Thursday, June 9, 2016

Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain; animated science-fiction series, Japan, 1998; D: Ryutaro Nakamura, S: Kaori Shimizu, Yoko Asada, Rei Igarashi, Sho Hayami

Lain is a secluded, distant teenage girl who has no friends in high school, yet Alice, a girl from her class, still tries to help her "mingle" more by inviting her to the local Cyberia caffe with other girls. At home, Lain is surrounded by her distant mother, sister Mika and computer obsessed father, who buys her the newest high-tech PC, a so called Navi. However, Lain encounters strange things, like seeing her image in the Wired (a version of the Internet), and Alice asks her about things she never did. Two Men in Black also seem to observe her. Finally, Lain discovers that she was actually initially created as an AI software in the Wired and downloaded into her physical body, in order to erase the border between the Wired, the virtual world, and the real world. Lain erases everyone's memories of her and denotes Eiri, a man who became a de facto God in the Wired.

Accidental or not, around 1998 and '99 several movies were released - "Dark City", "The Truman Show", "The 13th Floor", "The Matrix", "Existenz" - that all broadly covered the same topic: a protagonist not knowing if he/she is living in a simulated/virtual reality world, or the increasingly evasive border between the physical and the virtual reality. One such contribution to this philosophical 'brain in a vat' thought experiment was also given from Japan, in one of the most hyped, cult animes from the 90s, "Serial Experiments Lain". Written by Chiaki J. Konaka ("Armitage III"), "Lain" is a thought provokative and highly unorthodox anime, an inversion of the concept of "The Sims", set in the future where the Wired represents the Internet to the tenth of power, and almost every character is addicted to computers. The opening five episodes conjure up a weird mood, where everything seems normal in the suburb where the title heroine lives in, yet the viewers always have the impression that something is "off", evident is several details (for instance, the shadows on the street seem to reflect a black world with "red pools" beneath the surface; Lain spots two kids raising their hands and looking into the sky that "splits" and reveals a naked Lain in the clouds looking down).

This is spiced up further with a few philosophical quotes ("If we assume that it was the development of electricity and phones that brought about the Wired, then I wonder if another world was created at that moment… It may be that the God of the Wired may already have enough power to affect the real world in some instances."; "The Earth's population is nearing the number of neurons in the brain. Douglas Rushkoff proposes that the consciousness of the Earth itself might be awakened when all humans on Earth become collectively networked"). Unfortunately, the 'autistic' direction, lifeless characters and a strained storyline aggravate the viewers' understanding and connecting to the events, whereas it is further overburdened by several vague subplots (Men in Black, an alien, Majestic 12 document all pilled up in episode 9) which lead nowhere and are thus pointless. The ending is anticlimatic, as well, which makes for another problem since it was such a long, cryptic walk through 13 grey episodes to get to it, and is thus not a full payoff (not to mention that it reminds of the ending in "Revolutionary Girl Utena" and "Sailor Moon" Season 1). Overall, "Lain" is better than the "Matrix", but "The Truman Show" is better than both of them.


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