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Anime / Serial Experiments Lain

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"Present Day... Heh! Present Time! HaHaHahA!"

An erudite, confusing, and chilling anime which ran from July to September 1998, Serial Experiments Lain is Creepy Awesome seinen cyberpunk, as well as a notable Mind Screw in the genre. Shōnen has Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shōjo has Revolutionary Girl Utena, and seinen has Lain. Directed by Ryūtarō Nakamura and written by Chiaki Konaka, 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 their 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, 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, as well as an organization of hackers who are causing trouble and the mischievous God of the Wired who has his own plans for humanity.


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 their 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 their 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 page.

Also has a character page.

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 artbook.

The anime can be watched on Hulu and Funimation's official Youtube.


Serial Experiments Lain provides examples of:

  • Adjective Noun Fred: The title; the "serial experiments" is never actually addressed in-story, though.note 
  • Aerith and Bob: Lain and Alice's names stick out in a cast full of otherwise normal Japanese names.
  • A God Am I: Masami Eiri: he even introduces himself as God. Lain breaks him by pointing out that the timing of his advent means he can be no more than a placeholder for the real god—if there is one—and the real god may be Lain herself.
  • Alice Allusion: Alice Mizuki. Word of God confirms her name as a reference.
    "Alice" is Lewis Carroll's. I often use the "Alice" as the metaphor in my scenarios. Alice in "Lain" is same.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Lain does this at times.
  • The Alternet: The Wired, which may or may not be alive. This anime took place in "the present day" and "present time" at a time when the internet was clearly named and defined. It's just that much of a Mind Screw series. Visually, the Wired is mostly shown as a mass of swirling visuals and holograms that look impossible to navigate, or as a physical space that strange beings inhabit. It also doesn't seem to have any actual websites (that the audience know of, anyway), instead acting more like a giant chatroom or MMORPG where you can 'see' other people.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Lain, what with her crippling social ineptitude, stunted emotional reactions, inability to understand interpersonal relationships, extreme adherence to unreasonable habits, obsessive tendencies, and massive talent for mathematics and computers. She also talks in a weird staccato. Except in the Wired. It's notable that a lot of the things that happen to Lain are evocative of the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Knights of the Eastern Calculus.
  • Animal Motifs: All over the place, notably Lain and her teddy bears/bear pajamas, and the omnipresent crows.
    • The bear symbolism underlines Lain's hibernating potential, despite her outwardly unimposing appearance.
  • Anime Theme Song: "Duvet" by British band Boa. Haunting and will remind you of Gunslinger Girl.
  • Artificial Human: Lain could be anything from a genetically engineered "homunculus" to a computer program to an alien to the anthropomorphic personification of the collective unconscious. The series never makes it fully clear what Lain actually is.
  • Arc Words:
    • Everything is Connected
    • Close the World. Open the neXt.
    • Fulfill the prophecy.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Lain disappears from the Earth after deleting her memory from everybody's minds. Also, Eiri Masami's goal.
  • Aspect Montage:
    • The Once an Episode opening scene establishes its city location by a montage of power lines, crowds crossing roads, and the familiar Japanese "Don't Walk" sign. This gives a sense of tension and mundaneness at the same time. Part of that tension might be because the viewers remember what happened during the opening of the first episode, intermixed with these same establishing shots.
    • The opening scene, because it is set in a relatively recognisable modern-day setting, also links back to the infamous opening narration that we hear before the intro: "Present day... heh... present time! Hahahahahaha-!"
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: The scenes in "KIDS" and one later episode of the god-like vision of Lain in the clouds.
  • BFS: In video games.
  • Big Bad: The God of the Wired A.K.A. Masami Eiri, who is trying to merge everyone's consciousness with The Wired and rule above them as a God.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Eiri is apparently defeated, but as Lain decides to reset the human world by erasing her own presence in it, her only friend in the world, Alice, won't remember her at all. However, she re-introduces herself to Alice briefly on a bridge as the episode ends.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: See Creepy Child, The Men in Black.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Lain against a drugged up clubber with a gun.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The PSX game adaptation contains brutal deaths (including Lain's suicide).
  • Body Horror: Eiri's attempt to physically manifest. Suffice to say, it does not seem to go too well.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Lain's signature hairstyle with tails.
