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Anime / Serial Experiments Lain

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"No matter where you are, everyone is connected."

"It seems that there is a rumor in school that this is a prank. But I want you to know it's not."

This line is from an email sent to multiple students from Chisa Yomoda, a high school girl that recently committed suicide. "Chisa" says that she isn't truly dead, she just transferred her consciousness to the Wired, a virtual world mainly used for communication.

Fourteen-year-old Lain Iwakura isn't interested in the Wired or anything to do with computers. A quiet introvert, she has to practically be forced into social activities by her best friend, Alice Mizuki. It isn't until she's urged to check her email by Alice and the rest of her kind-of friends that Lain sees the mysterious message. Not only does "Chisa" claim to still be alive, she also says that God exists and that He lives in the Wired.

Her curiosity piqued, Lain has her tech-obsessed father buy her a new NAVI system. While Lain's mother and sister are both indifferent to her, her father is eager to help her out. He urges her to log onto the Wired, a sentiment underscored when "Chisa" leaves a similar message on Lain's classroom's blackboard. When she finally does enter the Wired to start searching for answers, everything Lain knows about herself, her family, the Wired, the world, and even God Himself will be upended by one undeniable truth: nothing and no one are what they seem.

Serial Experiments Lain is an anime original created by Yasuyuki Ueda and written by Chiaki J. Konaka. The characters were designed by Yoshitoshi ABe, and the animation was made by Triangle Staff with direction given by Ryutaro Nakamura. All 13 episodes of the series aired on TV Tokyo from July 1998 to September of that same year. The English release was originally handled by Geneon in 1999. When that company shut down, the series was left in limbo until Funimation rescued and re-released it in 2012.

Part cyberpunk, part psychological-horror, the series is famous within the anime community for its unconventional storytelling, surreal visuals, and stellar sound design. While there is a plot, any progression thereof is usually implied to be happening in the background, whereas the concepts the creators are exploring remain front and center. A lot of questions the series brings up as to its characters and setting is left up to the viewer, so expect plenty uses of "left up to interpretation" and variations thereof in the examples listed below.

A video game for the PlayStation was developed concurrently alongside the anime, and was released shortly after the the anime's conclusion. It takes place in a different continuity while still sharing several themes, but mostly contains its own plot and characters. Tropes specific to the video game should go on its dedicated page.

This series provides examples of:

  • Adjective Noun Fred: The title of the series is formatted as "adjective noun name". The name used is the main character's, but what the "serial experiments" are is never directly addressed (at least not within the show itself).
  • Aerith and Bob: Lain, Alice, and Julie's names stick out in a cast full of otherwise normal Japanese names. There's also Karl, but he's implied to be German.
  • A God Am I: Masami Eiri believes himself to be God, having transcended his physical body and become one with the Wired (and, by extension, reality).
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: If one chooses to interpret Lain as an AI. She was created to merge reality into the Wired, but turns on "God" instead and chooses to erase herself rather than assimilate humanity into the Wired.
  • Alice Allusion: Lain's best friend, Alice, is named after Lewis Carroll's Alice.
    "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: There are several times where Lain stands in one place while those around her go about their day, completely ignoring her.
  • all lowercase letters: the series' title is stylized like this.
  • The Alternet: The Wired is something like a giant chatroom or MMORPG where you can "see" other people. It's visually represented as a mass of swirling images and holograms or as a physical space that strange beings inhabit.
  • Animal Motifs: Lain often wears a bear pajama onesie.
  • Anime Theme Song: The song used for the anime's opening is "Duvet" by Bôa, notable for its forlorn lyrics and mellow, or even melancholic, atmosphere.
  • Artificial Human: Lain is some kind of artificial being that just so happens to look and (mostly) act human. Exactly what kind of artificial being she is is never made clear.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Lain disappears from Earth after deleting herself from everybody's memories.
  • 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. The montage also links back to the opening narration before the theme song since the location and aspects of it are set in a relatively recognizable modern-day city.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: The God-like vision of Lain in the clouds is naked and smooth all over.
  • Big Bad: The self-proclaimed God of the Wired is trying to merge all of humanity's consciousness with the Wired and rule above them as a God. To this end, he created an artificial being that bridges the gap between reality and the Wired, and tries to urge said being to do his bidding.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Eiri is defeated, but Lain decides to reset the human world anyway by erasing her own presence. This means everything bad that happened thanks to Lain's existence and actions will be erased, but so will Alice's memories of Lain. Alice grows up to live a happy and peaceful life, as do most of the other characters, while Lain herself decides to be the barrier keeper between reality and the Wired.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: The incident in the club ends when the drugged up gunman shoots himself, with Lain getting splattered by some of his blood.
  • Body Horror: The God of the Wired's attempt to physically manifest is very grotesque; he's a mass of flesh, eyes, and a mouth. He grasps hold Lain and Alice with a fleshy tentacle-arm-thing, all while screaming and ranting in rage. Alice's reaction to this sight- mainly screaming bloody murder- is quite apt.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Lain keeps her hair short, the only exception being a chin-length clump of hair on the left side of her face.
  • Brain Uploading:
    • Chisa implies that part of her motivation for committing suicide was so she could live within the Wired without having to think about a physical body.
    • As part of his plan to hook humanity up to the Wired directly, Eiri had his consciousnesses uploaded to the Wired shortly before his got himself ran over by a train.
  • Brainy Brunette: Lain has dark brown hair and reveals herself to be a very fast learner when it comes to understanding how to use, build, and modify computers.
  • Bright Is Not Good: Lain's neighborhood, school and most other places she visits in the real world are frequently bathed in a bright white light. The effect is more creepy than reassuring.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Alice is caught pleasuring herself by an alternative version of Lain, one who is far more callous and cruel than the Lain Alice knows.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: One of Lain's alter-egos (frequently referred to as Evil Lain by fans) seems to wear a cruel, almost sadistic, grin at all times.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Myu-Myu gets very jealous when Taro gives Lain attention.
  • Clip Show: The first half of Layer 11 is essentially a recap 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.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Cyberia is a techno themed night club that's located at the bottom of an nondescript building.
  • Cowboys and Indians: The online shooter game PHANTOMa gets crossed with a bunch of kids playing tag in the real world.
  • Creepy Crows: In the opening, Lain is surrounded by a group of crows.
  • Cyberpunk Is Techno: The equation of "cyberpunk = techno music" is played with within the show's soundtrack: the opening and ending themes are rock while the general background music is dark electronica, and whenever a scene takes place in the cyber night club, Cyberia, techno plays.
  • A Darker Me: Lain has two alter-egos that are both far more assertive than she is in the real world, but one of them is downright unhinged. Nicknamed Evil Lain, this version of Lain is cruel, sadistic, and doesn't have any regard for life.
  • Death Glare: In Layer 03, Lain glares at Taro when he suggests she go on a date with him. He quickly tries to play it off as joke. It's notable for being the first time Lain shows something akin to an active emotional response.
  • Digital Avatar: Most people have an avatar that they use when they're in the Wired. It's a sign of Lain's power that her avatar is herself.
  • Digitized Hacker: The God of the Wired turns out to be a rather nutty scientist who worked out how to upload himself onto the Wired.
  • 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 changes the line said by one of The Men in Black to Lain from "...but I love you. Love is a strange emotion, isn't it?" to "...I can't help but feel pity for your fate. You are a very special young lady." This opens the question of how he could know about her fate when they're unwitting pawns who later die without understanding the situation.
  • Emotionless Girl: Lain is introverted to the point where she doesn't show any strong emotions, content to keep to herself. This becomes less the case after engaging with the Wired and developing alternate personalities: when Lain is possessed by her self from the Wired, she becomes more assertive, even snarky.
  • "End of the World" Special: At the end of the series, Lain decides to reset the world but without her existence.
  • Establishing Shot: The montage of traffic and phone lines that plays at the beginning of each episode establishes the city setting where Lain lives.
  • Everyone Owns a Mac: Anyone who's anyone within the world of Lain owns some form of tech from the Tachibana Corporation. (Tachibana itself is loosely based on Apple.)
  • Everything Is Online:
    • Lain 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), 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: One of Lain's alternate personalities is a malicious being who derives pleasure from causing other people misery.
  • 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 created a physical body for Lain to aid in this effort.
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: As Lain's computer gets overgrown, the visuals it emits become less and less comprehensible.
  • Eye Motifs: Most people grounded in reality in the anime have fairly large pupils in relation to their irises. Lain's massive irises compared to her tiny pupils suggests much of her psyche is submerged in the Wired.
  • Facial Markings: The God of the Wired is depicted with a vertical red stripe on each of his cheeks.
  • Fake Memories: Lain's memories of her family life were all created so she wouldn't question who the strangers living in her house are.
  • Fantastic Drug: Accela is a powerful nanomachine-powered stimulant that causes Bullet Time, heightened senses, and delusional thoughts. It also seems to physically link the user to the Wired, and become susceptible to its more esoteric phenomena.
  • Feeling Your Heartbeat: Alice puts her hand on Lain's cheek, then puts Lain's hand over her own heart to try and remind Lain of her own humanity after she is nearly consumed by the Wired.
  • Fictional Videogame: PHANTOMa is an In-Universe multiplayer video game that's assecible through the Wired.
  • Five Rounds Rapid: When confronted with the Creepy Child in PHANTOMa, the player shoots her several times with a Finger Gun, not realizing it will have tragic consequences in the real world.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode:
    • 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 and phantom versions of her mom and dad.
    • 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 she is exactly, 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 split in half between being a budget saving recap episode and revealing that Lain isn't actually human, just some software given a human form.
  • 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: Downplayed, since Lain has friends, but she 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Alice) 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.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Alice has a Precocious Crush on her teacher, which she deals with by masturbating in secret. Unfortunately for her Evil Lain catches her doing it and spreads it all over school, which causes Lain's friendship with Alice to break down.
  • Matrix Raining Code: Lain's computers do this at times.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: Lain Iwakura is a girl in middle school who still wears teddy bear pajamas. During the course of the series, she visits a night club where a man on a mind accelerating cyber drug shoots someone else and then himself, inadvertently causes her older sister to suffer a brutal Mind Rape that leaves her a blank slate, sees a young man playing a VR game mistake a young girl for a monster in his game and shoot her, and has her become involved with a couple of Men in Black who murder all the members of a rival faction. She catches a friend of hers masturbating while fantasizing about a teacher, and then witnesses the same friend have a complete breakdown when they're confronted with a self-styled "God of the Wired".
  • 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.
  • Obfuscated Interface: The interfaces found in the Wired, a virtual world, alternate between this trope and Viewer-Friendly Interface. It's very maddening to the viewer having suddenly not being able to track down the processes and codes, uselessly trying to decode them until your brain catches up.
  • 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 They then abandon her after their "role" in her life is over, though her father at least disobeys enough to say goodbye to her and tell her he loved her.
  • Parental Neglect: Lain's mother doesn't seem to care at all about her, ignoring her daughter's clear emotional distress after going through multiple traumatic events. This is because she's not her real mother.
  • 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.
  • 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 the first name of Lain's friend "Arisu" or "Alice"? It's intended to be Alice, as you can see her name written clearly when Lain receives emails from her. 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 a Blu-ray/DVD set also lists 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Alice, Lain, Reika, and Julie all frequent the Cyberia as well despite only being 14. The other Lain has apparently organized raves there.
    • Mika, a high schooler, is implied to be having sex with a man who's at least in college.
  • 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. This is 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!


Video Example(s):


Alice and Lain

Alice places Lain's hand on her heart to ground her after she nearly succumbs to the Wired.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / FeelingYourHeartbeat

Media sources: