|“||Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.||”|
–Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert's Dune series
Yuka is a character forever marked by a series of trans-cultural oddities; the series' secondary protagonist, who she is deeply in love with, is also her first cousin. She, on several occasions, strikes her would-be boyfriend for seemingly petty reasons. It is her childhood demand for the attention of her love interest that provides the final straw in the breakdown of the series' main character. Her giving nature towards the other residents of Maple House is contrasted with her sometime lack of sympathy for her love interest's traumatically-induced memory loss.
Yet it is a simple thing to step back on all of these concerns. The legality of cousin marriage in Japan aside, objection to this relationship is never brought up in-series, rendering it a non-issue in the only place it could be a true plot point. The punches and kicks are not unknown in manga and anime, and Yuka is far far away from being the worst offender; it may be that, removed from a strictly comedic setting like Love Hina or Inuyasha, these misunderstanding-based strikes seem merely vicious. Romances beginning in childhood are not unknown, in literature or in real life, and young Lucy was on the edge at that time, with potentially anything not fitting her own romantic narrative making her snap. The final piece of the puzzle comes when one realizes that Yuka's doubts center not on Kouta's fidelity or Nyu's intentions towards him, but her own place and worth in Maple House. In a house full of damaged misfits, the odd one out is the one who only suffered the temporary disappointment of her childhood romantic dreams. If the reader/viewer is aware of this, it seems Yuka is likely acutely aware, and it drives much of her character.
Yuka is more than just the bland (relative to the series' lead) 'vanilla' girl next door option for Kouta. She is a direct counterpoint to Nyu in more ways than one. Whether or not that summer visit was the first time Yuka and Kouta met, the buildup and placement of romantic feelings for Kouta was very nearly as quick as it was for Young Lucy. Just as Kouta's doggedly nice nature was like nothing Lucy had ever encountered before, so was Kouta's abundant confidence and sharpness something that raised him up in Yuka's mind. Both girls in the end feared him having another girlfriend, or of being a passing concern in his eyes. The major difference was that, for Lucy, Kouta was an existential lifeline, a last link to the humanity she had been on the verge of rejecting entirely. For Yuka, he was validation, the affection of someone that cool and able making her feel worthier as a result. The two desires clashed in dramatic and tragic fashion, ensuring that neither of them would see Kouta again for eight years.
We actually know less about Yuka's time in between that summer and the start of the series than we do either Kouta or Lucy. In part because there is less to be known, owing to its unremarkable nature. Yet we do know she kept Kouta's memory alive, again just as Lucy did, first in her wanderings, then in captivity. The carnival games he had so easily bested her at were now a collection she treasured. In seeking to be the confident partner of the boy she remembered, she was strong enough to aid the confidence-shattered Nozomi as Sempai in High School. Her strength and hitting power indicate a young woman who likely also drove herself physically. Her grades were top notch, and yet that is also a crux of points between becoming the idealized mate for the equally idealized Kouta and her obsession with his uncertain return. Unable to stop being who she became for the idea of Kouta, Yuka turns down a good college (maybe several) to be at a 'safety school' with her returning cousin. Having done all she did for him, she perhaps felt she had to see the rest of it through, no matter the cost to herself.
But in pursuing those ideals and having an ideal home life, Yuka spends much of the series as the only member of her household to have had something almost unthinkable in the universe of Elfen Lied : A normal life. While said normalcy was about to end hard, her adjustment to it was a hard fit, and one where her sharpness and intelligence was, while an asset in general, left her savagely unprepared for the life she now faced ahead.
In the case of Kouta, the cool sharp boy was gone, murdered, as Marvel's Punisher is won't to say, along with his family. The young man who returned still had his kindness, but none of his cockiness and sureness of movement. Worst of all, the eyes that once met Yuka with welcome and joyful laughter showed the struggle to even remember he had a cousin. The mechanics of amnesia in fiction aside, to stay sane, Kouta lived in absolute denial of the worst moment of his life, and with Yuka a central figure in these memories, she was largely shut out in the rush surrounding the murders. Yuka had as a child all but begged to not be forgotten by Kouta, but likely she meant this in a romantic sense, that she should remain special to him, and first in his heart. But if the perils of young love was the aim of her plea, a total absence from his being was not a heartbreak she was set up to handle. At first she is merely furious, with him and with herself, a girl now a woman who held on for too long to a thing that logically never held any certainty. Yet in short order, she is just as harshly made to realize that Kouta's lack was not one of loyalty, but of memory itself. He does not remember her because he dares not. Yet still from time to time Yuka acts as though he should recall her. Her fury with him grows when he shows signs of his old self, and when he does not. The next actor to enter the stage, in fact the star of the production, would only complicate her ability to regain her footing.
