visual experiments lain is one of the nicest artbooks I own, and I own a decent number (41). Like artbooks for other anime series, the 80-page VEL includes plenty of screen shots, conceptual drawings, original illustrations, and informational text in Japanese. Of course, I can't read Japanese, so I am judging the book purely by its aesthetics. If you can read Japanese, there's more than enough text to make this book worth buying. In addition, there's a decent amount of English text to help readers navigate the book. Text aside, VEL is simply great to look at.
What sets VEL apart from other artbooks is its incredible layout. serial experiments lain is a visually interesting anime, so it's no wonder that the book devoted to it is also visually interesting, living up to its billing as a "visual experiment." The progressive layout reminds me of Mondo 2000 or other postmodern mags; not your typical use of white space...and it looks nice...very nice, in fact. VEL is not a book of original illustrations, so the work of Yoshitoshi ABe (original character designer) is not heavily featured. On the other hand, it does includes some excellent full-color illustrations by Takahiro Kishida, who drew the animation character designs. This book seems readily available at various online anime stores or on ebay, and is relatively inexpensive. If you're a fan of lain, I give VEL my highest recommendation.
an omnipresence in wired by yoshitoshi ABe is surely one of the greatest anime artbooks ever made. Hardcover with a plastic slip-case and containing 128-pages of art on high quality paper, the package is irresistible. Most of the art is full-color, but even the few black and white drawings are stunning. The variety of illustrations and drawings is excellent as well. The various illustrations that appeared in AX Magazine, all the cover art, PSX game art, stuff from the various omake (LD and DVD extras), design sketches, a beautiful and creepy full-color comic...it's all there and more. The layout is simple--not as interesting as Visual Experiments Lain--but the content is rich. With not much text at all, omnipresence contains page after page of gorgeous illustrations, many of them full page or even spanning two pages. Each in their own way, the two books are a visual tour de force. omnipresence is not easy to find and it is relatively expensive, but if you love Lain, you can't do without this book.
By Chiaki J. Konaka, scenario experiments lain is not really an artbook. Instead, it contains the original screenplays of all 13 episodes of the anime. 336-pages long, this book is almost all Japanese text, with the exception of the cover illustrations, a few color and black-and-white character images, and several black-and-white storyboard images. I would recommend this book to die-hard lain fans only.
The serial experiments lain - Ultimate Fan Guide, by Bruce Baugh, is the first and only English-language lain art/info book available anywhere. Published by Guardians of Order, Inc. (known for Big Eyes Small Mouth--its anime-inspired role-playing game--and its anime guidebooks), the lain guidebook contains 112 pages of episode summaries, character and place descriptions, various bits of theory and speculation, pictures, design sketches, and information on how to incorporate lain into BESM gaming campaigns. The first 80 pages are in full-color, and the other 32 are in black and white.
Back in July, when I first received information that this book was going to be released, I decided that I'd review it as soon as possible. Since that time, something happened that will force readers to take my review with a grain of salt. If you've seen the book already, you may have noticed that I'm listed in the credits ^_^ While the book was being written, the folks at Guardians of Order contacted me for help, and I sent them some much-needed source material they weren't able to acquire on their own. Furthermore, they used some information from TEL in their book. Most specifically, I gave them permission to republish my information on the relationship between Apple and lain. Furthermore, the authors may have used TEL as a research resource for other parts of the book, as well. In any case, I am credited as having provided "additional research". Although I volunteered my services for free, I did receive two complimentary copies of the book when it came out. Please note: although I contributed some information, I had no pre-knowledge of (or any say regarding) the book's overall content.
That said, allow me to share my general impressions. Compared to most anime artbooks, the Ultimate Fan Guide has a lot of text, which is why the "guide" label is more fitting. There are plenty of images, however, for those in search of eye-candy, especially in the color section of the book. Essentially all of the images are (small) screencaptures from the anime, but they are of good quality and layed out professionally amidst the text. Some of Yoshitoshi ABe's DVD cover illustrations are present as well (as nice full-page images). The images in the black and white section of the book are more disappointing. They consist mostly of design sketches (such as those found in the lain DVD bonus galleries) but they are only of low-to-moderate quality--being grainy, faded, or of low resolution compared to the originals. visual experiments lain and an omnipresence in wired have better versions of those same images.