  • Brain Uploading:
    • Chisa implies this was part of her motivation for committing suicide.
    • Eiri, as part of his Thanatos Gambit to hook humanity up to the Wired directly.
  • Brainy Brunette: Dark brown-haired Lain reveals herself to be a very fast learner when it comes to understanding how to use, build, and modify computers.
  • Breather Episode: Layer 11 gives some welcome respite from all the nightmarish goings on. At least until shit hits the fan in the episode's latter half.
  • Bright Is Not Good: All over the place. Lain's neighbourhood, school and other places she visits are frequently bathed in yellowish light. The effect is more creepy than anything else.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: So your best friend has a near-omniscient split personality that does stuff for the sadistic fun of it in a world where everyone is connected. Go ahead, enjoy yourself while fantasizing about your teacher. No one will ever know...
  • Cheshire Cat Grin:
    • Lain's peeping-tom alter-ego seems to wear one near-constantly.
    • Lain refers to a floating mouth she encounters in the Wired as the Cheshire Cat.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Myu-Myu, Taro's pretend girlfriend who is very jealous of his attention to Lain.
  • Clip Show: The first half of Layer 11, "Infornography", is quite obviously a budget-saving clip-show, featuring almost no new animation at all besides some computer effects and effects achieved by filming the show's animation on a CRT screen.
  • Cool Code of Source: Lain apparently does all her hackery in Lisp. Specifically, she's implementing Conway's Game of Life, with code from the CMU AI repository.
    • She also does C++ in the artbook.
    • Apparently, she's hacking Lisp while not paying attention to a lecture about C.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Cyberia, where Lain and her friends often go at night. It's so cool that not only teenagers, but also children go there.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: One episode consisted almost entirely of live photographs scrolling by while the Narrator provided Expospeak.
  • Cooldown Hug: Lain to Alice in Layer 13. It doesn't quite fix her after what she has seen, but she does calm down.
  • Cowboys and Indians/The Game Come to Life: The online shooter game PHANTOMa gets crossed with a bunch of kids playing tag in the real world. It goes very, very awry.
  • Creepy Child: Goes to town with this trope. There's the disturbing little girl who chases after players in PHANTOMa, and then there's Chisa, and to a certain extent Lain herself.
  • Creepy Crows: In the opening, Lain is surrounded by terrifying crows. And then she just stops them. By stopping time.
  • Cyberpunk: According to the Cyberpunk Review. "Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High, Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High".
  • Cyberpunk Is Techno:
    • Averted with the opening and ending themes (pop and rock, respectively).
    • Played straight with the the in-show music which is dark electronica.
    • Invoked whenever something happens in Cyberia. There is also a popular "Cyberia Mix" remixed soundtrack album.
  • Cyberspace: The Wired, which is the main theme. The Metaverse, if you want the specific variant.
  • Darker and Edgier: The game.
  • A Darker Me: Lain grows much more snarky and assertive in the Wired as she becomes more familiar with it and comfortable with her abilities, though she remains quiet and shy (mostly) in the real world.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Lain's friendship with Alice breaks down when one of the Lains spreads rumours around school that she likes to fantasize about a certain teacher while "playing with herself". It's later shown to not be a rumor.
  • Daylight Horror: The anime is known for the highly contrasting light and shadows in its animation style, creating eerily bright days. There are a number of Mind Screw scenes that happen in these settings.
  • Death Glare: In Layer 3, Lain gives one to Taro when he suggests she go on a date with him, which he quickly tries to give a "Just Joking" Justification. It's really notable because it is the first time Lain shows something akin to an active emotional response.
  • Deus Est Machina: One interpretation of Lain.
  • Digital Avatar: Most people have them in the Wired. It's a sign of Lain's power that her avatar is herself.
  • Digitized Hacker: 'God' turns out to be one of these, a rather nutty scientist who worked out how to upload himself onto the web. Lain herself might also count; in fact it was suggested that this was her true nature and her body was simply created for convenience.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Lain is barefoot in all her representations in the Wired, as well as later in the real world. This seems to highlight how secure she feels when in her domains, despite the fact that she has the floor of her Hacker Cave flooded in coolant and it could be ridiculously easy to suffer a electric accident with all her cabling. Also, Eiri in the Wired.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: When images of Lain start to appear on video screens in public places, which creeps out her sister quite a bit.
