The overarching narrative of Serial Experiments Lain centers around a shy and soft-spoken girl, Lain, who isn’t very engaged in the domain of social media. On one cataclysmic day, Lain and her fellow classmates begin to receive E-mails from a student named Chisa… Who committed suicide a couple of days ago. In a state of bewilderment, Lain inquisitively starts to dig deeper in search of a reason for this strange occurrence in the place she once avoided altogether, “The Wired” (pretty much a metaphorical representation of the internet).
Considering that this anime came out in 1998, I actually found the visual aesthetic to be quite good. Even though the artwork glaringly strays away from the conventional designs you’d normally come to expect from most anime shows in any genre, it does not detract from the overall experience at all; if anything, I feel like it makes it better. The characters have realistically designed representations, they aren’t outlandishly slender or have voluptuous breasts and bosoms, which is usually the case in quite a bit of modern-day anime productions.
One of the distinguishing qualities that sets Serial Experiments Lain apart is it’s utilization of silence. Their are some ambient noises and the sound of static encapsulating some moments throughout each episodes, but the vast majority of scenes have little to no dialog. The voices that do make themselves present however, are as varied as the animation that I talked about earlier. For both the English and Japanese dubs, I felt like the ensemble cast did an exceptional job of capturing the minute quirks and idiosyncrasies of each character, which is often one of my pet peeves in some anime shows that I watch. Lain’s voice in particular is quite nuanced in terms of emotional impact. There are moments where she sounds endearing and kind-hearted, but there are also times where her cadence will make you quiver in absolute fear; which is odd but makes sense in my opinion since existential dread is one of the potential themes that are permeating in Serial Experiments Lain.
As for the story, I can’t think of any other anime besides Neon Genesis Evangelion, that’s as divisive and enigmatic as this one. But if you asked me, I’d say that Serial Experiments Lain is one of the most fascinating and mentally stimulating works I’ve ever seen. This anime will unabashedly play mind games with your head, and you’ll be constantly wondering what the hell is even happening. The narrative style might turn off some viewers upon completion, but I think it makes re-watching an incredibly rewarding experience.
Serial Experiments Lain is a show that isn’t afraid to discuss uncomfortably harrowing subjects. It tackles religious values, human connection, and existentialism. As the series goes on, Lain begins to have an internal dilemma regarding the meaning of her own existence, and whether or not relationships bear more meaning in “The Wired” or in the real world. The more she engages herself within this social media platform, she comes to the realization that her life isn’t just a momentary lapse of reason. At first I rolled my eyes and thought that most of the episodes would just be an account of Lain’s personal journey of self-discovery, and while that might be the case to some extent, I walked away with more food for thought than I initially expected. The circumambient conundrum regarding who and what Lain is explores scintillating analysis of “identity” and “humanity” as concepts, yet it never felt preachy or overbearing to me as a viewer, which is quite an accomplishment as a far as storytelling is concerned.
The characters within the Serial Experiments Lain universe are superbly characterized, even when they receive very little screen time. Lain is quite an enigma, but she is still a very endearing and sweet individual. She does come off as rather timid and a bit surly at first, but she does slowly open up to others despite her insecurities. Like any other person, Lain does have psychological and emotionally-driven predicaments that stems from her inner thoughts and outlook on the world.
Arisu, probably the only true friend in Lain’s life, is one of the few people that Lain trusts without harboring any sense of doubt or suspicion. When other people tried to brush Lain aside or ignore her, she always tried her best to make her feel welcome and a part of her circle of companions, even when it does come off as a bit pushy and naïve. Arisu does genuinely care about Lain’s well-being whenever she appears crestfallen or depressed. The other characters in Serial Experiments Lain also have uniquely characterized motives. Some things give them anxieties similar to what a lot of people endure in real life; a yearning for self-enrichment, a fear of crippling isolation, a constant thirst for infographic information, etc. Most anime shows come off as escapism in my opinion since they usually indulge in our pleasures and fantasies, but Lain truly digs deep into subjects that we’d usually try to hide and suppress as a coping mechanism. This is something that I wish more anime shows would delve into since gauging a deeper understanding of humanity does encourage us to put things in perspective or see things in a different light even if we don’t necessarily agree with it.
All in all, Serial Experiments Lain is a mind-altering experience that is immensely cathartic for analytical thinkers and any viewers that are looking for something different within anime. It presents questions to topics that arouse innate curiosity, which is unlike any other show before. Even though the scatterbrained sequences of an informational overflow might come off as just random eye-candy or pretentious spectacle, they do serve an intrinsic purpose within the unfolding story if you’re willing to think about it deeply.