|“||Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head; Why did summer go so quickly? Was it something that you said?||”|
–The Windmills Of Your Mind by Bergman-Michel-Bergman
Kouta's Addlement may be the most accurate description of his condition for the vast majority of both versions of the Elfen Lied series. While he certainly suffers from an almost classic case of fictionalized amnesia, it forms only the visible part of the iceberg of his problems. Kouta is not a man without memories, or even wholly absent specific memories; he is one who lives in a state of constant confusion, the direct result of hideous traumas, massive conspiracies and a skewering of the dogged determination of manga harem males to see their beliefs through to the end. In a heartbeat, his life changed when his new friend, Lucy, brutally murdered his family. His pain erases the sharp boy he once was, leaving a man who must walk a circuitous path around these actions in his mind, if only to survive. It is not always a confident and brisk walk, and he stumbles more often than not.
One of the consistent criticisms of Elfen Lied has been the depiction of amnesia in-series, citing that in real life, the mechanisms are nothing like that seen for Lucy and Kouta. In both cases, amnesia is again merely the most obvious thing they suffer from, early on. As they evolve, in Lucy's case lost memories and the persona that results become almost a conscious choice; in Kouta's case, it is almost an immune response, his mental center rejecting new mind parts until they reach a certain desired stasis. With so much out of his control, this leads to the appearance and mostly the reality of a very confused and sometimes helpless young man. Even his creator has bemoaned Kouta's position as written, with him becoming at times the modern rebirth of an old sexist trope, the helpless object of desire unable to act without heavy prompting, the gender inversion making the character no more appealing as a result. This addlement is one capable of being understood, especially if amnesia is merely a component, rather than the whole of his concerns. It is easy to recognize Kouta's circumstance as a unique one. All the people and places directly associated with his traumas are a constant part of his existence from the moment we meet him.
By his side is the one who created these traumas, however regretful she is. Unlike certain fictionalized scenarios of a similar nature, Lucy is not there to re-abuse him, gloat or even keep watch to see if he suddenly remembers something incriminating so that she can act. In fact, as discussed elsewhere, Lucy is mostly not there at all. In a series where a whole vast list of characters never meet or even sight each other, Lucy and Kouta meet very few times, and almost never when both are in full possession of their faculties. It is Nyu that Kouta interacts with almost exclusively. Nyu, of course, is later described by Lucy as her ideal self, and indeed, she seems, especially as she matures, to be the young girl Kouta met all those years ago, the one with wonder still in her eyes, and a decided lack of modesty.
If that girl is back, some part of Kouta must wonder where she went, even if his memories of her are not in play. A part of his trauma almost equaling the murder of his family could be the harsh question of why his new and wondrous friend returned as a murdering monster so intent on hurting him. Now that friend is back, and asking why she ever left could make her leave again, Kouta keeps his mind in amber, refusing to move forward for fear of grief and pain waiting shortly afterward. Even when Lucy re-emerges within his sight and hearing, his mind tries to wait until Nyu comes back, which she always does, until the pain and grief Lucy has caused elsewhere collide with the conspiracy to end this fantasy forever. Kouta cannot move on, kept from this by having the one who started him on this path always around, yet for the most part not in a way that would punch past his denial. Moreover, Kouta, who cannot go back and save his family and feels enormous guilt over their passing, seems to have made a choice. If he cannot redeem himself or bring his father and sister back, he will save their murderer from her worst instincts, the cost to his stability and peace of mind aside.
But Lucy/Nyu is far from the only player from that time to walk again on his personal stage, and in looking at how he responds to Yuka, the picture of his addlement becomes just a bit clearer. Kouta is openly apologetic to Yuka, knowing he has hurt her, however unintentionally, by way of blocking his memories of her. There are reasons for her reactions and for this unnerving her so. But in this instance is an additional question. If Kouta, with a proven limit on his mental progress, ignores the presence of Lucy and the odd things she seems to bring with her, then why does Yuka? Yuka is an able and mostly savvy functional adult, and is often the prime mover of events in the series, especially for Nyu, Mayu and Nozomi moving in. While she has challenges to overcome, addlement is not among them. She, equally along with him, flatly ignores those occasions when the infantile Nyu begins speaking lucidly and coherently.
