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Diclonius (pl. Diclonii) are an evolutionary offshoot of humanity, emerging in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, though one group falsely believed itself to be part of this in ancient times. The Diclonii are noted for having small horns, almost resembling cat-ears, on both sides of their heads. They also possess powerful, deadly telekinetic abilities with molecular cutting force, manifesting as (mostly) invisible arms called vectors. One of the main premises of the anime and manga series Elfen Lied is that the Diclonii are almost always at odds with humanity, and at times, they threaten to destroy humanity and replace them. That said, Humanity's often cruel and bigoted treatment of these girls (almost all born are female) places the nurture versus nature debate in stark terms for the series.
As a result of their appearance, Diclonii tend to be discriminated against. This was most evident in the anime and manga series during the childhood of their foremost member and queen, a girl who came to be called Lucy. After a particularly traumatic and cruel event, young Lucy grew to distrust Humans entirely, a cynicism almost averted but ultimately strengthened due to a mistake involving a true Human friend.
While on the run following the fallout of the misguided revenge against her friend, young Lucy fell ever more under the influence of an internal voice whose true nature is not entirely known, but which urged her to both kill Humans and infect the males with a virus that caused them to sire more Diclonius. Unlike Lucy and another later revealed, these new Diclonius were themselves sterile, but capable of further spreading the birth virus.
The government of Japan was both frightened and intrigued by these births, an interest which spiked when, at the age of three, these girls developed vectors like those of Lucy, almost always lashing out at their families. While the tender age of these children, even with physical ageing that ran about double that of normal children, called into question their motives in harming others, their potential threat was undeniable. An effort was made to learn of the origin of this outbreak of births and possibly make use of them, but this was undermined from the start by the corruption and mania of the family overseeing it, the Kakuzawas.
Many Diclonius girls were taken from their families at birth, to be brought to and experimented on at the Institute, but as time went on, most were euthanized and a false issuance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or crib death as the cause of death covered this up. Many of these euthanizing efforts were performed or overseen by the assistant head of operations, Doctor Kurama. At first, the DRI was headed up by the son of Director Kakuzawa, the cold genius Professor Kakuzawa. Later, Kurama assumed this role himself, as the Professor withdrew to openly try and create a method of containing the Diclonius (allies or no, they wanted control) and secretly, to supplant his Father, who seemed to know of this, holding son and effort in contempt.
Ultimately, two discoveries placed the Diclonius directly under the microscope. One was the finding that it was infected males who carried the virus, caused tragically by Kurama's own daughter being born a Diclonius. The second was the discovery and apprehension of Lucy herself, wherein her hatred of Humans was sealed when Kurama ended up killing only the second Human friend she'd ever had. For three years, Lucy remained under tight security, till Professor Kakuzawa, gaining a misread inkling of his father's secret plans, enabled Lucy's escape. During this same time period, Kurama himself added to the riddle about Diclonius nature when he bonded with and became close to a young Diclonius named Number 7, or Nana. Contrary to belief about Diclonius, Nana became a gentle girl devoted to her 'Papa' and unwilling to hurt anyone, Human or Diclonius. However, neither Kurama nor anyone else saw the escaped Lucy as anything but a potential disaster for Humankind.
Ironically, Lucy spent very little time active in the intervening months, as first an injury and then a conscious choice kept her hostile persona suppressed in favor of a sweet gentle one, called Nyu by her childhood friend Kouta who now suffered traumatic amnesia as a result of her actions. In love with Kouta, Lucy killed very few (comparatively speaking) during the series proper, and seemingly infected even fewer. However, after successive efforts to find and recapture Lucy failed, Kurama's own daughter Mariko, shown to be very powerful, was sent out. During the course of their battle, Director Kakuzawa's true plan was unleashed. Believing his family to have ancient connections to the Diclonius, he disseminated by air a weaponized form of the Diclonius birth virus, enough to eventually cover the Earth and ensure the extinction of non-horned Humans.
It was Lucy herself who ended Kakuzawa's delusions along with his life, revealing that he and his persecuted ancestors were in fact Human, merely possessing a scalp mutation. Lucy herself died not long after this, but the legacy she and Kakuzawa left would haunt the world. A combination of the Diclonius Lucy had seeded (who had not been found out or killed) and the many created by Kakuzawa's deliberate pandemic infection joined with a Human birth ban to push Humanity's numbers to the edge of viability. However, the efforts of the late Professor Kakuzawa joined with those of his assistant, Doctor Arakawa, to create a vaccine (described as a vaccine, true nature unknown) against Diclonius births, allowing Humans to have children again without fearing their nature. The timeframe of this conflict is hard if not impossible to determine, but by the tenth anniversary of Lucy's death, her would-be lover Kouta had a fully Human daughter who seemed about seven to eight years old. It is believed, though without direct evidence, that only Nana survived the war and purge that followed.
Many unknowns persist about the Diclonius, including whether the drive to kill Humans was truly inborn or a result of discrimination and cruelty. Another is what their threat might have been, if any, had the man in charge of containing them didn't have a hidden sinister agenda. A most pressing one is whether the very young age (three chronologically, three to six mentally) caused those Diclonius who killed their families to act out in a childish way or if they were in fact driven by the voice of their genetics. Barring further Elfen Lied-related works of the mangaka, these seem likely to remain unanswered.