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Welcome to the first Serial Experiment.
In each layer of this experiment, we will analyze two episodes of the animated series, Serial Experiments Lain.
Unanswered questions left by this experiment will be addressed in the Second Serial experiment.
Our technological singularity is fast approaching. As progress charges forward at a constantly increasing speed, current estimates posit the 2040s as the point in which technological improvements will occur at a constant, self-replicating rate. In the time between now and then, trans-humanism and the eventual merging of human consciousness with machinery are theorized outcomes of technical progress. One day, we will be able to leave the shackles of our human bodies and transcend our physical forms as a joined digital consciousness. This is the stage on which Lain is set.
The story I am about to relate, while constructed on a patchwork of fiction, is nevertheless symbolic of certain phenomena based in reality. Furthermore, I predict that, when the words here graven have been amplified, they will begin their transformation into truth.
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.
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.
lain is lain. lain is lain.
Each is separate—yet they are one.
By connecting, humanity gains first awareness of its function as a seed.
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.
The ability to connect is the ability to continue—they are one and the same.
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.
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.
You must not fear this tale.
What you must fear—is lain.
Recognize that you are connected.
– Chiaki Konaka, writer of Serial Experiments Lain. This quote is taken from the Serial Experiments Lain artbook, as a commentary on episode one.
The first episodes of Serial Experiments Lain exist to misdirect the viewer right from the beginning, and only by returning to these episodes, having thought through the rest of the show, can their purpose become clear. Layer 01 is meant to show us exactly one thing: that Lain, herself, is WEIRD.
We can’t tell what she’s thinking. We can’t tell what she’s doing. And that’s exactly how everyone around her feels. Lain is totally and completely DISCONNECTED.
She doesn’t keep up with current events at school. She doesn’t communicate with her family. Near as we can tell, she doesn’t have any real interests other than stuffed animals and totally fazing out of reality. The inciting incident of the series happens when someone tries to make a connection with Lain–and that person happens to be dead.
Well, their body is dead anyways. Their consciousness, it seems, has escaped into THE WIRED. Lain’s decision to pursue this connection is what leads her to ask her father for a new NAVI, and that’s all that really happens in this episode. Coming back to it from later episodes, we know that Lain is probably thinking a lot throughout this episode. The decision not to entreat us to any of her thoughts is intentional–it is to make us feel distant from Lain as viewers, the same way the world around her is distant. As Lain forms connections throughout the series, so too will we form a connection with her as viewers.
A lot of strange and trippy things happen in this episode. These represent Lain’s warped perception of the world around her. As artist Yoshitoshi ABe’s prequel manga shows in much clearer terms than the series ever does, Lain has a very fractured mind, which likely contributes a lot to her inability to connect. It’s possible that she has difficulty even interpreting her own thoughts and experiences, much less communicating them to others.
People have a tendency to see one part of themselves as their true self, whereas the parts that they show to other people are mere personas. They think of these things as separate, when in reality, a person is an amalgamation of all of their personas.
It’s hard to tell how much time has passed since the first episode, but one thing is clear: Lain has developed a presence in the Wired. This episode is tricky in its presentation, as it doesn’t make us to privy to which things Lain is lying about, and which things she’s honest about. Once again, coming back to the episode with more knowledge of what’s to come and digging for clues can help.
Lain is talking to someone on her Navi. She types in some kind encrypted language. Someone who looks just like Lain appears at Cyberia, and while Lain won’t admit it to her classmates, it is apparent by the end of the episode that it was Lain at the club all along.
The key to understanding Lain’s actions throughout the episode is to realize that she’s trying to keep her existence in the Wired and her existence in the Meat as separate entities. The realization she has by the end of the episode, which she uses to terrify a gunman into suicide, is that there is no escaping the Wired. No matter where you are, you are always connected.
Made in the late 90’s, Lain was quite ahead of its time. It predicted not only how in the early 2000s, the internet would be regarded as a separate world where anonymity and personas ruled; it also predicted how the internet would eventually, inescapably, overlap with reality, once the world realized that the internet itself IS, in fact, reality.
Lain tries to change her personas by dressing and acting differently when she’s in Wired mode and Normal mode, but she doesn’t realize how people have been doing this way before the Wired existed. Her classmates are just middle-schoolers, but they all pass for adults when they’ve dolled up and hit the club. If the characters in Lain seem a bit young for their attitudes, you may not know enough young, tech-savvy teenagers.
The purpose of this episode is ultimately to prove to Lain that the so-called real world and the Wired are merely two layers of one reality–which couldn’t be more true of the world today.