First Serial Experiment—[Lain]—Weird, Layer: 01—Lain the Island Genius

Every event serves to emphasize the existence of one’s own personal reality, and as individuals separate from all others, we desire a place to belong.

Serial Experiments Lain is the longest-standing item on my favorites list, even though I haven’t watched it since 2007. I’ve seen Lain in its entirety twice, the first four episodes thrice, and the first episode now five times; and I’ve never felt that I knew the show well enough. Most Lain fans claim to have watched the series four times before “understanding” it—though everyone’s “understanding” of the show is a bit different, and tends to change no matter how many times they rewatch. Certain things like reading the Lain artbook changed my perception of the series without even watching it.

However, that, too, is but an egotistical concept. In order for there to be mutual understanding, it is necessary to recognize here and now that, like the brain synapses, we are all—in a logical yet chaotic manner—connected.

As such, I don’t feel it would be enough to watch Lain a couple of times and episodically blog it. Instead, I’m going to episodically blog the entire show twice. The two runs of the series will be called “First Serial Experiment” and “Second Serial Experiment.” That way, not only can I cover more ground, but I can use my initial ideas of the series and episodes as a springboard into further exploration of the series.

lain is lain. lain is lain.

Most of Layer: 01 consists of Lain tripping balls in numerous fun ways; therefore the most important question in my mind is, “why is Lain always tripping balls?”

Each is separate—yet they are one.

The impression I get is that Lain is a genius, and is thinking on a level higher than she herself can comprehend. One could say she’s thinking past reality. Because Lain doesn’t talk or do very much, she appears at first to be absent-minded and childish, which is both how I saw her in the past, and how the characters in the show see her. Lain’s father thinks that her newfound interest in computers is a result of her being a middle schooler and her friends leaving her in the technological dust—they are, and they call Lain a child for it—but Lain hardly could give a shit about that. What’s caught Lain’s attention is a dead girl talking to her through the internet, which is a far more engaging mystery than probably anything Lain has encountered.

By connecting, humanity gains first awareness of its function as a seed.

A moment early in the episode, Lain is on a train, hearing a cacophony of voices, even though no one on the train appears to be speaking. She complains, “can’t you all be quiet?” and the sounds suddenly stop. (This description hardly does justice to the glorious sound direction by Tsuruoka Yota.) This scene has always struck me as odd, especially in how it contrasts Lain’s apparent aloof demeanor, so I’m trying to make sense of it.

By connecting, a human no longer remains a mere endpoint, a ‘terminus,’ but becomes a junction to another point, having won the right to serialize itself.

Many have said that the weird red shadows and telephone poles are representative of The Wired overlapping with the real world. However, these weird shadows exist before Lain enters the wired, and after she enters the wired, they all turn blue, as if to signify a change in Lain. I don’t think I have the materials yet to decide what those shadows represent, but my theory about Lain’s response to the voices on the train is that they’re the voices in her own head. Lain is thinking so much, so fast, that it aggravates her and she can’t deal with it. This is why she can’t concentrate on reality—too much is going on inside her head. It’s also why the Wired will eventually become such an important way for her to communicate—it gives her the materials to occupy her many channels of thought, and eventually the materials to make those channels into exclusive separate existences.

The ability to connect is the ability to continue—they are one and the same.

The prequel manga to Lain by ABe Yoshitoshi, Nightmare of Fabrication (which I won’t get into too much yet) suggests three things about Lain: that she is lonely, that she is insane, and that she is a genius; and it’s much more direct and dramatic about these things than the series is, being purely ABe without the heavy bearing of Chiaki J. Konaka that the series has. Only a couple of things in this episode suggest to me that Lain might be lonely: the first is a shot of her watching Alice comfort a classmate, not assigned an emotional reaction, though I’ll go ahead and consider it “admiration” for my purposes, and the second is Lain’s appeal to her father that she wants to enter the Wired because “there is someone (she) want(s) to meet.”

This not only applies to the connection of axial coordinates but temporal coordinates as well. Therefore, at the time when a conscious, intentional connection is made, surely the dead will rise from their intended place, appearing at the time coordinate of the connection’s origin.

Whereas Lain will definitely be shown as lonely later in the show, and the manga suggests that she is even now, I don’t think that she’s lonely just yet. I think that she’s merely an island. She’s wrapped up in herself and not connected with others, which is why so much of this episode is either Lain alone or Lain spacing out in public as everyone else fades into shadows. There are only a couple of scenes of Lain communicating with others, which are the exceptions proving the rule, and Konaka’s message that “we are always connected” in one way or another.

In that moment, the realization shall dawn that the time in which we inhabit our physical bodies is but the starting point of connection, and the very meaning of possessing a physical body at all will be questioned.

Lain’s genius and insanity are perhaps two sides of the same coin. As I’ve said, I believe that she thinks on such a loud level that it drowns out the rest of the world, leaving her to haze out and fabricate her own mental reality over the real world.

You must not fear this tale.
What you must fear—is lain.

I wonder, does Lain instantly grasp the possibilities behind her classmate’s, Yomoda Chisa’s, rebirth in the wired? How quickly does it occur to her that with sentient technology, connectivity, and an outpouring of oneself into the wired, one could replicate oneself into technology, becoming a second being outside of oneself, capable of living even if their physical body is destroyed? Lain has no idea where this realization will eventually take her and potentially betray her, but I feel like when she heard the voice of Chisa and asked for a new computer, she knew what she was doing.

Recognize that you are connected.
Serialize thyself.

