serial experiments lain is the product of an anime series produced post-evangelion, as well as the product of a society that is unsure of where its national moral values and beliefs are headed.

serial experiments lain takes place in the near future (maybe 2003) where everyone is online at all times.
"Everyone is connected" -Lain

Lain is a young 8th grade schoolgirl, who is shy, and self-involved. She isn't sure of herself, and her surroundings. She has lead a normal life, until she received a chain email from her classmate Chisa. The strange part is that Chisa had killed herself a few days before the email was delivered.

The girls in school are talking about how is is a sick prank, and that its sad that Chisa is dead. From this part on, the series starts to ascend into great amounts of metaphors, and other strange ideas.

Lain begins to receive packages from Chisa that contain computer parts that will help Lain learn more about the wired-world, and why Chisa "Abandoned her body". The series gets deeper, and less into action, and more into the thoughts, and feelings that people have in their core. This is where Evangelion has is roots.

This is the best anime, and film that i've ever seen. It has references to death, internet, individualization, BeOS, Alice in Wonderland, lsd, and how children are beginning to get lost in todays society.

The series stands as a warning about the future of Japanese culture, where it is headed, and the reprocussions that it could cause. Post-Modern Japan has changed quite a bit since WWII, and as seen in the show, it might be going in a direction nobody is sure of, at a speed that nobody can control. Serial Experiments Lain begins to scratch at the surface of what is on everyones mind, but is not yet full developed, quite similar to the show. The fears of a nation barreling towards self-oblivion, with ultra high suicide rates, low-paying-high-stress jobs, and family structures that are crumbling because of a lack of communication of emotions, and moral values.

I just finished watching 'em all on DVD, and the number of geek references continues to astound addition to all the Apple Computer-centric ones listed above, I note the following couple for example:

Let me add my heartfelt recommendation that you not watch this if you like things spelled out for you. It is, as it has been described and more: confusing, stunning, stylized, nonlinear, complex, beautiful.

I hate to be a naysayer, but...

Last night I watched the first four episodes.

Normally I love nonlinear, artistic stuff. Hoewver, Lain just seemed hackneyed, clichéd, with all the generic neo-anime signs (a network changing life and the meaning of reality a'la Ghost in the Shell, confused adolescents gaining new powers through their hormonal rushes a'la Akira, being fluffy and random for the sheer sake of being artistically disconnected and kind of forcing the issue, unlike, say, Key the Metal Idol)... I personally thought that Perfect Blue did a much better job of handling this storyline (and even though I've only seen the first four episodes, I can already tell where the whole thing is going).

Of course, I'm still going to watch the whole thing since I paid $80 for the whole series (because so many people so-highly recommended it), but during the first four episodes, I just couldn't help but MiST the whole thing as a defensive reflex.

It just seems trite, cliche, and banal. I'm sorry. I tried to like it. I'll continue to try to like it. But at this point, it hasn't given me anything to like.

That and they did such a half-assed job of the sound and voice acting and writing and direction. It was also very disappointing for a Pioneer release (given that their DVD treatment of Tenchi Muyo was a HELL of a lot better). I can live with them putting it only in stereo instead of dolby digital, but the menus just plain suck, and it goes straight into playing it after inserting the disk (a BIG no-no on things where people will likely want to choose the languages before starting it). The bitrate seems to be sufficiently-high, at least, but in general, both the series and the presentation of the series seem half-assed, at best.

If you want to see something which (IMNSHO) does a much better treatment of the subject matter, see Perfect Blue. It starts out coherent and draws you in (rather than starting out incoherent and being overly-artistic about it), it doesn't try to technobabble to explain stuff (and what they do explain actually makes sense, whereas Lain is FILLED with all sorts of techno-bullshit explanations for real-world stuff - a mortal sin in my book), and it doesn't dawdle, establishing and re-establishing stuff like Lain constantly does. (The first four episodes of Lain could have been done just as well, if not better, in probably 20 minutes, and roughly correspond with about the first 20 minutes of Perfect Blue.)

Maybe my attitude will change when I've seen more of it, but in the meantime, I'm just plain unimpressed.

