Anime: Serial Experiments Lain
An erudite, confusing, and chilling anime from the late 1990s
, Serial Experiments Lain
is Creepy Awesome seinen cyberpunk
, as well as a notable Mind Screw
in the genre. Shōnen
has Neon Genesis Evangelion
has Revolutionary Girl Utena
, and seinen has Lain
. The show takes an information-rich dive deep into the nature of reality and truth, and in the process leads the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions about the meaning of the show, the meaning of reality, and even what actually happens in both.
The setting for Lain
is a place that appears to be contemporary Japan — albeit with a few telling differences
. The story begins with apparently-normal schoolgirl Chisa Yomoda throwing herself off a building without warning
. Several days after her suicide, Chisa's friends receive emails purporting to be from Chisa herself. The emails claim that she has not died, but simply abandoned her body for an existence within "The Wired
", a pervasive computer network very much like the Internet as first envisioned by William Gibson
This is the point where Chisa's classmate Lain Iwakura — a shy, reclusive teenage girl who looks younger than her actual age — enters the story. With nary a social skill
and no knowledge of computers, Lain keeps a resolutely reclusive attitude and barely interacts with her not-really-friends, her best friend Alice/Arisu
, her cold parents, or her indifferent sister Mika — until she receives something that will change everything in the whole world: one of the emails from Chisa.
Everyone thinks the Chisa emails are a cruel prank, but Lain is curious about the meaning of the message in the email. After Lain's tech-obsessed father happily supplies her with a top-of-the-line "navi" (personal computer), she begins searching The Wired to find out more. What Lain discovers undermines her family, her sense of self, and perhaps even the fundamental fabric of reality — and she is soon forced to deal with a power she is unprepared to control.Serial Experiments Lain
is a unique creation. Its visual style is unlike any other animated work, Western or Eastern, and constantly evolves through the course of the series, serving as a metaphoric device in and of itself. Much of the plot development is orthogonal
to the viewer — sometimes seen but often simply implied — which requires the viewer to think about and draw his/her own conclusions about what's happening. A fair amount of information is obscured or distorted, but this simply reflects what is happening within the series itself; the story challenges the viewer to impose his or her own interpretation on even the most self-evident aspects of the show.Lain
's creators are also quite well-read, as they draw upon dozens (if not hundreds) of real-world sources for what seem to be the most outré concepts in the story
- If Vannevar Bush, W.O. Schumann, Douglas Rushkoff, John C. Lilly, Ted Nelson, or Nikola Tesla mean anything to you...
- If "Majestic-12", "Roswell", or the Knights of the Lambda Calculus rings a bell...
- If you can spot literary references ranging from Lewis Carroll to Marcel Proust to Cordwainer Smith...
- If you are a computer techie who knows way too much about esoteric operating systems and the history of computer development, especially the creation of the Apple Macintosh...
...then you will enjoy digging through the densely packed web of information that is the conceptual foundation for Serial Experiments Lain
. (While it's not necessary to do so to enjoy the show, it greatly enhances the overall experience if a viewer does the legwork.) To understand some of the references and sources better — or add some examples — visit the Shout-Out
A video game for the Playstation
also exists, released shortly after the conclusion of the anime and developed concurrently. It takes place in a different continuity that shares several themes, but mostly contains its own plot points and characters. Calling it a "game" may be a bit of a stretch, and the creators actually define it as "psychostretchware". Instead of actual gameplay, it acts more as an interface to access parts of Lain's story, presenting a multimedia experience that includes video, diary excerpts, and notes from Lain's therapist. Although it has yet to receive an English version, officially or unofficially, some fans have translated it
and put it into a PDF format, available to download. A single-chapter manga
, The Nightmare of Fabrication
, which was included in magazines and artbooks, takes place in the continuity of the game, showing the events of a scene that's mysteriously absent from the games' files, and introducing the game continuity's alternate version of Masami Eiri. This manga actually was translated into English officially, included in the English edition of the omnipresence in wired
The anime can be watched on Hulu
This anime provides examples of: