
With that said, his words on the gift his wife and daughter share bear a bit of scrutiny. While singers lose range and subtlety with time and overwork, this joins with a love of rich food, hard drinks, and even tobacco usage. The story contains no mention of any danger signs as Nozomi's mother went on with her career; it is safe to assume that she was given warnings at some point, either medical or self-evident. Nozomi's father seems to take it as a certainty this gift will turn on or leave her when it is far from that. The narrative gives us nothing of the mother's habits, but she was a grown woman and accomplished entertainer, so self-indulgences that worked against her best interests and health seem at least a good possibility. There is no nuance in the father's explanation of his fears for Nozomi. It is possible he didn't realize the level of his wife's possible behavior, or that he failed to associate it with her eventual loss.
His truthfulness and possible hypocrisy come into question with his other assertion. He was said to have worried that Nozomi, who had always been timid, might never speak up for herself. An honest goal, and a trope not restricted to this story. But the problem comes up almost immediately. We do not see anything of Nozomi prior to her severe punishment as a small child, and so she might well have always been timid as he asserts. But if he runs a house of intense discipline, then it is hard to imagine a talkative pushy child making much headway, or being long tolerated by either parent. The sort of snarky brat that seems to be a requirement on Disney or Nickelodeon teen/tween sitcoms would likely be physically repelled from so much as approaching the house of a man like Nozomi's father. Also, being so young, her assertiveness might be very hard to gauge. Had Nozomi been all that assertive, her memories would probably be filled to bursting with spankings and such. Her bone-deep timidity seems to have been born in the moment of the beating that caused her to lose control of her bladder at least into young adulthood. Her father in this instance seems to be counting on the obedient, polite child he enforced to get away with criticizing her for the thing he mostly created. Nozomi is scared of displeasing her father because she loves him. She is fearful of him because an act of mild defiance at best brought on an episode that crippled her emotionally.
His future reactions also undermine the father. Nozomi's gift of her recorded singing also seems to enrage her father, yet he merely appears to destroy the tape/cassette in question rather than regard this as a continuation of the past event. While fair (the two are not directly related) it does raise a question: Why was a child nearly incapable of comprehending her wrong beaten so squarely, while an older child who could be said to understand his touchiness around music only got scolded? For that matter, why was a young adult openly defying the express wishes of her father let go with a speech?
A possible answer comes around the edges of all these questions. In short, whatever the father's explanations and they likely hold some validity, Nozomi's father is not first and foremost ashamed of or concerned about Nozomi's timidity, but his lack of self-control in the hours after burying his wife. His child paid less for her defiance than for his rage. He felt grief at his loss, anger at his wife for leaving them alone, and became sick with worry his daughter would follow her mother's sad example. He may have looked back upon his behavior with shame, realizing Nozomi meant no harm or disrespect. To a disciplined man, such a lapse would be haunting by itself. When forced to look at the result of his moment of rage, it would eat at him.
Yet to just apologize to Nozomi might be more devastating than any beating or spanking. It would mean walking off the pedestal he needed to occupy and she likely needed him to stay on, especially a girl who now had no mother. The purchase of adult diapers, possible teasing or restricted activities at school and a lack of friends due to the condition he helped create would be a source of shame for him. His path out of his personal cul-de-sac with Nozomi was nowhere to be found, at least by him. The story of Nozomi chafing against these restrictions is a more straightforward one. With her home denied to her (again, the existence of other relatives involved in restricting her a question mark), she sought an empty field, where a young Lucy listened in wonder at least once. But as Nozomi grew older, and entered High School, someone entered her life who would mark her well, and perhaps provide Nozomi's father with the way to rebuild his daughter's being without sacrificing his pride of place. However, whether he realized it or not, this was a young woman ferociously committed to her dream, one that, logically, she had even less chance of achieving than Nozomi did for hers.
Yuka would prove the key to the father's theorized hidden goal, yet also the end of his stated one. While Yuka would likely never encourage Nozomi to defy her father, her example, holding on to her goal of reuniting with Kouta (whether stated or not) would seem to be the start of Nozomi's ultimate decision. If her father's stealth goal also included dissuading her from singing despite her standing up to him, he would have to accept the prize of strength over obedience. After she had lost her secret singing place, Nozomi encountered her now-graduated Sempai (or Senpai) Yuka, who asked her to visit her new home at Maple House. She would gain far more than mere opportunity to sing or encouragement to pursue her dream. In the words of Kouta, Nozomi found the blade that would slay her shaking, quaking self.
Even among fans of the series, the walking wounded Kouta is renowned for his denseness and inability to avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The possible reasons for this are explored in his journeys article. The exception to this is his ability to encourage an unsure young woman. As for the jealous Kanae, the weepy Yuka, the uncertain Mayu or the lost Nana, he reversed the charges on Nozomi's shame and guilt, making her self-labeling of cowardice an insult to him, since he is her friend, and would not wish a coward to stay in his house. This encouragement coupled with his keeping the secret of her adult diapers (perhaps confirming she kept it a secret from most at school) meant that Kouta had a third girl enamored of him, albeit one who would never pursue him out of respect to her sempai. She also met another, with whom her relationship had at least one incredibly awkward (if not potentially criminal) moment, but it was one she would deal with as well, as her courage finally began to bloom. For Nozomi would not merely join the residents of Maple House, she would join with them in the unconscious effort to save the world from the direct product of Human cruelty.
