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Serial Experiments Lain? More Like Cereal Spearmints Cane! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 21st, 2008


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10:24 pm - Serial Experiments Lain? More Like Cereal Spearmints Cane!
Serial Experiments Lain was the first anime I ever wanted to watch, and it's taken me something like seven years to get around to it. I remember seeing the box set in Emily and Shari's room, and it looked intriguing. All I knew about it was that in the beginning, a girl kills herself, but then later, this other girl gets an e-mail from her! Oooh, creepy. I always wanted to watch it with them, but I guess I was afraid to ask. Flashforward seven years or so, and Shari sends me her DVDs! (And Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is what initiated the anime kick I've been on all year. After which dozens of you recommended Lain to me years after I already wanted to watch it.)

I find it very difficult to describe Lain. Wikipedia says that basically every American review called it "weird," so...yeah, it's weird. It's mildly—sometimes wildly—incoherent. It's incredibly moody and deliberately unnerving. It's not very funny at all, and smiles are in short supply.

Lain is about a teenage girl (an anime about a teenage girl? YOU DON'T SAY) named Lain. She's shy and introspective and kind of an outcast, but one girl, Arisu, invites her into her group of friends. The series begins when a girl kills herself...and a week later, people start receiving e-mails from her. Lain gets one too. It says that she had no more use for her body, and she is now in the Wired, which is essentially a souped-up version of the Internet (the series came out in 1998). She says, "God is here."

I thought the series was going to explore this whole "e-mail from a dead girl" thing, but that's just the catalyst. Because of this communication, Lain becomes more interested in the Wired, and she goes on a trippy journey of self-discovery (an anime about coming-of-age? YOU DON'T SAY).

What the series explores instead is the nature of reality itself and, more importantly, humanity's place in it. Communication, connection, consciousness—these words and ideas pervade the series. The Wired (i.e., the Internet) connects people on a level that was previously impossible; it could be seen as a step in human evolution. It allows us to communicate information to everyone else whereas before, so much information was kept to ourselves because we had no way of distributing it. And then there is the matter of consciousness and whether it transcends the body: when you're online, what is that? Who is that? How do our digital selves relate to our real-world counterparts?

Do you ever feel like the line between the Internet and real life is starting to blur? Because in Lain, it is. Quite literally.

The storytelling takes some getting used to, and, really, you may never get used to it, per se. My reaction to the first several episodes was a simple "...WTF?" It did eventually start making more sense, but it made more sense by making less sense, if that makes sense. And I found that having some of my questions answered wasn't actually what I wanted; the sheer WTF of the enterprise was part of its...I hesitate to say charm, but its essence. Since the show is about the interplay between the real world and the digital world, it was hard to tell how much of what we were seeing was "real." It's amusingly appropriate that the theme song begins with "And you don't seem to understand."

The real story is Lain. This is a little problematic in the beginning because she's so reserved and quiet, and it becomes incredibly problematic later in the series for reasons I cannot say, but suffice it to say that once Lain becomes obsessed with the Wired, it gets really hard to tell what she's thinking and feeling, which makes it somewhat difficult to accompany her on her journey. But then, say, she wears some adorable bear pajamas, and you like her unquestioningly. You want her to find out who she is and what's up with the Wired.

Along the way, the show employs several devices designed to freak you out. My favorite is the pre-credits opening, in which a guy declares, "PRESENT DAY. PRESENT TIME. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA." It's so menacing and unnerving and I love it. Oh, just watch it. You also get to see another device, which is static. Static is freaky shit, yo. After the credits, each episode opens with some narration over the same cool, muted scenes of a bustling city full of people walking around but not connecting. Then the title of the episode is read by a speech synthesizer. Each episode is called a layer, with each layer taking you deeper and deeper into the abyss. Finally, the most noticeable recurring element throughout the individual episodes is the hum of telephone wires. I came to almost welcome the monotone, the basest manifestation of noise in an empty, quiet plane.

Lain may have a plot, but it doesn't really matter. It's not necessary to understand what's going on to appreciate the show. It's so much more about the imagery and ideas, about what it says about our increasingly technologically advanced society and how it manages to freak you out more than a Hollywood sci-fi vision of the future (because this is PRESENT DAY. PRESENT TIME). It's about Lain finding her place in the world. The ending is surprisingly satisfying. Even though I didn't understand half the fucking things that happened along the way, I thought it somehow ended the way it was supposed to.

For the closer, I'm going to borrow from my dear duchessdogberry, who lists this as her favorite anime:

Stop resisting and judging. Just give into it and let it wash over you.
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(20 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:July 22nd, 2008 05:58 am (UTC)
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I've had fansubs of Lain on a CD in my big book of burned anime CDs for years and never got around to watching it. I have a friend who really likes it, but his tastes are a bit more... disturbing than mine, so I was always a bit hesitant about it.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:12 am (UTC)
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It's not really disturbing. More disconcerting. Like I said, it's a big bucket of trippy WTF, but it's still pretty cool and intriguing and interesting.
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From:mycenae
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:06 am (UTC)
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I was totally going to leave a comment that said nothing but "PRESENT DAY. PRESENT TIME. HAHAHA." because that is literally all I remember of Lain. I watched it about 8 years ago, and it didn't make too much sense in the first place, but that damn crazy voice from the beginning will always stay with me.

