Serial Experiments Lain (anime)
Serial Experiments Lain is an anime series directed by Ryuutarou Nakamura, original character design by Yoshitoshi ABe, screenplay written by Chiaki J. Konaka, and produced by Yasuyuki Ueda (credited as production 2nd) for Triangle Staff. It was broadcast on TV Tokyo from July to September 1998 and has 13 episodes. A PlayStation game with the same title was released in November 1998 by Pioneer LDC.
Lain is influenced by philosophical subjects such as reality, identity, and communication. The series focuses on Iwakura Lain, an adolescent girl living in suburban Japan, and her introduction to the Wired, a global communications network similar to the Internet. Lain lives with her middle class family, which consists of her inexpressive older sister Iwakura Mika, her cold mother Iwakura Miho, and her computer-obsessed father Iwakura Yasuo. The first ripple on the pond of Lain's lonely life appears when she learns that girls from her school have received an e-mail from Chisa Yomoda, a schoolmate who committed suicide. When Lain receives the message at home, Chisa tells her (in real time) that she is not dead, but has just "abandoned the flesh", and has found God in the Wired. From then on, Lain is bound to a quest which will take her ever deeper into both the network and her own thoughts.
The anime series is licensed in North America by Funimation since 2010. Before that, it was licensed bye Geneon(previously Pioneer Entertainment) who released the series on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD, as well as a restored BluRay edition. It was also released in Singapore by Odex. The video game, which shares only the themes and protagonist with the series, was never released outside Japan.
A remastered Blu-ray box set was released in Japan in 2009, and the US in 2012. It features the show redigitized to a 4:3 1080p format, with many CG sequences (such as the PRESENT DAY PRESENT TIME opening) re-rendered in higher quality.
The series shows influences from topics such as philosophy, computer history, cyberpunk literature and conspiracy theory, and it was made the subject of several academic articles. English language anime reviewers found it to be weird and unusual, with generally positive reviews. Producer Ueda said he intended Japanese and American audiences to form conflicting views on the series, but was disappointed in this regard, as the impressions turned out to be similar.
Serial Experiments Lain deals directly with the definition of reality, which makes its complex plot difficult to summarize. The story is primarily based on the assumption that everything flows from human thought, memory, and consciousness. Therefore, events on screen can be considered hallucinations of Lain, of other protagonists, or of Lain fabricating the hallucinations of others. Story misdirection is central to the plotline; even the offscreen voices or narrations' information cannot be considered truthful. The series consists of a cross-reflection of philosophical themes instead of the traditional linear events depiction: episodes are called "layers".
Serial Experiments Lain describes "the Wired" as the sum of human communication networks, created with the telegraph and telephone services, and expanded with the Internet and subsequent networks. The anime assumes that the Wired could be linked to a system that enables unconscious communication between people and machines without physical interface. The storyline introduces such a system with the Schumann resonance, a property of the Earth's magnetic field that theoretically allows for unhindered long distance communications. If such a link was created, the network would become equivalent to Reality as the general consensus of all perceptions and knowledge. The thin line between what is real and what is possible would then begin to blur.
Masami Eiri is introduced as the project director on Protocol 7 (the next generation internet protocol in the series' timeframe) for major computer company Tachibana Labs. He has secretly included code of his own creation to give himself control of the Wired through the wireless system described above. He then "uploaded” his consciousness into the Wired and died in real life a few days after. These details are unveiled around the middle of the series, but this is the point where the story of Serial Experiments Lain begins.
Masami later explains that Lain is the artifact by which the wall between the virtual and material worlds is to fall, and that he needs her to get to the Wired and "abandon the flesh", as he did, to achieve his plan. The series sees him trying to convince her through interventions, using the promise of unconditional love, charm, fate, and, when all else fails, threats and force.
In the meantime, the anime follows a complex game of hide-and-seek between the "Knights of the Eastern Calculus", hackers who Masami claims are "believers that enable him to be a god in the Wired", and Tachibana Labs, who try to regain control of Protocol 7.
In the end, the viewer sees Lain realizing, after much introspection, that she has absolute power over everyone's mind and over reality itself. Her dialogue with different versions of herself show how she feels shunned from the material world, and how she is afraid to live in the Wired, where she has the possibilities and responsibilities of a goddess. The last scenes feature her erasing everything connected to herself from everyone’s memories. She is last seen unchanged - re-encountering her old friend Alice, who is now married. Lain promises herself to look after Alice.
Serial Experiments Lain was conceived, as a series, to be original to the point of it being considered "an enormous risk" by its producer Yasuyuki Ueda. He explained he created Lain with a set of values he took as distinctly Japanese; he hoped Americans would not understand the series as the Japanese would. This would lead to a "war of ideas" over the meaning of the anime, hopefully culminating in new communication between the two cultures. Later, when he discovered that the American audience held the same views on the series as the Japanese, he was disappointed.
The Lain franchise was originally conceived to connect across forms of media (anime, video games, manga). Producer Yasuyuki Ueda said in an interview, "the approach I took for this project was to communicate the essence of the work by the total sum of many media products". The scenario for the video game was written first, and the video game was produced at the same time as the anime series, though the series was released first. A dōjinshi titled "The Nightmare of Fabrication" was produced by Yoshitoshi ABe and released in Japanese in the artbook An Omnipresence in Wired. Ueda and Konaka declared in an interview that the idea of a multimedia project was not unusual in Japan, as opposed to the contents of Lain, and the way they are exposed.
In 2009, Yoshitoshi ABe announced a spiritual sequel to Serial Experiments Lain called Despera who will reunited many of the staff who worked on Serial Experiments Lain, including Chiaki J Konaka and Ryūtarō Nakamura.
Words like "weird" or "bizarre" are almost systematically associated to review the series by English Language reviews due mostly to the freedoms taken with the animation and its unusual science fiction, philosophical and psychological context. Despite the show judged atypical, the critics responded positively to the thematic and stylistic characteristics. It was praised by the Jepan Media Arts Festival, in 1998, for "its willingness to question the meaning of contemporary life" and the "extraordinarily philosophical and deep questions".
In 2005, Newtype USA stated that the main attraction to the series is its keen view on "the interlocking problems of identity and technology". the author saluted Abe's "crisp, clean character design" and the "perfect soundtrack". It concluded saying that "Serial Experiments Lain might not yet be considered a true classic, but it's a fascinating evolutionary leap that helped change the future of anime."
In 2001, Lain was subject to commentary in the literary and academic worlds. The Asian Horror Encyclopedia calls it "an outstanding psycho-horror anime about the psychic and spiritual influence of the Internet" noticing the presence of horror lore (like ghost from train accident story) and horrific visuals.
The Anime Essentials anthology, Gilles Poitras describes it as a "complex and somehow existential" anime that "pushed the envelope" of anime diversity in the 1990s, alongside the much better known Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop.
In 2003, Professor Susan J. Napier, in her reading to the American Philosophical Society called The Problem of Existence in Japanese Animation. Napier asks whether there is something to which Lain should return, "between an empty real and a dark virtual".
In 2020, the review-aggregation website website Rotten Tomatoes, classified Serial Experiments Lain as one of the 25 anime TV series that have been essential to the medium over the last five decades. (source)
"Serial Experiments Lain helped usher in a new style of anime, of more digitally-produced shows with a glossy bloom and deeper, darker, complicated storylines. In the wake of Neon Genesis tearing up the typical anime playbook, Lain pursues a surreal, interior cyberpunk story about a withdrawn high school girl who receives an email from a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Questions of hyperreality, consciousness, and the everyday tangibility of cyberspace ensue. Lain is pretentious, symbolic, and absorbing – a prime example of a brave new world in anime."
Despite the general positive feedbacks, some negative critics stated the "lifeless" setting it had, how the last episodes failed to resolve the questions, and how the show relied so little on dialogue. (source)
- Japan Media Arts Festival 1998: Excellence Prize (source)
- Cyberia, a bar/disco frequented in the series is an allusion to the nonfiction novel by the same name by Douglas Rushkoff. The pun on "Siberia" is intentional. See also Gaia, the global brain in the same book.
- It was also the name of one of the earliest cybercafé franchises - which had a branch in Tokyo.
- Protocol 7 refers, probably, to the 7th Layer, the neurogenetic circuit, of the Eight Layers of Conciousness as proposed by Timothy Leary.
- And could also be a successor to the upcoming new internet protocol IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) (the current internet protocol is IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4)).
- NAVI, the trademark-turned-noun for computer in the series, is contracted from Knowledge Navigator, a term invented by Apple CEO John Sculley in his book Odyssey. It referred to a computer connected to a vast network where everyone was connected.
- Copland OS was an unreleased operating system by Apple Computers. See also System 7, its predecessor.
- Devices, in this context, refers to Marshal McLuhan's concept.
- Gaia, a global brain in Cyberia shares a common thread with the collective shared unconscious in Lain
- Earth Coincidence Control Office by John C. Lilly, a higher intelligence controlling the "coincidences" on Earth.
- Knights of the Eastern Calculus: The Knights of the Lambda Calculus are a semi-mythical, semi-serious, real-world group of hackers devoted to the use of the programming language Lisp.
- Tachibana Labs is a play on words on Apple Macintosh, (a type of Apple) itself being the name of a citrus fruit (the citrus tachibana)
- Layer ## at the beginning of each episode is said by Apple's Whisper voice in Mac OS text-to-speech software.
- Nezumi, the Knights-wannabe who carries a computer rig and accesses the Wired while he walks matches the description of a Gargoyle from Snow Crash, as do the MIB agents, who wear the same headgear (complete with laser sight) that Lagos was described as wearing.
- Close the World, Open the neXt. Compare NeXT and neXt. NeXT was the high-end computer company founded by Steve Jobs after his ouster from Apple. The Internet as we know it (that is, * the hypertext-based World Wide Web) was invented by Tim Berners-Lee on a NeXTSTEP computer.
- to Be continued, where Be uses the same colouring as Be OS used.
- hello (again), the text from an Apple advertisement, is used in an omake.
- What is Artificial Life? from ALIFE VI is quoted in text-form at several places.
- While it's debatable, Lain can be seen as an Expy of Rei Ayanami. This has been denied by writer Chiaki J. Konaka, who hadn't seen Neon Genesis Evangelion until after he'd written * * the fourth episode. This is not relieving.