* magenta braces for the XP pack-rape

Okay. The second disc of Lain is MUCH better. To answer peoples questions: I'm watching the DVD version, subbed of course (though the problem with Pioneer's DVD releases is they usually use the dubbed lipsynch; they did this with Tenchi too, and this can be very distracting), but I still found the voice acting in the first disc to be atrociously bad. With the second disc, the production quality is improving, though, and it IS diverging a lot from the Ghost in the Shell cliche (the evolution of Internet sentience), but is also grabbing more of the Akira cliche (kids' psychic powers being harnessed for Evil).

To deal with the techno-bullshit, I just pretend it's happening in an alternate reality. The techno-bullshit I refer to is all the stuff with the psyche chips, the drug chip, and all the other techno-nonsense which happened in the first two episodes. Fortunately, after the establishing of the pseudo-technology has been gotten past, they're focusing less on trying to make it seem believable (which only ended up hurting it) and more on just driving the STORY.

This is a Good Thing.

Basically: okay. I spoke somewhat too soon in my criticism of Lain. I had only seen the first disc (which has the first four episodes). It's getting better. However, I did say repeatedly that I had only seen the first few episodes, that I wasn't quite giving up on it yet, and that I would come to a more educated judgement later. And as I've just said, it is getting better.

BTW, anyone who feels the need to point out the blatant references (such as "Wow, isn't that the old Be logo?" and the like) is kinda annoying. Same goes for the people trying to spoil it by pointing out what the plot's about - like I had said before, I ONLY WATCHED THE FIRST FEW EPISODES. PLEASE don't try to spell it out for me yet. I'm not a fucking moron or anything. 'kay?

Anyway. Since people seem to need things spelled out around here whenever I'm criticizing something they hold true and dear: I was very unimpressed by the first disc. Its production quality was pretty low, and it spent more time trying to bullshit about the technology than trying to make a compelling story (and what story it did advance seemed pretty cliche). The second disc is much better. Although it requires having watched the first disc for context, it has pretty much dropped the silly pretenses and gone on to something I can appreciate, though I'm still not quite ready to call it art.

After I've watched the other two discs, maybe I'll have elevated my opinion of it even more.

Oh, and another niggle: I never said that Ghost in the Shell was about a sentient network AI changing reality, just changing the meaning of reality. That's all that was in the first disc. The actual physical changes didn't come until the second disc.

To add to the above geek references:
  • Is it just me, or does the 'be' in the 'To Be Continued' at the end of every episode look a lot like the old logo for Be (the company behind BeOS)?
  • In at least one of the earlier episodes, the blackboard in Lain's classroom has C code on it.

  • Magenta: Could you be a bit more specific with your criticisms? Lain is by no means perfect, but I personally found it to be pretty good. Now, I haven't seen Ghost in the Shell or Akira in a long time, but from what I remember, Ghost in the Shell didn't have a network changing reality so much as a single artificial intelligence challenging the definition of what is and is not sentient; and the 'powers' exhibited by some characters in Akira had nothing to do with hormones. (For that matter, what kids have powers in Lain, hormone-based or otherwise?)

    Are you watching the dubbed or subbed version? Voice acting in dubs is usually less than wonderful, in my experience. But are there specificproblems you have with the writing/sound/direction, or do they just not seem right to you?

    I saw Perfect Blue a couple days ago. It was very good, but I'd tend to prefer Lain myself, though only by a slight margin, mostly due to the subject matter than any stylistic differences. And what do you mean by 'techno-bullshit explanations for real world stuff'? I didn't notice anything like that when I watched it, so could you give an example?

    I'm not trying to flame here, I'm just curious as to what exactly you're basing your conclusions on.

    "(American viewers) won't understand this. I don't want them to understand this. This work is based on the sensitivity and values of the Japanese people. America is different from Japan. The work itself is sort of cultural war against American culture and the American sense of values we adopted after WWII. So I want American people to react to this work."

    "The message is, Things are simple."

    - Ueda Yasuyuki, producer of lain, responding to, "What do you think American viewers will think of lain?" and, "Is there a message to the show?" Taken from an interview published in the October 1999 issue of Animerica.

