Ah, the mindfuck genre – visual poetry, or acid trip? Philosophical ramblings, or mindless sludge? As it turns out, Serial Experiments Lain enthralled me – rarely have I resonated so well with the philosophy of any work of art. This anime was an incredible psychological journey: a rare experience.
Like the best poems, Lain has an interesting message – many, many interesting messages – yet truly excels in its method of delivery. Lain is excellent at mentally steering the viewer yet allowing for vast personal interpretation, an ingenious technique that evades both boring moments and the restriction of thought. It is never stated outright that the internet is reaching the size and complexity of the human mind and that a consciousness that connects humans may be forming within it; it is only suggested, and certainly never admitted. The viewer is never told what to think, only given some questions and allowed to glimpse a few possible vistas, which makes the mental climb all the more appealing. Perhaps this is the mistake that the typical mindfuck makes: expectancy. Assuming the viewer is ready to be spoon-fed their agenda, the anime launches into metaphorical dreamlands without ever securing the viewer’s attention in the first place. The intricately structured mood in Lain bypasses this pitfall with a sizable hook baited with all sorts of delicious treats. You will not only allow the spoon-feeding, but be begging for more. I sure was - and that little tidbit there is just the tip of the rabbit hole.
Only rarely were there disappointing moments that shook me from my trance, a few misplaced scenes that could have been smoothed over. The first episode in particular, while somewhat necessary to set the tone and introduce everything, was boring and had very little real content. Also, while the final episode was enjoyable, it could have been delivered without heart-wrenchingly demolishing the ambiance the body of the anime worked so hard to construct. These issues, while small in the face of greatness, firmly keep the story from reaching a ten.
The “cinematography” of this anime was of a superior quality. Nothing would be happening on screen but shifting camera angles, but my mind, straining to pick out the underlying order, was sucked in like dirt up a dust devil. And those simplistic shifting camera angles created some of the creepiest, most frightening moments I can remember from any anime I have watched. A good comparison to Lain the movie Signs with director M. Night Shyamalan. In similar fashion, Signs rarely has dramatic action sequences but relies on atmospheric tension and how the story is told, rather than the story itself, which serves merely as a vessel to communicate the underlying meaning.
The art quality was easily the weakest point, alternating from “ok” to “interesting”. There was nothing memorable that caught the eye - events were immersive because they are incredibly deep, creepy, or both. With the high amount of slow camera panning and face shots, the character animations in particular could have used much more detail. It seemed they weren’t really trying in this category, but the artistic level was sufficient enough to shuttle the series along without uncomfortable bumps. There is a great consistency throughout the show, and at the least, nothing cringe-worthy; not anything that had to do with the animation!
Voice acting was extremely convincing and notably good across the board. Although he had a smaller role, Lain’s father was my favorite voice. Ryusuke Obayashi is, incredibly, able to simultaneously project a fatherly love and an adult creepiness, adding to the atmosphere of any scene he was present in.
As far as other sounds go, Lain limited itself to background noise about 99% of the time. The mood was set through the dialogue and the onscreen events – but when the music finally came in, its sudden presence made it all the more shocking, and those few scenes were the best of the bunch. The opening theme was great, and I sat through it for the majority of the anime, but the closer was grating and unappealing. Another ear-offender includes the insert in the final episode, a happy little jingle that completely contradicts the ambiance of the other twelve episodes. Aside from those two gripes, the music was extremely appropriate, and I appreciated most of the quiet so I could ponder events in peace, rather than have some random artsy techno shoved into my ear canals, which would have instantly been a death knell. In short, the sounds were usually excellent, enhancing rather than annoying.
Lain is a lovable character. Struggling to figure out not only exactly what she is but what the motives of those around her are, the world seen from her point of view is frightening, disturbing, and captivating. All too often such inner conflicts come off as inane, but watching Lain made me feel as if I was in the trenches, fighting alongside her, attempting to understand; rarely have I felt so close to a fictional persona. The other characters are present mainly to support her and move her journey forward, and in this aspect they do a fantastic job. Most lack any background themselves, and while they accomplish their task they hardly deserve the title “character”. The shift of focus to these differing personalities serves well to provide a nice break from Lain as well as put the viewer a little further ahead in her mind than they were before.
The more important a character is to Lain, interestingly, is directly proportional to their screen time and how much they contribute to her final conclusions and her resulting choices. They are not thoroughly investigated, with the exception of Alice, and only because she is very important to Lain. Other people are almost events in dialogue form rather than real characters – a strange approach that works. It also keeps Lain away from becoming too ambitious and losing focus.
If you don’t feel like thinking, stay away from Serial Experiments Lain. If you don’t like an anime that “tries to be deep” then stay away. If you don’t want a philosophy lesson in your television entertainment, then by all means, stay very far away. However, if you approach with an open mind and a critical ear, this might creep up onto your top list of anime, and the fascinating things it has to say might just creep into your head.