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Nightmare Fuel: Serial Experiments Lain
You probably won't be getting much sleep tonight.
A classic late '90s anime with beautiful animation best described as "creepy, cool, seinen, and cyberpunk". It's pretty much one of the most confusing anime out there. That and it can be very scary at times, as the following examples can attest.
The hum of the electric power transformers becomes ever more creepy as the series progresses.
Especially when it starts forming recognisable words.
What made it scarier was the fact that the damn thing just suddenly appeared at her doorway out of freakin nowhere before disappearing.
Also, some of the conversations Lain overhears on the Wired imply that this... thing has been appearing in the bedrooms of several people. Eep.
This strikes me as pretty potent Paranoia Fuel. Think about it. Now that you're reading this, you'll think the alien is always watching you. Behind you. Like, right now. I know I sure am. Maybe you should check...
I was actually looking up the opener one night (the above link) and left it open in one of my tabs. I forgot about it, and turned off all of the lights and got in bed. Then the light on my computer flickered, and the static started. Followed by "Present day... heh heh heh... Present Time..." Suffice to say, I did not sleep and have stopped leaving anything related to this anime open on my computer.
And then there's the "Whisper" synthesized voice that's used to say the layer titles at the beginning of each episode...
... Not to mention Masami Eiri turning into a grotesque gooey fleshy monstrosity that uses its giant tongue to try to eat Lain and Arisu/Alice in the final episode.
Not just by what happens in the episodes, but also think of the psychological horrors about the Wired (the equivalent to our Internet)...?
I just want to put emphasis on episode 5. I sat through the Ring and enjoyed myself immensely, I played Bioshock alone in the dark and had a blast, and I even took a nice hot shower after immediately after watching Psycho. Why, oh why can't I sleep properly now? Because of that damned Mind Screw when Lain's sister Mika spilled her drink. Fulfill the prophecy! *shudders*
And the part where Mika's all alone on the street and surrounded by dark blob things.
And in the restaurant bathroom, when the lights suddenly go off and the stall door right behind her slowly creaks open...
How about just the general feeling of every episode? Even the most mundane parts send chills down my spine.
How about the ideas this series presents? Not since Eversion have I been so paranoid simply because I could no longer look at reality itself the same way again. The implication that our own internet might have created a new universe is just shy of not being far fetched; you know it's impossible, but it gets too close to being debatable for comfort.
Ever imagine that you would be 9 or 10 years old, this being one of the very first anime you watched? Yeah.
Serial Experiments Lain has a special connection to preteens in another way—the director also directed Digimon Tamers. Unsurprisingly, that season is host to some of the most screwed up stuff that's ever been connected to the franchise.
There was a time when Tech TV (when it still existed) would play anime at two o' clock in the morning on Sunday. Lain was one of these. I was interested, because I had seen some advertisements in magazines at the time, and decided to give it a shot. I was eleven. This was a bad idea.
The train scene in Episode 1. After inexplicably teleporting to several places (or perhaps not) Lain suddenly appears in front of a railroad, where a girl stands in the mist in the path of the oncoming train. The strange, dreamlike feel of the scene is eerie enough... but then we get a look at the girl's face. Her facial expression distorts from a odd combination of Slasher Smile and Psychotic Smirk to terrified/sad to just HOLES and repeats once more.
I always took the girl's expression in the train scene to be a flickering mix of joyful, childish laughter, a scream of horror as she realizes she's about to be hit by the train, and HOLES. The fact that all three of the expressions looked like they were on her face at pretty much the same time made that the most horrifying scene in the series for me.
Also, it's like they threw in some good old-fashioned Uncanny Valley in there to taste. The face is disturbingly realistic.
Episode 2. As Lain's walking to school she catches sight of a guy just kind of standing off to the side of the road behind a telephone pole. Lain initially tries to ignore him and just keeps walking, but she stops at one point and realizes that he's staring at her and not blinking. This gives Lain enough incentive to run the rest of the way to school.
