Serial Experiments Lain

This here is one fantastic series that never lets up, and is widely enjoyed, but is hard to write about. Serial Experiments Lain, a series revolving around information technology from 1998, 23 years ago, remains so attuned to contemporary life its age is hard to find credible. It has become a part of online niches, to the extent that “lain” is the sample user ID on fediverse sites, but is less present in more entry-level culture. The plot is complex enough that on watching all 13 episodes, fans—like readers who’ve just finished the New Testament—have not just heartily disagreed about what exactly transpired, but can cite good reasons to prove each his own perspective. There are, however, a few facts on the screen that we can be certain of, all of which add up to one highly appealing show. In my interpretation of Serial Experiments Lain, following a break in the text below, I’ve tried to lean on those as heavily as possible.

To start with, Lain Iwakura is one dedicated, model student, that much is clear. No matter how crazy daily existence gets, she keeps walking out the door, and taking the train to Ouka Private Girls’ Academy to study, as well as interact with friends. On her first ride over, we notice what a gorgeous anime this is. Lain herself is very plain, rarely gets excited, and is only slightly expressive, but her character design is unmatched. In scene after scene, the way the light falls on her simple, enigmatic face is unforgettable; viewers who like to screenshot appealing moments will run their albums into the hundreds easily. We also notice one of Lain‘s latent interests: power lines, omnipresently buzzing away, fascinate and captivate her. She is reticent and can be the odd one out in her social circle, but has no difficulty when it is time for a conversation.

After that aestheticalky pleasing ride on public transportation, Lain finds the school in an uproar: students have been getting emails from Yomoda Chisa, a student who committed suicide, jumping from a building a week before. Lain doesn’t know if she’s gotten one, too, as she hasn’t booted up her old NAVI (computer) in ages. When she gets home, she dons cute bear pajamas, and checks. She starts conversing with Chisa, who explains,

”I have only abandoned the flesh. This way, I can tell you I am still alive. By sending you this mail I can show you the way. Do you understand? No need to understand now. Soon you will understand it. Everyone will.”

Chisa continues to exist on the Wired (the Internet). Lain presses on why she killed herself, and gets the answer,

”Because here, God exists.”

This is a puzzling beginning to get our mental gears running! While it’s only going to get more, and more, unclear from here, this is a concrete way to introduce some of Serial Experiments Lain’s themes: Did humans invent God? Are science and technology the way to immortality? Does life in the flesh pale before a new kind of existence to come? Lain is a questing, persistent girl, and promptly asks her father Yasuo (who happens to work for software developer Tachibana Laboratories) for a hardware upgrade, and gets it, but is not content with her new rig for long, and soon starts building a more powerful machine herself. One of the standing mysteries to the series is where she gets the increasingly advanced computer parts; while at first a fan is enough to provide cooling, after a few episodes she has a supercomputer circulating liquid carbon.

What is, and is not real quickly comes into question, as Lain’s friends remember seeing her somewhere she never went before, the nightclub Cyberia (a true dive, a seedy place where there’s even a bit of a “new drug on the street” plot going on). The suspense in Serial Experiments Lain gets to be a lot like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (Higurashi: When They Cry) in terms of suspense, as Lain and the viewers try to sort through discrepancies, but even as we learn new details, it becomes hard to definitively say what happened. That should not distract you from the anime’s strengths, however. Lain herself, demure yet alluring like a Balthus girl, quickly becomes an influential person on the Wired, searching out rumors in chats on gaming and porn sites. She comes to resemble, years before the fact, the “Queen of /pol/” “ecelebs” who gain acclaim and acceptance as females operating in largely male corners of the web—and as such, I think a lot of people today find it easy to identify with Lain, as a relative few could have in 1998. But as mentioned above, Lain isn’t a recluse. She shines in her friendship with Arisu (Alice), the closest friend in her circle, and another strongly appealing girl, and the concern they share for one another as the drama escalates, warps, and crests, is really touching.