  • Driven to Madness: Alice after seeing Eiri's physical manifestation.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Chisa's suicidal fall is what kicks the story off, and first clues us (and eventually Lain) into the weirdness of the Wired.
    • The man who starts shooting up Cyberia eventually kills himself.
    • Numerous characters (including Lain herself) in the PSX Game.
  • Drone of Dread: Images of power lines are often accompanied by an ominous humming sound, phone or data lines by a faint babble of voices. It's implied that Lain is the only one who hears it when she tells the voices to "shut up" in layer 01, startling the man beside her on the train.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: The Spanish dub presents a strange instance in which the line said by one of The Men in Black to Lain "... but I love you. Love is a strange emotion, isn't it?" is changed to "... I can't help but feel pity for your fate. You are a very special young lady." This is not only weird because this dub doesn't feature any kind of censorship otherwise, but also because it opens the question of how he could know about her fate when they are actually unwitting pawns who later die without understanding the situation.
  • Emotionless Girl: Lain appears this way to others. Except in the Wired, where she is forceful and articulate.
  • Empathic Environment: Including bleak grey skies, crows, and shadows that look like blood everywhere.
  • "End of the World" Special: Lain has one at the end of the series.
  • Establishing Shot: The Stock Footage of traffic and phone lines also functions as an Establishing Shot.
  • Eternal Prohibition: It is the near future, and yet on one hand, it is obvious that 10-year-old Taro is doing wrong every time he's drinking or smoking at Cyberia, and on the other hand, there are illegal future drugs like Accela.
  • Everyone Owns a Mac: The Tachibana corporation is loosely based on Apple, which explains all the references to NeXT. (Note that the tachibana is a type of fruit native to Japan.) This is interesting today when you think about how prevalent Apple is, but Apple's own history is practically shown in this series, if you can understand it. Check the Trivia page for more insightful fun.
  • Everything Is Online: Literally, to the point that one of the catchphrases is: no matter where you go, everyone's connected. In fact, Lain once almost gets run over by a car, because of a failure in the citywide car guidance system. Considering that the first scene depicts someone uploading their consciousness to the internet by committing suicide, conventional electrical gadgets being connected to the internet isn't far-fetched by comparison.
    • The premise is basically this (minus the psychokinetic powers also present): human brains have electromagnetic vibrations in them as part of the neurons' functions. Planet Earth has ubiquitous electromagnetic resonance (called Schumann Resonance after its discoverer), which according to the series subtly affects the functions of the human brain. Thus, the Wired is really humanity's collective unconsciousness. Eiri's Protocol 7 manipulates the Schumann Resonance in a way that connects all people's minds subconsciously without necessarily even relying on machines, which naturally are also affected. Lain appears to be the first person capable of easily switching between the two, while Chisa and Eiri took one-way trips to the Wired.
  • Evil Twin: The other Lain.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Masami Eiri is an odd example, being a computer scientist who believes that humans have reached the pinnacle of evolution physically and that, in order to continue evolving to more perfect forms, humanity has to give up their bodies for a digital existence. To that end, he secretly puts code into the latest version of the protocol that controls the Wired that would connect humans together on a subconscious level through the network. He also creates Lain a physical body to aid in this effort.
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: The NAVIs' user interface. The desktop animations aren't terribly out of place, now that compositing window managers are common, but as Lain's computer gets overgrown, the visuals get less and less comprehensible.
  • Eye Motifs: Most people grounded in reality in the anime have fairly large pupils in relation to their irises — for example, Lain's father and Alice. Lain's massive irises compared to her tiny pupils suggests much of her psyche is submerged in The Wired.
  • Eye Take: Quite a bit of them.
  • Facial Markings: Masami Eiri has a red stripe on each cheek.
  • Fake Memories: Initially Lain, everyone by the end of the show.
  • Fantastic Drug: Accela, a powerful nanomachine-powered stimulant that causes Accela Bullet Time, heightened senses, and delusional thoughts. It also seems to physically link the user into the Wired, and susceptible to its more esoteric phenomena.
  • Fictional Videogame: PHANTOMa. It looks kind of like Eye of the Beholder, but with unusually invasive multiplayer elements.
