Words to begin talking about the experience that I have had with Serial Experiments Lain, the brilliant miniseries from Ryutaro Nakamura are so difficult to come up with on the spot, other than simply stating the obvious, it was a beautiful experience that I surely am never to forget in a long while. Anime is a medium that I have only recently started to explore more, but not since Neon Genesis Evangelion have I ever experienced something that ever felt like Serial Experiments Lain – avant-garde expressionism at some of the most beautiful that any screen would be lucky enough to host. If more well known works like those of Studio Ghibli, or Akira and Ghost in the Shell are not enough to convince one of the beauty to be found in such a medium, I can only implore them to watch Serial Experiments Lain – something that is so out of the ordinary on many levels I don’t know where to start.
This thirteen-episode miniseries revolves around Lain Iwakura, an adolescent girl who lives in suburban Japan amidst a middle-class family, all of whom are so emotionally distanced from one another. At school, Lain is no different either, for she is an introverted and awkward person alienated from her own peers. However, she finds pleasure inside of The Wired, an interconnected virtual reality network that functions almost like the Internet for our own age, and over time she develops a peculiar obsession with it. From this point, Lain ends up getting caught up within a much bigger mystery at hand. But as the tiny details are scattered within every episode, it is not until one sees the cleverness of the narrative applied where Serial Experiments Lain‘s brilliance only arises all the more – for nothing out there was ever like it.
At the opening of every episode, a robotic voice reads, “Present day, present time” followed with a devilish laughter. Although Serial Experiments Lain had come out back in 1998, it was from that voice where I knew something deeper was at hand, in the sense that especially within our day and age, our lives have reached the point when we have become reliant on this interconnection for things that are as simple as communicating with one another. The manner in which The Wired works reflects perfectly upon what technology has become within our daily lives, for it is a virtual reality that contains the very basics of all forms of communication, whether you have television, telephone, or cyberspace among many other networks all coming together into one, and there’s a linkage it forms between people and machines without a need to physically interfere, right from the unconscious.
It is not from what Serial Experiments Lain can reflect upon inside of our world where the brilliance of such a miniseries stops, but clearly something bigger at hand is created when one observes the many thematics that form what it is about. Amidst Serial Experiments Lain‘s unconventional narrative for an anime series, we also have a more vast range of themes that go from theology, reality, identity and what forms the human soul. Yet all throughout, writer Chiaki J. Konaka keeps one of them so constant, communication, for he has stated it was his intention to “communicate human feelings” with such a project like this. All of it is visible from the many layers of Lain’s character arc, from how she moves out of the phase of being a misunderstood introvert to finding a sense of pleasure inside of The Wired – but as this world is not real, are her emotions set to play out the same?
For all the brilliance that runs through the five hours one is set to spend with Serial Experiments Lain, what’s most amazing about it is how it understands humanity at its core. But it all seems more complex, yet beautiful especially within how we observe the trials of Lain – for she suffers from dissociative identity disorder. There are many moments throughout in which Lain is conflicting through three different alter egos, which differ vastly when she is amidst the real and the virtual, much like how some people choose to create a separate personality for themselves when they work online, but a greater challenge comes in mixing the two. In the real world, she is childish and shy, then in The Wired, she is much bolder and more advanced. And finally, when we have an evil personality, one that wishes to harm herself and everyone around her. Yet the development amidst all of them has formed something so beautiful, as it shows how we are always uncertain of how we choose to identify ourselves as a human being.
There’s a whole lot more that I wish to uncover, but one must see Serial Experiments Lain in its entirety to find all of its beauty on the spot. For how bizarre all of Serial Experiments Lain can present itself out to be, there’s so much at the same time that is so beautiful especially within what it is exploring and how so much of it still fits in with our world today. Serial Experiments Lain showcases one of the highest points that animation could ever manage to achieve, and for all the most unusual aspects which it adopts adds more to why it all flows so perfectly. We are inside of a world where technological communication is mistaken for a sense of omnipresence within the lives of those whom we love most, but when Lain’s spirit has made everything clear, something so much more beautiful comes right out on the spot. Serial Experiments Lain is a philosophical experience that showcases some of the very most that animation can ever achieve, one that deserves to be sought out by many more. And as a fitting way to end, “Let us all love Lain.”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via FUNimation.
Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura
Screenplay by Chiaki J. Konaka
Produced by Yasuyuki Ueda, Shojiro Abe
Starring Kaori Shimizu, Sho Hayami, Ryusuke Obayashi, Rei Igarashi, Yoko Asada, Keito Takimoto, Shigeru Chiba, Takumi Yamazaki, Joji Nakata
Release Year: 1998
Running Time: 312 minutes