– Chiaki J. Konaka on Layer 01, from ab# rebuild an omnipresence in wired


26 thoughts on “First Serial Experiment—[Lain]—Weird, Layer: 01—Lain the Island Genius

  1. God I’ve got to rewatch this again. The first time I was confused, the second time I was half-asleep. It’s a hard show to entirely digest, but the storytelling is superb albeit rather unorthodox. Some light reading on existentialism really helps to enhance enjoyment of this show, just saying.

    • I think the magic of this show’s execution comes from a very careful balance between its original creator, ABe Yoshitoshi, its writer, Chiaki J. Konaka, and its director, Ryuutaro Nakamura. The later two, left to their own devices, go too far off the deep end into uninteresting territory (see: Ghost Hound), but ABe is able to reign them in somehow. I think the case is the same with Texhnolyze, though with a different director. My suspicions of this are largely because Chiaki J. Konaka’s best work by far has been done in cooperation with ABe.

  2. I like how you explain that Lain is thinking so fast and her thoughts are so complex, that reality disappears.
    Must be some kind of hyperfocus, a composure where people forget about human traits like time or ordinary behaviour !
    The sign of a genius mind. At least the way I see it.

    Can’t wait for your next part !

      • You know, I always thought that it must really sucks to be a genius, because chances are high nobody will understand you. In this regard we can be glad that we are all ordinary humans. But I digress :)

          • Well, having a high IQ is great, but it does not really define your personality: We all have flaws, addictions (like beer, chocolate, gambling, drugs, sex or maybe anime ) and sometimes random interests. But this is why life is so interesting. Every human offers something new to the table :)

            The whole IQ discussion is in my opinion just elitist, if not racist (A long time ago I said this to my teacher and she thought I was nuts for this ^^). But that’s another topic for another time.

            But yeah, I like your blog ;)

          • IQ is just a quantifiable measurement of logical thinking capabilities, and “genius” to me primarily refers to “one with a high IQ,” which is why I feel it’s relevant here. Obviously, genius is only one part of a person, i.e. Lain not being just a “genius” in the eyes of the Nightmare of Fabrication manga, but a “lonely, crazy genius.” In spite of what pop culture may lead you to believe, genius doesn’t have to come with the other two factors.

            That said, the “genius dilemma” wherein the fjord between a genius’s mental capacity and a regular person’s is equal to the fjord between a normal person’s mental capacity and a mentally handicapped person’s is very real.

  3. This is a great show. What pace are you going to blog by? I want to rewatch it but I’m not sure if I can watch more than an episode every couple of days.

    I think one huge question here, which you’re already coping with is, to what extent is Lain already the chosen one at the beginning of the story. It really makes me think of the Buddha.

    The first time you hear of the Buddha, and the first time people actually heard of him during his life, we all think: ok, so here’s this guy, he works really hard and becomes enlightened, becomes the Buddha.

    BUT, after his death/nirvana people start thinking about him. Wait a sec, if he became enlightened, he must have been on this path working relentlessly for eons and eons. Therefore, in a real sense, he was bound to become the Buddha in this life. (this is the position of the Jatakas).

    THEN, years later people keep thinking, and they finally come to the following conclusion: the Buddha didn’t become enlightened 2500 years ago under a bodhi tree. The Buddha had to have been enlightened long ago. The Buddha went through the motions for our sake. (This is the position of the Lotus Sutra).

    What do we make of Lain? Isn’t there at least a chance that this entire show is really a sham for our entertainment and that Lain was orchestrating everything from the beginning??

    Re: Ghost Hound, I finished it, but OMG it was tough. It was a nightmare. What a great show but how dull it is. It’s uncanny. And disturbing, you really start having weird thoughts and dreams.

    • Posts are going to come out Mondays 0:00 EST

      The thing is, Lain probably controls a lot of the show, but given what happens with her and Alice later, and given that her father talks to her at the end, I don’t think she’s controlling everything. Questioning whether she is going through the motions for our sake is like asking if Inception was or wasn’t all just a dream: pointless. But we’ll see what I come up with during the Second Serial Experiment.

      • Hey man, I’m the one who turned AK on to his last 90s psychological opus! And his modern show is practically its spiritual successor.

        Anyway, if my blog all went according to plan, it would *be* AK’s blog. There’s no one I’m more jealous of than him as a blogger.

          • Revolutionary Girl Utena. As far as I know, that and Cowboy Bebop are the only 90s opuses ak has blogged,

            Matsumoto stone… well, I *did* watch and post about a very little bit of Harlock… but I couldn’t make it through more of the show >_<

  4. Wow, you’re really approaching this show as if Lain was a person? I haven’t watched it in at least five years, but If I recall correctly, half the episodes don’t make sense if you start off on that foot.

    Or is this some deliberate creative exercise in misunderstanding a show?

    • This series isn’t about understanding a show in any kind of “correct” way since I don’t think one exists, but is about interpreting it once and then interpreting it again with the first time’s results in mind.

  5. I’ve been meaning to go back and watch this show. I’ve watched it once, and while I spent much of the time absolutely confused as to what the hell was going on, I still found it very intoxicating and involving. I don’t even remember a lot of the specifics from the show at the moment, but there are still some images and scenes that I can recall very clearly, and remember just what kind of emotional reaction they got out of me even if I didn’t know why I was reacting that way. It’s that kind of show.

    I’m a fairly literate guy who likes dense and oblique fiction, but I’ll be the first to admit that a whole lot of this show went right over my head. But the fact that it still left a strong impression on me tells you how strong a show it is.

  6. Serial Experiments: Lain is one of my favorite shows. It’s always interesting to see more perspectives on it because so many can be had.

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