  • First Kiss: Taro gives Lain hers. It's kind of glossed over, though. Interestingly, she ends up with his chewing gum in her mouth, so the entire kiss affair could be just a prank by Taro.
  • Five Rounds Rapid: When confronted with the Creepy Child in PHANTOMa, the player shoots her several times with a Finger Gun — with tragic consequences in the real world.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: Maybe. Layer 10 opens with a sequence where, for lack of a better phrase, Lain and Masami Eiri appear to have switched lines. Muddling the issue is the fact that despite the actual dialogue, however, their body language and delivery match what they should be saying—e.g., Eiri triumphantly questions Lain's godlike nature while Lain demurely proclaims her supreme power.
  • Free-Range Children: Despite being in the eighth grade, nobody really seems to care what Lain and her classmates get up to at night, including her own parents.
  • Friendless Background: Lain has friends, but appears to have almost no actual connection to them except for Alice.
  • Gainax Ending: Comes off as a mild example. The series is chock-full of philosophical and technological esoterica that all plays a factor in the ending, meaning that anyone who isn't paying attention to that is going to be rather confused. The fact that it's also a somewhat Ambiguous Ending doesn't really help.
  • Gaslighting: One interpretation of what happens to Mika in Episode 5.
  • Genre Shift: Starts off as a technology focused J-horror story akin to something like Kairo, but gradually becomes a cyberpunk Conspiracy Thriller with strong elements of Psychological Horror.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Subverted. Lain pretty much ignores the collection on her windowsill and bed, and the former are usually lit from behind as creepy silhouettes.
  • God Is Evil: The God of the Wired is the Big Bad. Subverted as Eiri isn’t really God, Lain is.
  • God Is Good: Lain, when she resets the world to give everyone (especially [1]) a happy ending.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: As said before, Lain vs. the gun-toting junkie.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: When The Men in Black take Lain to the Tachibana office in Layer 07. Eventually she gets fed up with their interrogation and decides to leave, and they don't stop her.
  • The Greys: A Grey appears as a mysterious vision, in an episode which also references the Roswell incident. It is referenced in other episodes as well. Unlike the usual nudist Greys, it is wearing a red and green striped sweater. In Layer 11, Lain is wearing the same sweater, and her limbs are greyed out, as she checks in on Alice.
  • Hacker Cave: Lain turns her room into one over time, completely with a wall of monitors.
  • Hacker Collective: The KNIGHTS are a group of mysterious hackers on The Wired. A list of them is eventually leaked online, leading many to commit suicide. Those who weren't were assassinated.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Mika, after the 5th episode.
    • Alice's Heroic BSoD is what inspired Lain to Retcon herself out of existence.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Episodes are called a layer and a two-digit number, for example the first episode is "layer 01". Each episode title is a single word of English.
  • Improbable Age: Taro is a Knight apprentice at the age of ten.
  • Infodump: The aptly named eleventh episode, "Infornography", is essentially a half-hour long infodump culminating in The Reveal of the show's villain, Masami Eiri.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: A central tenet of the Knights.
  • Informed Loner: Lain seems to be fairly popular at her school (at least many people know her by name) despite believing she has no friends.
  • Inside a Computer System: Pretty much the entire soul and fiber of the story.
  • Insistent Terminology: They're "Layers", not "episodes".
  • It Runs in the Family: Lain and her father are both socially awkward individuals with a love for computers.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Only Lain takes a more... shall we say... 'active' role in Alice's life even after this...
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The story is complex and we get disparate pieces of it during each episode.
  • Laser Sight:
    • A teenager hopped up on nanotech goofballs shoots up a nightclub with a laser sight-equipped handgun. Just before he commits suicide, there is a camera shot where all you can see in the dim lighting are his teeth, and the laser dot on the roof of his mouth — a very striking image.
    • In the next episode, The Men in Black have laser sights on their high-tech eyepieces. It's never explained what function the laser sights serve, other than tipping people off that they're being watched and generally creeping them out.
  • Little Miss Almighty: Lain.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Or at least very unusual.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Hodgeson, the man who created the KIDS program (an attempt to collect information on the use of psi energy). Sound familiar?
  • Magical Realism: It's never clear how much of the events of this show are happening in real life and how much are in Lain's head.
  • Male Gaze:
    • The deliveryman who drops off a package for a housewife with a top-of-the-line Navi. Although he's almost as interested in her computer as he is in her, the camera still pans slowly over her body from his perspective.
    • The corporate bigshot (who is also one of the Knights) takes definite interest in his female cohort crossing and re-crossing her legs.
  • Matrix Raining Code: Lain's computers do this at times.
  • Mental Fusion
  • The Men in Black: Lain has several encounters with the MIB watching her. Coupled with Those Two Guys.
  • Mind Rape: What the Knights do to Mika in Layer 05. "Beep... Beep... Beep..."
  • Mind Screw: The best way to describe Serial Experiments Lain is to throw paranoid schizophrenia and depression in a blender, along with a heavy dose of philosophy (specifically Timothy Leary's). After blending on the "puree" setting, add a dash of conspiracy theories, horror and Apple Computers, to taste.
    • As mentioned in the introduction to this page, Serial Experiments Lain is like this because most of the plot developments are implied, and most of the explicit ones are obscured.
    • You're probably going to understand it up until around episode 4. After that, it just gets progressively weirder and avant-garde; the series is much closer to an arthouse movie than a typical sci-fi anime.
  • The Most Dangerous Video Game: PHANTOMa. It's pretty invasive as-is, but once it starts leaking into the real world...
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Masami Eiri throws himself under a train to discard his body and live in the Wired as "God".
  • Neuro-Vault: Lain is an Artificial Human created to hold the Version 7 network protocol within her brain.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lain reveals the identities of the Knights, and is horrified by the consequences.
  • Nightmare Face: The girl from Layers 01 and 02 who was supposedly hit by a train. One word: Holes.
  • No Social Skills: When we first meet Lain she has a wide-eyed befuddlement when faced with a social situation, to the point where she is almost mute. Her friends' bubbly interchanges are juxtaposed with an odd — troubling gap where a response should be. She develops some skills as the series progresses: it is uphill work and Lain is never a normal girl. Eventually revealed to be due to "our" Lain being but one aspect/avatar of the instrumentality that is Lain.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The series can be very creepy during the long periods when we know something is very wrong, but there is no immediate horror on-screen.
    • When Mika keeps seeing messages written in red ink telling her to "fulfill the prophecy", without any idea where they're coming from or why she's received them.
    • In Layer 12, Alice visits Lain at home and is very unnerved to find her house ransacked and nobody home until she comes across Lain in her room.
    • However, the biggest and probably scariest example is during the penultimate episode when The Men in Black end up "receiving final payment for their services". First, Lin, the shorter man with the black ponytail, sees... something that we never do and immediately starts to have a really bad seizure of sorts, with his body starting to lurch and twist around in a way that almost seems inhuman. His partner Karl tries to figure out what's wrong with him before he eventually falls limp, dead with foam dripping from his mouth. Afterwards, Karl then sees whatever it was his partner saw, causing him to let out a scream that's absolutely bloodcurdling, especially considering how stoic Karl is during the rest of the series. This is the last we hear or see from them before the world is reset at the end. The fact that we never see just just what in the world they saw when they met this fate which leads us to only imagine what it could have been arguably makes this scene one of the most terrifying in the entire 13 episode run.
  • No Shirt, Long Jacket: Eiri's form in the Wired.
  • Older Than They Look: Lain is supposedly the same age than Alice and her friends, but she looks sustantially shorter and less physically developed than them. Summed to her rather childish attributes, like her bear clothes and lack of social skill, it makes it seem that she is much younger than them.
  • Once an Episode: The traffic-and-telephone-lines montage that opens every episode, with some philosophical commentary pertaining to the episode. This is played with in the last episodes. For instance, Layer 10, Love, has absolutely no introducing commentary, just the sounds of the traffic and static, and the usual opening montage only shows up about half-way into Layer 13, Ego.
  • One-Winged Angel: Masami Eiri enters the physical world as some sort of blob of flesh.
  • Open the Iris: Quite a bit of the Reaction Shots.
  • Oracular Urchin: Lain is an extreme variation on this type.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Lain starts as an ordinary middle school student, grounding the series. She proceeds to become somewhat less ordinary.