Perhaps all the residents played a part in making Lucy care for and appreciate people other than just Kouta. In the final confrontation with the scheming Chief Kakuzawa, while it is Nyu who thinks about the people she wants to get back to, not long after, it is Lucy herself who sings the series-naming song taught to her by Nozomi. But it is not the sweet, sad poem-song that may begin to turn Lucy on a better path; rather it is the fact that, when Nozomi teaches it, she is teaching it to another person. This kindness is not charity towards an unfortunate, or kindness to an escaped experiment. This act is the kind of thing that friends and family do for one another. Nozomi's singing, both taught and heard, may have provided another vital insight to a mind and soul hobbled for so long by pure hatred. Her ability, one that perhaps no one else in the entire world possesses, can be used for good, for happiness, and to spread joy. Towards the end of her tragically short life, Lucy would learn she was wrong about a great many things, even if the stated effect of this information was not directly played up. But perhaps, just as it took many years for the child Lucy to become (or choose to try and become) unemotional, the final awakening of her connection to other people was also a slow burn. Nozomi's role in this is unclear, except that she must have played one, and the choice to use a gift to bring life rather than death is one worthy of the operas Nozomi held as her goal.
Before (perhaps well before, since the timeline is uncertain for her backstory chapter) all this comes the time Nozomi must, at last, defy her father's public expectations of her and perhaps also meet his unspoken private ones as well.
"Stand up for yourself," or "Just stand up to them," is easy advice to give, but if heeded, needs to take into account the possible reaction of the person stood up to or against in the particular situation. If all that might occur is yelling, scrutiny or awkward questioning of motives or agenda, then standing up for one's self is only a matter of finding courage and focus, again the targeted person being the wild card. In Nozomi's case, the stakes are much higher. In her mind, whatever hidden agenda her father might or might not have, everything from family exile to another humiliating beating driven by greater rage at a disobedient child now old enough to understand what duty to the family was had to be on the table. For if her father had so tasked a small girl grieving for her mother on so small a point of order, what might he do to a teen acutely aware of what she was doing?
Whether resigned to her fate or finally gaining the exit from his pride of place, the father's price is a story. As with so much else in the series, we don't have the best idea of exactly what Nozomi knew about her mother's death, other than she seemed to know it was suicide at the time of the present day narrative. Now she learned it all including how her loss broke her mother. Whether facts are missing about possible abuse of her gift or if Nozomi's mother simply had a particularly fragile throat that gave out with no warning, the truth was laid out for her. While being mindful of that fact, Nozomi either convinces her father or, in keeping with this theory, unknowingly gives him the exit he needed to undo his past wrong gracefully. One small possible piece of evidence is a cassette tape of her singing Nozomi recorded as a gift, once smashed in anger, now revealed to be at least useable again.Either a hard but fair man relented and allowed an uncertain future to take his only child on her path, or a man once consumed by supernal rage expiated his shame at taking that grief and rage against the most vulnerable target. Whoever Nozomi's father was in this, and whether or not he thought her too timid all along or realized his role in creating that timidity, he had one last lesson to learn as he now shifted his plans to the joyous day of Nozomi's first performance concert.
We can only assume that her father saw Nozomi's injury at the hands of brutal government operatives as the worst news imaginable. It would likely cause him to reconsider his opinion of Yuka and Kouta, probably once a high one since he let his daughter stay in their home. It might make him regret the new freedom he had allowed her, even if that played no direct role in her hospitalization. It seemed that, while she was in the hospital, her father forbid Nozomi's friends to see her, and used his wealth and pull to have her brought home, with some medical oversight for her recovery. A throat injury, initiated by a chokehold, could only be his nightmare since it was such a loss that drove his wife's suicide. His protectiveness over Nozomi could only be at its height.
Despite their home being at a greater remove than the rest of Kamakura relative to other landmarks, and having had no contact with her friends since the raid on Maple House, a connective instinct overtook Nozomi. Leaving her recovery bed, she joined her housemates and second family atop the Sea Candle as a final raid occurred, ending (almost stereotypically at this point) in the deaths of all soldiers present. She would also stand watch and weep as Kouta fulfilled his dread childhood promise made to the child Lucy, and killed the girl they had known as Nyu to release her from her ruined body, melted in the process of saving Kouta.
While the fate of Nozomi's singing career is an unknown of the finale (one of frustratingly many, even for die-hard fans), the actual return of her speaking voice is confirmed as she aids in the repair of Maple House, pending the injured Kouta's return. Now seemingly an actual resident, she is seen in the present-day portion of the finale; her father is not.
Whether a man who relented from a fierce opposition or a man shamed by a moment of rage taken out on a helpless child, her father in this last incident had gained and lost more than he realized. His pedestal stayed intact, and yet his daughter, either having overcome a lifetime of timidity or a period of it created by his assault, now had indeed decided to live her own life. Perhaps as penance, or perhaps as any one would eventually have to, Nozomi's father, as she, at last, found her voice, learned the happiest and saddest lesson any parent can learn.
His little one had grown up.