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Serial Experiments Lain:|
Volumes 1 - 4
director: Ryutaro Nakamura
325 minutes (12) 1998
Pioneer DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by John Percival
When, Lain, a seriously introverted schoolgirl receives an email from a dead classmate,
she gains access to the Wired - a virtual world much like the Internet but where everyone
is connected in one way or another. Slowly she learns of another 'Lain' in the Wired
and as she discovers more about the virtual world, her life in the real world begins
to shatter. Dark groups and organisations are after her and as the line between the
real world and virtual world blurs, it becomes apparent that Lain is either reality's
saviour or destroyer.
Serial Experiments Lain is radically different from most anime
and this evident straight from the opening titles and the brilliant theme music (Duvet
by Boa, kind of Dido-ish). There are no giant fighting robots or mutants, instead there
is a slow paced, modern day tale that attempts to defy interpretation. Many elements in
the story will try to trick you. The voiceovers, which narrate certain parts of the story,
are not always telling the truth. Being confused and not understanding elements are as
important as the plot as they force the viewer to analyse and ask questions, plus Serial
Experiments Lain does not pretend to give you the answers, they are for you to decide.
To add to the enigma each of the 13 episodes are referred to as 'Layers'.
Be under no illusions that this series is very confusing but also it
is a compelling and intelligent story that demands to be watched. From the beginning with
the 'happy' suicide of schoolgirl Chisa leaping to her death (or just shedding her physical
form), the way bystanders react in distancing themselves from the suicide reflects how in
the real world people isolate themselves from events happening around them but simultaneously
the virtual world is a big community. Lain is ill at ease in the real world and as she assert
herself she finds she has certain powers but also the world she knew was a lie. Her parents
were impostors employed to maintain the illusion of a family for her. As she tries to uncover
who she is and what is real, she examines religion and society, the effects of technology
and her place in this.
Anime is not only one of the most stunning animation styles; it also
gives us a valuable insight into the busy, technology laden Japanese culture. The use of
still images re-occurring like a memory is brilliant. Plus the sound of vital electricity
and communication lines humming is both oppressive but also allows a pause for thought.
Lain herself is frustratingly shy to begin with; she can barely hold a conversation and
instead just stares with these huge brown eyes. During this time she can seen, when out
of school clothes, in a cute kiddy bear suit, barely able to use her Navi (computer). This
could be akin to adolescent isolation. But this all changes, suddenly interested in the
connected essence of the Wired through seeing its effect on a drugged manic at a club.
Lain builds a larger machine to track her 'other' self in the virtual world. As what she
knew as the real world dissolves she finds that she no longer needs the machine to be
connected to the Wired and her troubles are only just beginning. With two Lains, a possible
god and the ability to affect the lives of everyone connected to the Wired the results
The closest mainstream comparisons to a story such as this would be The
Matrix or eXistenZ,
but the psychedelic animation and unusual storytelling puts it into a different league.
Serial Experiments Lain questions reality, questions the effects of being connected
and simultaneously recognises the cold loneliness of isolation. Much more enigmatic than
pretentious, this series requires much more of the viewer than most anime and in return
gives the rewards of new insights, questions or ideas through watching the series again.
Trust me you will want to watch it again, because you will be thinking about it for weeks.
This is probably the most intelligent and beautifully presented anime I have ever seen, it
raises more questions than half the material on a university reading list, but because it
is animation it will not be touched pseudo-superior members of society and that is their
loss. Make sure you watch it with someone else, as you will need to discuss the themes, the
issues, the questions, the way it made you feel. This is much more than simply entertainment.
The series is available in four volumes, and DVD extras include game
trailers, music videos and odd little piece called The Weird.