Later, after class, Lain is walking down a deserted school hallway when she stops and notices a figure enshrouded in shadows peering out at her from a doorway, and then paper-thin, rainbow silhouettes suddenly phase through the school walls and move by her. The shadowy figure slides close to Lain, and we once again get a close-up of the disturbing, distorted face of the girl that we last saw at the railroad back in episode 1. The unusual being seems to slide right through Lain, leaving her alone in the hallway, hunched over and quaking in silent terror.
Here's a minor one from that episode: a brief text conversation. (It's also a little narmy, but...)
"What's dying like?"
"It really hurts! :)"
Episode 4. Don't tell me that little girl bearing down on the boy playing PHANTOMa isn't terrifying. It quickly turns into a different kind of horror when you realize what really just happened when he shot the "monster"...
I cannot decide what is the most freaky thing between having almost been shot by a guy who killed two people, said it was all your fault, and then killed himself (all right in front of you); coming back home afterwards in the middle of the night to find that absolutely nobody's home and the beds are all made; or how Lain doesn't. React. At all. And just changes into her teddy bear pj's and goes to sleep.
The first meeting with evil Lain. The grin... will haunt your nightmares.
The deaths of all the Knights in episode 10. The worst was that little boy calling out to his mother, ignorant of the fact that she had been dead for some time. Impossibly creepy.
Although, to be fair, they were a bunch of sadistic bastards who had people kill kindergarten-age children for fun, and turned traffic signals off just to cause accidents, among other things.
Lain's parents sitting motionless at a table, staring vacantly ahead. Lain asking if she's really Lain. No response whatsoever. Looks away. Looks back. Both parents now staring directly at her, equally motionless. Oh god oh god oh god.
I always found the overall situation Lain is in (and stays being in) throughout the series. Especially up until the penultimate episode's brief "breather." Imagine; you're a regular, if kinda shy, person. And you have all this strange things happening and you can't explain any of them, and you can't escape.
The shadows in a lot of the external shots of the show are... unnerving. They are accurate cast shadows, dead black, with... large splotches of red floating through them. The fact that they are usually imposed on bright white backgrounds, so you can't help but see them, doesn't make it any better...
The sequence with the static-skinned people... with only one facial or bodily feature for each person - the rest of their bodies are just empty. Going back further, the lines of headless, kneeling avatars with gibbering mouths, spouting rumours randomly. And when we go back to them later on... They all have Lain's head. They're still gibbering, but their mouths don't even look human... and there's no sound coming from any of them.
In Episode 12, The Men in Black recieve final "payment for services rendered" from "The Office Worker". After a brief exchange about what the activation of Protocol 7 and the total loss of devices forever would entail, "The Office Worker" drives away, at which point the MIB see... something... through their head-gear, which causes the dark-haired, pony-tailed, no-nonsense skeptical MIB to freak the fuck out. His body twists and lurches as he appears to have a kind of seizure. "Karl", the more serious and laterally-minded of the pair, wrestles him to the ground to see what's the matter. While his partner is still crying out in terror, he looks into his partner's retina to find an image of Lain, and his partner dies in his arms, foam dribbling out of his mouth. "Karl" turns and sees what appears to bereality collapse around him. The last we ever see of them is the look of pure terror on "Karl"'s face. The last we ever hear of them is "Karl" screaming bloody murder at... whatever he saw. Possibly the most terrifying moment in the whole series.
At one point, Lain has smoke emit from her fingers and fill the classroom. It is in fact a fairly typical schizophrenic hallucination to perceive yourself emitting ectoplasm from your body. This, along with many other incidents in the early episodes are foreshadowing to the assumption that Lain is mentally unstable.
"Look at me, I'm committing suicide! *laughter*" To put it into perspective: the scene is Real!Lain, in a fit of rage over her identity being stolen by Wired!Lain, attempts to strangle Wired!Lain, while flashes (that look like camera flashes) go off in the background. The twist? The line is spoken, in sick glee, by Wired!Lain as she's being strangled.
A rather subtle yet very unnerving detail about Masami Eiri is that in all of his appearances as "God", his clothes are always in the same position, impossibly suspended in mid-air. Always. Seeing him as perfectly unmoving even when the wind is blowing hard enough to make trees shake is unnerving because it just feels wrong.