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A Brief History of Lain: the Anime, Game, and Manga
serial experiments lain consists of three apparently separate continuities (anime, game, and manga) which share some very similar themes and situations (mostly referring to the anime and manga since I have less knowledge of the game). Just to explain the history of the series for those who are interested, from what I understand (pieced together from various articles and interviews), the producer Yasuyuki Ueda wanted to create something represented across several media. (Game->Anime ; Anime->Game productions are not uncommon)
"The approach I took for this project was to communicate the essence of the work by the total sum of many media products." - Yasuyuki Ueda interview in Animerica Vol. 7, No. 9
The scenario for the playstation game was written first, and it was decided right afterwards that the anime be made, so the same writer (Chiaki Konaka) wrote the anime scenario, using the "same heroine named lain and its design" retaining "the entire taste and concepts" (Chiaki Konaka interview in HK Magazine, Winter 1999) of the game but changing, removing, adding, and expanding various story elements as he saw fit, most notably changing the cast of supporting characters and the worldview from which the story was told--external and internal views of the Network/Wired in the anime vs just an internal view in the game.
The anime and game were produced at the same time, but the anime came out first (July 7th, 1998). The game came out on November 26th, 1998. (The anime was much more popular than the game.)
"In the game, users can interactively access fragments of Lain's memory. Then users can actually feel the Lain who exists inside the Web. In the TV animation, people can understand Lain by following the story." - Yasuyuki Ueda in Animerica Vol. 7, No. 9
In terms of continuity, there seem to be a lot of things, events, and characters in the anime that I haven't heard about being referenced in the game, and vice versa, so even if the game's story was written first, the anime does not seem to follow the game's continuity very closely or even at all. As far as I know, there are no direct references to the anime in the game, nor any direct references to the game in the anime. The one constant seems to be Lain herself. (Again, I haven't played the game, so any firsthand accounts are more than welcome.) *game spoiler* I've read that the game has its own dramatic and conclusive ending where Lain, having made a realization about the nature of existence, shoots herself and lives only on the Network.
In character designer Yoshitoshi ABe's color manga, it's interesting to note that both Tohko (presumably Lain's therapist from the game) and Masami Eiri (from the anime) appear. ABe doesn't seem to care about keeping the continuities straight, but the manga is short (just a few pages) and more of an omake ("extra"), and is not considered definitive. Since it's only in the lain hardcover artbook an omnipresence in wired, most people don't even know it exists.
Lain the girl, then, exists on what appear to be a few different continuities, each actualized by a different set of creators with different concepts of lain (with some overlap in both creators and concepts). For example, the director of the anime, Ryutaro Nakamura, didn't work on the game project at all, but of course had a huge impact on the presentation of the anime.
"She's not a person who had a fixed personality created by our concept" - Yasuyuki Ueda in Animerica Vol. 7, No. 9
If there are indeed Serial Experiments at work here, they are being done by all of us, including the creators of lain, who are trying to understand who and what Lain is. The creators present Lain the girl to us (the audience), but they too are ultimately part of the audience. They too are personally trying to understand this character they helped to create, and as such, there are different "versions" or conceptions of Lain even amongst the staff of the show. As implied in the anime, Lain has multiple personalities because she is partially created by all of us.
There are as many different Lains as there are people. ^_^
I think one can conceptually relate the anime, game, and manga as being expressions of the same character in different (but somewhat similar) circumstances, but I don't think they were meant to be linked to each other on an any more literal level. ie. "the game leads directly into the manga which leads directly into the anime." While one could come up with a theory as to how that might work (Lain's lack of memory opening up a lot of possible theories about her past), I don't think the creators intended people to infer such a strong sequential and linear relationship between the game, manga, and anime even though they have overlapping design and thematic elements. In my opinion, the stories of the anime, game, and manga are not serial. Rather, the "experimental" works themselves were created serially; those media exist as separate expressions of Lain made one after another.
In spite of their similarities, the separate continuities were developed on their own terms independently of each other, so I think it's appropriate to view each as being a complete work in and of itself, unconnected to any prequels or sequels. The ultimate goal of the entire body of work is not to tell a grand sweeping story that crosses the borders of game, manga, and anime...instead, the goal is to (in a multimedia fashion) show us Lain the girl (or the Goddess even)--in her various manifestations--who (depending on how we interpret the series) exists even outside the scope of what we call serial experiments lain. She is omnipresent, if you will.
"In regard to the design of the character, I must say that the term 'recalling' is more appropriate than 'creating.' The action of drawing 'things that recall the existence of lain' which was omnipresent in my own memories, made me dig, wipe the dirt, and reconstruct those things step by step to come closer to the existence of 'lain.' It was as if 'lain' were always there, even before I started to think of her existence." - Yoshitoshi ABe in an omnipresence in wired
"In the end, I wanted people to understand Lain, the girl. Ultimately, I want them to love her." - Yasuyuki Ueda in Animerica Vol. 7, No. 9
You the reader: I can't say for sure whether or not you love Lain, but thinking of all the fans I've encountered, the creative staff of lain did an excellent job.
"Have you ever seen the Lain?"
(I posted an earlier version of this article to the (now-defunct) Anime Grapevine on 10/31/2000.)
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Last updated on March 23rd, 2001