Serial Experiments Lain (Triangle Staff, 1999)


title card

Oh boy, I don’t even know where to start with this one. For the uninitiated, Serial Experiments Lain is an anime written by Chiaki J. Konaka, famous for his work on the Digimon Tamers series, specifically famous for making it darker than any prior Digimon series. Lain is actually where Chiaki was first recognized for his dark, psychological storylines and it shows: Lain is confusing, weird, and just kinda messed up overall. Steins;Gate move over, Lain has outdone you in the brainfuck factor.

lain bear

Lain Iwakura. Sadly she does not wear this adorable bear costume throughout the entire series.

At its core, Serial Experiments Lain focuses on the title character, Lain, and her struggle to comprehend who, or what, she is. The world of Serial Experiments Lain is all about the Wired. In a sense, the Wired is the Internet on steroids. It connects everything and everyone, just like today’s Internet, but it also has the ability to affect the real world, like change what people see, hear, or even remember. Lain was never really into computers or the Wired, until one day she gets an email from a girl who committed suicide. The emails pique Lain’s interest and the girl tells her that she killed herself because she no longer needed her body, she now exists inside the Wired. At first Lain is a shy, introverted girl with no friends, but as she dives deeper and deeper into the world of the Wired she develops new personalities and eventually discovers the truth about the Wired and herself.

The central character of Serial Experiments Lain is obviously Lain, but of course there are other important characters. Lain’s family are the first you meet, and while you don’t really get to know much about them Lain’s father, Yaso Iwakura, who is obsessed with computers and pushes Lain to explore the Wired. Mika Iwakura is Lain’s older sister, however they aren’t really all that close, however Mika is pretty much the only “normal” person out of the entire bunch. Too bad for some reason she goes crazy halfway through the series due to hallucinations. More on that later. Lain also has school friends, although the only really important one is Alice Mizuki, who is Lain’s best friend and is always trying to make her more social. Finally there is Masami Eiri, who appears halfway through the series and is apparently some sort of God of the Wired because he came up with the IP 7 protocol but isn’t a God. Or something. Still figuring out that one myself.

lain other half

Lain’s malicious other half. Look at that smirk.

So maybe you can tell that I’m still pretty confused about the plot of Lain despite spending a week trying to sort out what exactly I watched. The series starts out with Lain living her normal life, but after she receives an email from her dead classmate saying she no longer needs her body and exists purely in the Wired. This mail leads Lain to begin exploring the Wired, upgrading her PC first with her father’s help and then by herself. Somewhere along the way Lain develops a second personality that only exists in the Wired, a personality that is cruel and twisted. Somehow apt to today’s age of anonymity on the Internet. Anyway,this second Lain has the ability to affect the real world through the Wired, and she does real freaky stuff like broadcasting Lain in the sky, which somehow relates to a drug experiment, or going to the club in the real world.  All this stuff leads Lain to go deeper into the Wired in order to find and confront her other self to stop the Wired from invading the real world. Along the way she meets others who are both for and against the Wired merging with the world such as the Knights, the Men in Black (sadly not from the movie), and Masami Eiri.

lain alien

Oh hello there.

That’s the general overview of the plot. A lot of weird stuff happens along the way though. I almost always found myself saying “what the fuck?” at least once every episode. I think the first boggling moment I had was in episode 2 when shadows start walking out of the walls with no explanation or prompt. They just walk past Lain and then it just cuts immediately to a new scene. Another really weird part is when Lain’s older sister Mika starts hallucinating and eventually ends up going crazy because she meets…herself. Not sure what that is about. But the moment of craziness that takes the cake for me is when an alien just randomly appears in the show. Lain is sitting in her room exploring the Wired and her door starts to open, and suddenly there is an alien standing there. It felt really unsettling. The entire episode in which it appears is dedicated to explaining several different scientific theories regarding electromagnetics and communication systems. All in all there’s a lot of “out there” stuff that happens in Lain which probably all have a meaning, but the series is too vague on its symbolism, or even if it is symbolism. It’s nice that Serial Experiments Lain encourages you to think, but it could at least leave a hint here or there so as not to leave you completely lost.

Time for the music. Lain’s OP is “Duvet” sung by the the band Bôa. Unfortunately not the K-pop star BoA. What I will say though is that the song is beautiful, the female vocals are soothing with a great guitar jam going on in the background. It’s just a nice song to listen to when you’re relaxing, and I especially love the acoustic guitar solo in the middle of the song, you don’t really hear much acoustic in anime openings. This song is actually quite well known throughout the anime community, and I even heard it come on as I was shopping around in Nakano Broadway. The ending is more industrial, with a rough male voice singing the song and an electric guitar, I really feel like it embodies the isolation Lain feels throughout the series due to its slow pace. The soundtrack for Serial Experiments Lain is fantastic at setting the scene, Lain’s theme has a super strong bass-line at the start, but then abruptly switches to a softer tone, perhaps to showcase her two different personalities. “Different Dimension of Fog” is a disorienting and unsettling song that is really great for setting the mood for pretty much the entire series. It’s a song that produces nervousness and unease inside you, and is perfectly utilized throughout the show.

lain house

A mix of beautiful minimalism and interesting shadows.

Finally I’d like to give a shout-out to the art style of Serial Experiments Lain. In general the faces and people in Lain are very detailed, it’s a more realistic art style with great attention dedicated to conveying emotions through the face and definitely does not suffer from the common issue of “same face.” Lain also likes to put bright neon colors in a big mix, much like how one would imagine an acid trip looks like. Especially when it has to do with the Wired, you often see bright neon colors or even a 3-D red/blue effect applied on the scene, but perhaps with some green to get the feeling that you’re looking through something virtual, which is a really nice touch and adds to the immersion. Lain also likes to use watercolors, especially in the background art. However, at other times they decide to forgo background art and opt for complete minimalism instead. One of my favorite instances of this are the shadows in Lain, which are not simply black but also have a smattering of red in them, perhaps to remind us of the danger that lurks in the shadows.

Overall, Serial Experiments Lain is a fascinating animation into the concept of the human psyche and our need for communication. It explores the idea of how the Internet and the real world interact and affect one another. It’s amazing how an animation from 1999 could predict how heavily we would come to rely on the Internet every day and for virtually everything we do, from talking to friends to doing our jobs. Konaka shows us how the Internet and the real world are not two separate entities, they are one and the same and you cannot consider yourself living in only one or the other, or attempt to separate yourself between the two. Human beings are ultimately one entity and nothing will ever change that. Although there’s still a lot about Lain I don’t understand, I was able to walk away with that. I highly encourage everyone to give this series a watch, especially in our digital age as a reminder to how the Internet is so closely linked to our daily lives and the implications of such a close relationship. It’s also good if you want a really trippy show.