Why does your journal insist I prove my humanity? Do you get a lot of robots?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:15 am (UTC)
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Oh! Yeah, sorry, I forgot to take that off. I was getting a lot of robots one day. Maybe they will leave me alone now.

And, yeah, I'm pretty sure that damn crazy voice will stay with me. Especially because when I put in the DVD, it started playing the first episode rather than going to the menu, so I was all WTF IS GOING ON. So freaky. I loved it.
[User Picture]
From:duchessdogberry
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:11 am (UTC)
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I'm so glad you finally saw it. I love this show so much and it's so hard to explain why. It just made me think so much and was so beautiful and so sad and left so much open to interpretation and... takes a left hand turn rather than a right like Hollywood would've.

And I really think it's one of the most well thought out visual experiences ever. Films can't get shots as beautiful as this show. Because, yeah, Lain's such an internal character emotionally and hard to read, but you get a shot of her taking in the world around her and seeing the stark whites and the freaky shadows and hearing that hum of electricity and... you can understand how she must feel.

And, not to mention, Lain makes me pronounce "psyche" as "pah-sy-cK" in my head. How can you not love that?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:20 am (UTC)
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I didn't love it like you did, but it sounds like you had a very personal experience with it. And I think you probably related to it a lot. I related to some parts (like the distinction between your real self and your online self, except the metaphor went too far to be useful to me), but I was mostly just confused.

I really liked what it had to say about the connections between people, though, and the collective consciousness. That was neat.
[User Picture]
From:duchessdogberry
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:36 am (UTC)
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but it sounds like you had a very personal experience with it. And I think you probably related to it a lot.

Maybe just a whole lot. Yeah.

I first saw the show when I was 16 and all I had was the internet to connect with people. It just unlocked a lot of thoughts and feelings in my head at the time. Probably wouldn't do the same if I had first seen it as an adult, sadly.

I figured that you probably wouldn't react to it the way I did, but I think it's definitely an anime worth checking out. It's one of those few popular ones that's really still and quiet and Japanese while still able to hold your attention. It's sci-fi but it's not giant robots or aliens or violence.

but I was mostly just confused.

Oh, that old line again! You're very hung up on this confusion thing, I think.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)
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I'm allowed to be confused! I'm not very smart!
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From:arbitrarium
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:22 am (UTC)
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And I really think it's one of the most well thought out visual experiences ever.
I clicked on the link and watched the opening, and wow, it's beautiful. Very expressive and thoughtful. And one part really scares me, because faces unexpectedly appearing in static/shadows/mirrors is my weakness.
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From:aveline
Date:July 22nd, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
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PRESENT DAY. PRESENT TIME. - yes, I totally loved that too.
I found the first few episodes very...disorientating? But by the end of the series, everything just clicks into place, and every the bits that don't make sense somehow make sense?!
Just give into it and let it wash over you. Excellent, v excellent way of describing how to watch this anime.
I've watched SE Lain twice now, there is something about it that really sticks with you afterwards...
[User Picture]
From:miniglik
Date:July 22nd, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC)
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Sounds really trippy (but with bear pajamas!). It's probably too hardcore for me yet. I'm still at the starter-anime point.

Anyway. Hi! *waves*

[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I wouldn't recommend this as someone's first anime.

Hi!
From:ikcelaks
Date:July 22nd, 2008 10:21 pm (UTC)
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I bet that there are a lot of people who would enjoy Lain without having any interest in the more well recognized animes. If someone likes things very abstract and character-centric (like me!), no training is required.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
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True, but I think that anyone who likes things very abstract and character-centric wouldn't need to worry about anime to begin with.
From:ikcelaks
Date:July 22nd, 2008 10:52 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, but this might be a good in for people who would like those core elements but are turned off by things like kids fighting in giant exo-skeletons, space cowboys, or gaudy animation.
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From:ashfae
Date:July 22nd, 2008 12:51 pm (UTC)
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So I was president of the anime club my last year in college and showed Lain, and we were all happily addicted. Except that I'd bought the series from bootleggers in Chinatown, and it was divided onto five tapes, and the fourth tape turned out to not be Lain but instead be Dragonball Z. I nearly got lynched and was saved only because our intelligent projectionist quickly slipped in The Muppet Movie and everyone was too happy to lynch me. I never did find out how Lain ended. Damn.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Oh no!! You should get your hands on DVDs or something!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 22nd, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
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I guess I'd better at least finish Sports Night before you want your DVDs back...

-s.
[User Picture]
From:super_hoodzie_x
Date:July 22nd, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
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I watched the first two episodes of Lain in like...seventh grade. After hearing from everyone i knew who liked anime that it was really awesome. I was as confused as you, but since the video store only had the first two DVDs...i just left it at confused and watched something else. Maybe i should try and find the whole series somewhere and watch it.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 22nd, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Hee, yeah, you get more into it as it goes on. Layer after layer.

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