Serial Experiments Lain

TV (13 eps)
3.815 out of 5 from 21,093 votes
Rank #1,799

"I have only abandoned my body, I still live here" - are the words emailed to friends of Chisa, several days after her death by suicide. As Lain delves deeper into the world of the "Wired" (also known as the internet), the line between it and reality becomes more and more unclear. Close the world, open the nExt.

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StoryIf the purpose of Serial Experiments Lain is to get your mind whirling, it succeeds. If its purpose is to get you thinking, not so much. This anime is a hit-or-miss philosophical cesspool that could either captivate or disgust. It’s like swallowing a series of shots that burn your throat and make you either drunkenly euphoric or nauseous. At the time, Serial Experiments Lain was covering ground few had covered before, and people were hailing the work as the turn-of-the-21st-century version of 1984. Now, more than ten years later, one could look at Lain and call it even more relevant. As it ponders the consequences of over-stimulation and over-connectedness, we ourselves have to ponder if being connected is the only way to assert our identity. In this way the anime is worthy of praise. It uses an innovative, pertinent medium to ask an age-old question. Is it possible, though, for subject matter like this to come in such an unsavory form? The anime’s highly experimental and impressionistic style ends up blurring much of what it wants to say. In ingesting the Lain pill, the viewer becomes desensitized instead of enlightened, and eventually he gets lost and stops paying attention.  For all the effort it takes to watch the thing, it leaves one with a diaphanous general idea and little satisfaction. There have been arguments that Lain does this purposefully so that we can make our own conclusions, but the storytelling isn’t engrossing enough for us to even want to make our own conclusions. The anime burrows under a smothering blanket of metaphors, leading us on and then giving us a paltry return for how much we invested. We will follow the mystery as if by masochistic impulsion, stomach the nearly indigestible, and then emerge at the end with our mind whirling but not made any better.AnimationThe animation does its job. And it’s an important job. Rarely does one come across an anime whose central tenets are linked so closely to how they are drawn. The dark red splotches on the pavement hints at a shadowy world that lurks just beneath the real one; solid gray figures sit inertly at their desks and on the train, unable to connect to the world around them; connected power lines loom against a garish yellow sky, ready to entangle those who walk in their midst – they’re all symbols. It is a visual style so abstract it could be called meaningful, a style so distasteful it could be called artistic. A cruel beauty, if you will.SoundThe sound, or rather the lack of sound, suits the anime well, and eerie minimalist electronic music quietly adds to the unsettlement. Personally, I would have replaced the ill-fitting alternative-rock riffs for some Berg or Kurtag. Rock is just too down-to-earth for this business.CharactersLain is not a girl I would want to take up in my arms and cuddle. Her vacant expression and porcelain-glass eyes incite more unease than empathy. However, the identity crisis she undergoes in the latter half provides all that is needed for the story to jump-start. Lain’s efforts to fill her empty life with worth becomes mildly arresting, if not frustrating. As she continues to ask herself the same questions and uncovers no answers, her journey to self-discovery teeters between suspense and stagnancy. Things do come to a head at the end, but I have to wonder if it's worth the hours of waiting. Meanwhile, the other characters fit into Lain’s story a bit like incorrect puzzle pieces. Some of them, like Lain’s sister and father, are good ideas that lack the punch to make an impact. Others, like her friend Alice and the mysterious men who spy on Lain outside her house, appear again and again, meant to be manifestations of Lain's internal struggles but instead flickering out as uninspired motifs that the viewer would likely deem not important enough to figure out.OverallThe beginning of the last episode opens with Lain saying, “I’m confused again.” I agree. To me Serial Experiments Lain resembles those books one reads in high school English class that are supposed to be eye-opening but actually just sweep past the brain and go out the other ear. There is no denying that the anime is a groundbreaking and creative work, but it seems to have remained in anime history not so much for what it says as for what it represents. While the ideas are there, it has stumbled a little over its convoluted wording.


There are anime in this world that will make you tilt your head to the side so hard you get a crick in your neck for a week. Lain is probably one of the best examples of this genre. There will be times while watching Lain where you need to stop and try to wrap your mind around what just happened. And while other anime slowly build to this point, like Evangelion or Paranoia Agent, Lain goes straight into the realm of mindf*ck in early episodes. However, as an older anime, it does suffer a bit from limited tools, but I would say it holds up to its more contemporary counterparts.  Story: The plot of Lain is actually fairly straightforward for all of it's weirdness. The perplexity of the story is not in the complex plot, but rather the way the plot unfolds. Instead of immediately stating how the world of Lain works, especially the Wired, the plot unfolds each layer like taking apart an origami crane. Once the truth is revealed, layer by layer, the plot begins to make sense. It isn't necessarily an anime that will make you question existance, in a way The Matrix might. Lain is more of a story about the potential of computers, in much the same wavelength as Ghost in the Shell. But unlike other anime, it throws strange imagery, unreliable narration, and often odd behavior at the viewer to hide the plot.  Animation: Here's the main part that Lain falls short. It's not that the animation is bad, it's just that the tools for the time period mean a lot of the animation is saturated. Many scenes are too dark to make out detail, while others are light-bleached. The animation itself is rather fluid, though there are jerky movements from time to time (a lot of it intentional). There isn't a lot of detail to the faces, especially Lain's, and much of the scenery can be fairly bland. However, the complexity of the Navi systems seems to be what took up most of the animation budget.  Sound: For the most part, the sound is great. The opening song is so 90s that it's nostalgic to my generation, even if its the first time hearing it. The voices are excellent, and the sound studio mixes a reverb or metallic sound whenever a voice is over the Wired, which I found interesting.  Characters: Here's the problem with the characters; there are a lot of them introduced, but not many are given more than a token trait. For example, Lain's family is very distant, but beyond a trait like "loves the Navi system", they don't have much going for them. Lain's friends are a bit like stock characters, except Arisu, who actually has a personality and flaws. The Knights are shown, living their daily lives, but are not given much exposition beyond their role in the Wired as a group. And the main character, Lain, isn't a reliable source of information. She's very difficult to relate to because of who/what she is. Still, I liked Lain, for all of her weirdness and flaws.  Overall, I'd recommend the anime and not just because it's for a badge. Just be prepared to suspend disbelief completely.  This review brought to you by Secret Santa 2016. 


Lain is another one of those anime which aimed to be well-written and not well-told. Zegapain did the same a few years back but even that was a show about mechas with stuff blowing up. Lain doesn’t even have robots. Or battles. Or action. It otherwise has some of the deepest philosophical shitz you can ever imagine to encounter.The story is about the blend of reality with virtual reality and one will most likely rush to compare this to Ghost in the Shell. So yeah, it really is like GitS, although it uses a whole different theory of how man, machine and God can fuse into one mess of a concept. Plus, it lacks cyborgs, terrorists, robotic spiders and invisibility cloaks. On the other hand it has videogames…Most people who didn’t like this anime claim it boring because it has no superficial entertainment, like explosions, robots, naked women, and the like. True, this is a show where most of the plot centres on dialogues. Everything is told and very few are shown clearly. Most of the story is a blurry mystery than constantly keeps you in the dark with what is going one. And when the finale comes along, you might as well go WTF with all that. All that makes it completely understood why this is not a show for everybody.Another notion is of course that just because it lacks said superficial entertainment, it becomes a show that focuses on what it is all about: A concept with no extra pointless elements. You can focus on getting to understand the various issues in the story instead of expecting the next battle to appear. And yes, there are a lot of things going on in this anime that can make you think and feel funny. Provided you don’t fall asleep that it. If you manage to get over that snag then yes, you will experience a complicating and deep story unlike most others. Later anime tried to do that too, like Boogiepop Phantom and .hack//SIGN, but with less success because they were not opticoacoustically inferior in atmosphere. So even after all these years it still is great and unsurpassed at what it’s all about. And what exactly is it all about? It’s about a girl who doesn’t like computers getting gradually more and more hooked in them and eventually gets involved in a conspiracy that may change the world forever. It blends all sorts of religious and philosophical notions, set in a modern society where people access the net as means to be entertained and informed, as well as looking for a way out of their miserable little lives. It sounds a bit corny but the execution delivers to the most part and the ending is solid, albeit far-fetched. I myself admit it has great concepts yet tends to feel slow and uneventful at points. It otherwise is a great piece of hard sci-fi, with good production values and a very interesting main heroine.But only ONE heroine. All the rest seem to be there just to advance the story and don’t even seem to be important in the longrun. So another thing about this anime is how it focuses almost entirely on one character alone that doesn’t seem or act that special in the first place. One would easily consider this quite boring and forgettable but on the other hand this autistic approach is in a way a method to again identify easier with what is going on. The heroine is somewhat blunt in personality so you can easily empathise with her story and there are no others working as distractions. This is not a show that plays with shipping and favourite character polls; it always was about ONE character experiencing EVERYTHING. So once again it is very good to see how it all plays out so well if you get to feel the vibe of the show. And I like it for that. Down to it, this show is a lone journey of self-acknowledgment. You can even view it as a road movie without any roads. All the travelling happens in computers and dreams, videogames and illusions. All progress comes through meaningful dialogues and subtle character interaction. It achieves a lot without actually doing anything and makes you see a weird world without even leaving the room the girl lives in. That is something worthy of praise unlike most of everything else. If you fancy the idea, don’t miss the chance to check out the first Tetsuo live action film as well. It also manages to create a similar effect; much more brutal and far less complicating but otherwise solid and memorable.And now for some excused scorings. ART SECTION: 8/10 General Artwork 2/2 (well-done) Character Figures 1/2 (generic) Backgrounds 2/2 (spooky) Animation 1/2 (basic) Visual Effects 2/2 (spooky) SOUND SECTION: 10/10 Voice Acting 3/3 (mature) Music Themes 4/4 (lovely) Sound Effects 3/3 (spooky) STORY SECTION: 7/10 Premise 2/2 (interesting) Pacing 1/2 (erratic) Complexity 2/2 (rich context) Plausibility 1/2 (so-so) Conclusion 1/2 (solid but bizarre) CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10 Presence 1/2 (generic) Personality 2/2 (well founded) Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there) Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there) Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there) VALUE SECTION: 9/10 Historical Value 3/3 (all-known) Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you dig the atmosphere) Memorability 4/4 (weird to the point of forever remembering it) ENJOYMENT SECTION: 8/10 A bit boring and very confusing but otherwise a great show. VERDICT: 8/10

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