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Secret Santa Project – Serial Experiments Lain

December 25, 2011

So this year in addition to participating in the Twelve Days of Anime, I thought I’d completely kill myself and also participate in Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Project.  It’s a simple enough concept – you get recommended three series by a stranger based on your anime list and you have to review one or more of those suggested.  My Secret Santa went the safe route and just picked three shows off my ‘Want to Watch’ list, which is fine but I’d have liked something different fired in too.  The three shows I was suggested were Scrapped Princess, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World and Serial Experiments Lain.  I opted to watch Lain as I’ve been putting it off for years now – Secret Santa just provided the additional kick up the arse I required to finally do so.

Now a few disclaimers.  It is currently 1.45am on Christmas Day.  I have been visiting various relatives all evening and of course have had to partake in a few social beverages……so basically I’m a bit tipsy and have just watched the final two episodes of the show in this less than suggested mindset………this review will suffer as a result.  I apologise profusely to my Secret Santa!  ONWARDS!

Serial Experiments Lain is regarded as one of those anime you really should see at some stage in your fandom.  I personally have put it off for so long because you really need to be in the correct mindset to appreciate it (ie: not drunk… me) and I haven’t been much in the mood for thinking lately (Penguindrum stole all that energy!).  As a result I found I couldn’t watch more than three episodes of Lain at a time before I felt my brain cells start to leak out of my ears.  That’s not to say that Lain isn’t good – it’s excellent, it’s just that I find it easier to watch in small doses spread out over a longer time period.

Lain explores many interesting themes, but the one I found most interesting was the matter of the blurring of the online world, The Wired, with the real world.  As a show that was made in the 90s, there is an emphasis on the ‘wired’ part of the online experience – which I found interesting given our modern emphasis on the fact that a lot of our online surfing can be done wirelessly.  Indeed today you are hard pressed to get away from the online world given the advent of smartphones, 3G, bluetooth & wi-fi (why just this evening I was Tweeting from church!).  As such it’s interesting to see what people thought the future of the internet held back in the 90s – Lain is seen as special as she can connect to “The Wired” wirelessly and on a much deeper level to most other people.

There is also the idea that a person can completely discard their real lives and bodies, and just exist in the Wired – that this is an existence on a higher plane.  Again I found this fascinating as there have been times when I’ve felt like I’d want to live as my online persona – Caraniel is me, but at the same time she’s slightly different.  Lain has this dichotomy to deal with in a much more literal manner as she comes across another ‘Lain’ in The Wired with a starkly different personality, and one that Lain isn’t entirely comfortable with.  Much of the tension in the show comes from Lain trying to find out just what her other self is up to in ‘The Wired’  – I found that quite frightening, imagine if I didn’t know what Caraniel was doing at all times, the lack of control is what’s truly scary since the entire point of crafting an online persona is to have complete control over the image you are projecting.  The ending left me with a conflicted feeling though (but I’m not sure how much of that’s due to my less than stellar mental capacity at the moment), as it was strangely upbeat – which was nice, but at the same time after all the tension, and oppressive atmosphere the series built up over its run, it was rather anti-climatic. Yes, Serial Experiments Lain really raised some interesting questions, which it would be impossible to fully explore in this post…….moving on!

Lain has a strange atmosphere to it – it’s often surreal, occasionally has unsettling imagery and throughout the show you’re never completely sure just what is real, what’s in The Wired and what’s symbolic.  A lot of this is down to the artstyle – there is phenomenal use of light & shadow in this show.  The plain character designs are expressive and work well with the sparse feeling of the show – everything is understated and downplayed to great effect.

Another large part of the creepy factor in Lain was due to the sound design of the show.  It was filled with silence, white noise and the hum of electrical wires (THE WIRES! THEY WILL HAUNT MY DREAMS!) – this was more effective at crafting a disturbing atmosphere than a musical score would have been.  It’s amazing how uncomfortable silence can be in an anime – most shows feel the need to fill silence with anything they can think of, but Lain reveled in silence preferring to let its visuals do the story-telling to great effect.  The music that the show does employ are well crafted – I really loved the OP and quite liked the ED too.  Voice acting is very solid, Lain sounds childlike, innocent and yet has just the right amount of creepiness when required.

This is getting rather long……I’ll wrap up by saying I really enjoyed watching Serial Experiments Lain – it’s a show that’s deserving of its ‘classic’ status and I’ve given it 4.5/5.  It was very clear to me from the outset that this was from the same people as Boogiepop Phantom and Ghost Hound (both shows I enjoyed) so if you’ve seen any of those and liked them, be sure to check out the others!

