“Serial Experiments Lain” breaks enormous boundaries, fusing the real world with the online world – a form of metamorphism. The series also takes no qualms in breaking the mind, and showcasing insanity when technology consumes our lives.
Yoshitoshi ABe’s famous “Serial Experiments Lain” anime falls into the psychological-horror genre, a “Twilight Zone” show of sorts, where nearly every image leads to something different.
Yoshitoshi ABe is known for other anime such as Haibane Renmei (a complex, yet calming anime which I will discuss in a future review), stories even he sometimes doesn’t understand himself.
This review on Lain is entirely my perception, and I highly recommend viewing “Serial Experiments Lain” on your own to formulate your own consensus. As with other reviewers, I would not recommend this as your first anime.
It is difficult to decipher this series, especially since there are many meanings, and the viewer is meant to interpret the message in their own way. Everyone who has watched Lain either confessed “I don’t get it,” or “this is really weird.”
After viewing the series twice and reading reviews from other watchers, I realized something about Lain on my own. Something that makes sense to me as I draw comparisons.
Keep in mind, “Serial Experiments Lain” was a 1998 anime, and the internet has developed quite a bit since then.
I have two theories towards the meaning of Lain’s name, and the vital intentions of the story. The first theory seems more likely, and is more plausible. “Lain” means to deceive or create “a false impression.”
The second theory is a bit of a stretch, but it makes sense to me. In promotional artworks, Lain spells her name backwards, and in the series the characters discuss the concept of different personalities when accessing the web.
There is a hidden part to Lain’s being, and people fear Lain, while also doubting her existence. So, when reversing her name, is Lain’s other half “denial”?
Lain questions her own reality and begins to show her wired side. In physical reality, she incorporates computer technology into her room space. Wires cross over her body, as if she becomes the computer.
According to Dictionary.com, the de– of denial denoted removal or reversal. For Lain, what if it is both removal and reversal? When reversing Lain’s name, the de- is taken away. Nial is a form of “Neill,” which means “champion.”
A champion defeats all opposition, or as the dictionary also defines, causes those before them to become obsolete, like that of a computer that must consistently update its programming.
In the series, Lain is a God-fearing being to everyone she encounters. Those she chooses to “delete” can disappear in the blink of an eye.
People can take on any web personality with different monikers, but “Serial Experiments Lain” tells us there is another side we unconsciously tap into when using the web. That unconscious side, according to Lain, may be our true personality.
Or is it? The line is blurred, as Lain questions if she is Lain and if all she knows is truly real. “Serial Experiments Lain” is another anime that questions the existence of life, but this one does it through the innermost sanctities of the net.
In Lain’s case, insanity may represent what happens when the dark web escapes from the confines of the Wired (the internet).
Combining religion with the Internet, the dark web seems like a form of hell. The dark web is full of shocking and illegal content.
What comes up in Lain’s world is only an appropriately-televised form of the controversies. I’ve watched YouTubers discuss these deeper parts of the web, and they usually describe the dark web as disturbing or horrifying.
The black shadows with red dots in the series may symbolize the dark web encroaching on society, and its ability to hide in plain sight. Lain is sometimes shown walking beside or within the shadows, alluding to her crossing to the other side.
In Biblical fashion and regarding the series’ questioning of religious beliefs, red and black also represents semblances of evil and mystery.
Referring to the “disturbing and horrifying” implications, we can say the dark web is part of messed-up psyches. This usually details criminals and illegal behavior.
The other side of Lain – a tough girl totally opposite to the quiet and reserved Lain – first appears at Cyberia, the rave. The reserved Lain, however, knew nothing about what happened at the rave when Alice and her other friends mentioned seeing the other Lain.
Either this is denial, which Lain does not show in her face, but may hide well, or she truly does not know what happened.
Even the names of the anime’s chapters are listed oddly, reinforcing the web concept in terms of “layers.” I’ll list each chapter and discuss what each one contributes to the web. Each has a relation to sociality in the physical world.
Layer 1: “WEIRD.” Weird refers to what is not part of social norms. The first weird thing we see in the story is the girl who jumps from the building to “join the Wired.” She was obviously mentally unstable.
Layer 2: “GIRLS.” When one thinks of social, girls are well-connected and quick to discuss.
Layer 3: “PSYCHE.” Each person’s psyche is different, and this term also refers to soul and mentality.
Layer 4: “RELIGION.” Religion is a source of congregation or controversy, bringing people together or apart. Religion is always a large topic in the web.
Layer 5: “DISTORTION.” Distortion refers to reality being warped. News, images, or opinions on the Internet can either be true or false, or modified in any way.
Layer 6: “KIDS.” Kids are all over the web, inheriting newer developments.
Layer 7: “SOCIETY.” Without society, we could not have the web. The web is an advanced storage of society’s activities.
Layer 8: “RUMORS.” In politics or drama, rumors spread through the web in an instant.
Layer 9: “PROTOCOL.” Protocol refers to the rules and regulations. Referring to computers, the dictionary defines protocol as the “set of rules governing the format of messages that are exchanged between computers.”
Layer 10: “LOVE.” Love is entirely about communication, from staying in touch at a distance, to physical interaction.
Layer 11: “INFORNOGRAPHY.” This word was actually made popular by this series. Infornography, as described by Dictionary.Sensagent.com, is “an addiction to or an obsession with acquiring, manipulating, and sharing information.” Lawrence Eng, of Science and Technology Studies, describes it as a sexual thrill common with people such as hackers.
LAYER 12: “LANDSCAPE.” In dictionary terms, landscape means “relating to or producing horizontal, sideways orientation of computer or other digital output, with lines of data parallel to the two longer sides of a page or screen.” The literal real-world landscape will appear differently when metamorphosing the web. Distorted landscapes show up consistently through the series.
LAYER 13: “EGO.” Ego is part of the psychoanalytic study by Sigmund Freud: the id, ego, and super-ego.
While each of the layer titles are important, the last one tells a more complex story about “Serial Experiments Lain.” Perhaps this layer is also more selfish. The conception of society all starts with the human mind.
Check out this statement on denial concerning Sigmund Freud’s study:
“When the id achieves its demands, we experience pleasure. When it is denied we experience ‘unpleasure’ or tension. The id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented. This form of process thinking has no comprehension of objective reality, and is selfish and wishful in nature.”
At its core, “Serial Experiments Lain” to me is a story about denial and ego, and what creates the dark web.
After analyzing “Serial Experiments Lain,” I need to watch a Ghibli movie. “Spirited Away” is crazy too, but not complex like Lain.