Serial Experiments Lain has been one of those anime titles I've heard of ever since I got into anime back in July of 2002, but never checked out since from the surface, didn't look all that appealing to me at the time. I made a gamble when Funimation was reissuing this anime by pre-ordering it on Amazon a few months back, got it on release date, and just finished watching it. I guess after suffering a few months back from that puke-inducing animated swill known as High School of the Dead, a cerebral anime like this was just what I needed. As you can see by my rating, I was really glad to have seen this.
Before I kick off the review, I should suggest to potential viewers that before watching it (if you want to see it), that you get yourself a lot of coffee and M&Ms (or whatever caffeinated and sugary food/beverages you like) when you watch Serial Experiments Lain, not because it's boring (quite the opposite), but because this is an anime that will give your brain a good workout.
Serial Experiments Lain is about a young girl named Lain Iwakura, who at first appears to be a shy, lukewarm junior high school student. After receiving a Navi (a computer connected to the Wired, the anime's version of the internet) from her dad, she soon finds herself engrossed in the Wired and embarks on a journey where the virtual world and reality are blurred. In this journey, many mind-bending things will happen and her personality will alter in so many ways. Along the way, she finds out of a power struggle between a mysterious group of hackers known as the Knights of Eastern Calculus and the Tachibana corporation.
I though the way the characters were handled in this anime was well done. The focus is mostly on Lain, and at first, she seems like a shy girl devoid of any personality. However, as her immersion in the Wired gets deeper, many bolder personalities of Lain are embodied. I was pleased with how Lain's school friends (Alice, Julie, and Reika) were handled, since they felt like teenage girls, but at the same time, this anime didn't bombard you with a bunch of sappy teenage school drama coming from these girls' mouths, which would have been a huge distraction from the central parts of the story.
Other characters, like Lain's family, have believable, well-established personalities that get altered when the real world and the Wired are altered with, and these changes work out really well in the context of the story.
Since Serial Experiments Lain is an anime that's heavily entrenched in philosophy and the rapid evolution of computer and electronic networking technology.
I'll be honest here and say that so many things have happened in this anime, that I'll need to watch it again at least once to get a full grasp of this, but I was able to comprehend this well enough to know what happened and what some things mean.
This anime's most prominent theme is that it's almost like a warning to people about over-reliance on computerized electronic communications. I thought this type of “warning” was tastefully-done since it's not shoved in your face and isn't sanctimonious about it. I guess you could say the core message with this theme is that over-reliance on the Wired (or internet) will diminish one's humanity. I think it's crazy that this was made in 1998 yet the themes of technology are still relevant today.
Religion is another theme tackled in this anime, and without spoiling anything, some of the discussion between Lain and Eiri (who calls himself “God”) will make ponderous folks happy.
There was also real history about the first computers and electronic networks that would tie into the foundation for the Wired, and I thought this combination was ace since these meshed perfectly and shows it has some proper learning of important history.
While not being an outright horror anime, there are some horror elements used in it to illustrate the psychological deterioration Lain and others go through in this anime. One of the creepiest was on Layer 09: Protocol, where an alien in a red and green sweater peaks into Lain's room and creeps her out.
Another horror scene that creeped me out a lot was when Mika (Lain's older sister) starts hallucinating in a fast food joint, and when in the bathroom, is forced into seeing “Fulfill your destiny!” scribed on the stall door.
What I find funny about the scant horror scenes in it is that there's horrible anime like Elfen Lied that constantly bombard you with gore, trying to pass it off as scary, and while the horror scenes in Serial Experiments Lain had very little to no blood in them, were far more unnerving than anything the likes of Elfen Lied, Gantz, or High School of the Dead could throw at you.
The animation and artwork for this is stunning. With this being an anime from the late 90's, this was one of the last pieces of anime that would have had traditional cel animation in it, and incorporated a lot of fusion with CGI and real photographs and film passed through various filters. The combination of these visual elements help reinforce the strong themes of technological takeover and of the overall cerebral nature of the show.
While the looks of the computers and other electronics look a little dated by today's world of thin supercomputers and smartphones, they almost seem like the foundation of the technology we take for granted. Lain's Navi can view video from the Wired without excessive buffer times and even has voice recognition for the password and cellphones have email capacity, which I thought was pretty visionary for its time. Also, Lain's Navi is hooked to a series of other computers and cooling machines to make it look like a menacing entity taking over Lain's life.
I have to give props to Yoshitoshi ABe's (yes, the “b” in his last name is capitalized) character designs since they largely lean more towards “realistic” human looks while still have a strong “anime” air to them.
The soundtrack here is a little of a mixed bag, but thankfully leans more towards the good side. I found the intro and outro music to be pretty unremarkable, but the background music in the episodes is quite good. There's heavy use of ambient electronic music and even some more aggressive tones in this niche, that perfectly match the setting of this anime. There's some other styles of music in some episodes, such as in the last Layer, that featured a good deal of instrumental psychedelic rock pretty reminiscent to Jimi Hendrix.
One of the things that really made me happy about Serial Experiments Lain is that the creators took this show really seriously and didn't try to inject scenes of redundant humor with exaggerated, goofy faces and chibi deformations. There's also no terminally-unfunny moments revolving around the female body trying to be funny. The totally serious, mature presentation of this anime made it extremely enjoyable.
While I'd recommend this anime to adults for its cognitive content, the visual content is essentially suitable to anyone 14 or older. The most “extreme” bits in this anime was when there is a shootout at the Cyberia nightclub, with a little bit of blood flowing on the floor, and some tastefully-done nudity in another where Lain is seen naked in the sky, but no private areas were illustrated on her.
This was one of the best and most rewarding anime titles I've seen in at least three years, and would even rank it as one of the best anime titles you can find. If you're in the market for an anime that's totally serious in execution and will really get your brain juices flowing, then Serial Experiments Lain is essential to your collection.
What did you think of this review?