(Note: NSFW images and spoilers for Elfen Lied appear in this article)
Introductory Information: Diclonius
In the world of Elfen Lied, Diclonius are mutated humans with two horns and a number of invisible arms and hands called vectors. After providing some information about them, I will discuss how the main Diclonius girls in Elfen Lied manage to hold onto their sanity even when treated inhumanely for many years. To start with, what are the powers and abilities of the Diclonius? What instincts and genetic predispositions do they have? How “human” are they? At the end of the discussion, I will also discuss one of my theories about Diclonius behavior. Ready, set, RANT!
As noted in the anime, Diclonius vectors can slice through flesh and bone easily and instantly by vibrating at incredibly high frequencies. This is the main way they fight and kill. They have a major advantage over humans since the vectors are invisible and very long. The length of these unseen arms varies depending on the Diclonius– Lucy’s reach is 2 meters, while Mariko’s is a staggering 11 meters. Vectors begin to appear in Diclonius around age three, accompanied by high fevers and an initial lack of good control. Interestingly, Lucy’s vectors did not appear until she was about ten years old. Variability in age of onset is likely.
Lucy’s vectors have an extra power that is terrifying. Normally, Diclonius are rare and emerge through mutations. There are almsot no third generation Diclonius since the females cannot bear children. But Lucy’s vectors can implant her genes into human male reproduction systems, resulting in any number of men producing Diclonius offspring. If Lucy’s vectors touch a man without killing him, that man’s sperm will contain the genes of the Diclonius. Due to this special power and her strong instincts to kill humans, Lucy is called the Queen of Diclonius. She’s the only known case of a Diclonius who has the potential to create many more of her kind.
Though not explicitly stated in the anime, it’s apparent that Diclonius have strong regenerative abilities. Lucy was shot multiple times when she was captured. She recovered, and was put through experiments at the facility that also injured her. She was then shot in the head after a brief escape as a child, and again survived and recovered. And again, as a young adult, Lucy was shot in the head during her escape. Nana is able to survive heavy bleeding and shock from the loss of her limbs. She is also badly injured by Mariko, but recovers quickly. So clearly, these Diclonius are much hardier and heal much faster than humans. But they still feel as much pain as any normal human.
Whether Diclonius have unique instincts and genetic drive can be disputed. The information given in the anime was told by people from the corrupt facility, who have vested interest in making the Diclonius out to be vicious. One can argue that the murderous nature of Diclonius is due to their own traumas and they ways they are mistreated. I think that the answer is a combination. Individual psychology comes into play a lot for characters like Lucy and Nana especially. But I also think Diclonius are driven towards certain behaviors that humans are not, by their nature.
The primary example is the Diclonius’ drive to use their vectors and kill humans. It’s said that Diclonius start using their vectors and kill their parents as early as age three. There are obviously some exceptions; Nana has never killed any human, and Lucy was abandoned as an infant, long before she could turn her vectors against her parents. The point is that, although some can overcome their natural predispositions, Diclonius have genetic and instinctual drives to kill.
That being said, there is considerable evidence that Diclonius possess strong senses of “humanity.” The abilities to love, feel remorse, suffer through psychological trauma, feel at home, and long for acceptance– there are so many emotions that Diclonius can possess. After all, they are mutated humans. Their psychology is probably more alike to that of humans than the humans ever want to admit. By looking at the coping mechanisms of Diclonius girls in Elfen Lied, we’ll see many instances of the “humanity” in their stories. The only other information you need to know is that up to 35 Diclonius were imprisoned in the research facility after being taken by their parents. With that in mind, let’s look at the psychology of three of them.
Lucy: Violence and Atonement
Lucy is essentially the main character in Elfen Lied which is why I wanted to mention her first. Her story is rather complex, so for now I’m only focusing on a part of it. Lucy’s original name was Kaede, but the humans who imprisoned her in the facility called her Lucy. Though Kaede started out with a softer side and a desire to be accepted by humans, the instinctive and genetic urge to kill humans took over her mind. As a destructive killer, this Diclonius was known as Lucy.
This deadly queen was strong and cold-hearted, but that doesn’t mean it was easy for her to deal with the inhumane treatment at the facility. She had to go to great lengths to cope. There are three main ways this was done, the first being violence. Lucy killed humans whenever she had the chance. When she was still a child, she escaped the room where she was kept and immediately went to find and kill the researchers who watched her suffering from behind the glass. When she escaped as a young adult, Lucy slaughtered over twenty people in the facility, including a defenseless secretary. It’s apparent from Lucy’s behavior that, at least on some level, she enjoys violence.
For the majority of eight years, Lucy was confined, and used in experiments. In episode 13, she tells Kohta that for all this time, she has lived on and endured for the hope of reuniting and apologizing to him. Shortly before her capture and confinement, Lucy killed Kohta’s family. She didn’t understand at the time that it would be a heavy burden on his heart for the entirety of his life. Lucy adores Kohta. At some point in her solitude, she must have realized how horrible a thing she did. So for those long years in the dark and in pain, the thing that kept Lucy going was the idea of admitting her guilt to Kohta face-to-face.
I mentioned there were three coping mechanisms, but only two were used to get Lucy through the torment at the research facility. After her escape, Lucy’s identity split, and she developed another personality called “Nyu.” However, the appearance of Nyu was due to a head injury, as well as Lucy’s failure to know how to face Kohta. So the third coping mechanism is identity dissociation– although it wasn’t present during her time in the facility.