    Personally, this is what made the show enjoyable for me. I couldn't stand the show (other than the artwork) before reading that interview. It seemed too fake to me (like most of the stereotypical sci-fi toughguy anime), but when I caught onto the "this Lain" versus "that Lain" plot, I started to understand it a bit more.

    I think the show was trying to incite a bit of rebellion against the current state of post-war Japan with all the cool geek toys, power lines, the Wired, the conspiracy references, and pretty much the whole environment shown in a harsh light. Western culture as a trite techno-bullshitocracy. It's supposed to be cliche and a little annoying to the Japanese viewers. (It seems those who watch the show for references to technology and conspiracies are being intentionally fooled.)

    Of course, I still don't get it entirely and could be way off base.

    To make it even more confusing, the TV show was only part of the serial experiments: lain experience, released along with a video game and drama CDs (which explore the same plot, but with slight variations).

    Assuming most Americanized cultures don't really understand pre-war Japanese culture, it makes it hard to pick up on, especially since it's not depicted much at all in the show. Pioneer/AIC shouldn't even have thought of dubbing it into English - I read somewhere that Ueda was a little pissed off about that.

    I don't think lain changed much in Japan, outside of a few older people (older meaning pre-Nintendo Generation) and some temporary "Wow, I suppose you're right" reactions. Kids are westernizing/being westernized faster than ever. That's a whole different rant/node best left to someone else.

    (lain the show underlined to differentiate from Lain the character as needed.)

    Spoilers and Insane Plot Theories Ahead

    I have recently completed watching Serial Experiments Lain, and some things about the series became evident after a little bit of analsysis. Of course, this is meaningless since a) I'm not Japanese, and any deep metaphores have been lost in the translation, and b) Lain is intrinsically confusing; the film as a whole--the cinematography, the artwork, the editing--seems to represent the feelings of a struggling, traditional Japan in the midst of a cultural revolution. Now that the disclaimer's done, I can get down to the gibberish.

    I would like to start with the aliens, as they seem to be the topic of such interest to many Serial Experiments Lain fans. Quite frankly, I think they have no relevence to series at all; the writer most likely enjoyed Area 51, Roswell, and other black projects, so he decided to include the grey and the documentary for personal reasons. Besides being a red herring that Lain went after to find the truth, I can't see any real significance; the aliens as gods/creators concept just doesn't seem to fit with the overall theme.

    The Wired The Wired obviously parallels the collective unconscious of the "real" world in Serial Experiments, but what exactly does the collective unconscious represent? I tend to believe that the collective unconscious symbolizes the values of traditional Japan, while The Wired represents the new values of modern Japan. Two things lead me to believe this:

    1. Mostly children/young adults totally immerse themselves in The Wired. While most adults just view it as a necessary facet of life, some of them--namely Iwakura Yasou--are deeply immersed. This fascination that the younger generation have with The Wired parallels the current, real life adoption of Western culture by young people in Japan. Along with this adoption comes the abandonment of the traditional culture.
    2. There is some indication that the Knights of the Eastern Calculus* weren't founded in Japan, but rather "migrated" from the West, bringing with them the twisted worship of Eiri Masami as God.

    The Knights The Knights are apparently hellbent on making The Wired and the collective unconscious (reality) one in the same. Assuming that these two entities actually do represent the clashing cultures, the Knights are most likely the slightly older generation of Japanese who are embracing Western culture; they look at it as more than just an inconvenience and actually look upon it as a way of life. In more simple terms, they "worship" it, much like the Knights worship Eiri.

    Eiri Masami Quite simply, Eiri embodies the shift to a Westernized culture. He has vast power because of his followers; the more who believe in him (the Western ideal), the more that he can converge with a society based on traditional values. Side note: he needs his Knights alive (i.e. at least partially accepting of traditional values) in order to gain more followers, so having them kill themselves is counter-productive. In the end, Eiri is destroyed, then recreated as a harmless man, which brings me to my final point...