So all that remains to be said is – thank you Secret Santa for finally making me watch this show, and very Merry Christmas to everyone!

………..I’m going to go pass out now – its 2.45am ;A;

13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 25, 2011 3:47 am

    I love those wires… I dunno why but there’s just something about them!

    With that said you need to watch this AMV

  2. December 25, 2011 4:46 am

    Ah, Serial Experiments LAIN. This was probably one of the first ten anime I ever saw, and I have to say, this was probably the show that made me realize just how ingenious anime could be. I found the whole show rather… disconcerting, to say the least. The “invisible” world of unfeeling machinery, mysterious cyberspace, and huge, bulky, dangerous computers was very foreboding! And I’m pretty sure if I watched it again *now*, now that the world is drastically more “wired” than the creator perhaps even imagined it ever becoming so quickly… the show would feel downright prophetic.
    Definitely not a *fun* show to watch, but a really good one to make you think. I really should watch it again some time.

    • December 27, 2011 4:39 pm

      Completely agree – I did not have ‘fun’ watching Lain, but I still consider it a thoroughly excellent series simply for the amount of interesting questions it raises – definitely a show to get the mind going.

  3. December 25, 2011 10:08 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it… I always think that if you are watching anime.. you have to enjoy it…otherwise depends on the pacing.. Lain is a must see in my book.

    • December 27, 2011 4:42 pm

      Thanks for giving me the added incentive to watch it. I always intended to watch Lain, but have never really been in the correct frame of mind for it – still wasn’t when I started it, but the deadline of Christmas made me stick it out.

      While I would say I enjoyed the show, I definitely did not have fun watching it – it’s far too disconcerting and heavy to really have fun with. A must see for sure, but definitely a show you need to be in the mood for.

  4. December 26, 2011 4:44 am

    I like the way it comes off as a deranged ghost story at times. The oppressive atmosphere works well for horror, but the emails from the dead student trying to convince Lain to leave her physical body behind were very creepy. At other times it seemed more like a spy thriller than anything supernatural. Definitely an interesting show.

    I hope you had a great Christmas!

    JJbees (from somewhere in the Wired)

    • December 27, 2011 4:45 pm

      Yes the atmosphere employed was very reminiscent of a ghost story at times – the whole ‘what’s real, what’s in the Wired and what is symbolism’ threw me off kilter many times!

      I had a lovely Christmas, hope you also had a great holiday break!

      (Oh if only Lain knew how ‘Wired’ we all are now!)

  5. December 28, 2011 3:13 pm

    The series is rather overwhelming on the complex plot it laid. I don’t even fully understand all the scenes, especially the ones that are borderline hallucinations and events in the wired but all I can say is that it has a very engaging subject which is worthwhile to explore and discuss further. If I had to comment though on the totality of the concepts used, I loved science-fiction especially the ones mentioned during the episode, Infornography. Although, I never really liked the plot tool explaining that Lain wasn’t human but some sort of a program/ artificial human since this pretty much beats the purpose of self-insertion of the watcher, seeing that Lain is probably the most appropriate character to relate with to feel the utmost message of the story.

    • December 28, 2011 7:47 pm

      I can’t believe it was only a 13 episode show – the amount of things it gave me to think about made it feel at least double that!

      I also wasn’t overly fond of the ending regarding Lain’s ‘humanity’ – I have pretty mixed feelings about everything regarding the end actually.

  6. December 29, 2011 9:16 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed this too. It was one of my first experiences of watching an anime show that made me think hard and didn’t look or feel much like anything else (it’s still very unique, I think). In some ways, technology of the real world has overtaken what’s portrayed, but it has a borderline-retro charm, in the same way that the old novels by William Gibson have (I’m a cyberpunk nut, and that guy is my favourite…Lain is another good example). What probably makes it still relevant is the way it examines that online vs offline personas theme you mentioned. It’s quite philosophical and almost spiritual at times, which makes it more than some SF chiller. I loved it, but I understand that quite a few people would find it hard to get into

    It’s cool that you mention the light and shadow thing…the director seems to be really good at it, to the point where it’s almost a trademark technique. It adds a sense of eeriness to Kino’s Journey too and even REC, a little-known romantic drama show, uses the same visual tricks. I wish the same creative team were able to work together more often.

    I think I’ve seen Lain two or three times, one of which was a single marathon session…I’ve done the drunken anime watching thing with a few shows, but I really couldn’t do it with this one! The great thing is, you find yourself seeing and understanding new aspects every time. I really want to pick up the DVD box set and rewatch it, but I heard that there was a blu-ray reissue of it out there somewhere. Now THAT would be awesome!


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