Serial Experiments Lain (Box Set) Review
Lain Iwakura is just like any other 13 year old girl, although she is possibly more introverted and shy than most. Lain lives with her parents and older sister in the suburbs, and attends the local school where, despite her awkwardness, she has managed to make a small group of friends (Arisu, Juri and Reika). Lains daily life is full of routine, until one day she receives an email from Chisa Yomada, a classmate who committed suicide the previous week. Chisa’s email claims that she has not died – rather she has become part of the Wired (the Internet). A number of Lains friends have also received the mail, but they all decide to dismiss it as a prank, except for Lain. She decides to try and contact Chisa to find out how she came to be in the Wired and what made her give up on the real world, this is the start of Lains journey into the Wired world and one that raises questions at every turn.
As Lains interest in the Wired grows her on line presence becomes more noticeable, and she soon becomes a target for the Knights, a super hacker group who try to repress and control the information on the Wired. In contrast to the Knights on line interest, the Men in Black are a potential real life threat to Lain as they begin a round the clock surveillance on her house. Although Lain is aware of the presence of both the Knights and the Men in Black their apparent hostility does not prevent her from continuing to look for Chisa’s presence in the Wired. Her interest soon becomes an obsession, with constant upgrades to her Navi (personal computer) until it all but takes over her room. With this increase in power, on line presence and recognition Lain soon begins to realise that events in the Wired are beginning to affect the real world and the dividing line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred.
As you might have gathered from the above description the main idea behind Serial Experiments Lain is the representation of technology and it’s use (or misuse) in our everyday lives. Each episode starts with the moniker “Present Day, Present Time”, and Lain does reflect (to a certain extent) the world that we live in today. The only real difference is the technology that is used but even here Lain throws in references to what could have been. If you look closely you’ll spot several references to operating system’s and hardware design that were being developed and marketed by Apple towards the end of the 90’s. Unfortunately for Apple many of these developments did not reach completion for a number of reasons, but they must have been brought to the attention of Chiaki Konada (the writer of Lain) who decided to use them as the basis for the technology in the series.
Konada is probably better known for his involvement in the Bubble Gum Crisis 2040 and Digimon television series and Lain marked a dramatic change of direction from both his previous and future work. This reasonably short 13 part series is dark, intelligent and thought provoking. When first shown on Japanese television Lain was scheduled to run after 01:00 in the morning, an early indicator that this series was firmly aimed at an adult audience.
Visually Lain is quite simply stunning, even though the animation and character design are more simplistic than most modern anime series. Bearing this in mind the utilisation of CGI and real life video was a surprising as well as a bold move as it could have easily distracted from the overall look and feel of the series. Instead it enhances and adds substance to both the wired and the real world and more importantly never looks out of place or overpowering.
More than anything else it is the story that makes Lain so appealing, and even this is understated. Dialogue is for the most part infrequent, but always necessary to the development of the story and there is no padding of the script, every word spoken is relevant (even if it is sometimes misleading). The story unfolds slowly with each episode (or layer) providing an extra bit of information, and more often than not a raft of additional questions, which don’t always get answered. This does actually work in Lains favour as it allows the series to quickly explore concepts that are relevant to the story but could have easily become unwieldy and cumbersome.
Finally it is worth noting that due to the slow pace of the story, things don’t start to make much sense until you’re well into the 2nd / 3rd disk. It is at this point that things dismissed early on in the series start to become more relevant. Lain requires the viewer to be patient and to actually digest what is happening on screen rather than just watching it.
A week after the suicide of Chisa Yomoda, Lain checks her email and finds that she has received a message from Chisa. Intrigued by Chisa’s claims that she is still alive in the Wired, Lain’s interest in the online world starts to manifest itself.
After a night out to Club Cyberia, Lain’s friends are convinced that they saw Lain there as well. They persuade Lain to join them on another night out, to see whether Lains ‘twin’ will also be there, but their night of fun ends in disaster as a result of the new ‘drug’ accela.
Lain receives a mysterious package whilst a school, when her friends open it all they find is a computer chip. Lain soon finds out that this is the new Psyche processor and sets about installing it in her new Navi.
With the new Psyche processor installed in her Navi, Lain is able to project her ‘human form’ into the Wired, where she finds out about a game that might be causing it’s participants to commit suicide. Could this game be the work of the Knights?
Emails and messages are being sent everywhere telling people to “fulfil the prophecy”. Lain’s sister, Mika, becomes a target for this message and the images she is presented with make her mentally unstable.
Why are children stopping in the street, with their hands held high? Lain discovers information about a cancelled science experiment to harmonise and collect the psychic abilities of children. Have the Knights resurrected this experiment to further their own ends?
Who are the Men in Black and why are they watching Lain’s house and her family? To try and explain their presence they ask Lain to visit with their employer who wants to know more about Lain and her abilities in the Wired.
A number of rumours are spreading round school, and many of them involve Arisu, but is it really Lain who is starting all these rumours in the Wired?
Lain receives another memory chip from the Knights, but finds out the damage it could do before she installs it in her NAVI. Meanwhile her ‘family’ is preparing to leave…
All over the world, people who were connected to the Knights are being found dead. Now that their identities have been revealed is the Knights reign over? After her family has left, Lain finds ‘God’ in the wired and tries to understand her role outside of the real world.
