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Serial Experiments Lain

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (1998). Triangle Staff/Pioneer LDC. Producers include Yasuyuki Ueda. Writer: Chiaki J Konaka. Directors include: Ryūtarō Nakamura and Lia Sargent. Voice cast includes Yōko Asada, Shō Hayami and Kaori Shimizu. Thirteen 24-minute episodes. Colour.

Some days after her Suicide, a girl's classmates receive emails from her saying that she now lives in the Wired, an expanded Internet. One recipient, the introverted Lain Iwakura (Shimizu), decides to investigate. She discovers the self-declared "God of the Wired", Masami Eiri (Hayami), who uploaded himself and then suicided after being fired by Tachibana Laboratories for adding code to "protocol 7", leading to the breaking down of the barrier between the real world and the Wired (achieving a kind of technological Singularity).

Lain also learns she is the Admin server for the Wired: on realizing that her online version was becoming unstable, Tachibana Laboratories had created a physical version of her, with a fake family, in the hope it would stabilize her. (She is also present online, as is her original malicious version.) Lain eventually finds herself able to manipulate the real world as if it were a program: when rumours of her friend Alice Mizuki's (Asada) affair with a teacher spread around the school, Lain edits out the rumour from everyone's memory (see Memory Edit) except Alice's, but this sudden universal forgetfulness distresses Alice further. She goes to see Lain but gets caught in Lain's showdown with Eiri, where the latter – enraged by Lain's refusal to defer to him – attempts to physically manifest, an exercise in body horror terminated by his death through Lain telekinetically smashing dozens of computer servers into him (see Telekinesis). Alice is now deeply traumatized, and Lain edits reality to remove the effects of Eiri's actions – including knowledge of Lain – from Alice's and the world's memory.

Lain hears the constant hum of the overhead power lines, along with the murmuring of dialogue and broadcasts on telephone and television lines, as well as conversations in the Wired. These narratives (and that of the characters) touch on philosophy, Psychology, and Computer history – some of it informs the plot, some of it muddies the waters. The series did not fear being over-ambitious and is dense with references: the debt to William Gibson is clear, whilst there are nods to Lewis Carroll, Douglas Rushkoff, Cordwainer Smith, Nikola Tesla and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as well as the likes of Vannevar Bush, Carl Jung, John C Lilly, Ted Nelson and Winfried Otto Schumann.

Producer Yasuyuki Ueda has said Lain was "a sort of cultural war against American culture and the American sense of values we [Japan] adopted after World War II", the intention being that Japanese and American viewers would interpret the show differently – he was disappointed when this did not occur. Indeed, owing to the stories' fondness for obscurity and a multiple choice approach to explanations, there has been no consensus even along national lines.

Though the animation of Serial Experiments Lain has technical limitations, striking use is made of still shots and backgrounds, creating an uncanny mood and sense of unease in the viewer, underscored by the frequently eerie, electronica-dominated soundtrack. It is a remarkable work: given the focus on the internet and associated technology, the passage of time has inevitably dated it, while some might find it too discursive; but it still impresses and – along with such series as Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999) and Shinseiki Evangelion (1995) – it is one of the most important Anime productions of its era. [SP]


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