- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA *** ERGO PROXY
- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE *** WOLF CHILDREN *** RUROUNI KENSHIN *** [C]-CONTROL
- BLACK LAGOON
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.