Reader “Dblade” sent in this post, a review of the anime Serial Experiments: Lain. Enjoy!

What does dying feel like?

It really hurts! :)

A junior-high school student commits suicide by throwing herself off of a building. The next day, her class gets emails from the student. They claim she isn‘t dead, but has merely abandoned her body. One of the students is a quiet girl called Lain Iwakura, who we quickly find out is much more than she seems. Why are there two Lains: one existing only on the internet-like Wired? Can you really find God there? Who are the Knights, and what prophecy are they trying to fulfill? As Lain explores the Wired, through her ever changing PC Navi, it becomes increasingly apparent that the barriers between our human world, and the world of the Wired are dissolving.

Serial Experiments: Lain is the creation of Yoshitoshi ABe, known for experimental anime like Haibane Renmei, NieA under 7, and Technolyze. Lain, the work that initially made him famous, was a 13 episode TV animated series. It’s dark and surreal, and a sharp contrast to the spectacular military style of cyberpunk you see in Ghost in the Shell.

The series has a definite visual style. One visible motif is the omnipresent power lines, which connect people and make the Wired happen. Another motif is Lain’s Navi, a PC that is very heavily based on an Apple Macintosh; the OS is even called Copland, a nod to Mac OS 8. As Lain dives into the Wired for answers, her Navi evolves into a sprawling mess of servers, wires, and carbon filled coolant tubes dominating her entire room and even breaking through the house wall to dangle outside. Technology is alternately both realistic and monstrous, definitely not shiny or trendy looking.

One difference in Lain is the concept of connection. Many cyberpunk films and novels tend to exalt the lone hero, the cyber cowboy, or “The One” who fights against the evil dystopia bent on restraining technology or limiting people. Instead, Lain focuses on how all people are connected, and the consequences of those connections transcending individual humans to evolve them beyond themselves. There are no heroes, just school kids, scientists, clubbers, housewives, and businessmen all dealing with something not many people can understand. The character Lain is motivated by events as much as she motivates them.

On the other hand, the series shares a focus on conspiracy in common with other cyberpunk stories, but even gives this a unique spin. Conspiracies exist, but instead of a central, faceless one we have many little conspiracies that accidentally connect to cause something nobody could have planned. The little conspiracies aren’t always explained. How did the KIDS project contribute to Lain? Who is the kid in the red and green shirt, and why does he overlap with an important main character in one very disturbing scene?

There are no easy answers presented for the viewer. You never are sure what is real, what is the Wired leaking into our world, or what is one of Lain’s hallucinations. It’s also one of the few cyberpunk films to show how chilling losing your sense of self can be, or how deadly the cyberworld invading ours could be. Even to the end, Lain herself is an enigma. It’s also intensely philosophical, meditating on the nature of God, on human evolution and connection, and on memory and the human being as software. Even our own existence: if no one remembers we exist, and human memory can be wiped and debugged as easily as computer memory, do we really exist at all?

The series can be a bit rough: while the visuals are appealing, creator ABe is an opposite of the polished style of Ghost in the Shell movie director Mamoru Oshii. It adds to the eeriness but the animation quality and surreality of the show may put viewers off. But if you stick with it you find a very thought-provoking series. How would we deal with a God existing in the Internet? How would that God deal with us? Is it possible to use the internet to evolve human consciousness to the point where we can transcend even death, and affect this real world? Lain asks so many questions without answers, but that is its strength. By asking questions it forces us to think, instead of taking us along a pre-packaged thrill ride. If you have yet to see it, I strongly recommend you do. If you have, what are your thoughts on it?