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A Mind-Warping Reunion with SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN - - DVD/Blu-ray Review

Thirteen episodes with a girl from my anime past.

When I was a much younger pop culture junkie (back in the far-flung past of the late 90's), there was a lot I didn’t know about the world of Japanese animation. In fact, it’s much easier to summarize what I did know about anime: next to nothing.

Sure, I had my worn out NINJA SCROLL and AKIRA tapes, and I always kept a keen eye on my TV for anything with enough rocket fuel and mech combat to make the jump to an American network. But I had no idea how much more was out there, or just how far out it was.

But that all changed when I met Lain.

Set among the stifling normality of contemporary, middle-class Japan, SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN defied my young man’s impulses to seek out ACTION, COMBAT, and GENERALLY X-TREME AWESOMENESS. Instead, here was a show about a quiet young girl - - with no real drama to speak of in her life - - doing everything she could do to stay safe and sane in the famously treacherous world of teenaged girls.

The show around her was not so covert, however. It cast a dire and dangerous mood from frame one, letting me know that there was more here than just school drama.

While Lain goes about her normal routine, something powerful is coursing through the city’s lights and power cables, and it’s driving people mad. The Wired (LAIN’s approach to what we might also call the internet) is gaining power as more and more users log in. It’s become unable to be contained within the circuitry that powers it and, somewhere, a rift is leaking data into our world. The result is an ever-present buzzing in the air and a trickle of e-mail transmissions from those thought to be dead, but who are apparently still alive in the digital world.

When one of these e-mails lands on Lain’s phone, she catches the Wired bug - - or should I say virus? - - and dives into the online world to see what’s up.

What had started as a seemingly light school drama is quickly transformed into a tale of human-to-transistor transmigration, and we see how Lain feels more alive in the Wired than her human body ever allowed. Her bedroom fills with growing mass of monitors and computer parts, and we see her slipping away from the real world. But who's to say what “real” is, anyway?

While my personal love of LAIN should be obvious by now, I warn that it’s most definitely not for everyone. A slow series for sure, LAIN is an apt candidate for such descriptors as meditative, abstract, and obtuse. But for those who are up to the challenge of putting some serious thought into our relationship with a world wide web that (like it or not) connects us all, there are rewards aplenty here.

The animation is nothing short of beautiful, and an attention to detail fills the frequent quiet stretches of each episode with numerous lovely subtleties to rest your eyes on. And while it’s slow and dreamy to the point of trance-induction, LAIN is also very much a product of the late ‘90s, brimming over with clever bits of proto-internet paranoia and cyberpunk mythology.

From black suited agents with advanced technology to synthetic drugs taken in the back corners of dark dance clubs, there are a lot of cool concepts circling this show - - and that’s to say nothing of the long, frank discussions of just what separates man from the machines he has made for himself.

When I was younger, I saw my own journey into the online world happening alongside Lain’s, both of us similarly struggling to separate our physical selves from the endless ocean of knowledge, possibility and excitement that seemed to exist a few keystrokes away. Now that I’m grown, I recognize this distinction as an immature one; this particular aspect of LAIN’s premise follows quite closely to a well-established philosophical tradition of examining the separation of mind and body.

However, while I’m now more familiar with the terms it’s operating on, I don’t enjoy LAIN any less. Rarely does a piece of mass media scratch this particular transcendental itch in such a meaningful and effective way. While I might have grown up a lot in the years since I first saw it, LAIN hasn’t changed a bit - - because it didn’t need to.

Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.

metalsnakezeroon Dec. 21, 2012 at 10:46 a.m.

It awesome how ground breaking LAIN is and still is. I'm meaning to pick it up soon.

CapeBarneson Dec. 21, 2012 at 11:09 a.m.

I too watched Lain when I was younger. People call it "confusing as hell," but I don't see it that way Loved it then, love now. It's an anime that will always have a place in my heart.

AURON570on Dec. 21, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.

Great article, LAIN is on my to-watch list, and I finally have a good idea of what the series is about! I look forward to delving into it soon!

Kino88on Dec. 21, 2012 at 4:22 p.m.

oh yes, I loved this show, though my first time with it was only 2 years ago, I found it to be one of the most thought provoking anime ever made, I still plan to revisit it very soon as seeing it once is simply not enough,

oooh I didn't even mention the amazing soundtrack.

Destinyheroknighton Dec. 21, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.

I can't wait to pick this up (but do wish Digimon Tamers come over here with sub/dub)

heyalexei staff on Dec. 21, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.

Oh, and somehow, I wrote this whole article without ever mentioning that I was/am/will be completely obsessed with the opening song. Really great track.

sickVisionz moderator on Dec. 23, 2012 at 3:39 a.m.
This was one of the first anime I saw when I first started seeking out anime to watch (probably around like 2005). I loved it back then and found it surprisingly violent and really spacey in a cool way. I plan on getting the bd release but I doubt I'll rewatch it. I remember being blown away by like a 10 minute techno/philosobabble monologue in one episode but nowadays that stuff is an immediate turn-off for me.
zaldaron Dec. 26, 2012 at 7:42 p.m.

Oh how I love this show....Evea got me stoked on what anime could be past big guns, bigger breasts, and lots of blood. As soon as I heard this show described as being for people who found eva easy to understand...my little elitist self had to have it. I like to think I am no longer the crazy elitist I used to be, but I still love this show. Next to texnolyze one of the mind fuckest of mind fuck animes....some non anime people I showed it to compared it to blue velvet which fits for style but not at all for substance.

I need to watch this again..Tom you SO need to watch this show, and oldie and a goldie for sure.

jrenzoon Dec. 27, 2012 at 5:04 a.m.

just commenting for a quest :D

gillagorillaon Dec. 28, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.

Serial Experiments Rain

Dig Deeper into Serial Experiments Lain

A young girl finds herself caught up in the world of the Wired in this sci-fi cyber-drama.

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