Useless Anime Knowledge: Serial Experiments Lain

Text version and links:

The abandoned Lain translation project:
Lain for PS1 on sale on eBay:
ABe’s twitter:
Interview with Yasuyuki Ueda from 1998:
Otakon 2000 panel transcript with Ueda and ABe:
thought experiments lain fansite:
Anime News Network:
Watch Lain on youtube:
Buy Lain on blu-ray:

Academic citations:
When the Machines Stop: Fantasy, Reality, and Terminal Identity in “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “Serial Experiments Lain”
by Napier, Susan J
Science Fiction Studies (0091-7729), 11/2002, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp. 418 – 435
Gonzaga, Elmo (01/06/2002). “Anomie and Isolation: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, and Japanese Consensus Society”. Humanities Diliman (1655-1532), 3 (1), p. 39

All music in this video comes from the Serial Experiments Lain soundtrack.

Serial Experiments Lain is a multimedia franchise created by producer Yasuyuki Ueda, which debuted in 1998. Ueda wanted to create a story that was at once a simple drama about a young girl, but also something with a deeper psychological message that wouldn’t be just like every other series on TV. What resulted was the cult-classic thirteen-episode anime series Serial Experiments Lain, as well as the eponymous Playstation One game which time has largely forgotten about.

Both works were put together by the same creative team, but the game was marred by bad loading times, overly confusing writing, and a complete absense of music. The game was never released in the US, and the only fan translation project I’ve been able to find was still in progress up until 2012, but hasn’t been updated since. Copies of the Japanese game sell on ebay for upwards of 150 bucks, and emulators are readily findable, but beyond that, not much information about the game is available online, so I won’t be going into it in this video.

The TV series, conversely, has an amazing amount of info on the internet. Being a strange, interesting, show that BEGS for analysis and discussion has garnered an active cult following around the show that remains alive more than fifteen years after its original airing. In spite of Lain’s relative lack of mainstream popularity, it might be one of the most talked-about anime of all time in the smaller circles of hardcore anime and cyberpunk fandoms.

So what’s it about? Lain is the story of a very lonely young girl whom we gradually realize is suffering from dissociative identity disorder. Lain is disconnected entirely from the world around her until the day that she gets an email from a classmate who had recently committed suicide. This begins Lain’s quest to discover herself, and society, by exploring the Wired–a version of the internet where the lines between our reality, and the electromagnetic world of technology, are blurred.

The series is famous for its densely thematic story with commentary on psychology, sociology, and technology, which remain almost unmatched by any other anime. It is also infamous for its trippy visuals, almost obtusely difficult writing, and heavy use of symbolism and anecdotes. The collision of these elements results in one of the most dense, confusing, and interesting animated series to ever come out of Japan.

Producer Yasuyuki Ueda conceptualized the series and hand-picked the team that would work on it, all while expecting the series to be an enormous risk. Yoshitoshi ABe, the character designer, was a college student posting his illustrations on the internet at the time, when Ueda found him and hired him on as his first professional project. The series writer, Chiaki J. Konaka, had been a writer for a number of anime series, as well as several Ultraman shows, throughout the 90s, and was a writer on Armitage III, which came from the same Production company that Ueda worked for–plus he was a personal favorite of Ueda’s, so he was brought on-board. Director Ryutaro Nakamura had worked with Konaka previously on Magic Users Club, which was the studio’s previous project before Lain. Said studio, Triangle Staff, had formed in the late 80s and consisted of former Madhouse staff who’d made their own studio geared towards original series which weren’t based on manga.

Serial Experiments Lain would be the spark for a number of collaborations between all of the series’ major staff. Ueda and ABe would work with Triangle Staff again two years later to produce ABe’s original series NieA_7. Two years after that, Ueda and ABe worked together again on yet another massive cult hit, Haibane Renmei, which ABe actually wrote entirely himself. Shortly thereafter, they both teamed up with Chiaki Konaka once more, to produce the dark and impenetrable Texhnolyze. Ueda and Konaka also worked together on the Gonzo adaptation of Hellsing, while Konaka and Nakamura teamed up once more for Ghost Hound in 2007.

Nakamura, Konaka, and ABe teamed up once more in 2009 for a planned series called Despera, which many were heralding as Lain’s second coming. However, the production was put on indefinite hold in 2011 when Nakamura fell ill. Ryutaro Nakamura died of pancreatic cancer in June of 2013.