Lucy may or may not have considered Yuka her enemy, and certainly knew she was her rival, perhaps willing to kill her even after their disastrous childhood near-encounter. Certainly absent Kouta's unwitting protection, Lucy would have killed Yuka, although this, like her later near-murder of Mayu, would have again brought her overall judgment into question, since Yuka's death or sudden vanishing would have also upset Kouta, even if he were dimmer than his worst depictions. But if Lucy was Yuka's enemy, Nyu was not. At no time is Yuka anything other than welcoming and kind to Nyu, and Nyu seemed equally devoted to her--sometimes awkwardly so. The two were friends, and they were sisters, and if a 'harem' relationship were ever a real possibility, it was so here. But this was not a solution Yuka could ever even consider, not for sharing, so to speak, but for basic propriety. There is one, and there is the other, in her view, and anyone outside those two means this is not that final, special relationship. She fears Nyu not because Nyu is a conniving backstabber, or a friend willing to sink low to gain what she wants, but because Nyu is genuine and warm, someone again she herself loved and missed during her absences. But old doubts of her own worth stung Yuka repeatedly. Nyu was always warm and gentle with Kouta, the kind of easy affection Yuka wished she could give him, absent painful memories and again, problems with self-worth. Her true love lives on the edge of pain too great to be recalled, and there is nothing she can do to change this. Worse still, her emotional spasms, lashing out at the one she can no longer comprehend, tells her for certain that it is the sweet creature before her that will win out, and maybe she deserves to.
Of course, what she cannot realize (and never sees stated outright, though by series' end she almost surely knows) is the roiling storm that lies just beneath the gentle relationship between Kouta and Nyu. While the role of his suppressed memories will be fully brought up elsewhere, it is a safe bet that part of Kouta's longing for Nyu was not just romantic or sexual, but an unconscious desire to revisit his time with the strange girl he met so long ago and have a better outcome. Neither he nor Nyu wanted to cross the line that would have resolved this, so they never did of their own accord. Instead, they danced around a series of encounters, reunions and ecchi comedy that kept the tenderness two lost children had wanted when things were if not simple, at least simpler. To the eyes of Yuka, this chess game of love and war just made it seem that these two, and not her and Kouta, were the natural couple. An early misunderstanding, already a made-for-manga ecchi moment, was fed by an undercurrent of Yuka's existing anger and confusion.
In the midst of this, a fourth main player, one decidedly not at all a romantic rival, entered, and changed almost everything, including at last stanching the wound of Yuka's doubts. In Mayu, Kouta and Yuka gained a connection that was less confused than that of the ones with Nyu. They became parents and guardians, and Yuka perhaps finally gained her balance in aiding someone who, while in a gentler way than Lucy, had even greater doubts than Yuka, this about the fundamental decency of those who swear to protect and keep a child well. While these are also covered elsewhere, their intersection with Yuka, and their aid in shoring up her ability to cope, cannot be denied.
While her surrogate daughter began to thrive amidst a sense of safety and caring, Yuka struggled with a sense of loss and unappreciated sacrifice that, in a genre staple, was exacerbated by her own lack of explanation. When Kouta observes/jokes about Yuka being in the same safety school as him, she fumes that she is being teased for her own choice, one made to be near Kouta. Yet simply saying this might worry Kouta, or place Yuka in a position of seeming clingy. Her sacrifice is only a worthy one if it is unspoken; and she must now question if it was at all worthwhile, since the one she made it for cannot even realize she did this, though again, lacking vital information, Kouta can only know the evidence of his own eyes.
If her would-be boyfriend is stuck in a loop, Yuka finds she is no less vulnerable than he to the loss of her surrogate sister. When the naive couple find themselves handing Nyu over to Professor Kakuzawa, she breaks down in tears as readily as him. They have in a short time been through too much, and this sweet silly person vanishing seemingly forever just as quickly as she arrived proves a hardship. Another blow to her fragile confidence arises when Kouta rebuffs her efforts to join him in his quest to investigate the holes in the Professor's story raised by Mayu. This could be seen as a narrative-sustaining choice on the part of the mangaka. Not only does it prolong and further build the tension between the childhood friends, but had Yuka witnessed the same things Kouta did when he met Doctor Arakawa, this information would have been known to all in Maple House and certainly raised enough questions to upset the premise's central tenets. She surely had to have been heartened when Kouta, perhaps shaken by the grisly sights and disturbing information found in the late Professor's lab, chooses to take her with him in his next attempt to find the now-wandering Nyu.
