Serial Experiments Lain

Genre(s): Psychological, Mysetery, Drama, Sci-Fi, Dementia

Age-Appropriateness: 15+ (some violence and profanity)

Platforms: Funimation, YouTube (All episodes available on Funimation’s YouTube channel, free)

Episodes: 13 (+1 prequelly OVA in the form of a PS1 game)

TheAwersome Rating: 7.5 / 10 (Deliciously unsettling)

Premise: Lain Iwakura, an awkward and introverted fourteen-year-old, is one of the many girls from her school to receive a disturbing email from her classmate Chisa Yomoda—the very same Chisa who recently committed suicide. Lain has neither the desire nor the experience to handle even basic technology; yet, when the technophobe opens the email, it leads her straight into the Wired, a virtual world of communication networks similar to what we know as the internet. Lain’s life is turned upside down as she begins to encounter cryptic mysteries one after another.

TheAwersome’s Thoughts: After hearing that this anime is about the psychological effects and dangers of integrating oneself online too much, obsessing with internet prestige and social media facades, chances are you’d think it was made in the last eight years or so. Yet here’s this piece from 1998 that is disturbingly far more relevant today than when it aired. This show was made uncomfortably close-to-home because I watched it literally one week after reading about Elon Musk’s Neuralink development.

Lain channels an old school dystopia vibe a la 1984 and Brazil, where you are lost and confused for most of the ride, just like the protagonist.  Yet at the same time you aren’t ever that lost. Not more than you are in every day life trying to keep up with the goings on and the abundance of information available, that everyone other than you seems to know.

TLDR: The unsettling lovechild of The Matrix and Donnie Darko, Lain is an existential ride that is hauntingly more relevant today than when it aired 22 years ago.

Something to keep in mind when watching this is that it’s a product from the late 90’s, specifically 90’s anime. The hallmark of late 90’s anime, other than Sailor Moon and DBZ is heavy doses of existentialism. Things aren’t presented chronologically, answers aren’t explicitly given, and you’re left to put a lot of the pieces together yourself, if you wish. I feel that Lain is a great example of what Monika says in Doki Doki Literature Club regarding her second poem: “Sometimes asking what [it’s] about isn’t the right question. [It] can be as abstract as a physical expression of a feeling. Or a conversation with the reader. So, putting it that way, not every poem is about something.”

The point I’m getting at is don’t try to find an explanation for how exactly every scene makes sense, where exactly they all are chronologically, etc. I feel that in the case of this show, there doesn’t need to be a solid, specific timeline in order for it to succeed in its purpose of unsettling you regarding extensive online immersion and raising existential questions.

I won’t begrudge anyone who looks at this and says “Nope, too weird, don’t get it and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be getting.” Especially with today’s pacing and format of most media. I’m not going to Rick and Morty stan this and say, “Oh you don’t get it because you’re not an InTeLecKshUaL like me.” No, I don’t “get” it, but I got a solid vibe from it that gave me the heebie jeebies and that alone gives this merit and makes it worth checking out. Especially now that you’re all enjoying your Social Distancing, quarantine, and isolation. Let’s all love Lain.

This OP will stick in your head for a long time

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