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Serial Experiments Lain Dissection/Overview

Updated on September 2, 2014


Warning: the following passage contains many spoilers pertaining to the anime series known as Serial Experiments Lain. If you have not seen this anime and plan to watch it sometime in the future, I would highly advise that you not read this article.

Serial Experiments Lain is a 13 episode anime series that first premiered in 1998. The story follows titular character Lain as she blurs the line between the real world and the virtual world known as " The Wired." The story seems to be a commentary on the human race's new-found reliance on technology to enhance itself. However, the actual plot is presented in a very non-traditional way, leaving many viewers confused. In fact, the series offers very little to those who are not interested in fantasy elements or anything that doesn't have a definitive concrete meaning. This leads many of the people who watch the series to become entirely uninterested in it because they cannot actually understand what it is trying to tell them. There are many possible interpretations regarding Lain, but I will go over only one of them, the interpretation which I made myself.

Iwakura Lain, protagonist of Serial Experiments Lain
Iwakura Lain, protagonist of Serial Experiments Lain | Source

Perhaps the reason that Serial Experiments Lain is so difficult for some to understand is that the series lacks transitional phrases during a lot of its scenes, which is the opposite of what most stories do. This makes it ambiguous is to how many events came to be, where they occur, and whether they are actually happening in a chronological sense relative to all of the events that occur before and after it. Also, many themes that the series involves require a decomposition of many of the living world's principles (such as existence, time and reality) in order to comprehend. As to whether or not this these aspects add to the presentation value is entirely up to the viewer, although the originality of the production cannot be denied.

The story begins as a female classmate of protagonist Lain decides to kill herself. Over the next few days, many people (including Lain) receive e-mails from this dead girl, named Chisa. Although this message is dismissed as a prank by Lain's peers, Lain herself learns from the message that Chisa no longer exists in the world of reality, but still exists within "The Wired." After hearing this, Lain decides to order a stronger computer so that she may involve herself in The Wired. This point in the story is where things start to get convoluted.

Soon after Lain's trek into The Wired, we learn that there is somehow another Lain (whose personality contradicts that of the"real" Lain) appearing in places that Lain does not recall going to within the specified time. This is possibly a play on the concept of identity theft or that Lain's existence within The Wired is so effective that she can split her personality into multiple forms in the real world without consciously realizing so.

We are then introduced to two nameless men who appear to be observing Lain in her home and when leaving it. An anonymous hacking group known as the Knights of the Eastern Calculus is also introduced. The Knights are responsible for many events in the series, including the placement of a parasite bomb in Lain's room and the deaths of many children within an online video game.

After this point, Lain meets with an entity within The Wired that refers to himself as God. This entity then proceeds to inform Lain of many concepts, such as Lain's supposed omnipresence within both the real world and The Wired. But what exactly do all of these things mean?

One of the parts I remember greatly about Serial Experiments Lain is when it explains that the human body is a restriction on the human mind's capabilities since there are a very limited amount things that it is allowed to do. Supposedly, the only way to reach the human mind's true potential is to ascend to a form that is not physically bound by a single form, such as how one would interact in The Wired, which is somewhat comparable to the actions of the protagonist in Enter the Void. Another interesting point is Lain's insistence on how the real world is not "real", implying in some way that a virtual world is able to reach certain phenomena that are not possible in the real world because a virtual world is a manifestation of the human species' thoughts, wants and needs that are not possible within an environment that is not under ultimate jurisdiction of humans. This means that a world of this nature could be influenced greatly by the arbitrary wishes of those who control it, such as a man who claims that he is God.

If this is not already starting to sound familiar at this point, then allow me to point it out for you: Serial Experiments Lain basically predicted what the internet would become about a decade before it actually did so (though obviously the internet we have today is not nearly as influential as The Wired).

Towards the end of the series, Lain meets with the man who claims to be God (Eiri) who then explains that Lain has always existed within The Wired since its inception, even though this is not apparent by the way the series's plot is presented. Also, one of Lain's alternate personalities is seen by Arisu, a friend of Lain's, behaving in a voyeur-like manner towards Arisu. Since this leads Arisu to be displeased, Lain decides to erase Arisu's memory of the event.

Eventually, Arisu is able to convince Lain that humans need to be based in the real world in order to survive. After this happens, Eiri confronts the two to the annoyance of Lain who tells him that he is only an acting God and that she is the actual God of The Wired. Eiri then attacks Lain and Arisu, but he is defeated by Lain. Upset by the death and desolation that she has caused throughout the world, Lain decides to erase the memory of herself from everyone and then resets time back to before she got involved in The Wired.

Eiri Masami, the "God" of The Wired
Eiri Masami, the "God" of The Wired | Source

I firmly believe that the message in this story is not really that difficult to understand, though many of the specific plot details are unnerving in the fact that not everything is explained in a direct way. Serial Experiments Lain is about the clash between the current technological advancements and basic human interaction. Although there is much to be gained from technology, humans should not lose what inherently makes them human; be that emotion, physical interaction, or whatever other limitations. This is what prevents us from transforming into exactly what we have created to serve us. Although there are probably other messages that can be found in Lain, I feel as if the one I pointed out is the most important one. This if further evidenced by Lain's relationship with Arisu. Although Lain had gone very far into the depths of The Wired, she still had a deep connection with a human being that she cared for, who was also able to change Lain's mind on a very important subject.

Mizuki Arisu (Alice in the English dub)
Mizuki Arisu (Alice in the English dub) | Source


Serial Experiments Lain is well-known because of its insistence on ignoring everything that is considered to be normal and concrete. But maybe its methods of explanation are meant to decipher something that would otherwise be unclear. The only things that we can rely on for certain are what we can think of by ourselves.

Review of Serial Experiments Lain by Tristan "Arkada" Gallant

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