  • Otaku: In one episode, a fat, unshaven computer nerd is seen hacking away pathetically. Though not so pathetically, because he is one of the Knights.
  • Paranoid Thriller: Easily the most famous example of this genre in anime. The show has its protagonist uncover a transhumanist conspiracy using the internet, all while leaving it ambiguous as to how much of the plot is her schizophrenic delusions.
  • Parental Abandonment: Lain's parents turn out to be adoptive, because Lain is an Artificial Human.
  • Parking Garage: Where The Men in Black meet their ultimate fate.
  • Perma-Stubble: The Men in Black; it makes them look dangerous and makes it obvious that something is very, very wrong.
  • Phone Call from the Dead: The anime does this with e-mail in the very first episode, kicking off the whole plot of the series.
  • Physical God:
    • Lain is effectively a god that physically exists.
    • A more straight example would be Eiri, who committed suicide to become a god.
  • Power Echoes/Power Floats: Masami Eiri.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The appropriately named KiDS experiment, the project of a scientist who tried to tap the psychic energy of hundreds of children, apparently draining them and leaving them in a deep coma. There seemed to be a some sort of explosion caused by an overflow of psychic energy, dissolving the children's bodies, trapping them forever in the Wired. The scientist comments how no matter what he does, bringing them back to real world is impossible.
  • Practical Voice-Over: In the initial episodes, people on The Wired can be heard talking to each other about current events that affect the story and give us insight into the world outside of Lain. It even provides some Foreshadowing! That said, there are also a lot of Non Sequiturs (as is the case with the real-life Internet), so this is something of a Subversion.
  • Ransacked Room: Lain's house after her parents leave.
  • Reality Warper: Lain, in cyberspace.
    • Thanks to Eiri's Protocol Seven, the Knights are able to hack reality itself.
  • Reaction Shot: Often one after another.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Lain delivers one to Eiri/God himself in Layer 12. He... doesn't take it well.
    Lain: What you did was to remove all the peripheral devices that interact with the Wired. Phones, television, the network...but without those, you couldn't have accomplished anything.
    Eiri/God: Yes, Lain, those are things which accompanied human evolution, but they are not an end in themselves. Understand that humans, who are further evolved than other forms of life have a right to greater abilities.
    Lain: But wait a minute, who gave you those rights? The program that inserted code, synced to the Earth's characteristic frequency, into the corresponding Protocol 7 code ultimately raised the collective unconscious to the conscious level. So tell me, did you honestly come up with these ideas all by yourself?
    Eiri/God: What is it you're getting at? No! It can't be! Are you telling me there's been a God all along?
    Lain: It doesn't really matter, does it, without a body you'll never be able to truly understand.
    Eiri/God: It's a lie! A lie! I'm omnipotent, you hear me?! I'm the one who gave you a body here in the Real World, and this is the thanks I get?! You were scattered all over the Wired! I gave you...AN EGO!
    Lain: So if that's true about me, what about you?
    Eiri/God: I'm different! How DARE you?! I'm DIFFERENT! [screams in incoherent rage]
  • Recap Episode: Sort of: Layer 11 features images from previous episodes during the first 15 minutes.
  • Reset Button Ending: Features a rare variation which gives the series a sense of closure: the fact that it wasn't a complete reset definitely helps.
  • Ret-Gone: The series ends with Lain doing this to herself. Mostly.
  • Reveal Shot: There are several shots where Lain or her friends have a Reaction Shot followed by a Reveal Shot — the camera moves out to show the horror they just saw.
  • Roswell That Ends Well: There is a discussion on the Roswell incident and conspiracy theories, and implies that the Wired might have been created using alien technology. Whether that's true, and how relevant it is to the story, is left entirely open.
  • Salaryman: Lain's father, who is kinder to her than her mother but still rather distant.
  • Say My Name: Lain and Alice do this a lot, especially in Layer 12 and 13.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Lain's dad has them frequently.
  • School Uniforms Are the New Black: Lain and her classmates can be seen wearing their uniform hours after school has ended, even after she's gotten home from school.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Hey look, it's Vannevar Bush and the Memex featured in an anime!
    • The references to Douglas Rushkoff, John C. Lilly, Ted Nelson, and the Roswell conspiracy theories also fit with the plot very well.