But even as this choice leads to the pair's most intimate moment to date, Yuka's sense of propriety collides with her pent-up desires to offer up an ecchi comedy moment at her expense, details and degree dependent upon the version in question. But one thing remains the same. In both instances, Kouta states that he has romantic affection and fondness for Yuka, and that even if he does not have direct memories of their prior feelings for her, he has in effect memories of there being memories. For the moment, this is enough for Yuka, although in the back of her mind, it may occur to her that his relationship with Nyu proceeds on a similar basis.
In short order, the two recover from their intimacy (and its comedic effects on Yuka's dignity), only to encounter Nyu, or who they see as Nyu. It is Lucy they now face, and Yuka's dignity takes another hit as jealous Lucy trips her using the power of her vectors. Yet it is the killer's own doubts that now consume her twice over. When Kouta immediately aids Yuka, Lucy sees this and resolves to leave forever, and failing that, to expunge her guilt over her crimes against Kouta. This leads to the withdrawal of the Lucy persona, and the re-emergence of Nyu, whose immediate affections towards Kouta annoy the jealous Yuka, who likely also notes how easy Nyu gives her affection. Back at Maple House, another ecchi incident, this one involving the sexually curious and rambunctious Nyu, actually may serve to clear up some notions for Mayu, while they only seem to show how Yuka is pent-up with sexual frustration, with the status quo now restored.
Oddly, the final two entrants to Maple House (in the manga) play almost no part in Yuka's struggle with her doubts. If anything, Yuka shows her strength of character, aiding her Kohai from High School, Nozomi, as she seeks to pursue a dream that puts her at odds with her family. The initial entry of Nana is too fractious and chaotic for it to do anything but confuse her, a confusion that, like the desire to aid Nozomi, Kouta shares with her. Yet Nana's efforts to avenge herself on who she sees as Lucy sets the stage for the last and greatest of Yuka's struggles to believe in her childhood dream.
In the wake of Nana's attack and flight, Nyu is injured, even becoming Lucy for a brief time while recuperating. Waking while hearing Kouta talk about his late sister Kanae, a combination of Nyu's love and Lucy's guilt causes her to try and become Kanae (in a very limited way, appearance-wise) and offer Kouta the forgiveness he also craves from the sister he wronged just before her death. Once again, Kouta's amnesia plus his original tender feelings for this girl cause a deep, loving embrace that Yuka, returning from shopping for medicine for Nyu, witnesses and flees in tears.
Running to Yuigahama Beach, Yuka is despondent, arguably contemplating suicide, though this is never spoken of directly. In her mind, she concocts scenarios wherein she and Kouta are happy, and soon to be married couple, only to chide herself for a pipe dream that will obviously (in her mind) be fulfilled by Nyu instead. In the midst of her resolve to leave and never come back, Kouta finds, chastises and then slaps her, furious and in tears for making him worry, showing once and for all in no uncertain terms that he wishes to always have her near him. If the outcome of their relationship is ultimately no more certain than it was before this, the outcome of this part of the story is now certain. Yuka had her answer, and it is the best she could ever hope for.
Oddly, Yuka's prime arc concludes just about halfway through the manga series run. While she would be annoyed when Nyu once more embraced Kouta, it no longer caused her to doubt him or herself. As Nana moved in and Nozomi started staying there, Yuka's role as the mother figure in Maple House, even to Nyu, was also confirmed once more. In the anime, Yuka even states that she is horrible to Kouta, a notion countered by a grateful Mayu. Yet in both versions, after the chaos and blood that surrounds both conclusions, Yuka's urgings to Kouta are no longer warnings against bad behavior, but a plea to never go out of her life again.
Yuka's doubts were at last overcome just before a tragic time when all would need her confident strength, and ironically with the blessing of the one who once casually proclaimed her death, only to have the boy she doubted arise from a broken heap and demand that his new friend stop her murderous ways. Yuka's doubts were all in her head, but until she beat them, no vector could match their power to destroy her happiness, and once overcome, no power could shake her from watching over her man, and the loving misfit family they built in a place called Maple House.
|“||Hey, Kouta? Please don't leave me and go somewhere else, OK?||”|
–Yuka at the series' finish, now confident enough to state her worries outright