    What is the Lain? Lain is obviously the focus of the film, so she has to have a pretty damn important role. After careful consideration, I believe that she represents the collective unconscious, the traditional Japanese society. Her confusion, her self-doubt, and her entire situation epitomizes how the traditional Japanese are feeling in these modern times. On the surface, her ability to rewrite memories (the past/tradition) enforces that she is the collective unconscious. Because Alice, Iwakura Yasou, and Taro remember her in the end, and because she claims that she will always be there, it becomes clear that Lain is an intrinsic part of humanity. Her ability to overcome Eiri Masami stems from this, as The Wired is nothing more than an alternative place for the memories of the world to reside; she is the present, past, and future of the human race, anywhere and everywhere it goes.

    Examining more deeply, Lain's defeat of Eiri shows how traditional Japan can halt the progress of Westernization; since the Japanese culture allowed the Western influence in (although not willingly), it can also control its progress and its reach. This is a hope for the future.

    *As an aside, if anyone who knows Japanese to some extent could explain how "Lambda" got changed to "Eastern" in Knights of the Eastern Calculus, please give me a send. I want to know if the change was intentional or accidental.

    As another aside, this writeup was hell for me. Netscape basically exhausted all of my box's resources and the swap started grinding really hard. Everything practically froze, and I realized that I was screwed. By some grace, I managed to get the writeup through. God I hate Netscape for Linux

    At certain points of the show, code is scrolled across the screen. The code that's displayed on computer screens appear to be authentic code.

    In chapter 21 of the second DVD, a minor character, wearing virtual reality gear, is walking around the streets. A false colorized view of what's in front of him is displayed in his goggles along with some computer code scrolling in the foreground. A closer examination of the code, using your friendly pause button, will reveal that the code is actully in Perl! Not only that, the program is actually a CGI script. HTML is easily discernable and so are lines like:

    $host = $ENV{'REMOTE_HOST'};
    $addr = $ENV{'REMOTE_ADDR'};
    as well as several lines of regular expressions.

    I was actually, very briefly, tempted to copy down the code and run it.

    An Omnipresence in the Wired:










    Serial Experiments Lain is a sci-fi, with cyberpunk tendencies, anime. It observes the layers of reality, and the ones we create with the internet(called The Wired). So the episodes are named layers.

    It is availible on both VHS and DVD both of their volumes corresponding to each others.
      Volume 01 - NAVI
    1. WEIRD
    2. GIRLS
    3. PSYCHE
      Volume 02 - KNIGHTS
    6. KIDS
    7. SOCIETY
      Volume 03 - DEUS
    8. RUMORS
    10. LOVE
      Volume 04 - RESET
    13. EGO
    The anime Serial Experiments Lain (or more commonly, just Lain) is full of references to Apple computers, as well as a few nods to BeOS and NeXT.

    Exhibit 1: The Navi - This looks like it is based on the idea of a "knowledge navigator" proposed by John Sculley (former CEO of Apple). It would allow instant communication between people, and store vast amounts of information in a hypertext database. (No word yet on wheter Scully's machine would allow communications with the dead...) Some of his ideas for the knowledge navigator later ended up in the Apple Newton, which looks suspiciously like the hand-held Navi seen in the some of the classroom scenes.

    Exhibit 2: Lain's first Navi - It's almost an exact replica of the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. The only visible difference is that Lain's Navi was red, while the TAM is grey.

    Exhibit 3: Alice's iMac - Mizuki Alice has a computer that looks just like an iMac. Curved all-in-one styling, bondi blue side panels and everything, it looks just like a first generation iMac.

    Exhibit 4: Copland OS - Copland is the OS that Lain's new Navi (and her father's, too) run. Copland was also the codename for Apple's next-generation OS.

    Exhibit 4: "Layer n" - The voice that reads the name of each episode is called "whisper", and is part of Apple's text-to-speech package

    Exhibit 5: References to NeXT and Be - The end of each episode includes the line "to Be continued..." "Be" is colored red and blue, just like the BeOS logo. Lain's father's navi looks like runs NeXT, you can tell by the icons and the look of the GUI elements. (well, it could also be linux with a good gtk theme, I suppose) The color scheme is reminiscant of IRIX or Sun CDE, too.

