- Genre: Sci Fi, Psychological, Cyberpunk, Magical girl(?)
- Episodes: 13
- Studio: Triangle Staff
Oh maaan… OK so like first scene – BAM, this girl kills herself and we have no clue why. Then, people at her school start getting emails from her (this was a while ago – you couldn’t just schedule your emails to send at a later time super easily so, you know, freaky….) One of those people in question is Lain, a shy, introverted girl who is generally uninterested in computers despite her father being a programmer. But now, Lain is so fascinated by this email that she wants to find out everything she can. This leads her to the wired – a vast digital world where information can be shared instantly through a worldwide computer network (yes it’s the internet) – where she slowly realizes that she might be God! How many times has this happened to you? I’m up to 4 and counting.
You could say that my introduction to anime was somewhat intense. I grew up in a lot of places but mostly in Africa, and my access to anime (or really most entertainment) was pretty limited. The first animes I remember watching, at least while having an actual idea of what anime is, are Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and Serial Experiments Lain. In a way I was lucky since all these shows are very good but I guess you could also say I was sort of thrown into the deep end. After all, the first is a stylized exploration of trauma and the mental scars it leaves behind, the second is a masterful introspection on loneliness and isolation in modern society and Lain… Lain is an ambitious, if not always successful, attempt at defining identity and the nature of sentience in the wake of the information age and all it implies. For a while there I was under the distinct impression that that all anime was super cerebral and somewhat depressing. Then I watched Berserk. That didn’t help. I’ll tell you about it someday.
As you can imagine, Serial Experiments Lain tries to do some big things, in fact it tries to do a whole lot of things of various sizes, it tries to do all the things. I’m sorry guys – I tried but I just couldn’t get that sentence to work…This show takes chances and doesn’t shy away from experimentation. Ha! ABes, visual style is unique and instantly recognizable to this day. I mean just look at Lain, even without context you can **see** this isn’t the same girl…
The backgrounds are austere and splattered with surreal stains. I really enjoyed this touch but I’ve often seen it critiqued as “boring”. Whatever your personal feelings about it though, you must agree that Serial Experiments Lain definitely has a “look” all its own which in turn goes a long way to establishing the show’s identity and mood.
To be honest, the animation isn’t that impressive. There simply isn’t that much movement in the series to begin with and when there is, it tends to be slow, calculated and subtle. The few actual action scenes were not exactly remarkable. I would argue that highly fluid animation isn’t at all needed to tell this particular story, and LAIN came out in 1998 so it did have to contend with the technical limitations of the time but purely animation wise, shows of the time like Eva, Bebop or Trigun did it better. If you consider the show as a whole however, I wonder whether this very minimal approach to actual animation may not have been a deliberate choice (I could look it up – I’m not gonna). A certain stillness is a core element of Serial Experiments Lain and an important part of the atmosphere it evokes.
As I mentioned above, the most frequent complaint I’ve seen regarding this show is that it’s essentially “boring”, and not just the backgrounds. This is a bit difficult to reconcile with the fact that this is some extremely ambitious subject matter is and there are tons of different plot elements and story threads jammed into 13 episodes, but it is a viable complaint nevertheless. The show itself is very much mirrored by its protagonist and Lain is a quiet, introverted, hesitant girl. Her interactions with those around her are awkward and muted, she is slow to act and often uncertain. This makes for a story that can seem to crawl to a standstill at times. However, when action does happen, it happens in spastic spurts that jolt you to attention. For some, the general effect can garble the already complicated plot.
And that plot is complicated. It tackles huge questions about philosophy, existentialism, theology, the societal impact of technology and human evolution as a whole. Almost by necessity, some of the threads get dropped and the show does occasionally cop out when it comes time to offer up some real insight but it posits a few very interesting theses. There are a lot of fan theories out there delving into what Lain was really about by latching onto different aspects and clues dropped in the show. Personally, the creation of the WIRED itself and Eiri’s early work were my favorite parts and what I dwelled on the most, so my theory is that Lain is a manifestation of a new level of evolution, basically the first step of a collective consciousness (not subconsciousness and that’s important). The idea is that all these information points (nodes) being interconnected through the wired which allows signals – information – to be shared and distributed throughout all these nodes and essentially creates a brain. One that can’t function completely independently but is not reliant on a single individual either. In this scenario, we humans (or whoever is supplying the information to the network) are more akin to undifferentiated stem cells than individual parts of a whole. Ultimately, we still have the potential for transformation either as units or as a complexe. Lain’s ability to perceive this mass of information as a whole, on every level, and to start understanding the implications of it, is a step towards creating a consciousness that goes above what we presently know… I could go on for a long time. You probably stopped reading a while ago. Don’t worry about it – people have physically thrown me out of their houses to prevent me from spouting half-baked theories about this show.
Like I said, I watched this series a while ago and since then I’ve see a few more animes but I still think back and analyze it regularly. Mine is only one interpretation out of dozens, maybe hundreds shared by fans. Alright – I admit it, the show is a little pompous. So what? Fact is, Serial Experiments Lain asks some very big questions, arguably important ones. It doesn’t really answer any of them but I happen to believe there is value in the asking. At the end of the day, this show will make you wish you had friends patient enough to debate anime with you for hours.
Favorite character: Iwakura Yasuo
What this anime taught me about myself: I have no friends patient enough to debate anime with me for hours
“I’m not as think as you drunk I am”
Suggested drink: Electric Lemonade
- Every time someone mentions the Wired – take a drink
- if they try to explain it – take notes
- Every time Lain upgrades her computer – take a drink
- Every time you see a “ghost” – take a drink
- Every time someone eats – take a snack
- Every time Lain’s parents kiss – take a big drink
- Every time there is more than one Lain – take a drink
- Every time Lain is in sleepwear – change into your jammies
- Every time someone mentions God – take a drink
- Every time you see an MIB – take a drink
- Every time you see or hear electric wires – take a drink
- Every time you wonder what’s going on – get some water
12 thoughts on “Serial Experiments Lain”
The suggested drink is electric lemonade…because of the ever-present electric wires, right?
Why didn’t it pick up my info? Gravatar will never cease to confuse me.
Exactly! This is the first time anyone has cared about the suggested drink. It makes my day!
Well shucks. You’re quite welcome. Thanks for the fun and thoughtful write-up. Here’s to anime we wish we could but can’t debate with our friends!
That’s a good review. I do like Serial Experiments Lain, but I do admit the animation has aged and it’s not as good as ABe’s later works especially Haibane Renmei and Texhnolyze. I did enjoy the experimentation and the fact that it took chances with the narratives and plotting.
I’m biased – the exploration of sentience is one of my favorite narratives so despite it being objectively quite flawed – I will always gravitate towards Lain
That’s fine. Lain has a lot of good things going for it and it certainly inspired some other media. It’s certainly more cerebral than a lot of other anime.
I still really love some of the artwork for this show. The animation may not have been great but the artbooks are awesome.