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serial experiments lain Review

My good friends once told me that I wouldn't like this anime... that it was too dark, that it wasn't cute enough, that it wasn't fluffy enough for my tastes. I mean, sure, I'm not usually a huge fan of "dark" and moody anime. It's totally true that I'm an unashamed fan of anime that are bright, cheerful, and cute, but that doesn't mean that's all I like. It turns out my friends were wrong this time... not only do I like lain, it's turning out to be one of my favorites...

serial experiments lain takes place in "Present Day, Present Time", but it's not quite the reality we know. It's not exactly a reflection of our society, but more like a funhouse mirror. The story is about Iwakura Lain, a quiet 14-year-old girl who, as strange things start to happen all around her, begins to explore and discover the intricacies of The Wired (the Internet, more-or-less). As she looks for answers, she finds more than she ever expected.

serial experiments lain

There aren't any story details you need to know before you dive into the complex world of lain, but I'll give you a sense of what the show is like in case you're deciding whether or not to watch it.

First off, it's trippy. The makers of lain went for a distinctly psychedelic mood, and I'm not just referring to tie-dyed T-shirts.

Second, it's weird -- in an X-Files/H.P. Lovecraft sort of way. Chiaki Konaka, the writer of the series (as well as Armitage III and Bubblegum Crisis 2040), is a Lovecraft fan. [Lovecraft was a horror/cult author whose works were very weird. -Ed.]

Third, it draws you in. The show is a mystery of sorts. There's a lot we don't know in the beginning, and as we're given clues and answers about the truth, we end up with more questions needing to be answered. There are long scenes featuring unusual camera work, and scenes with little or no dialogue. Some scenes are altogether impossible to decipher. There are details at every little turn, some of which are crucial while others might be meant to distract you. The show demands your concentration, and you might find yourself very willing to give it.

Fourth, it's a computer lover's show. If you can appreciate the appeal of a powerful computer, or the feeling of urgency associated with needing a new one, you'll like this show. If you live a good percentage of your life online, this show speaks to you. If you feel amputated every time you visit home because there's no ethernet, the makers of this show understand. Better than any other anime I've seen, lain examines our networked society and discusses the implications of our humanity becoming increasingly "wired".

Produced by Pioneer and Triangle Staff (who worked on 1999's Maho Tsukai Tai! TV, Stellar Buster Mito, and 2000's Boogie Pop), the thirteen episodes of serial experiments lain played on Japanese television during the summer of 1998. Playing at 1:15 AM, this hard-hitting late night anime was not heavily hyped, but those who stayed up to watch it got to see something out-of-the-ordinary. I've heard people refer to lain as "the weirdest thing since Eva", and such a comparison is not unwarranted. If Evangelion challenged the industry to break away from convention, serial experiments lain met that challenge. In Japan, it won an award for excellence at the Media Arts Festival by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and since its release in the United States, it has been one of the top selling titles for Pioneer. Anime on DVD ( considers lain an essential part of anyone's anime DVD collection. Since I maintain a lain webpage, I keep track of almost every English-language lain website that exists; in the last year or so, the number of new sites popping up has been unbelievable.

Some people have criticized lain for the fact that it covers many of the themes already presented in Evangelion. In my opinion, those people are only seeing the similarities they want to see while being blind to the (very significant) differences. Consciously or subconsciously, all great works build upon and are influenced by the great works that preceded them and then add their own unique style and flavor. Even if two works appear similar, they each have a heart of their own. lain is an anime which not only incorporates the best of what has come before, but actively acknowledges (through references) that there's a lot more out there beyond the scope of what 13 episodes of anime can explain, that the ideas presented are not brand new, that other people have a lot to say about these ideas, and that the sources are available to anyone with more than a passing interest in what the series is all about. In that sense, lain does not take itself and its own viewpoint overly seriously. Instead of being self-absorbed, lain's anti-dogmatic approach and call for every viewer to perform his or her own "experiments" adds tremendously to the show's appeal.

It's true that lain is "dark" in its presentation, and even moody sometimes, but I never found it depressing. On the contrary, I found serial experiments lain, ultimately, to be positive and uplifting. lain's multi-faceted expression of several interrelated themes, its captivating visual landscape, its pulsing soundtrack, and the impressively actualized psychedelic mood make this show a must-see.

(I posted this review on the (now-defunct) Anime Grapevine on 10/24/2000)

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Last updated on March 30th, 2005
Lawrence Eng