Spectrum Nexus

Anime Info

Creator: Ryutaro Nakamura, Chiaki Konaka
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Length: 13 Episodes
Official Site: View

Summary

+ Thoughtful and intelligent story
– Philosophy has been expressed better in other stories
– Some philosophy is so obtuse as to be meaningless
+/– Similar to other stories in the cyberpunk subgenre
+/– Loose ends at end of story
+/– The script is heavy on expository narration

Overview

Serial Experiments: Lain is one of the anime series which show that there is more to television anime than Pokemon and Inuyasha. The series' nearly flawless merger of animation and writing has created an intriguing and intelligent series. Unlike Hollywood science fiction series, Lain is not afraid to leave questions unanswered, raise more questions than it answers, and leave some elements deliberately ambiguous. Admittedly the story is reminiscent of other stories in the genre but it is presented in a unique fashion with effects that can not easily be achieved in live action.

Public Rating

Our Rating

Score of 4.5 out of 5
4.5 out of 5 · Highly Recommended

Serial Experiments: Lain Anime Series Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 10/27/2006

Introduction

The history of the Internet dates back to the early development of communication networks. The concept of a network that would allow communication between users of various computers has developed through a number of stages. The melting pot of developments in both software and hardware brought together the network of networks we call the Internet.

The 1998 anime series Serial Experiments: Lain created by Ryutaro Nakamura and Chiaki Konaka, explores some of the implications of intricate networking of information has for humanity. The story begins when a girl named Chisa commits suicide. A week later, several of her classmates receive emails from the supposedly dead girl. Looking for answers, Lain a shy, introverted girl suddenly finds herself fascinated with computers. Through online communication with Chisa, Lain learns that her classmate committed suicide because she longer needed a body - her consciousness exists on a fictionalized Internet referred to as the Wired. When Lain asks why anyone would take such an action, she receives a disturbing answer: "Here there is a God."

Review

Serial Experiments: Lain is an intelligent and literate series which asks important questions but perhaps more importantly, like all great art, leaves the answers to the viewer. From the opening frames in which an eerie voice relates the setting, "Present day: Present time," we are aware that we are watching a very distinctive series. Creators Nakamura and Konaka develop its story within an intricate and formal structure. Much like a musical score, each episode, referred to as a layer, (perhaps referring to the seven lavers of the OSI Model of Networking: Application, Presentation, Session, Transit, Network, Data, Physical), is built up of sequences of repeated motifs. Yet at the same, countless variations within each sequence keep the series from feeling repetitive. Each episode of Lain is densely layered with symbolism and hidden meaning. As with many other Japanese television series, missing one episode is like missing an entire season of an American series.

The series is also visually striking with a graphic style not seen in any other anime series or film. The character design is between the more cartoon-y manga style of shows like Inuyasha and Pokemon and the more illustrative, realistic style of films like Steamboy and Grave of the Fireflies. Backgrounds are often reduced to simple forms - like Batman the Animated Series, buildings are often depicted as blocks of light and shadow that imply structure rather than recreating it accurately.

The opening scene, depicting Chisa's apparent suicide, makes use of the first of many repeated motifs. City life is depicted in a short series of minimally animated street scenes. Street lamps, traffic lights appear as pinpricks of colored light against a dark, green or blue-ish backdrop. Shadowy, indistinct automobiles creep along a crowded street. Giggly teenagers make their way to someplace of little importance, a drunk manhandles his date, and Chisa climbs to an upper story ledge. Her death is handled in such subtle and understated way the viewer is not immediately aware of what is happening - we see very little of her fall the filmmakers choosing instead to depict the effect of her fall as street signs and crates are smashed by the impact. Gory details are avoided - we Chisa's hand and her blood and we know she is dead. Crowd reactions are limited to off-screen shouts and the astonished faces of the two lovers in the street. Details are minimized. The sidewalk is a jumble of street signs and ads, overhead are telephone poles, their wires extending to infinity.

Lain, the title character, is introduced as she leaves home to go to school. Her neighborhood consists of pastel houses against a background so glaringly white as to be painful. Another of motif, black telephone poles and telephone wires dominate the landscape appearing along the sidewalk more frequently than trees. The endless hum of information coursing along the network at the speed of light permeates the scene. Lain, watching the world go by on a commuter train seems to be the only one aware of the noise; everyone else seems indifferent to it - such is the cost of modern life; the workers on the train have tuned out the noise as they have tuned out their fellow human beings. Lain saying, "Can you just shut up!" causes a momentary stir but only a few people even look up from their newspapers and magazines and they just as quickly return to them as they ascertain that no one is in danger or even speaking to them.

At school, Lain learns about the email that many of the girls in her class have received from the supposedly dead Chisa. Many of her classmates are upset and one of them is openly crying. Lain barely reacts to this news. She is barely aware of Chisa and shows little interest in computers - not even basic uses like email seem to interest her. She barely relates to the outside world. Making their protagonist a young teenager is an ingenious way for the series' creators to develop the plot and themes of their story. The alienation of the contemporary world is a central theme of the series. It is as a teenager that people begin to seek their place in the world and many shy teenagers often feel alienated from their peers and unable to connect to the world.

Show More Intrigued by the mystery, Lain finally decides to turn on the dusty Navi computer in the corner of her bedroom. Purchased for her as a gift by her computer-geek father, the computer has sat dormant until this very moment. It is an interesting detail that although the series is supposedly set in the "Present Day," the computers depicted are actually more advanced than those available in 1998 or even today. Lain's computer, described as an older model, has voice recognition software, voice activated security, voice interface as well as graphic and keyboard interface systems. The computer reads Chisa's email out loud as well as displaying it on the screen and the computers voice, although synthesized, is conversational and almost natural in tone. The advanced level of computer technology depicted is the most "science-fiction-y" aspect of the series. To Lain's bewilderment, Chisa explains that she has only left her body behind, she is still alive in the Wired and the emails are her attempt to communicate with her former classmates.

The scenes that follow further develop the central themes: the importance of communication and connection to one's fellow human beings. Lain eats dinner with her mother and older sister. A time that should be spent making familial connections is reduced to a mechanical exercise of obtaining nourishment. Lain's sister excuses herself from the table with a simple line of exposition, she's not hungry, she had a big lunch. Her mother barely responds with tiny, barely audible grunt. She doesn't respond at all to Lain discussing Chisa's email. The TV in the corner of the room is on but largely unheard and ignored.

Later when Lain's father arrives home, she asks him for a new model Navi. He agrees to it, nearly jovial at the thought that his daughter is finally entering the computer age. Although Lain's father discusses the importance of networking and making friends in both the real and Wired worlds, his interest in computers seems to be anonymous cyber-sex and porn. We glimpse his monitor where faceless avatars interact with one another.

The layer ends with Lain struggling in her English class, haunted by waking dreams and hallucinations that may remind some viewers of Paul Atreides' prescient dreams from Dune. It is fitting that the only class we ever see Lain in is an English class with a teacher endlessly explaining grammar and sentence structure. Every moment in the series is somehow related to the primary themes of communications and networking.

The mystery deepens in the second and third layers as the electronic smart drug called Accela is introduced, Lain's classmates swear they saw a wild girl who looked just like Lain at a night club called Ciboria and the series creators introduce UFO mythology as Lain catches her first glimpses of mysterious Men In Black (MIBs). Declining her classmates' invitation to Cyberia, Lain returns home to find a handsome, flirtatious delivery boy delivering her new state of the art Navi. He explains that the new Navi can handle any software without the risk of crashing. Lain insists that she knows very little about computers although she later shows an intuitive understanding of their working.

Lain's father helps her set up the new Navi, again re-iterating his belief in the importance of communication - in contrast to Lain's barely communicative mother and increasingly withdrawn sister, communication is of paramount importance to Lain's father. When it seems that Lain hasn't received anymore emails from Chisa, she decides to meet her classmates at Cyberia after all. At Cyberia, Lain encounters an Accela user. It seems the alternate Lain seen by her classmates has made an impression on him. In a masterful stroke the series creators use this encounter as a means to relate what will be the central conflict and main theme of the series. He screams at her that the Wired and real world should never merge. Lain coolly replies that wherever you go, everyone is already networked. The Acella addict replies by blowing his brains out.

Show More
When they are questioned by the police, Lain's classmate Alice tearfully apologizes to Lain for exposing her to such violence. Alice seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Lain is rather calm (or perhaps detached) for someone who has just been splattered with blood by a crazed gunman blowing his brains out. Lain returns home to a darkened and apparently abandoned house, her computer glowing eerily in the corner of the bedroom. There have no further communications from Chisa.

The next morning, Lain awakes to her mother unexpectedly cooking breakfast. Her mother's only concern is that Lain has overslept. Lain decides not to discus the incident at Cyberia with her mother. On her way to school, Lain is silently observed by figures in a darkened car. At school the other girls talk about the boy's death in a totally detached manner as if it were something they saw on television. Alice alone seems aware of the disconcerting disconnect between her friends and reality. The series also adds a mythological layer when Lain acquires a state-of-the-art psyche (given the original Greek pronunciation pschuke) processor for her Navi. Named for the ancient Greek goddess of the intellect, it is believed that the psyche processor will provide a great leap forward in the Navi user's ability to interface with the Wired. In the series, the Wired is depicted as an almost mystical dimension surrounded by urban legends, myths, and innuendos. Rumors, deceit, and even blackmail abound. One of these rumors is about a clandestine organization referred to as the Knights. Much like the legends surrounding the Illuminati manipulation of our own world, the Knights are thought to be manipulating the Wired for their own nefarious purposes. It is said they are the inventors of the psyche processor and that fits into some grand scheme of theirs - the more mundane rumor has it that the psyche is mass produced in Taiwan. Lain shows her father a psyche processor and although he has before been portrayed as an expert in computers, he denies knowing what it is, without even really examining it. Either is not the expert he has claimed to be or he is lying. In an almost heartbreaking scene, Lain asks him one more time, "I thought you would know, Daddy." He walks out of the room, reiterating that he doesn't know what the psyche is. It is clear that Lain will have to proceed on her own. Desperate for answers, Lain returns to Cyberia. One of the DJs recognizes Lain as a wild party girl who enjoys raves - this encounter touches one of the many themes developed in the series - the difference between the ways perceive us and the way we perceive ourselves. The geeks who hang out in Cyberia immediately recognize the psyche and explain how to install it. One of them comments that he has seen Lain or at least a wild version of her on the wild. He wants a date with that Lain in exchange for the information.

The next day Mika, Lain's older sister arrives home from school and encounters the Men-in-Black. When she threatens to call the police, they quietly leave saying -"What could possibly tell them when we're not even here." Inside, Lain is sitting in her room, stripped down to her underwear in a classic geek pose, screwdriver in her mouth, installing the psyche. Lain explains that she has taken off her clothes to avoid static electricity. We hear static on soundtrack and a wild version of Lain sarcastically says, "Welcome home big sister." The episode fades out on Lain, a wild look on her face.

Layer four opens once again with the street scene that began the previous chapters. The scene transitions to Lain's bedroom as she works on her computer silently observed by her father. She has rapidly progressed into a computer geek with an innate understanding of computers. Her tiny bedroom is littered with computer hardware and network cables. Fans blow constantly to cool the many towers littering her floor. Mika notes the change in Lain's behavior to their parents. Their parents casually dismiss Mika's concerns. They don't behave like normal parents but rather like actors playing roles.

As Lain becomes more computer literate she also becomes less isolated and more outgoing. It is a strange and subtle change that none of her classmates quite understands. Perhaps she is becoming more like the wild Lain others have reported. The boundary between the real world and the Wired world is seemingly breaking down as the deaths of several teenagers are linked to a popular network video game. The problem is thought to stem from a hole in the software protocol governing the Doom-style shooter Phantoma. The problem in the protocol is thought to have been deliberately engineered by the mysterious Knights. Some on the Wired believe the Knights don't actually exist but are in fact a religion that has manifested itself on the network. Lain's father warns her not to confuse the real and Wired world, insisting that the Wired is nothing more than a sophisticated medium for communication. Lain insists that the border between the two is not clear and that she will soon be able to enter the Wired as a fully cognizant being. Lain notices that she is once again being observed by the Men-in-Black, she goes to her window and shouts at them and her shout shatters glass. Lain is something more than just another teenage girl.

As the series progresses the story continues to explore the implications of networking and the world on human evolution. Human beings, it is postulated, are no longer subject to biological evolution but rather must find a way to merge with the endless flow of information that it is the computer network. The series diverges into two central story lines: the quest for the network's god and the search for the secrets Lain's origin as part of the titular Serial Experiments. The series creators build the story out of symbolism, metaphor, expository narration, and news reports. Secrets are revealed but further questions are raised.

Conclusion

Serial Experiments: Lain Lain is a multilayered, intelligent series. It raises many important questions about communication, god, and identity. Some of these questions are answered but the answers only raise further questions. Some aspects of the show are left ambiguous. The origin of Lain's nearly endless supply of computer hardware is never fully explained nor is the exact science of the merger between the real world and the Wired.

This series also shows what can be done when sophisticated writing meets artistic but simple animation. The series uses the smaller budget and limited animation of television to powerful effect. Depictions of hallucinations, states of altered consciousness, and cyberspace are limited only by the animators' imaginations. In some scenes buildings, telephone wires, and even people are reduced to iconic graphic representations. History has shown us that written speech began as graphic representations that were increasingly simplified into the abstract alphabets and characters used today. Written language allows us to store information outside ourselves rather than in our own minds. It could be argued that as that information enters the Internet; we achieve a kind of immortality, perhaps not the physical immortality postulated by some of the characters in the series but perhaps an immortality of thought, experience and even perhaps spirit.

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