Yuka's attempts to be properly traditional, as she views it, provides an answer. Propriety seems impossible with the rambunctious Nyu around, so she takes what she can get, which in this case, is deference to the male of the household, letting him take the lead in responding to Lucy's appearances, even if her sharp mind may ask the very obvious whys of this situation. Yuka is no demure shrinking violet, but she desperately wants Kouta to be once more who he was in her memory, so not questioning this anomaly becomes allowable. Unfortunately, this effort to have her man be stronger in her and his own eyes kept him weakened and avoided the truths some part of him already knows.
Far simpler answers are available with Mayu, Nana, and Nozomi: They don't know Kouta well enough to judge his demeanor. Mayu, even after she apparently stops viewing him as a potential menace, begins to treat him like an exasperating father figure, affectionate but chiding. Nana takes some time before seeing the positive in either Kouta or Yuka, given her fractious early entry to Maple House. Nozomi's unspoken crush on Kouta may raise him up in her eyes too much to see his flaws. Nana notes after the manga's post-Mariko time-skip that Kouta tries to be a protector of their home, but this seems to be a halting description of someone who is only able to try.
Kouta's addlement appeared to be coming to an end on its own as the chaos of the manga's final third begins to wrap up, but like most things in the series, it would not be a simple, quiet wrap-up. Despite the presence of a man with a gun and again, a randomly coherent Nyu, Kouta is only perturbed at the impropriety of it all, even as he is again unceremoniously knocked aside. To make matters worse (offscreen) his home is a wreck, the result of another, grimmer intrusion, and his two youngest housemates have again gone missing, partly the result of a brutal final struggle. Desperate to keep the peace and just as desperate to know the truth, he follows the only clue he has to their whereabouts, Wanta. His timing as ever poor, Kouta, after gathering Nyu, Mayu and Nana back to their home from a central side location, resolves to finally press Nana on what she knows about horned girls and their overall situation. Unknown to him, a mixture of his addlement and unpreparedness for the world he inhabits has already lit the match on the bonfire his home and life will quickly become.
In the midst of his confusion about where the lives in his charge stand amidst the weirdness, Kouta turns to a source that illuminates the other side of his addlement. If one part of it stems from the conflicts he places upon himself while balancing multiple concerns, the other has its origins in the part of it plainly beyond his control, or even the control of his lost love and tormentor, Lucy. The conspiracies initiated by Chief Kakuzawa, awash as they are in flaws & glaring plot holes are something beyond the experiences of most people, and perhaps even beyond two of the prime pawns in these conspiracies, being Lucy and her nemesis Kurama. Kouta's encounters with the bizarre are compartmentalized. The idea of motives and personas radically different from the reality he knows may be less any traumatic-induced lack but rather a simple lack of experience. In his encounters with Doctor Arakawa, Kouta has both aspects tested, and in both trials, he is unable to grasp it.
One of the times that shows the flat naivete and perhaps the deferral mentioned above Yuka shows her intended is when the scheming Professor Kakuzawa convinces the young couple to yield up custody of the infantile Nyu, an extreme fictional instance of his reach exceeding his grasp. In the wake of his well-earned fate, along with the Professor's severed head, he encounters the schemer's overworked assistant, Doctor Arakawa. Kouta learns of a 'disease' (actually a congenital status resulting from an evolutionary strain with spore-like propagation furtherance techniques) that causes people to develop horns; he is warned to forget what he has seen, an action both in keeping with his survival mechanisms and yet impossible to fully realize.
In this instance, it becomes difficult to see Kouta's decision to keep this part of it from Yuka as either fully a failing on his part or as the needs of a long-term plot in a series. Information not shared is a staple of every genre and manner of story-telling, and its revelation tends to indicate the imminent closure of plotlines and story threads. Perhaps another unspoken factor lies in the settling in of Nana, and the six months of peace that follow in the wake of Mariko Kurama's death. To his mind, if there is no trouble, why seek it or even speak of it?
But this cannot last, and the accumulated questions become far too much for a man either too scared or too confused to dwell on these matters, so, after an awkward attempt by Arakawa to regain Lucy, Kouta seeks Arakawa out himself, and again she repeated her dire warnings. Arakawa might well have been surprised to learn her words had an impact, and that Kouta had planned apparently to finally press Nana for what she knew, however far that might have gotten him. But whether this would have been of concern to her or not, his meeting with Arakawa also revealed the location of Lucy to the forces of Chief Kakuzawa.
