Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Limited Edition)
DVD + Blu-ray
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Acclaimed artist Yoshitoshi ABe (Haibane Renmei, Texhnolyze) brings to life the existential classic that paved the way for blockbuster films such as The Matrix. Follow along as fourteen year old Lain driven by the abrupt suicide of a classmate logs on to the Wired and promptly looses herself in a twisted mass of hallucinations, memories, and interconnected-psyches.
Serial Experiments Lain (1998) was one of the first artistic/surreal anime series that combined a fragmentary narrative with collages of disparate visuals. Although she can barely deal with e-mail at the beginning of the series, 13-year-old Lain metamorphoses into a computer guru involved in The Wired, a cyber-dimension that represents the sum of human electronic communications. Her waxing strength attracts the attention of the Knights of the Eastern Calculus, a cabal of hackers fighting the staff of the sinister Tachibana Laboratory. The cyber-Lain grows bolder and more confident, but her real-world counterpart seems to be fading out of existence. Does she need a body any longer? Does she still possess one? Her father departs, announcing that their family has never been anything but a group of actors. The Knights, who seemed omnipotent within The Wired, lose a critical power struggle and its members are executed by Tachibana agents. Lain greets these questions and revelations with her usual fixed stare and little indrawn breaths. Complications multiply as Lain debates the nature of God and free will with Masami Eiri, who argues that human minds are linked like electronic circuits on a subliminal level. As the boundaries between the real world and The Wired break down, Lain insists, "What isn't remembered never happened," and rescinds not only the actions of her cyber counterpart--but perhaps her own existence. When Eiri, the self-described god of The Wired, loses a debate with Lain, he explodes into a mass of writhing tentacles and eyeballs, and the tone of the series suddenly shifts to anime horror. Director Ryutaro Nakamura uses hand-drawn animation, computer-generated imagery, processed live-action footage, and still images to create a disjointed narrative. The collages of conversational bits and repeated close-ups of Lain's eyes only increase the feeling of disjuncture. Viewers will either embrace this skewed portrait of an emerging computer-dominated world or reject it as pretentious and unintelligible: no one will watch Serial Experiments Lain with indifference. The DVD/Blu-ray boxed set comes with a chunky volume of production artwork that includes neither captions nor credits. Rated TV 14: minor sexual content, violence). --Charles Solomon
(1. Weird, 2. Girls, 3. Psyche, 4. Religion, 5. Distortion, 6. Kids, 7. Society, 8. Rumors, 9. Protocol, 10. Love, 11. Infornography, 12. Landscape, 13. Ego)
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Six years earlier, the Internet was a rough, largely uncharted territory only recently gone mainstream. Sure, it was exciting to be able to access porn whenever we wanted, and playing chess via email with people in South Africa was kinda neat, but no one outside of a very specialized group could foresee how ubiquitous the Internet would one day become. In 1998, to most of the world, the Internet was just a big computer network.
Enter Serial Experiments Lain.
First broadcast in Japan over the summer of 1998 and premiering nine months before The Matrix hit American theaters, Lain tells the story of Lain Iwakura, a painfully introverted adolescent girl living in Japan. At the start of the series, Chisa, a girl from Lain's school, commits suicide by jumping from the top of a building. Shortly thereafter, Lain and her schoolmates begin receiving emails from Chisa stating that everyone needs to come to the Wired as soon as possible because there is a god in the Wired. The Wired is a global information network analogous to the Internet but connected to virtually everything in the world. In order to continue communicating with her dead friend, Lain asks her father to buy her a new computer, called a Navi in the show, presumably a shortening of Navigator, and from there, any summary of the show's plot is going to fail. There is simply too much going on, too many characters with too many motivations, too many red herrings, and too many tonal shifts to keep track of.
Several years ago, I taught Lain as a literature unit in one of my classes. We viewed each episode, discussed the characters and the themes, the complexity of the narrative, in short we READ the series instead of simply viewing it, which I maintain is the best way of approaching Lain. It may not have been my most successful teaching moment, but I still have students now who come to me and talk about it. This is the kind of series that really does stay with its audience, and repeat viewings yield fresh revelations. That is, once the audience gets past one small but significant fact:
Lain. Is. Weird.
We can start with the odd time setting of the series, which is announced at the beginning of most episodes as "Present day, present time," followed by a maniacal laugh and bursts of static. It's an unsettling announcement because, as we move through narrative, we're confronted with a world that resembles our own in many ways but not technologically, though it can be argued that Lain more closely resembles the technological world of 2014 than it did the technological world of 1998. In that sense, though, the opening only becomes unsettling in how prescient the series would turn to be. Regardless, the opening remains unsettling because of a basic perceptual conflict: the "Present day, present time" setting is not the "now" of the audience, but rather the "now" of the series. In essence, the show announces that it is set when it is set.
Adding to the weirdness is the fact that episodes are not called episodes or chapters. They are called Layers, as in a layer that must be peeled away in order to get to the heart of the matter, to make sense of the series as a whole.
And then there are the characters themselves. Lain is an adolescent girl who can barely speak to her own family, let alone her friends. Lain's mother could not be more disengaged from her two daughters. Lain's sister literally disappears before Lain's eyes at the end of the fifth layer only to be replaced by what might charitably be considered a shell of a human being. And Lain's father, who shows the most emotion of anyone in her immediate family, appears to genuinely love his daughter even as he is cut off, sometimes quite literally, from her. One of my favorite shots of the first episode involves Lain asking her father for a new Navi. She walks into his study and is almost completely blocked from him by a kind of wall of computers and monitors. Her father talks to her but never really holds a dialogue with her, instead becoming excited over something he finds on the Wired while Lain is talking.
And that is one of the major themes of the series: people being disconnected from one another. The Wired as a result becomes an intricate metaphor for human interaction: people log on and "connect" with other people, but those connections are fleeting and not real in any substantive sense. Think of it as Facebook. You have 5000 friends on Facebook, but how many of those friendship are really real? How many of them are tangibly real?
This brings up another one of the major concerns of Lain: the question of reality. What is reality? What does it mean to be real? Where is the line drawn between the real and the unreal? And by extension, is it possible for the unreal to become real?
Going back to our Facebook example, many friendships may not be real in literal, tangible sense, but they are real insofar as they are an exchange of interests and communication and intimacies. They may not be as substantive as a flesh-and-blood friendship, but they are still real in some sense. Likewise, the Wired of the series is several times dismissed by characters as nothing more than a fancy way of transporting information, that it cannot be confused with the real world. However, to an introvert like Lain, the Wired represents a means of overcoming her shyness and allowing her truer, fuller self to emerge and interact freely with other people. In essence, Lain chooses a reality in which she have more control. Is it an illusion? Possibly, but it is still her reality.
Of course, we still have yet to discuss how the alien fits into all of this. I don't really have any answer to that.
And how the series ultimately plays out, how it evolves from a scared little girl playing on the Internet to its endgame, is all the more interesting for the way it effectively reframes the narrative. The final four layers can be thought of the story of a god who comes to Earth, forgets it is a god, experiences profound and disturbing loneliness, and inadvertently begins to destroy one reality by grafting a second reality on top of it. It that seems a bit heady to you, you're not alone. I've seen the complete series a dozen times and when I get to those last episodes, I still struggle with making them work.
And that might be the series' greatest failing. It is almost too complex for its own good. Too many questions are left not only unanswered but unanswerable. What exactly happens to Mika when she sees herself at the end of Layer 5? Who are the Men in Black and why are they looking to stop the Knights of the Eastern Calculus? What power does Masami Eri actually wield in the Wired? And in the end, who is the final, top-of-the-heap God?
