Japanese Title: Serial Experiments Lain
Similar: Boogiepop Phantom
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 13 episodes
- Atmospheric art and sound design.
- Unnerving in all the right ways.
- Intriguing mystery.
- Too slow, even for a slow anime.
- Stiff dialogue.
When I started anime, while Serial Experiments Lain was much talked about by core viewers, I avoided it because it looked like the edgy show for emos, or some rubbish. I don’t know how I came to that conclusion. I was an idiot teen. Since I became an adult and no longer hated things I’ve never seen because of what others thought, I had added Serial Experiments Lain to watch. When a reader sent in a request (submit your review requests here), it was the perfect excuse to bump it up the schedule.
Lain is your typical introverted teen. One day, girls in her class receive an email from their classmate Chisa. Nothing unusual. Exceeeeept for the tiny detail that Chisa killed herself recently. When Lain opens the email, it takes her into the net’s social media network called the Wired, opening a new world of mystery and danger to her otherwise dreary existence. More suicides, strange men in black, and the surreal begin to warp her mind, blending the virtual with reality. In the Wired, are they any different? Lain will soon realise she has an important role in both worlds.
Serial Experiments Lain is one hell of a trip. If you don’t like having your brain slowly drained through a hole in your temple by cyborg ants, Lain won’t be for you. It has a detached, isolated tone, which is a perfect match to Lain’s character and life, or rather, her outlook on life. The first episode is largely her staring blankly and possibly tripping out – I’m not sure. We experience Lain’s emotions.
Unfortunately, this drugged state is overdone. Most characters act drugged out when they aren’t, and the stilted dialogue has massive silence between lines. “How are you?”
When everyone is drugged, no one is drugged. It weakens the impact on the few where it fits. Dialogue scenes are uncomfortable, not in the right way, despite there being so few of them.
Most screen time focuses on the visual and audio experience to steep the viewer in the explorations of existentialism and consciousness. Lain has more experience than story, sometimes to its detriment. The director stands before a spotlight, arms raised as he yells, “More. More! Give her more drugs. I want the audience to smell the psychosis!”
“Um, Sir, sh—” tries the poor production assistant.
“More!” The director cackles to the darkness.
“Sir! We need to start the next scene!” yells the assistant.
“Oh, right.” The director clears his throat. “Carry on.”
I feel it could have balanced the two without weakening its core intent, the ‘experience’ moments. As always, less is more. Some experience moments feel like tangents, irrelevant “babbling” about dementia and the mind, despite these scenes being of importance, simply because they are overdone. It’s as if while brainstorming, the team came up with several ideas on how to convey a key development of Lain’s psychology, but rather than pick the best of the pool, they threw everything on screen. One perfect moment is better than ten competing for the same objective. The dementia sells itself, without the need to force it into every grain of the story.
Few viewers will enjoy this anime. Serial Experiments Lain’s appeal is so niche it has dethroned RahXephon as the most niche anime I have reviewed.
Art – High
The tone reminds me of Perfect Blue – never a bad thing. Lain uses visual effects such as grain, TV noise, and distortions to mess with your head. I hate the ridiculously small mouth-to-head ratio though.
Sound – High
Disturbing music complements the detached, isolated tone and psychedelic audio. Sounds drop in and out of existence, or are far too loud for what they are, unnerving the audience like classic J-horror.
Story – Medium
A girl investigates the mysterious appearance of her dead classmate’s consciousness in the internet. Pacing and writing issues mar this otherwise good exploration of identity and existentialism.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For psychology fans. Serial Experiments Lain doesn’t need the 3-episode rule. Its style is so unique and unusual that ten minutes are enough to know if it’s for you.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)