In this circumstance, it becomes difficult to say whether it is Kouta's more active persona or his addlement in charge of his actions. The invading force is loud, leans too heavily on escalating action to control the situation, and makes an adverse outcome almost inevitable. It seems likely that whether Kouta is confused or calm, his responses would have been the same. Notably, he can form enough strategy to determine that it is the non-military Doctor Nousou who is the only weak spot in the assault force. With even the most helpless of his family members threatened, it could easily be just as it was for Lucy and Nyu - different parts of the mind fully united by what they hold in common. Kouta's new bravado is challenged by the arrogant Nousou, forcing Kouta to shift his threat from cold-blooded murder to survivable disfigurement quickly. His ignorance of the Agent's threat is understandable in this light. He knows she is there, and cannot change this fact. Nousou was the weak link, and he is exploiting it, risks aside. But the Agent does act, and this grave injury to Kouta unleashes Lucy's powers in the innocent, loving Nyu. It also ends forever Kouta's ability to deny what has been in front of his face the entire series.
When a vengeful Nyu tears the Mariko clone Alicia in two, Kouta's memories return full force. However, perhaps it is more accurate to say that this is the end of Kouta's mental gymnastics. Nothing can be shrugged off, written off or overlooked anymore. This bloody act is the repeat of the single most horrific sight of his lifetime, and by the person, he has held close to his heart is the same killer in both instances, even if the circumstances could not be more different. Whether Kouta had indeed repressed all his memories of that period or merely compartmentalized them to the side with excuses, avoidance, and rationalizations, this was now all done. A little girl had been cut apart in his sight, and now the ultimate confusion replaced his endless self-obfuscation. The riddle that had haunted Kouta for eight years came again: Why had this special new friend turned on him? Wounded in body and soul, Kouta has no time for a fan-POV over-analysis; he feels foolish, betrayed twice by the girl he befriended, and it is at this moment that if his amnesia leaves him, his addlement does not.
It is worthwhile to make a moment and step back to the viewpoint of Lucy/Nyu. Knowing of her past error and what it has cost the one she loves best of all, she has mostly decided to stop being Lucy or have any aspect of her. Twice within a few brutal days, assault on those she cares for demand the presence of her powers, and now their use has murdered the peaceful life she knew for such a short time. This circumstance is largely her own doing, at least on certain levels, and she knows it. But all the mitigating factors and there are several, that explain at least some of her actions and attitudes are not available to Kouta, and many of those are also complicated and challenging. Lucy finds her efforts to resolve matters with Kouta compromised before they can even start. Even as they meet for the last time, Kouta's heart is hardened by grief and has not had nearly enough time to soften.
It is hard for any fan to read the climax of their relationship. As logical as Kouta's dismissals are, for all that he has been through and seen, it remains a harsh moment. Kouta has suffered at the hands of this girl, and as the long-sought explanation for his pain and confusion, he hears talk of a killer voice, and of pain she could spread but has chosen not to. Kouta knows nothing of the offer she rejected to remake the world, or of the little brother whose life she ended to protect him and the others. Kouta's addlement is now aided again by a lack of time to digest all he has learned and more time to learn all that he does not know. Perhaps many fans find this sequence (softened for the anime, yet still the same in its fundamentals) distasteful because there is no way for this to be a fair and full vetting for Lucy. Like so much else in the series, a mix of horrible luck and her errors make this an injustice all by itself, but since Kouta can only judge based on the time and information allowed, it would be unfair to see him as merely harsh. One such mixed moment occurs when Lucy is prepared to die by Kurama's hands, yet she is overridden by the DNA Voice, leaving the appearance that even the brief rapprochement she and Kouta have achieved is doomed. All Kouta can judge by is Kurama's severed arm; he cannot know of the obsession that drives this man, making him at least as incapable of Lucy as changing. The bloody history between these two is also unknown to Kouta, and while it seems his declaration of outright hate would settle his addlement in a sad way, in fact, it keeps on, perhaps to the end of his life, and the end of the world.