Lain is a series that comes dangerously close to falling apart repeatedly throughout its run and yet manages to pull it all together into a more or less tight narrative by the end. What's more, while computers have been used a number of times as a metaphor for isolation and distance between human beings, I'm not sure it has ever been as effective as it is here, and the effectiveness has only grown in the intervening years due to our growing technological dependence.
The ending of the series deserves special note for how downbeat it is. Lain does find purpose and peace at the end of the series, but she is arguably even more isolated than she is at the beginning. Conventional interpretation seems to agree that the ending is as upbeat as is possible given the rest of the story, but I still find it very downbeat, very sad.
I highly recommend Serial Experiments Lain. I do advise you to watch it straight through, if possible, and be prepared to do a bit of research on the various names mentioned throughout the series, as that will help to explain some of the gaps.
Serial Experiments Lain has been one of those anime titles I've heard of ever since I got into anime back in July of 2002, but never checked out since from the surface, didn't look all that appealing to me at the time. I made a gamble when Funimation was reissuing this anime by pre-ordering it on Amazon a few months back, got it on release date, and just finished watching it. I guess after suffering a few months back from that puke-inducing animated swill known as High School of the Dead, a cerebral anime like this was just what I needed. As you can see by my rating, I was really glad to have seen this.
Before I kick off the review, I should suggest to potential viewers that before watching it (if you want to see it), that you get yourself a lot of coffee and M&Ms (or whatever caffeinated and sugary food/beverages you like) when you watch Serial Experiments Lain, not because it's boring (quite the opposite), but because this is an anime that will give your brain a good workout.
Serial Experiments Lain is about a young girl named Lain Iwakura, who at first appears to be a shy, lukewarm junior high school student. After receiving a Navi (a computer connected to the Wired, the anime's version of the internet) from her dad, she soon finds herself engrossed in the Wired and embarks on a journey where the virtual world and reality are blurred. In this journey, many mind-bending things will happen and her personality will alter in so many ways. Along the way, she finds out of a power struggle between a mysterious group of hackers known as the Knights of Eastern Calculus and the Tachibana corporation.
I though the way the characters were handled in this anime was well done. The focus is mostly on Lain, and at first, she seems like a shy girl devoid of any personality. However, as her immersion in the Wired gets deeper, many bolder personalities of Lain are embodied. I was pleased with how Lain's school friends (Alice, Julie, and Reika) were handled, since they felt like teenage girls, but at the same time, this anime didn't bombard you with a bunch of sappy teenage school drama coming from these girls' mouths, which would have been a huge distraction from the central parts of the story.
Other characters, like Lain's family, have believable, well-established personalities that get altered when the real world and the Wired are altered with, and these changes work out really well in the context of the story.
Since Serial Experiments Lain is an anime that's heavily entrenched in philosophy and the rapid evolution of computer and electronic networking technology.
I'll be honest here and say that so many things have happened in this anime, that I'll need to watch it again at least once to get a full grasp of this, but I was able to comprehend this well enough to know what happened and what some things mean.
This anime's most prominent theme is that it's almost like a warning to people about over-reliance on computerized electronic communications. I thought this type of "warning" was tastefully-done since it's not shoved in your face and isn't sanctimonious about it. I guess you could say the core message with this theme is that over-reliance on the Wired (or internet) will diminish one's humanity. I think it's crazy that this was made in 1998 yet the themes of technology are still relevant today.
Religion is another theme tackled in this anime, and without spoiling anything, some of the discussion between Lain and Eiri (who calls himself "God") will make ponderous folks happy.
There was also real history about the first computers and electronic networks that would tie into the foundation for the Wired, and I thought this combination was ace since these meshed perfectly and shows it has some proper learning of important history.
While not being an outright horror anime, there are some horror elements used in it to illustrate the psychological deterioration Lain and others go through in this anime. One of the creepiest was on Layer 09: Protocol, where an alien in a red and green sweater peaks into Lain's room and creeps her out.