If there’s one thing that comes up again and again in Elfen Lied, it’s the theme that “monsters” have their own stories, feelings, and weaknesses. The narrative doesn’t justify the carnage or cruelty carried out by the characters (Diclonius and humans alike), but it shows their last bits of humanity. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Lucy. This is a Diclonius whose genetics and instincts made her a threat to the whole of the human race. And she only stayed alive for one thing: to apologize to the one person in the world that she loved and felt remorse over hurting.
Nana: The Love of a Daughter
Nana is known as captive Diclonius #7 and a special case among her kind. She is the only confirmed Diclonius who never raised her vectors against humans or tried to kill anyone. The details of her origin are unknown, but it’s likely she was captured at a very young age. We know she suffered through years of torture-like experiments at the research facility. As a teenager, Nana continues to submit to the experiments without trying to hurt humans. So what got her through so much pain, and what allows her to overlook human cruelty?
The answer is sad and maddening. Nana made it her life’s purpose to love and serve Kurama, one of the chief researchers, acting as his unconditional “daughter.” She would do anything he said, including put up with years of cruel treatment. In the narration at the end of Elfen Lied episode 2, the following is stated: “It was too cruel and sad a thing already to be called love.” In the end, Kurama does love Nana, saving her life after the facility ordered her death. And Nana likewise truly loves her so-called “Papa,” valuing him higher than her own life without expecting anything in return. She had to repurpose her existence for one person– and one of the inhumane researchers, no less– in order to survive. It’s truly sad.
Thanks to Kohta and his companions at Kaede House, Nana was able to find a home in the human world and continue being peaceful. Even after Kurama dies, the ending scenes of the anime suggest that Nana is doing alright without him. This change was only possible because of having freedom and friends. As someone with personality and experiences more similar to Lucy, I can’t remotely understand Nana. I could never do what she does, and I have no desire to. But the fact remains that Nana is a sympathetic character and an important one in Elfen Lied.
Mariko: Dreams of Reunion
Captive Diclonius #35 is the only confirmed, surviving third-generation Diclonius. Her name is Mariko. She’s the biological daughter of Chief Researcher Kurama. Since Lucy infected Kurama 8 years from the start of the show, it’s likely that Mariko is only 7 years old. The research facility isolated her since she was an infant. When her vectors appeared, there were 26 of them, each with a range of 11 meters! We don’t know what else happened, but Mariko was kept restrained in a dark room, with out direct human contact.
A researcher at the facility volunteered to look after Mariko all by herself, and did so for five years. This was the closest thing Mariko had to human love. She reportedly called the woman “mom” for some time. But as soon as she was released and got to see “mom” in person for the first time, Mariko heartlessly slaughtered her. So, this isn’t a case like that of Nana. It wasn’t the love of a researcher that was keeping Mariko going. It was something else, something much more typical of a scared, mistreated child.
Mariko knew that whoever was keeping like this was not her family. What she wanted was her real parents. The researcher over the speakers was not Mariko’s real mom, so there was no reason to keep her alive. Mariko is a cruel little girl, almost entirely ruled by violent Diclonius urges. But even she has a pitiable side. In episode 13, Mariko finally meets Kurama and tells him the reason she endured such a horrible life in solitude. It was because she had faith that one day, her real parents would come back and free her, and live with her.
Just like Lucy and Nana, Mariko needed something to hold onto in order to survive the horrible conditions at the facility. And like the others as well, she still has a shred of natural humanity in her. This is even more surprising considering that Mariko had much less contact with humans than Lucy and Nana. In my mind, this hints strongly that Diclonius do not instinctively kill their families. If Mariko had grown up with Kurama, which would never have been allowed, it’s doubtful she would have killed him. Mariko is another case of a Diclonius who needed a psychological crutch to keep living.
There are various ways of psychological coping and defense mechanisms. Most of the clinical ones discussed in literature (such as denial, dissociation, and projection) don’t fit well for these characters. Lucy, Nana, and Mariko are instead examples of people using hope to survive terrible things. Ordinarily, you would call their hopes unrealistic, and perhaps consider it a form of denial. But thankfully, the girls in Elfen Lied had their hopes come true right before their demise. Lucy apologized to Kohta. Mariko reunited with Kurama. Nana survived, and has a good home now. Elfen Lied is a dark anime indeed, but at least it allows these hopes to come true.
The fact that these girls suffered and came up with wild hopes for fulfilment shows that Diclonius have some “humanity.” Their psychology is very human, which suggests that the claims of them always being violent killers may be false. Nana shines as an exemplary peaceable Diclonius. Mariko was starved for love and acceptance. Lucy went through some horrible trauma that started her on the path to killing. All three of them were treated inhumanely at the facility. Clearly, these girls had reasons to feel violent urges. Those reasons may be more linked to individual psychology than “savage Diclonius instincts.”
Interestingly enough, if individual psychology matters so much, then there could be many more good Diclonius like Nana. It is wrong to kill or isolate them all as babies. Theoretically, humans and Diclonius could coexist in society. That’s just some food for thought. All we know for sure is that these three individuals– Lucy, Nana, and Mariko– endured hardships because of their individual hopes and wishes. Thank you for reading and please enjoy your day.