This addlement is no longer one of his suppressed memories and their debatable mechanism, but the divided state of his own heart. It seems as though her statements of regret, while limited in scope and dismissed by him on the surface, have gotten to him. He has seen the good in her, both that of Nyu and in the halting attempts of Lucy to redress her incredible sins against him. Possibly somewhere in his mind, he has reasoned out the role his small lie played in turning her against him. Also of prime concern is the reason he states outright, as he takes the bullet wounded Kurama meant for Lucy: that Kanae died with pain between them, a circumstance he had no desire to repeat. This desire to not have her die without closure shows his unclear motives. If he hates her and that is all, what more needs to be said? If he rejected her apology and explanation without appeal, then why risk his fragile body to know more?
His confused motives then seemed to be the trigger on nothing less than Armageddon, as a grieving Lucy prepares to tear the world apart in his memory and her own as her body gives out ever further. In the midst of this, she realizes the other path the end of her time can yield: saving Kouta. Kouta, who could never say the right thing, the master of the wrong gesture at the wrong moment, the well-meaning wannabe protector who led the wolf to his family's door, was clearer in his actions than in his tortured explanations. In his confusion, and in the pain-filled chaos that followed that confusion's clearing, he had seen the thread of his childhood friend in all things the girl he called Nyu and Lucy did. Lucy moved not to save him despite his statement of rage, but because of his clear demonstration of love.
It is worth noting here again that, even within the short time-frame of the series (two years or less by some estimates) Kouta had a very brief time to digest what he learned of his past with Nyu. He might have shown the gentler aspect he did in the anime (even if he still did not forgive her there) had there been more time for the two to discuss all that had gone on. Kouta also had in mind keeping her with their family so as to save the lives of others, though whether this indicates clarity or confusion is up for grabs. By this point, people with firearms and agendas would be coming for Lucy no matter what, and her ability to keep her promise against killing would have been in serious doubt. Also, while the personalities of Lucy and Nyu seemed to be undergoing overlap if not a merger, Lucy's connections to people at Maple House besides Kouta was still not fully known. At the very least, it seems like more time could have given Kouta a better ability to process all that was going on, as his mental fog cleared and the world around them exploded.
The climax of the series renders time and consideration moot. Kouta awakens (the depths of his healing is unknown, as an extended stay in the hospital still followed for him) and finds that Lucy's sacrifice was literally that, her body dissolving but not yet dead. His confusion both dissolves and yet threatens to engulf him. He demands she let him take her to seek help, yet she now demands he achieve his vengeance, keeping to the deadly promise they made as children. As the souls of Lucy and Nyu depart for the last time, all that is left is the very much still murderous DNA Voice. Kouta, who found grief-fueled hate too much to forgive her for before this, now cannot take vengeance on one he loves. In this case, it is likely now a clear goal that stays his hand. Sinner or saint, he is tired of losing the ones he holds dear, and even when it all seems so simple, he cannot be the one who causes this, even if it is the entity arguably most responsible for his pain that begs him for the mercy of release. As Lucy's body dies, so does most of his addlement. This balance is one drawn from blood: He could not grant mercy to one he loved, nor take vengeance on one who wronged him, so instead of that his mercy goes to the one least deserving of it.
The world Kouta returns to after his stay in the hospital is a harsher one, but one made more clear. How his makeshift family is affected by the events of the Diclonius War is never made clear, but absent Lucy, some things calmed for them, however long they remained together. The readers and viewers never really get to see a Kouta relieved of his ennui and awkwardness before the series' final time skip occurs.
Kouta, keeping to a promise to revisit the place he met Lucy as a boy on the last day of the summer festival, does so for successive years until he arrives in the company of his child, a daughter named Nyuu for his late friend. In doing so, the child spots a message in a bottle that answers the last riddle of Kouta's time with Lucy. Her written words, accompanied by her actual name, confirm that their friendship and budding romance was not just a line, but a very real thing felt if anything even more strongly by the girl who stared at the big animals in abject wonder. It seems as though this core question may even have been at the center of all others through his confusion, his clarity, his joy and his pain, and now it is resolved. At least on that day, his friend was just who she appeared to be, a girl with a crush on a boy.
Just then, one more riddle seems set to engulf Kouta's life: The mystery of how the dead can walk once again. But this seems one question whose lack of an answer he seems fully ready, willing and able to accept.
|“||Well, I still felt betrayed. And mad as hell. Finally - finally, finally, finally, finally - I thought I'd gotten over it. I got over the hate, but I never got over the love.||”|
–Captain/Doctor Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, M*A*S*H episode 'The More I See You'