Anime, as a genre of media, is relatively young. Like all of television, it has had a scant half-century in order to develop into its own style and form. There are several stereotyped sub-genres of anime: the "magic girl" stories such as Sailor Moon, the "mecha" series such as Robotech, and the romances, which are almost inevitably high school -- with the ironic exclusion of Marmalade Boy, which is one of the better examples of the genre. When it comes to producers as to what is made next, there are two choices: either to take an old genre and do something better than the previous series of the genre, or to branch out into new domains. Kare Kano is the most obvious example of the first choice, Serial Experiments: Lain would be an example of the second.
Lain is different partially due to the fact that the directors were more concerned with style than with plot, or even with characters. Reading a summary of an episode and watching the show are very different things. It is not the "what", or the "who", or the "why" that is most interesting, it is the "how". This is most easily addressed in the use of colors. The first image that strikes the eye is the city scene at the opening of each episode: a sickly green color filled with indistinct forms, barely recognizable as people walking about. Green is a color associated with life; ironically the green of plants is more or less absent in a city, but it also has other associations with rotting and with lust (specifically sexual), not to mention the phrase "green with envy." Emphasized here is a city that is alive, but the lack of color, aside from the green, twists that somewhat, almost as if implying life, but little else. Similar are the streets, which Lain walks near her home: a bright, unrelenting white, the shadows in red. Where in Western usage white is generally associated with purity and innocence, it is also in many cultures the color of death. This leads to two possible interpretations: the traditional Western which would claim that it is innocence, with lust hiding in the shadows, or, if white is the color of death, the more sinister and more straightforward concept of death and blood. In stark contrast to this is the black car which appears on the street; black is generally associated with death, but also with the mysterious and the unknown.
The colors used are chosen specifically for these reasons, as they are able to set a tone and atmosphere even to those who are not specifically paying attention to them. These two are necessary for drama simply because unless the viewer has a context for the emotions depicted, those emotions may appear melodramatic and facile -- which destroys any effect those emotions might have. This is the triumph of Kare Kano over Marmalade Boy. The creation of tone and atmosphere is not restricted to images, however. The same explanation can be used for the silence compared with the electric hum that fills what would otherwise be silence, punctuated only by footsteps or the train on its rails. Almost every aspect of these is specifically chosen for an effect. This leaves viewers with two options: to either sit back and watch, or to watch closely to determine how the tone and style of the series are constructed, to see how the audience is being manipulated by these choices. Serial Experiments: Lain invites the second simply because there is so much to look for, and this extra depth is part of what makes the series interesting.