In general, the writing is of decent quality. There are more typos and awkward sentences than I would normally expect in a professionally published work, but that's just my nitpicking (especially regarding how they presented my Apple/lain info). The majority of the writing consists of detailed episode summaries, which are pretty good, and character descriptions, which are also quite well done. The information presented is not particularly ground breaking, but it's useful for those wanting to remind themselves of what happened in each episode and who the characters are (without having to re-watch the videos). Most of the book's theoretical and speculative discussion regarding the series can be found in a short section called "Lain's World" that describes the various places and organizations in the series. Some fans, including myself, expressed initial concern that the book might codify and present as canon a single interpretation of lain, dismissing other (equally-valid) interpretations. While the authors of the Ultimate Fan Guide certainly have their own interpretive biases, I think they do a good job leaving things open-ended and clearly stating that there are a number of competing theories for any given point of contention. Instead of presenting "Truths", the authors discuss various possibilities--an approach I approve of.
The role-playing game info section of the book will be useful for those who want to role-play within the world of lain using the Big Eyes Small Mouth gaming system, as it provides numerous game-related suggestions and statistics. Unfortunately, the book contains character stats for Lain and Masami Eiri only. This section also contains some analysis of lain's themes, my Apple/lain info, and the aforementioned black and white conceptual art.
The book concludes with an index and a listing of credits from the anime which curiously leaves out its main creators: Yasuyuki Ueda (producer), Chiaki J. Konaka (writer), and Yoshitoshi ABe (original character design). In addition, the listed credits apparently do not take into account that different production staff members had different roles for different episodes. For example, Ryutaro Nakamura (director) is not credited for his directing work at all. Takahiro Kishida, while listed in the book as a key animator, is not credited for his animation character designs. Please see my more accurate listing of the credits here: http://www.cjas.org/~leng/basic.htm
The serial experiments lain - Ultimate Fan Guide, besides having short sections on 1) internet protocols and 2) the history of The Knights Templar, does not contain very much in terms of externally researched information. Even in the analysis, the text does not rely on (or refer to) very much outside of the anime itself, which is unfortunate but understandable given the broad scope of connections related to the anime, not to mention the limitations of the print medium. lain is an intrinsically multimedia and hypertextual experience, so perhaps it is appropriate that some of the most compelling material related to lain is best and most easily accessed online. When all is said and done, the "Ultimate" Fan Guide is more of a basic handbook. For the most part, good quality professional writing aside, most of the information in the Ultimate Fan Guide can be found by those who look hard enough on the internet.
Overall, however, Guardians of Order put forth a solid effort and released a product that doesn't suffer any major flaws. I'm happy with the book, and I would have gladly paid money for it. My recommendation to others, however, will have to be qualified. The book clearly meets the needs of some audiences better than others, and I will structure my recommendations with that fact in mind.
Casual fans: For those who watched lain once but haven't felt the need to buy it, re-watch it, discuss it with anyone, or look for websites about it, my recommendation is: "You're better off buying an artbook for something you like better."
Interested fans: For those fans who enjoy discussing lain with friends, have bought and watched the DVDs multiple times, have some inexpensive lain merchandise already, and occasionally visit lain websites, my recommendation is: "This book will make a nice addition to your collection."
Veteran fans: For those experienced lain fans who knew about or watched the series even before it was released in the US, who already own the import artbooks and other expensive merchandise, participate heavily on lain discussion forums, and who routinely visit lain websites, my recommendation is: "You will be moderately impressed, at best."
Hardcore fans: Extra-dedicated lain otaku who can't resist buying anything lain-related, and who are interested in everything and anything that's been written about lain (whether they've said/heard/written/read it all before or not) will get the book no matter what. My recommendation to them is: "Do you really have to ask?" ^_^;