Another horror scene that creeped me out a lot was when Mika (Lain's older sister) starts hallucinating in a fast food joint, and when in the bathroom, is forced into seeing "Fulfill your destiny!" scribed on the stall door.
What I find funny about the scant horror scenes in it is that there's horrible anime like Elfen Lied that constantly bombard you with gore, trying to pass it off as scary, and while the horror scenes in Serial Experiments Lain had very little to no blood in them, were far more unnerving than anything the likes of Elfen Lied, Gantz, or High School of the Dead could throw at you.
The animation and artwork for this is stunning. With this being an anime from the late 90's, this was one of the last pieces of anime that would have had traditional cel animation in it, and incorporated a lot of fusion with CGI and real photographs and film passed through various filters. The combination of these visual elements help reinforce the strong themes of technological takeover and of the overall cerebral nature of the show.
While the looks of the computers and other electronics look a little dated by today's world of thin supercomputers and smartphones, they almost seem like the foundation of the technology we take for granted. Lain's Navi can view video from the Wired without excessive buffer times and even has voice recognition for the password and cellphones have email capacity, which I thought was pretty visionary for its time. Also, Lain's Navi is hooked to a series of other computers and cooling machines to make it look like a menacing entity taking over Lain's life.
I have to give props to Yoshitoshi ABe's (yes, the "b" in his last name is capitalized) character designs since they largely lean more towards "realistic" human looks while still have a strong "anime" air to them.
The soundtrack here is a little of a mixed bag, but thankfully leans more towards the good side. I found the intro and outro music to be pretty unremarkable, but the background music in the episodes is quite good. There's heavy use of ambient electronic music and even some more aggressive tones in this niche, that perfectly match the setting of this anime. There's some other styles of music in some episodes, such as in the last Layer, that featured a good deal of instrumental psychedelic rock pretty reminiscent to Jimi Hendrix.
One of the things that really made me happy about Serial Experiments Lain is that the creators took this show really seriously and didn't try to inject scenes of redundant humor with exaggerated, goofy faces and chibi deformations. There's also no terminally-unfunny moments revolving around the female body trying to be funny. The totally serious, mature presentation of this anime made it extremely enjoyable.
While I'd recommend this anime to adults for its cognitive content, the visual content is essentially suitable to anyone 14 or older. The most "extreme" bits in this anime was when there is a shootout at the Cyberia nightclub, with a little bit of blood flowing on the floor, and some tastefully-done nudity in another where Lain is seen naked in the sky, but no private areas were illustrated on her.
This was one of the best and most rewarding anime titles I've seen in at least three years, and would even rank it as one of the best anime titles you can find. If you're in the market for an anime that's totally serious in execution and will really get your brain juices flowing, then Serial Experiments Lain is essential to your collection.
so being that this is an old series, it looks wonderful on bluray! it finally got the treatment it deserves. you get both the bluray and dvd versions of this set. the bluray has about 9 episodes on the first disc and the remaining episodes on disc 2. all the special features from the original dvd release from way back when have been included, but those extras were not upgraded at all to HD, they are the same SD version as you saw them, maybe even just under SD, because i saw the trailer for the CD and it looked like VHS quality, i'm sure its the same quality as my lain dvds from back when.
the box set itself is a hard durable box, it comes with a booklet which is the episode guide, and the artbook which is pretty damn massive and filled with tons and tons of scetches of just about anything lain, from her character drawings to room layouts, its just really in depth and much appreciated. i also love the menu layout for the bluray version, i'm not sure if the dvd is the same but it basically looks like an old windows computer/dos screen. i thought that was pretty awesome. all in all, you'll greatly enjoy this if you were a fan of the show. although the price is mighty high, i feel as though you are getting what your paying for. it may have been cheaper if they didnt add in the dvds, but i guess they didnt want to do two separate releases and just bundled them into this combo deal, which i think is smart.