    This used to be in it's own node, but was moved here at the request of dem "dammit jim, I'm a god, not a doctor" bones Sources: and my own interpretation of the series.
    This is the second half of a paper I wrote trying to relate a couple animes to Japanese history and Japanese-US relations. (The first half was about Grave of the Fireflies) I believe this fits well with the director's comments cited in other posts. (Spoilers)

    The second anime this paper will discuss is a television series called Serial Experiments Lain. With thirteen twenty-five minute episodes, the series is almost five-and-a-half hours long. There are a variety of elements present in the series that will be omitted, those mentioned being those most relevant to the topic of this paper.

    The viewer is introduced to the series when Lain, a junior high school girl, receives an e-mail from a classmate who has recently killed herself. The dead girl tells her that she is still alive in the "Wired" (something much like the Internet) and that God exists there. It is an eerie beginning to a disturbing storyline.

    Over the next few episodes, Lain becomes increasingly involved in the world of the Wired. She gets a more powerful computer, and with the help of mysterious forces is able to obtain the equipment needed to fully translate herself into the digital world. Things turn dark, however, when Lain discovers that someone who looks like her has been spreading vicous rumors about her friends. Her only real friend, a girl named Alice, is ashamed when her classmates are told about her lust after a teacher at the school. Lain learns that there is another Lain in the Wired, an evil and cruel side of herself that is tormenting her friend.

    Lain eventually meets the God of the Wired, a now dead programmer who managed to connect the human subconscious to the Wired using the Earth's "natural resonance". He tells her that people and experiences only exist as information. He introduces a system of subjective reality that is redolent of Orwell's 1984. If it isn't remembered, he tells Lain, it never happened. He extends this to people, whom are described as "software." He also tells Lain that she the ego for the human consciousness in the Wired. He tells her that he created her ego and body, that she is his homunculus.

    Lain buys into what he tells her, taking advantage of her newfound power. She discovers that she can manipulate reality, and removes all of the memories of the rumors her alter-ego had spread. She leaves only Alice's mind intact.

    Another factor that adds to the surreal feel of the series is its repeated references to the Roswell incident. In one instance, Lain is actually shown with the body of a classic sci-fi alien. It also goes through much of the early history of the Internet, discussing some 1950's-era American scientists who came up with the concept before the advent of powerful computers. Portions of the series almost feel like a documentary.

    In a scene close to the conclusion of the series Alice confronts Lain over what she has done. Lain tells Alice what the God has told her. When Lain tells Alice that people are no more than information and the bodies have become unnecessary, Alice responds by placing Lain's hand over her heart. Together they chant "Doki, doki . . ." (The Japanese word for heartbeat, an onomatopoeia). She says to Lain, "I don't really understand, but I think you're wrong. You're body is cold, but it's alive. Mine is too, see?" At this point, Lain comes to some sort of revelation concerning the Wired and the human subconscious.

    Below is part of Lain's final conversation with the God character, which follows her exchange with Alice.

    Lain: What you did was remove devices from the Wired. Phones, television, the network . . . without those, you couldn't have done anything.

    God: Yes. Those are things which accompanied human evolution. Humans who are further evolved than others have a right to greater abilities.

    Lain: Who gave you those rights?

    God: (startled noise)

    Lain: The program that inserted code synched to the Earth's characteristic frequency into the Protocol 7 code, which would raise the collective subconscious to the conscious level. Did you really come up with the idea by yourself?

    God: What are you getting at? No, it can't be . . . it can't be! Are you telling me that there really is a God?

    Lain: It doesn't matter. With no body, you can't understand. ("Serial Experiments Lain")

    Lain goes on to tell the (false) God that he is merely a proxy God, only standing in for someone else. That someone else is never specified. It might be, however, that the higher power she refers to has something to do with the aliens the series makes reference to.

    Lain destroys the God character and presses the world's "reset" button. She realizes that the Wired is not an upper layer of the real world (as she previously believed), but merely a means of connecting the vast human memory and subconscious. The final episode implies that Lain is the essence of this subconscious. Serial Experiments Lain is a dark and bewildering series, particularly to the Western observer. However, when veiwed in the context of Japan's relationship with the United States from World War II to the present, it becomes easier to understand.