Lain is totally ensnared by the Wired and is bombarded with images from her past. Amongst all the noise she realises the power she has to manipulate the real world.
Armed with her new knowledge, Lain is ready to give up her existence in the real world. When Arisu comes to check on Lain, she instigates a confrontation between Lain and God. Will Lain give up her body to become one with the Wired?
Another day has dawned and everything appears normal. Lains family are eating breakfast and her friends are going to school, but where is Lain?
Lain is presented in its original aspect ratio of 4:3 – this was after all a show that was created to be shown on television. The transfer onto DVD is very impressive; in fact I was unable to detect a single problem with the transfer. Blacks are solid and never too intrusive – even in the very dark scenes, and the colours that are used are well represented and never over saturated. The mixture of animation techniques also comes across well, you are aware of the use of real life video and CGI, but it adds to rather than distracts from the overall effect.
The subtitles are also clear and easy to read, and I only noticed a couple of grammar mistakes though out the entire 13 episodes.
As for the soundtrack this is just plain old Dolby Stereo, but it is perfectly adequate. There are no problems with dropouts and all dialogue is clear. A number of sound effects are also used in Lain and these are also well represented – particularly the oppressive ‘humming’ of the electrical wires.
Each episode is presented with a choice of the original Japanese track or the dubbed English track. My preferred track is always the original, but I was also quite impressed with the English dub. The only minor quibble I had is that each disk starts automatically with the first episode and the default option of the English dub, not a great problem but slightly annoying all the same.
The 4 disks that make up the 13 episodes of Lain can be bought separately if you wish, however I decided to buy the box set. Instead of using the usual gatefold packaging which is incredibly susceptible to wear and tear Pioneer decided to use the solid box set packaging. The box itself includes original artwork by Yoshitoshi Abe who was one of the main character designers on the series, and is also covered by a thin blue plastic slip on case. This further distorts the artwork and is very in keeping with what could be seen as one of the main themes of the show. The disks included in the box set are exactly the same as the ones you can buy separately and they also use artwork inspired by the show.
Menus / Extra Features
The menus for Lain are static and completely silent, but at the same time are very nicely designed. The main menu repeats the cover work of the DVD and the other menus use scenes from the series as the backdrop.
The extra features that are included in Lain are spread across all 4 of the disks, with each disk having something slightly different to offer. The extra features on each disk can be found by selecting the Extra Stuff option.
Disk 1: Navi
The extra features on this disk include a total of 30 Conceptual Drawings. These drawings centre around the first 4 episodes on the disk, and many of the thoughts on how people and places might look are unchanged from drawing board to inclusion in the series. A promotional video / advert for the main artists who feature on the Lain soundtrack is also included here. This advert focuses on the artists who contribute to the opening and closing sequences.
An Easter Egg can also be found on the main menu, which is accessed by selecting the second e in experiments in the series title.
Disk 2: Knights
Again we have a number of Conceptual Drawings, this time we are presented with 15 drawings and again these focus on the characters and places seen in the 3 episodes contained on the disk. Possibly the best feature on this disk is the non credits opening, which features the song Duvet by Boa. I absolutely love this opening song, and the clean version of the credits makes you realise just how wonderful and hypnotic Lain looks.
As with the first disk another Easter Egg can be found on the main menu screen, this time selecting Lain’s eyes can access the feature.
Disk 3: Deuce
Another set of 13 conceptual drawings can be found on disk 3 along with another advertisement. This time it’s for the Play Station game for Lain, and is aimed at the Japanese market.
Another Easter Egg can again be found on the main menu. This time there is a faint outline of a circle over Lain’s heart, select this circle to take you to the Easter Egg
Disk 4: Reset
Yet again we have another set of Conceptual Drawings to look through, this time there are 15 of them and again concentrate on the last 3 episodes. A collection of adverts for the Lain merchandise available in Japan is also included. The adverts are for the Play Station game, soundtrack and the DVD release. Finally we have the non credits ending sequence, this sequence is slightly more hypnotic than the opening sequence as there are no changes of scene, but it is just as effective as the opening sequence in setting the overall tone for the show.
Disk 4 also contains the last Easter Egg, once again this is found on the main menu and can be accessed by selecting Lain’s eyes.
DVD Credits / Devices
The credits for the DVD can also be found on each disk, as can a short film entitled devices, which can be found in the Episode Selection menu. First viewing of these gives the impression that they were shown after the episode was aired in Japan as they involve Kaori Shimizu (the voice actress for Lain) talking about different devices (for example ears, eyes, feet etc…) with a “Next Episode” tag on the end. This seemed to be a strange method of promoting the next episode in a series, as it is more usual to promote an individual episode by showing teasers, however the idea behind them became much clearer as I watched the last few episodes.
Lain is a series that will not appeal to everyone, a number of anime fans will no doubt be disappointed with the lack of action sequences whilst others will be enamoured by it’s simplicity and grace. Lain is not a show primarily aimed at computer geeks either, although the dissection and understanding of modern technology is a central theme. Ultimately it’s a show that can be enjoyed by anyone who is able to question what he or she is watching and come to independent conclusions. If you are looking for something different from the usual assortment of anime, then Lain could be the show for you, just be prepared to buy all 4 disks and spend hours thinking about what it all means.