Genre: Sci-Fi/Experimental/Psychological Drama
Year Released: 1998
Running Time: TV Series, 13 episodes, 23 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: 16+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Texhnolyze, Key the Metal Idol, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, Boogiepop Phantom, Ghost Hound, Angel’s Egg, Blame!, Paprika, Inception
-I used the original Pioneer/Geneon USA DVDs and the Japanese language track was used.
-Serial Experiments Lain is the debut work involving artist/manga-ka Yoshitoshi ABe as a co-creator. You should know him for Haibane Renmei, Texhnolyze, and RErideD. Also, he did cover art for the Welcome to the NHK light novels.
-The opening theme “Duvet” is performed by London-based band Boa (not the same band who did the “Every Heart” song for Inu-Yasha). That song is on their debut full-length album The Race of a Thousand Camels. Also, Bolivian band Duvet is named after this song in particular. Wouldn’t it be fun if more bands named themselves after anime songs? I can think of a few sick name homages like “Message #9”, “Hotaru”, or “Cloud Age Symphony”, Yes, I referenced songs from Gasaraki, the original Hunter X Hunter series, and Last Exile.
-This anime is the voice acting debut of Kaori Shimizu. She has also lent her voice to anime such as playing the original Boogiepop in Boogiepop Phantom, Kumi from Alien Nine, and Signum from the Lyrical Nanoha series.
-Serial Experiments Lain had Chiaki J. Konaka as a main screenwriter. He has also worked on the original Hellsing, The Big O, Texhnolyze (he’s a regular ABe collaborator), and even Digimon season 3 AKA Digimon Tamers. Yes, that happened and it makes perfect sense why that season was so dark.
-There is actually a video game that came out back in 1998 based on this series which was for the Playstation in Japan.
Has it been two years since I covered anything involving Yoshitoshi ABe? Wow. Time really flies. As some of you know, I’ve been vocal on me being a fan of his work. Whether it’s his art/illustration style, knack for the avant-garde, or his work in anime, I find his work to be very fascinating. Not going to lie to anyone, he’s the only creator to have scored two 10/10s on this blog for Haibane Renmei (the first review where I gave such a score) and Texhnolyze. Yes, those are two of my favorite anime series, but I thought I would take it back to the first anime he helped create especially with the art field of it. One can make a case that this is his most popular series ever.
Let’s log in to find out how good this experimental sci-fi series actually is.
Serial Experiments Lain is about a typical middle school girl named Lain Iwakura. Things start out normal and mundane until one of her classmates Chisa Yomoda sends an email after committing suicide. However, Chisa claims not to have died per se, but rather became alive in the computer world known as the Wired. Lain becomes very curious about this happening as she gets more computer technology in her room and becomes immersed in the Wired. She experiences having multiple personalities, there’s bizarre events happen across the city, and Lain becomes involved in a conspiracy theory with a group called the Knights. Will Lain delve deeper into the Wired to become a technological goddess in this world or will the Knights or other forces hurt everyone around her.
Before anyone says anything, Lain came out before The Matrix even though that film franchise is closer to Ghost in the Shell in practice which the Wachowskis admitted. Anyways, this anime is on the list of cerebral animation and rightfully so. Serial Experiments Lain is one anime series that you do not want to turn your brain off while watching. There’s a sense of subtlety with the dialogue and the plotting going on which force you to pay attention. Sure, there are things that don’t make sense at first, but are brought up again to the point where it makes perfect sense later on. The Lain character starts out as a blank slate character, but the more she gets into the Wired, the more things change for her and others. Normally, she’s a shy and quiet girl, but later on, she becomes more obsessed in achieving technological divinity. Lain even gets two other personalities like one that’s very angry and another one who’s morbidly sarcastic bordering on evil. Her voice actress just nails voicing all these personalities almost like multiple characters much like Megumi Hayashibara’s portrayal of Atsuko Chiba and her title alter-ego in Paprika. One scene that really shows the personalities is a dream-like state where normal Lain is choking the evil Lain. the latter personality says “Looks like I’m killing myself.” before laughing despite the hands around her neck. That really shows the creepiness and inner depths of Lain Iwakura while playing off her ascension to being a catalyst to the Wired and the real world. Besides the plot and characters, I really enjoyed the music. The theme songs are both great with Boa’s indie rock and Reichi Nakaido’s (who also scored the anime) cerebral mid-tempo rock ballad. The score uses dark ambient and experimental tracks which really fit this anime to a T.
Serial Experiments Lain does have some things that need to be deleted though. The animation is starting to really show it’s age. Triangle Staff’s usage of CGI in the opening animation and some of the other effects haven’t been as congruent-looking as it was back in the 90s or 00s. Besides aspects of the animation, the normal technology used dates itself. If Lain came out this decade or got the remake treatment, than you know you’d be seeing a ton of smartphones, smaller laptops, and tablets everywhere instead of big boxy desktops. While I like so many cerebral aspects of Lain, it does get pretentious at times. There’s technobabble going on and there are times where the anime becomes too smart while showing off. I get that Lain is the only piece of animation to use a Proust reference, but it can’t be so over-reliant on all of those academic, scientific, and philosophical notes. There was some broken English which was very distracting (ex: Think Bule Count One Tow). I also had issues with the ending theme animation. Despite the song being great, I felt really uncomfortable with the imagery of Lain Iwakura covered in wires. I know she’s covered up, but I got skeeved out way too much and I had similar issues with Key the Metal Idol even though Serial Experiments isn’t as adult when it comes to the content.
This late 90s anime has aged a bit, but the good still outweighs the bad here. Serial Experiments Lain is a very creative series that really questions aspects of technology, identity, and philosophy in a cyberpunk fashion. The characters were certainly fascinating and the plot will certainly keep your brain entertained. The score and theme songs were great for this anime. I do wish that the cerebral elements weren’t just a form of self-aggrandizing in animated form even when some aspects were plot relevant. I also wished that the ending song animation would’ve had different imagery. Serial Experiments Lain isn’t the best of ABe or the late Ryutaro Nakamura, but it was still a good addition to the history of animation.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like cyberpunk elements in anime.
Subtract 1-3 points if you want your anime to be more straightforward.
-Great voice acting in the Japanese version
-Intelligent storytelling and plotting
-Gets pretentious at times
-Dated animation and technological elements
-The imagery in “Tooi Sakebi”
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Serial Experiments Lain isn’t as intense or graphic as Texhnolyze, but I would have to say that it’s best for older audiences. From episode 1, a middle schooler’s suicide becomes a major plot point which becomes an undercurrent through several things. There’s violence and language, but there are other things to worry about. Characters become disturbed with one character who becomes mentally deficient later on in the series. Some of the imagery with Lain the character is questionable like the ending theme where all that’s being worn are wires and cables to cover her. One of the villains admits that he wants Lain to join the Wired (by suicide just like her classmate) and promises love which is extremely creepy when you consider the obvious age difference. Thankfully, she refuses and has to defend herself.
All photos used under US “Fair Use” laws. Serial Experiments Lain is property of Funimation. The Blu-Ray/DVD cover is from RightStuf and is property of Funimation.