Text version and links:
WATCH SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN ON YOUTUBE:
Layer 04: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQko3oM5Q4
Layer 05: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTceCS5qLqA
Also on Hulu and Funimation.
To understand episode five, I think it’s important that we first talk about H.P. Lovecraft. One of the most famous and influential horror authors of all time, the type of stories that he wrote have become synonymous with his name, and the mythological creatures which he created have been built upon by over a century’s use by other authors, generating the Cthluhlu Mythos.
The basic idea of Lovecraftian horror is that humanity is insignificant in the grand scheme of the cosmos, and the universe is filled with things so far beyond our comprehension that a person might descend into madness at the mere sight of them. Characters in Lovecraft stories would often stumble randomly onto something completely alien, which would instantly destroy their mind or change them fundamentally forever. Chiaki Konaka, the writer of Serial Experiments Lain, started off writing Cthulhu mythos stories.
In this episode, Lain’s sister Mika plays the role of a Lovecraftian victim. In one fateful moment, without her even realizing what’s going on, her conciousness becomes desynchronized. Somehow, a version of herself materializes in the Wired, seperate from the self that has been left behind in the physical world.
Mika’s seperation is so violent, and she is so unprepared for it, that one could miss how it is prophetic of the eventual change that will occur in Lain. The idea of leaving the physical world to have an existence in Wired, is that you would create a version of yourself existing solely in the Wired, and then kill your physical self. However, if your physical self exists in parallel with a version that exists only within the Wired, then those selves could be split. If Lain’s Wired conciousness can persist without the presence of her physical self, then it can also have its own experiences and develop seperately. This episode gives us the first hints that the intentions of physical lain and Wired Lain may be seperating.
By now, we are beginning to challenge the notion that leaving your physical body and going to the Wired is actually the transformation that the voices of the Wired have been trying to sell us, and not actually an abandonment of one individual.
This episode tosses a lot of technical suppositions our way. The artbook quote and some of the faces that Lain learns from in the episode, posit how the electromagnetic waves constantly surrounding us, and the layering of the Wired over the physical world, may be entwined with the electrical synapses which cause our thoughts. In other words, if thought is nothing but the computing of electrical signals, then it is no different from the actions of a computer, and as the world becomes more and more Wired, the human brain becomes intimately entertwined with the electrical layer overlaying our world. Therefore, as our brains are exposed to the electric signals in the air, our thoughts are fundamentally distorted.
Episode six marks a pretty huge shift in tone from the previous episodes. Whereas the first five were stark, disturbing and difficult, episode six has exciting scenes inside the wired, exposition dumps, and the presentation of some surprisingly straightforward plot elements. It’s almost like this episode was made for [KIDS~Layer 06].
What this episode shows us is that the two sides of Lain which we saw in the beginning of the show–one which pretends to be ignorant and innocent, to an audience of friends and family, and one who is a total hardass, to an audience of Cyberia and the Wired, have at this point gotten so close that we actually see Lain transitioning between them for once. For the first time, we get to witness the physical Lain lapse into her badass persona, both in the flesh and in the Wired.
However, as of episode five, I think it’s important to distinguish that the hardass Lain, which was originally Lain’s persona while using the Wired, is no longer synonymous with “Lain of the Wired.” At this point, while Lain’s harder persona is now more synonymous with her physical form, her Wired form is continuing to morph and take on a life of its own, possibly due to the interference of the Knights.
After five episode almost completely lacking in traditional narrative structure, it was downright shocking to see the Knights painted as outright bad guys–experimenting on children, and not only betraying but also trying to kill Lain; and doubly so to watch Lain go from the morally ambiguous portrait of mystery, to an internet white night who admonishes the actions of those she deems unjust. All of this is very suspicious, given the nature of the series leading up to it, begging the question of whether this is really as cut-and-dry as it looks, or if we’re only seeing it this way because this is how Lain perceives the situation. After all, this episode invites us to a full range of Lain’s perspective in a way that no episode until now really has, and almost seems to give us the most pure vision of her character that we’ve ever gotten.
Now, to fit in with the theme of being weirdly unambiguous, allow me to share some info about this project. I first attempted to episodically analyze this series back in 2011 on my anime blog. Even then, it was a more experimental style of posting, with heavy use of artbook quotes and images to make my points. However, I only ever made it up through episode six, and I didn’t even watch the rest of the show at the time, so from here on out, I’ll be freshly experiencing the show for the first time in like seven years, with no idea what kind of analytical points might come up. I’m as in the dark as you are right now, and excited to make the first real progress on this project in its three years of running!