    After the war ended in 1945, the United States occupied Japan until 1951. This time would largely shape US-Japanese relations up to the present time. Although American occupiers originally allowed for a truly democratic form of government, it clamped down in 1947 when Japan began leaning toward socialism. Known as the Reverse Course, this period saw many of Japan's prewar leaders allowed to return to positions of power. Labor unions were crushed, and remain ineffective today.

    The occupation did result, however, in the total demilitarization of Japan. American occupiers also helped refocus Japan on industry. The governement was encouraged to be very protective of local industries. Industries took advantage of the emotional void left by the defeat, and the family-state became the family-company. The samurai became the sarariman, the corporate salaryman.

    Where beating the West militarily had been the goal of prewar Japan, beating the West economically became the goal of postwar Japan. The Japanese people were still being manipulated with ideology to serve the needs of those at the top. In addition, part of the reason Japan was industrialized was to serve the needs of the United States; Japan's labor unions were crushed and industry protected at the expense of democracy because the Americans wanted a stronghold of capitalism in Asia.

    In Japan's postwar economic miracle was one of Westernization. Japan has been trying desperately to catch up with the West ever since Perry "opened" it in 1853. By any material measure, they have suceeded. In the 1980's, Japan came close to surpassing the United States as the largest economy in the world.

    All this catching up, however, has left the Japanese people asking the inescapable question: if all we do is import Western ideas, what makes us Japanese? This is reflected in the popularity of a Japanese literary genre known as the nihon-jinron, or "the theory of the Japanese." Also popular, oddly enough, are works by foreign authors critical of Japan. Japanese scholars, who claim that non-Japanese authors are incapable of understanding Japan, universally reject these works.

    The nihon-jinron echoes the exceptionalist rhetoric of prewar Japan. Although it does not claim that the Japanese race is destined for world domination, it does emphasize its superiority and its "spirit." It describes Western cultures as dry and Western people as disconnected, in contrast to wet, close-knit Japanese. Japanese culture is said to be warmer and more humane. It also emphasizes the supposed Japanese ability to understand without words.

    The nihon-jinron also extols Japanese homogeneity, which is actually a myth. Discrimination exists in Japan, mostly against the barakumin, descendents of people in professions considered unclean in the Confucian Tokugawa period, and Japanese born Koreans.

    Lain now begins to fit into the overall picture. The false God and his vision of the Wired represent the West, or more specifically, the United States itself. The fact that the Lain character was partially created by the God seems to be a reference to the American occupation, which reshaped Japan into what it is today. The way that the God views humanity, as "software," is in line with nihon-jinron descriptions of cold Western culture.

    Lain, however, rejects this. Alice, representing ordinary Japanese people, shows her that there is more to humanity than information. The scene where Alice has Lain feel her heartbeat is clearly influenced by nihon-jinron, with the Alice character encouraging Lain to feel her warmth.

    Lain then tells the God two important things: that he is a proxy God, standing in for something else, and that he is unable to understand the truth because he has already given up his body.

    The central message of Serial Experiments Lain, then, seems to go something like this: Lain, representing the spirit of the Japanese people, comes under great influence from the God, the West. The West has a lot to offer, primarily technology (the Wired). Western culture is, however, cold and inhumane. The West/God attempts to push its coldness onto Japan/Lain. Japan/Lain rejects this, and incorporates the foreign technology into the Japanese spirit. It is implied that the West served only as a means of transmitting this technology to the culturally superior Japan, and that the West may have gotten the technology from some other higher power (the Roswell aliens). The West/God is incapable of understanding the truth because he has no body--or, like the authors of nihon-jinron claim, because he is not Japanese. Viewed in this way, Lain is a dissappointingly exceptionalist work.

    Clayton Naff's About Face and Patrick Smith's Japan: a Re-interpretation were important sources for this part of the paper.

    The central thing for me is this: Alice calls Lain back to true Japanese-ness, after she was led astray by western ideas.

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