Welcome to Cyberia. Welcome to the postmodern. Welcome to the end of history. Welcome to Hypertext Transfer Protocol rewiring and restructuring human society and neurology. Welcome to the Apocalypse.
Welcome to Serial Experiments Lain. Hope you enjoy the ride.
This article series will be a deep analysis of the tv anime series Serial Experiments Lain. In these articles I hope to go over the the underlying ideas under-pinning the show, and trace how the show explores these ideas into its cinematography and narrative. In the process I hope to demonstrate to you what I consider special about Lain as a piece of media, and hopefully help you in your own understanding of the show.
In the process I’ll also horrendously abuse Wikipedia links as an off-site resource. Of course, more substantial sources will be used where possible, but as a tool to quickly direct readers to large complicated ideas Wikipedia is invaluable. That said, it does say a lot about our culture when we consider our best source of information an encyclopedia that anyone can edit at will, allowing any carefree individual to rewrite history or reality; and making the end user dependent on the sheer consensus of the majority to maintain an “accurate” outlook on the world.
Food for thought, no? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
This first article will serve as a short reading primer and introduction, with a few notes for when you’re watching (or rewatching) the show. Subsequent articles will explore particular topics in more depth, and will assume that the reader already watched the anime and is at least passingly familiar with the ideas or concepts discussed as they are presented in the show. Unlike more traditional analyses, I’ll be eschewing a line-by-line/frame-by-frame reading of the text; instead I would rather tackle whole ideas holistically and organically.
Synopsis- Close the World, Open the nExt
Lain Iwakura is an ordinary shy, introverted junior high student from an unremarkably average household who isn’t good with computers and has no interest in the world of the Wired, a global communication network eerily similar to, but not quite, the internet. When several of her classmates receive a disturbing posthumous e-mail from Chisa Yomoda, a girl who had recently committed suicide, Lain connects to the Wired to investigate; in so doing she begins a surreal journey where she’ll blur the boundary between cyberspace and the real world, and leads her to question the very nature of consciousness, perception and reality itself.
Reading Primer- Layers
As the arch-typical postmodern work (no seriously university professors teach postmodernism using this show) there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
1) Please get ready to jettison your classical narrative structures: SEL will require you to ignore temporal/spacial (and thus, narrative) causality- it’s better to think of time as a flat circle in the show, rather than a straight line. Or at least, that’s one possible interpretation- Lain herself is hardly a reliable narrator.
2) Ze Author ees Dead: Well, not literally, Konaka-san seems to still be doing well, but I was referring to Barthes anyhow. This text is open to interpretation, and a major part of engaging with the show is how you interpret it through the prism of your own experience.
If you’re one of those people who are hellbent on authorial intent, this is what the producer (Yasuyuki Ueda) has to say: “yeah, because when we made this, we had certain goals and certain things we wanted to express, but everyone has their own opinion, their own reality–if you were–that they posses, and so just because I think a certain way, or I want this certain thing to be understood, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think you should get something else out of it, that “oh that I disagree with this, there is no kind of life like this.” As long as you enjoy it and get something out of it for yourself.” Source.
So yes, he just basically said that you’ll need to figure this thing out by yourself, so try to keep an open mind. Take it slow and think about what you see in the show, and how all those disparate concepts fit together.
3) The Metatext: SEL is going to draw on concepts that are not explained in the show at all, but are heavily referenced– and a lot of it is going to be really, really weird and confusing. Now, granted, you won’t need to know these things to enjoy the show, but if you do know them it’ll help a lot in making sense of it all. Don’t worry, this is where I come in- I’ll do my level best to point these out to you later, and I’ll try to explain how the show uses these ideas to tell its story.
4) Pay Attention: This probably goes without saying, but it’s still a good thing to keep in mind: pay attention. Because of the way the show is structured, everything presented on the screen from the grandest abstract sequence to the smallest arbitrary detail can be important to forming your narrative of the show. Everything from the Present Day, Present Time intro to the ED song. Or even the red herrings presented to the viewer to intentionally mislead them. Even the title –Serial Experiments Lain– is important. Sorry to harp on it, but: pay attention.
Right, that should about cover it as a basic reading primer- in the next article we’ll start the deep analysis and look into one of the sources of inspiration for Serial Experiments Lain: one Howard Phillips Lovecraft.