When one thinks of anime usually things like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece come to mind. Dynamic fights, grand storylines, and bombastic characters. But underneath all that stuff you see in Shonen Jump lies a dark side. This darkness contains stories featuring human characters with pretty psychotic plots. This is stuff Western animation would never dream of doing. Serial Experiments Lain is one such anime. Much like the movie Inception, you can't turn away for a second otherwise you'd be completely lost. It's a show that will probably require a second and maybe even third viewing to fully grasp. It is by far one of the most intriguing things to come out of animation.
Picture the most psychotic and thought-provoking movie you have ever seen. Times that by two and expand it into thirteen episodes. That is Serial Experiments Lain. It's so complex that even trying to give a general outline of the plot is challenging. In starts out with a girl named Chisa Yomoda that commits suicide...while smiling. When something starts out with a schoolgirl smiling while committing suicide, you know this is not going to be a happy ride. The main character is an 8th grader named Lain. She at first is the definition of a shy, meek girl, someone you feel sorry for right off to bat. At home we see her parents are rather absent minded around her. Her dad is computer-obsessed and her mom just doesn't seem to care about her. Her older sister, 16, seems to be the only that's actually 'there.' This all seems pretty normal, right? Well, once the Wired gets involved, the strange happens.
What's interesting about this anime is that it can be viewed from different perspectives. One can view it as a psychotic story about a girl realizing she's not real. One can view it as a social commentary on the addictive use of computers. Or one can just see it as some weird anime that makes absolutely no sense. The Wired is the internet, just a slightly more futuristic version. The computer itself is explored in many different ways. Lain appears to become addicted to being in the Wired, and it becomes more of a reality than 'real life.' One of the parts I most liked was when 'taking on a different personality' was brought up. One said that most of the time a personality in the Wired is completely different than who the person really is. This mirrors internet users taking on a different identity than what they truly are, it's an easy thing to do. Now keep in mind this was made in 96, yet is still relevant today. It's a timeless anime.
Past the computer stuff, the show quickly becomes really strange. As you're struggling to keep up with it all, you're struck with quotes such as, "The other side is overcrowded. The dead will have nowhere to go." It's up to you to try and piece together everything for something coherent. Alice is Lain's one true friend, a likable character from beginning to end. She is a human, she convinces Lain of that. The general thing is the 'god of the Wired' says is that one doesn't truly need a body. This god was maybe the most interesting character. (His design is also something straight out of Bleach.) He claims to be god, and says one doesn't really exist in the 'real world.' He twists things, making Lain believe the real world isn't real and the Wired actually is. Lain challenges him with the question of what gave him the ability to do all the things he could. He explodes saying how can this be, that there had been a god all this time. You see, along with talking about computers/internet, the show also deals with theology, on the subject of the existence of a god. It's pretty interesting how one show manages to accomplish all of this.
While it may not seem too complex by the way I'm describing everything, the truth of the matter is that it's more complex than Inception. In the later episodes the Roswell Incident is brought up, complete with history and real life images. An actual alien appears in Lain's room, classic martian look. He doesn't stay long, he quickly disappears. It's important to mention he looks exactly like the alien on Dell's hardware, Alienware. Whether or not that was intentional is beside the fact. I was quite shocked by the appearance of this extraterrestrial, came out of nowhere. How it relates to the overall story is a mystery to this day. In the final episode we're hit with these thought provoking pieces of dialogue...
"What isn't remembered never happened."
"Memory is merely a record."
"You just need to rewrite that record."
When I saw those it instantly reminded me of 1984. In that story it's stated that if you change memories you can reshape the past. To destroy all remembrance of an individual or event would render it non-existent. There's plenty of stuff I didn't touch upon, but that's all things you need to see cause my descriptions wouldn't do them justice. Serial Experiments Lain is a must see, whether you like anime or not. It's something not easily forgotten, for it challenges the viewer with many subjects and allusions. You will fathom how human minds came up with this 13 episode story.
"What's it like when you die? It really hurts! :)" (I guess the smiley face was even used in the 90's.)