© 1998 Triangle Staff / Pioneer LDC
Serial Experiments Lain
Every once-in-a-while I hit upon an anime that almost defies description. I am reminded of when I asked someone what they thought of Scorsese's film, Bringing Out the Dead. "It was weird", they replied. "Weird in a good or bad way?", I inquired. "It was just weird." Having watched Lain, I feel that I can draw a similar conclusion.
The style of Serial Experiments Lain is what truly sets it apart from virtually all other anime. The animation itself is quite minimal for the most part with several instances of re-used animation. The artwork is quite stark, with bold colors and heavy contrast. Scenes are carefully rendered with the absence of detail conveying as much as detail itself could. Odd camera angles are used, combined with careful lighting to generate some truly moody scenes. Computer effects are also used at times with competent results. The audio is another strong point, with excellent opening and closing themes, plus effective background music throughout the series. All in all, the aesthetic qualities of Lain really make it stand out from other anime.
The story is something which is best experienced rather than described. It starts out relatively simple enough. Lain is an incredibly introverted junior high student; one without any friends or social skills. One day, a fellow student commits suicide. While suicide is no less something which would shock many people, the real shock comes when other students begin receiving mysterious emails from the deceased. Lain herself receives one which reads, "I have only given up my body ... I am still alive." She also begins witnessing strange visions around her; events that only she appears to see. This prompts her to begin learning about the Wired (a synonym for the Internet) through the use of her Navi (a home PC). She also makes several friends at school and begins hanging out at a local rave club "Cyberia". It is through her experiences on the Wired and interactions with the people around her that she slowly awakens to some incredible and startling discoveries.
When I said the story is best experienced than described, I truly meant it. The thing with Lain is that each person who watches it will probably come away with their own interpretation about what really happens in each episode, and the underlying meanings that are conveyed. The fundamental story is about technology and the blurring of the borders between the real and online worlds. There is also a fair amount of religious symbolism, such as life after death and whether or not God exists and in what form. There are numerous questions posed in the series, and even the answers are very open to interpretation. It's definitely not something which will sit well with people used to having the solutions handed out on a silver platter.
I'm almost hesitant to recommend Lain, since it will probably mean so many different things to different people. Those that aren't fond of cerebral, atmospheric science fiction will want to give Lain a wide berth, since it pushes the boundaries like no other. But for fans of anime like Ghost in the Shell, this surreal series is definitely worth a viewing, and probably two, at that.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
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