    • "Infornography" (Layer 11) is packed solid with this trope.
    • The series may be the only anime ever to reference Marcel Proust, with the madeleines that Lain's father offers her (a type of biscuit).
    • Sigmund Freud: Is Lain the only show to get the term "Ego" correct? This also fits closely with the notion of "Ego" according to Descartes, especially when you consider that you are remembered, therefore, you are. à la "Cogito ergo sum".
  • Silence Is Golden: The series often has long scenes without dialogue, including montages of Lain walking around the city or in her room. The minimalist soundtrack fits as well.
  • The Singularity: A major theme of the show, though the phrase "technological singularity" is never used explicitly in the dialogue. The show revolves around the relationship between humans and technology, and the ontological problems presented by Brain Uploading and the information overload in a world that relies on the The Internet. It depicts the possible result of a world in which the lines between the organic and the mechanical become so blurred that it becomes impossible to tell the difference.
  • Sky Face: This happens in Layer 06. Lain's face appears in the sky and freaks everyone out.
  • Something Completely Different: Layers 05, 09 and 11 respectively.
    • Layer 05 centers mostly around Mika and her Mind Rape by the Knights, with passages in which Lain engages in esoteric philosophical conversations with a Creepy Doll, her Mom and her Dad respectively.
    • Layer 09 contains a lot of Info Dump about the history and development of the Internet and the World Wide Web mixed in with scenes involving Lain trying to understand who - or what - exactly she is, which all leads up to The Reveal that the "God" Lain has been conversing with in the Wired is Masami Eiri - and he's decided to pay her a visit.
    • Layer 11 is a Recap Episode / Breather Episode. At least for the first half.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Midway through Layer 13, an upbeat pop song starts playing as life in Lain's town starts going back to normal because she erases everyone's memories of her.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is it Arisu, or is it Alice? It's intended to be Alice: You can see her name written clearly when Lain receives e-mail from her and other scenes. It's also been confirmed by Word of God to be an Alice Allusion. However, Pioneer used "Arisu" in their subtitles, hence the confusion. The production notes booklet included with the new BD/DVD set also gives her name as "Arisu".
  • Split Personality: Subverted by later making them split unpersonalities.
  • Starts with a Suicide: The series kicks off when middle schooler Chisa Yomoda jumps off a building. It then follows up with the girl's Internet conversation: "How does it feel to die?" "It really hurts :-)"
  • Stalker with a Crush: Arguably one of the most depressing example in media. As much as Karl means Lain no harm and in one case he is particularly interested in her safety (which may explain at least in part his earlier stalking), his subsequent declaration of love to her still comes out as absolutely cold and contorted, and the fact that he won't even wait for or expect a response from Lain suggest that he is perfectly aware of that. Worse part, he will die shortly after.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Lain's neighbourhood, which is glaringly bright and white everywhere.
  • Stock Footage: Closeups of telephone lines and stylized shots of city traffic at night. One repeated bit of footage is rather poignant: Lain walking under telephone lines casting creepy shadows: in the last episode the same footage is shown without Lain after she erases herself from existence.
  • Stock Shoujo Bullying Tactics: Lain's desk goes missing and everyone, including the teacher, starts acting as if she doesn't exist right when she's questioning her own existence.
  • Subways Suck: The train Lain takes to school.
  • Surprisingly Good English: The theme song is sung in English by British band Bôa. Each episode has an English name and English is used extensively throughout the series, from school to the Wired interface.
  • Surreal Horror: This anime makes the idea of going on the internet an H. R. Giger nightmare, physically representing it as another layer of reality. Unlike other shows which would display a friendly, clean cyberworld, this one portrays it as disorienting and bizarre. Add in hallucinations and the blending of the real world and the Wired and several scenes get quite intensely strange. Even the more mundane stuff has a surprisingly unsettling atmosphere.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Lain does this to Eiri.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Or so it would seem in the first episode when Lain has a conversation with Chisa's e-mail. Justified in hindsight: Lain really was conversing with her e-mail.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: A reciprocal one.
  • The Team Wannabe: The Knights fanboy who wanders around the streets wearing a virtual reality headset and begging them to let him join their group.
