Serial Experiments Lain – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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We’re all Connected. The world around us, made of people, tactile sensation, and culture has begun to blur with the wired world inside the computer, of images, personalities, virtual experiences. The day after a classmate commits suicide, Lain, a thirteen year-old girl, discovers how closely the two worlds are linked when she receives an e-mail from the dead girl: “I just abandoned my body. I still live here…”

Serial Experiments Lain is perhaps one of the most intriguing anime series to have come out in the last decade. It’s definitely one of those anime series that will get the viewers to think of the world around them, particularly in how the Internet relates to our real world identities. The blurred line between reality, and what is known as the Wired showcased in the series, is thoroughly questioned as well as vividly explored within Lain, perhaps even to the point of obscurity. Lain is certainly one of those series that will confuse and perplex many viewers, and due to its complexity, will lead many to lose interest in the series. This can most certainly be attributed to the strenuous amount of interpretive measures the series utilizes as it progresses, increasing ever deeper into the chasm of psychological, religious, and modern fears of technology. While all-important factors to consider, most of it will clearly leap over the head of the most causal anime viewer who is not accustomed to thinking outside the conventional sphere.

There are certainly moments showcased within the series that are downright bizarre, but they do have a purpose. The continuity between episodes might seem a little lacking at first, but the overall realization by the viewer is that each episode is masterfully interconnected, which truly evolves the story into something entirely different by its conclusion. Lain doesn’t provide easy answers to the rather complicated themes expressed within its story, which to some will definitely be an interesting aspect related to its core subjects, but this aspect could also be considered a substantial flaw considering the heavy-handed material showcased within the story could potentially turn off viewers looking for your more standard conventional anime fare. The range of topics explored within the series is extraordinary though considering the subject matter at hand; the concept of God, identity, and the connection between reality and the Internet all play into the encompassing world conveyed throughout Lain.

Considering that this series was released in 1998, in astonishing to see that the correlation between technology and identity explored within the series is seemingly more relevant today than when it was released. The mesmerizing journey through the subconscious of not only the title character, but also inner workings of the Wired, brings about this notion of speculation regarding our present technological state and increasing reliance on its usage in regards to identity. This diminishment of true identity is compounded upon through this use of Internet technology, particularly that of the advent of social networking and our own blurred reality between our digital identity and physical identity. Lain seemingly foretold this dilemma and expresses the ramifications of such, but also provides a dualistic approach to understanding and accepting technology and the relationship we share with it.

And it’s this relationship that gives way to Lain exploring the realm of our deepest recesses and fears concerning technology. With the constant buzzing of electrical lines, detachment of human emotion, and exploration of human loneliness, the series is well aware that these factors aren’t inherently natural, but rather artificially replaced through the consideration of technology. The narrative direction the series takes becomes increasingly blurred with each passing episode, showcasing us how the world of reality and the Wired are similarly becoming conjoined as well. This mediation is important to consider concerning the plot, but also allows us to view the infringement of technology onto the real, natural world. The deconstruction between the real world and the Wired are masterfully done, mainly because the series handles the material with such seriousness and respect to not allow it to flounder in its presentation, but rather allows us as viewers to see things we might’ve not considered intellectually before.

Overall, Serial Experiments Lain provides a very interpretive, psychological, and philosophical confrontation into perhaps one of the most crucial dilemmas we face today—the advent of technology and our place within it. It is a series that is highly immersive as it is original, and brings forth perhaps one of the most distinctive anime storylines ever delivered. While presenting a dark, twisted, and strange journey, the series is highly intelligent in its construction, and effectively establishes questions that don’t insult the viewer, but rather allows them to ponder the world around them. Considering all these and the above, Serial Experiments Lain is an important piece of anime history, including standing out as crucial piece of science fiction entertainment. It’s intelligent, thought provoking, and presents a mesmerizing staple of animated fiction—all the more important considering our own time and placement within the ever-increasing technological world.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Gargantua

    I’ll admit to being one of those viewers who was confused and a bit overwhelmed by Lain. I don’t know if I was over or under thinking it, but after scratching my head over the first few episodes I stopped. Your review is encouraging me to give the anime another shot. I’m not one to shy away from anime with intricate plots, or psychological depth. Now that I’ve got a better idea of what the anime is actually about, I can try it again, and hopefully watch with new insight.

  • Douglas

    Thanks for the comment Gargantua. It took me multiple views to understand the direction that Lain was going, but it was all well worth it. Definitely give it another shot, I’m sure you’ll find it much more interesting by the end of the series.

  • fifaplayer

    is such a beyond-time anime in so many ways. The way the technology
    gets integrated in our daily life is shown in the elements like the
    Siri-like desktop computer system, texting friends in class, holographic
    display in Lain’s room etc, coming from a 1998 anime (where mobile web
    service was not even popularized until later in 2000s), is way beyond
    time for me. Also philosophical integration with technological devices
    is very idea-provoking. The philosophical definition of existence and a
    shared/collective unconsciousness are also giving blue screen of deaths
    in our brains.