Serial Experiments Lain is psychological thriller anime series shown in the late 1990s. It was written by Chiaki J. Kohnaka in collaboration with Ryutaro Nakamura and ex graffiti artist Yoshitoshi ABe. The series was heavily inspired by Goddard, HellHouse, The Exorcist and House Of Shadows. It was originally conceived as a way to connect between multiple forms of media anime is used from manga, video games and tv shows. (There is even a graphic visual novel for the PS1 of this game)
The series is purposely made to make Western audiences not understand the story the same way the Japanese audience would because of their difference in cultures, mores and values. It focuses on Lain, a very shy Japanese school girl during the late 90s. Lain has few friends and is not considered popular. She along with other classmates, receives a mysterious message from Chisa, a classmate who killed herself.
Meanwhile her father, a worker at Tachibana General Laboratories recently received a new set of computer equipment and out of curiosity Lain asks her father how to use it. Lain is not really computer savvy and as she checks the message, she is finds herself in Wired, a virtual world where she has to decode messages and rapidly acquire new skills.
Lain notices bizarre things occurring as time goes by and each episode of the series focuses on a different set of strange events happening in Japan all related to the Wired. A mysterious group of men in black are also investigating the unusual events.
The story also focuses on a complicated game between Lain and a mysterious hacker group known as the Knights Of The Eastern Calculus and Tachibana Labatories, the creators of the Navi products in order to control the Wired. The deeper Lain goes into the Wired, the lines between the virtual and real world becomes blurred and when the wired starts converging with the real world no one is really sure what is real and what is virtual.
The suspense and sense of mystery in the show is one of the highlights as each episode takes its time developing the story. The show has many direct references to apple computers at the time. In fact, during the production, many of the staff used apple computers to work on the show.
Before an episode starts, the Plain talk feature from the speech synthesis program of apple computers is used. Tachibana is responsible for creating the Navi brand of technology and everything Tachibana makes is cutting edge technology. The hand navi is based off the Apple Newton, one of the first ever PDAs to be released. Each navi runs on a program based off the Copland program Apple technology uses. There is also Apple slogans as well from the famous “Think Different" coined by Steve Jobs. Many other Apple references can be found in the show as well if one was to look closely.
The wired is a very complex network of every single form of human communications during the late 90s from telephone lines (High speed internet during the late 90s to the 2000s was still a new thing), telegraphs, and television are all connected to a large cyberspace on the internet. Elements that are connected to creating the wired are memex, eight circle model of consciousness and also project Xandau. There is no use of a physical user interface while in the wired. In addition, it also uses Schumann resonances that creates long form unhindered communications between users in the wired.
The show also focuses on exploring underground culture of 90s Japan. Cyberia is not only named after the first cybercafe in the United Kingdom but also the book of the same name. The atmosphere was a perfect mix of dark and edgy underground urban culture and also the mysterious and curious nature of the internet.
Another aspect utilized was Theology and Lain could be an immortal within a mortal body. Lain learns that she is a god and later on she decides to “kill herself” by erasing her existence from everyone she ever encountered in order to save her friend Alice, and also to find some redemption. Lain has the ability to go anywhere at anytime and be everywhere all at once just like a god even cyberspace.
Mental health is also explored in the show. Lain has multiple identities online that are completely the opposite of who she really is. The Wired lain is more outgoing, gossipy and more malicious then the regular Lain. This Lain is more popular with others and the “normal” Lain has no idea of the events that occur because of her lack of memory from what the Bold Lain has done. The result of such multiple personalities causes trouble for Lain during each episode every time she uses the wired. There were so many personalities that even the voice actress of Lain and Chiaki had to create separate scripts to tell the different between here various personalities. There is really no true definite personality to Lain and there is also no definite reality in the world of Serial Experiments Lain.
The digital special effects were perfect for the show as it help to illustrate the series themes of communication and digital media. The animation looks incredible and the lifeless designs gave the show a cold feeling. The musical score was very downbeat and somber and there was not much tracks in the show. I also liked the high quality audio effects. The use of subtle visual storytelling was excellent. The blood pools in contrast to the rest of the world that is nearly blank and half finished represents the connection between the presence of the internet and its distortion of reality.
The art style is not based off any anime that came before. This was in part due to how Yoshitoshi Abe was not allowed to watch anime and that the art style comes from the world through his own viewpoint. He also brings in elements from his graffiti artist past as he wanted to use the art to reflect what was the world around like for him and also for Lain. The character designs are deliberately lifeless and unlike the typical anime character designs seen in mainstream shows. The overall anime art style is incredibly detailed and the dark color scheme of the show fits in perfectly with the story.
The show focuses on how lain becomes a god and how she disconnects herself from real world to the world of the internet. The most notable theme of the show is the many forms of media communication and how users interact with it. Lain unlike many people, is not a technophile but with her fathers’s assistance, she becomes a thoroughly tech savvy. Many people in the show have a fascination with Tachibana products and people like Lain’s father can be considered as caricatures of people who are addicted to anything their favorite real-world company like Apple makes.
There are many different viewpoints of how people see technology including the viewer. Lain’s father thinks that technology is more than just a tool and that everyone must be following the trends or else they will be left behind. Some people use technology for malicious purposes and use it to spread malicious rumours and slander others. The characters apart from Lain were not really interesting or compelling and were just one sided and flat.
This story is very focused on visual storytelling and philosophy. It even explores conspiracy theories from the majestic 12 and ufos and how they were exposed to be nonsense but even then, there is a group of underground cult followers believing in such beyond nonsensical things. Many clips and stock footage from such events happening are also used in the show.
Loneliness is another theme as well explored too. Lain is an introvert who sees herself as an outsider in mainstream Japanese society. Her family appears not to care for her. Her mother is completely apathetic to everything and anything around her, while her father is addicted to having the latest tech product. Lain’s her sister is nothing but a whiny annoying teenager. Her friends except for Alice are really toxic and gossipy and they would turn ignore Lain frequently.
The internet for many introverts is a way to open up to others without most of the pressures during face to face communication. It is easy for Lain to get addicted to her new bold version of herself and engross herself in the limitless wired world. Side fact, the only song in the show is translated into Signal Of Loneliness.
The show was pretty short despite its slow pacing and as a result and there were things that were not fully elaborated on but this was a result of the short runtime.
Dialogue and voice acting were sparse and not really impressive as the main focus was on visual storytelling.. You’ll often hear terms related to technology as well like “PK” or Player Killer as a reference to the early days of online gaming.
Serial Experiment Lain is without a doubt one of the most complicated anime I have ever watched since Ghost In The Shell and Akira.
It gets 5 stars out of 5.
If you like Ghost In The Shell, then this show is perfect for your tastes. Ghost In The Shell, Psycho Pass and Serial Experiments Lain are what I see as counter culture to main stream anime that does not follow any of the tropes being used. It is not something can ever be turned into a massive franchise and it is not something everyone can easily digest and enjoy when you look at the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this underground cult classic anime for all of what it is and this is the perfect example of underground cult fiction being one of the most unique things you can find because of how unorthodox or rare it can be.