  • Technology Porn: Depending on who you ask, this is slightly more literal than in most cases.
  • Terrible Artist: Lain's doodles in her notebook are often just spirals and other random shapes.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Who are the sinister, reality-hacking powerful Knights of the Eastern Calculus, you ask? An executive, a fat nerd and a housewife who plays videogames with her son.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The series can be interpreted this way; a number of Lain's experiences resemble symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, including visual and auditory hallucinations, loss of perception of time, paranoid delusions, and inappropriate emotional reactions. In fact, one of the symptoms of schizophrenia is the delusional belief that everything is connected and is somehow directly relevant to the believer, no matter how innocuous or unimportant. One might call it an inability to tell signal from noise...
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Lain herself.
  • Transhuman: Lain, certainly; Eiri, almost; perhaps the whole city or more, if you take the view that the post-reset world is a Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Trash of the Titans/Trash the Set: Lain's house gains a worrying amount of mess and a nasty brown fog near the end of the series.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Taro, Myu Myu and Masayuki hang out at the Cyberia, a cyberpunk nightclub mostly attended by people twice their age who goes in cyber-drugs and party hard all the time.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Despite the opening narration claiming that it takes place in the "Present Day!", the series is said to take place around 1999 and was aired in 1998. The Wired and its associated hardware are alien imports into a pretty ordinary Japanese city that happens to have self-driving cars.
  • Uncanny Valley Girl: Lain of course, seeing as she is very pretty, quiet, and seemingly normal at first, except she's not a normal girl. This is played with in earlier episodes by deliberately using Off-Model animation techniques so that she appears out of place with her surroundings.
    • The Uncanny Valley is used to full effect in Layer 08, where we see a glimpse of the Wired where each user has her face... on their own bodies. She freaks out and knocks the head off of one, but that just makes it even creepier.
  • Un-person: Lain does this to herself.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The "Present day, Present time!" dateline that opens each episode, close-but-not-exactly-true, which oddly enough sets the tone quite well.
  • The Unsmile: Lain pulls one at the end of Layer 11.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Alternates with Obfuscated Interface so often that it alone can drive the viewer to confusion.
    • Sometimes this includes real, actually cool-for-the-nineties interfaces. Layer 01, for example, shows Lain's dad's computer running NeXTSTEP, the ancestor of Mac OS X and Apple iOS. This is more or less what it looks like.
  • Villainous Breakdown: God/Masami Eiri has one, complete with This Cannot Be!, when Lain decides to stand up to him.
  • Virtual Ghost: Chisa, Eiri and others. Maybe even Lain herself in the end, depending on how far she took the "erasing herself from existence" thing.
  • The Voice: People on The Wired start out as this but over time become The Unintelligible as Lain becomes more and more "connected" to The Wired and thus able to "understand" posts on The Wired on a level the viewer can't. Or something like that.
  • The Walrus Was Paul: The series was intentionally designed to be interpreted in a variety of ways. In fact, one of the producers has said he intended it to be interpreted differently by Japanese and American audiences. (This didn't exactly happen).
  • Weirdness Magnet: Lain and her house.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Chisa is practically forgotten after the first few episodes, only getting a basically inconsequential mention in Layer 10, though she is shown to be alive in the rebooted post-Lain world.
    • The fate of Mika and Lain's fake parents is not revealed, although after Lain hits the Reset Button, we see a scene where all three of them formed an actual family, at Lain's behest one would imagine.
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Lain's computer setup. It's made vaguely plausible in that her father seems to work as a computer engineer of some sort, but by Layer 4 she has entire racks of servers and several monitors in her bedroom.
  • Whip Pan: Used when Lain is conversing with her "friends", to show that even though she and her friends are separated only by a few feet, the emotional distance is unfathomable. Alice is even seen walking from the friends frame to the Lain frame a few times in Layer 02, to show that she honestly cares.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Probably one of the most true to form examples, to the point where you can resurrect people or erase people them from existence simple by manipulating people's collective memories. In scientific or practical terms it's not clearly explained how the barrier between the wired and the physical world can become blurred in very real terms (though there is some reference to humans having a sort of latent sensitivity to electromagnetic frequencies), but the audience can infer that the story works on such a strongly idealistic world view that it just kind of can.

Let's all love Lain!