|“||So we could become your first audience.||”|
–Kouta, offering support to Nozomi by his words
Elfen Lied, is, at its core, a story of a need for redemption, for forgiveness from one who could never give it. But in this instance, this description applies not to Lucy, but to the very one she seeks this impossible forgiveness from, Kouta. In fact, while his posthumous forgiveness for Lucy may one day be possible in theory, the one Kouta tries to get expiation from can never grant it in this life. At the heart of the trauma that robbed Kouta of his childhood memories is not merely Lucy's savagery, but his guilt at his treatment of his little sister, Kanae, right before her murder. While to his credit, his method of dealing with his burden is far gentler and more productive, it still reaches the level of a compulsion he can no more permanently put aside than Lucy can her struggle. This difference is perhaps never more true as the perennial manga-trope 'Harem' of the series gets its two final members: Nana and Nozomi. As they and the others demonstrate, Kouta's "harem" is not a fantasy one devoted to him, but one to which he is in service.
Even by the standards of the series, Nozomi and Nana underwent incredibly awkward introductions to Maple House.
Nozomi, after a chance meeting with her former High School Kohai, Yuka, ventures to Maple House, there to practice the singing she is forbidden to at home. Upon meeting Kouta separately and by chance before he knows who she is, every piece of bad luck plus her nerves conspires to reveal her deeply-held secret: to protect against her weak bladder, she wears adult diapers. Even an effort to keep the other residents from learning this only results in her blouse being soiled by a hastily-removed diaper. Quick thinking by Kouta results in an awkward but far more endurable moment, endearing Kouta to the younger girl, made doubly so when he encourages her to overcome her fears. The sometimes-dense (perhaps an extension of his mental struggles) Kouta never realizes in-story that Nozomi, from this point on, sports a deep crush on him. Her singing voice enchants all, even reaching Nyu's savage other self, and from this stage on, Nozomi becomes more and more a part of Maple House, even if it is a long while before she even discusses moving in. Nozomi also undergoes one of the most controversial moments in the series when Nyu touches her inappropriately, even by Nyu's standards. But if Nozomi quickly becomes part of Kouta's actual 'harem' situation, the next and final member at first finds him the polar opposite of endearing, and the feeling is mutual, and not by way of romantic or sexual tension.
Opposites attract, and like repels. As for nature, so it was in the early stages of the relationship between Kouta and Nana. Both have suffered at Lucy's hands, and somewhere in their minds is the echoed insane laughter of the Diclonius Queen (at least in the manga. Lucy's anime demeanor is often as markedly cold as her manga demeanor is openly taunting). Both possess an intense devotion to honoring and protecting their families, and both feel like failures in this regard. Simultaneously, this also drives them to make choices not always wise or well-thought out, and often detrimental to their safety. The demons of their pasts and their impulse to act first make their clash at their first meeting inevitable.
Meeting Mayu for the first time since Lucy dismembered and nearly killed Nana, she is immediately intrigued by Mayu's talk of another horned girl, thinking this could be Lucy. She is both relieved and disappointed to find she feels nothing of Lucy's presence upon arriving and is put off by Kouta's frenetic interest in information about another horned girl. There could be some conflict between the part of Kouta's mind that wants blissful amnesia, and the part that wishes to regain his memories, as well as the apparent interest in Nyu. In any event, Mayu guides him off from her just in time for a playful Nyu to jump out and attempt to surprise Kouta. Nana erupts in rage and only sees Lucy, attacking Nyu and in turn being called out and even slapped by Kouta, running off when she realized that no one else present believed her account, even to Mayu. Running away (to the Forest Rest Shelter in the manga, the Michibiki Jizoudou in the anime) she, while angry with the arriving Mayu, admits that she did not sense Lucy in Nyu, though that begins to change as Nyu recovers from Nana's attack. Realizing that someone must keep an eye on Lucy, even in this mild form, Nana again disobeys her 'Papa' Kurama, swallows her pride (degree and method of which depending on version) and apologizes for her attack on Nyu. She continues to clash with Kouta over minor things, but Nana is quickly overwhelmed by the simple comforts of life outside a lab, and a bond begins to form between the two when Nana realizes the terms for her staying are simple and mostly fair. Nozomi for her part quickly cements her place in the house, offering to repair Nana's torn clothes.
In either version, Nana is at Maple House for a very short, undefined time before the arrival of Mariko and the group accompanying her, their purpose to recapture Lucy and kill Nana. While a participant in the anime version, Kouta is excluded from these events in the manga, unaware of the heartbreak and drama just on the other side of the police blockade of Enoshima. But he is very much there to collect and escort the horned girls back home, even carrying the exhausted Nana on his back. Nana notes and seems to sincerely appreciate the fact that he asks no questions of what went on, perhaps a sign that part of his mind does not wish to know, as well as carrying over from respecting Mayu's similar wishes. When the story resumes six months later, Nana describes both Kouta and Yuka more fondly, though any clash with Yuka seems to occur off-panel. Nana even laments her lack of contribution to the household and seems to be the only one who senses that darker times are coming. Nana is as taken aback as anyone when seeing Kouta shot during the military invasion of their home. Despite a lack of skills or powers, Nana declares him to be a natural ally to Kurama when they head out to face down Lucy once and for all. Nozomi, despite injuries and danger, is no less compelled to be with them as they bid farewell to the girl they knew as Nyu and Lucy.
In Kouta's case, 'harem' is a less apt term than with many such series, even with its strict definitions and disturbing historical context removed. No slapstick efforts to gain his hand in marriage end this series. But if other such men in his situation would abuse their charges while claiming to offer them aid, comfort, and protection, for Kouta the latter is instead the first such consideration. In this case, from the first to the last entrant, from the most to the least interested in his intimate company, the 'harem' master is in fact its servant, hoping that the spirit of the girl he spurned and failed to protect will forgive him, when next they meet.
|“||Kouta didn't ask anything. And usually, he asks so much it feels like obstinacy.||”|
–Kouta, offering support to Nana by his silence