Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Serial Experiments Lain

First Impressions - 3.10.05

I thought I’d check out what looked like a good companion to Gunslinger Girl, an anime I’ve heard a lot about over the years since it came out – Serial Experiments Lain. After the first episode, the mood is very slow and ambient, though I’m finding it all slightly pretentious. Still, the image of the computer-addict father hidden behind a wall of screens, as if that’s the only way his daughter knows him, was oddly chilling.

Final Thoughts

Chiaki J. Konaka commands a lot of respect from me. Whenever people mention anime that make them uncomfortable, make them think in new and extraordinary ways, certain series recur again and again. Evangelion is one. Akira another. But then there are Narutaru, RahXephon and Serial Experiments Lain. And all are written or adapted by Konaka. And then there’s Princess Tutu, which is cute but sophisticated and remarkably deep, which he contributed to. Plus Hellsing, which (like RahXephon) I’ve yet to see, but is consistently voted one of the best anime of all time. Success? I’d say so.

I got hold of Lain not really knowing what to expect – I’d heard it was strange and made you uncomfortable, and thought that its subject matter had something in common with Saikano. By the end of it, I was glad that I have watched it through – although I very much doubt I’ll ever sit through it again.

Lain inspires extreme reactions: some hate it instantly, others love it and devote inordinate amounts of time to finding out all the references, all the allusions, and trying to understand this set of strange, disjointed images and themes. When a girl at Lain’s school commits suicide but continues to e-mail her friends, Lain begins to look into the online world known as The Wired – and soon starts to realise that she’s known there. Has she been there before? Are the boundaries between the real world and The Wired falling away? What is reality? Are we nothing but a set of electrical impulses? These questions, and dozens more, are posed over 13 episodes of abstraction, surreal imagery and pretentious dialogue.

I like sophisticated writing. But I cannot stand empty obscurity. I dislike Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Nabokov’s Ada, Plath, Emily Dickinson…and I understand that there are those who enjoy investigating obscure references because the digging is a reward in itself, and the more they understand, the prouder they become of their achievements, but that sort of writing irks me no end, especially when the trail leads only to obscure peculiarities of the author’s life, or nothing at all. Lain suffers this problem – there’s nothing deep or intelligent about a series of in-jokes about Apple Macs (‘Think Different’ even flashes up on the screen), and there’s nothing deep about the pseudo-science, the barely-explored high-concept ideas and recurring images that amount to nothing. The primary aim of a storyteller is to tell a story. That should be the foundation, and if it’s weak, then no matter how beautiful the ivory tower is, it will crumble.

That said, stylistically the show works well. The odd art and jumpy direction work well for the tone of the show, and it DID lead to me spending hours reading up on interesting things, such as the Schumann resonance (near-instant wireless transfer of electrical energy), what foo fighters really are, the nature of plasma, Alfred Nobel's life, Timothy Leary’s hopeless and (for someone so concerned with mind-expanding) hopelessly blinkered rationalising of the irrational with his castles in the mind’s sky, and the interesting sci-fi universe of Cordwainer Smith. For that, I’m grateful. But Lain, despite throwing all those interesting things into the pot, fails to even come close to being as gripping as a few hours on Wikipedia.

(originally written 10.10.05; I have since watched those classic series!)


  1. This anime is too deep for the narrow minded... -_-

  2. Haha, if that makes you feel better!