True to the spirit of the animated series, which revels in the concept of information ubiquity and saturation, the internet contains a lot of information on Lain. There are some really helpful transcripts of interviews and convention panels with Yasuyuki Ueda in which he answers questions both about the production background and about the series itself. Ueda reveals how Chiaki Konaka unsurprisingly brought a lot of the scientific and symbolic elements to the text, while Nakamura brought out a lot of the series’ aesthetic in his direction.

Ueda stated early into the show’s expansion to the West that he expected the American and Japanese fans of the show to have vastly different interpretations of it, and that this would foster a higher level of discussion and communication between the two cultures. However, he was disappointed to find that the American and Japanese fans largely interpreted the series the same way. Ueda also has said that while there were clear intentions behind all of them symbols and elements put into the series, he encourages individual interpretations of the events and doesn’t think that anyone’s interpretation is wrong.

And oh my god, are there ever a lot of interpretations of Lain available on the internet. thought experiments lain is a fansite which miraculously remains standing after ten years of inactivity, and links to countless fan communities, discussions, and posts about the series, as well as containing an incredible number of links to where you can read up on the scientific ideas and studies that make up the series’ backdrop. If you feel like spending a day or two really deep-diving this series, this website is the rabbit hole to go down. There have also been no shortage of academic articles published on the series from around the world, which I can’t link to, but I’ll cite a few of them in the description for those of you with access to those kinds of things.

These days, the series itself is just as ubiquitous as its discussion. Lain was originally released in the US by Pioneer Entertainment on VHS and Laserdisk, and was later rereleased on DVD. When Pioneer changed their US name to Geneon, they rerelased the DVDs again as part of their anime classic series. Once Geneon went out of business in 2008, the license was picked up by Funimation, which released the series in blu-ray and DVD collections in 2012. In fact, the first advertisement that ever appeared on one of my videos was for the Lain blu-ray collection, which was pretty damn cool. Funimation reissued the blu-ray and DVD collections again in 2014 as part of their classics series, and the series is also readily available for free streaming on youtube and hulu at the time of this writing.

Lain actually had a US TV run on Tech TV in the mid-2000s, and the series was dubbed and released in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Russian, Polish, and Portugese, with broadcasts in countries around the world. The original Japanese run on TV Tokyo was fairly successful as well, with the series winning an excellence award at the Japan Media Arts Festival.

Yoshitoshi ABe’s artbook, an omnipresence in wired, also remains in-print and is actually translated into English. Besides containing a lot of ABe’s gorgeous art, this book also contains ABe’s own Lain fan-comic, which tells a far more direct and disturbing miniature version of the story from the show and game. The artbook also contains a page for each episode of the show with a lot of additional bits written by Chiaki Konaka, which are very helpful for interpreting the episodes, and which you’ll have seen a lot of if you’ve watched my First Serial Experiment videos.

Browsing on Amazon and eBay, you can also find tons of Lain products up for resale, from additional artbooks to wall scrolls, figures, lunch boxes, and other interesting products. Most of these things are out of print, but their prices aren’t too outrageous, so one could probably amass a pretty sizeable Lain collection if they tried; I would advise a degree of wariness in doing so however. I picked up the Lain figure for thirty bucks at my first Otakon in 2008. If that price sounds too good to be true, it’s because the figure is a fake, and her feet didn’t fit into the pegs on the stand right, nor is her face painted that well. Mine also fell off the shelf once and broke so it’s altogether in just about the worst shape of anything I own.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a pretty big, long-time fan of this series, if my episodic analysis of it didn’t convince you already. Lain definitely has its fair share of minor issues, though. The show is probably more obtuse than it really needs to be at times, and once you can wrap your head around the broader concepts that the series is presenting, you’ll realize that it’s a lot more straightforward than it first appears.

While the art style is gorgeous, the show is obviously low-budget, and with the exception of two or three really well put-together episodes, a lot of the series is kind of ugly. Both the Japanese and English dubs leave a lot to be desired, though it’s hard to blame the actors when the dialog itself is so disjointed.

That said, the multimedia aesthetic is so unique and cool that it easily makes up for these problems, and taking anything away from such a dense and fascinating series such as this for such minor reasons would be a crime. There are very, very few anime that take on the subject matter and thematic elements that Lain does, and even fewer that resonate so strongly and capture such a specific atmosphere. Lain is more than deserving of its cult status, and highly recommended for anyone who can appreciate a challenging and enduring experience from anime.

4 thoughts on “Useless Anime Knowledge: Serial Experiments Lain

  1. Pingback: Useless Anime Knowledge: Serial Experiments Lain | Software

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