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Serial Experiments Lain 2

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Serial Experiments Lain:
Volumes 1 - 4

director: Ryutaro Nakamura

325 minutes (12) 1998
Pioneer DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by John Percival
When, Lain, a seriously introverted schoolgirl receives an email from a dead classmate, she gains access to the Wired - a virtual world much like the Internet but where everyone is connected in one way or another. Slowly she learns of another 'Lain' in the Wired and as she discovers more about the virtual world, her life in the real world begins to shatter. Dark groups and organisations are after her and as the line between the real world and virtual world blurs, it becomes apparent that Lain is either reality's saviour or destroyer.
   Serial Experiments Lain is radically different from most anime and this evident straight from the opening titles and the brilliant theme music (Duvet by Boa, kind of Dido-ish). There are no giant fighting robots or mutants, instead there is a slow paced, modern day tale that attempts to defy interpretation. Many elements in the story will try to trick you. The voiceovers, which narrate certain parts of the story, are not always telling the truth. Being confused and not understanding elements are as important as the plot as they force the viewer to analyse and ask questions, plus Serial Experiments Lain does not pretend to give you the answers, they are for you to decide. To add to the enigma each of the 13 episodes are referred to as 'Layers'.
   Be under no illusions that this series is very confusing but also it is a compelling and intelligent story that demands to be watched. From the beginning with the 'happy' suicide of schoolgirl Chisa leaping to her death (or just shedding her physical form), the way bystanders react in distancing themselves from the suicide reflects how in the real world people isolate themselves from events happening around them but simultaneously the virtual world is a big community. Lain is ill at ease in the real world and as she assert herself she finds she has certain powers but also the world she knew was a lie. Her parents were impostors employed to maintain the illusion of a family for her. As she tries to uncover who she is and what is real, she examines religion and society, the effects of technology and her place in this.
   Anime is not only one of the most stunning animation styles; it also gives us a valuable insight into the busy, technology laden Japanese culture. The use of still images re-occurring like a memory is brilliant. Plus the sound of vital electricity and communication lines humming is both oppressive but also allows a pause for thought. Lain herself is frustratingly shy to begin with; she can barely hold a conversation and instead just stares with these huge brown eyes. During this time she can seen, when out of school clothes, in a cute kiddy bear suit, barely able to use her Navi (computer). This could be akin to adolescent isolation. But this all changes, suddenly interested in the connected essence of the Wired through seeing its effect on a drugged manic at a club. Lain builds a larger machine to track her 'other' self in the virtual world. As what she knew as the real world dissolves she finds that she no longer needs the machine to be connected to the Wired and her troubles are only just beginning. With two Lains, a possible god and the ability to affect the lives of everyone connected to the Wired the results are explosive.
   The closest mainstream comparisons to a story such as this would be The Matrix or eXistenZ, but the psychedelic animation and unusual storytelling puts it into a different league. Serial Experiments Lain questions reality, questions the effects of being connected and simultaneously recognises the cold loneliness of isolation. Much more enigmatic than pretentious, this series requires much more of the viewer than most anime and in return gives the rewards of new insights, questions or ideas through watching the series again. Trust me you will want to watch it again, because you will be thinking about it for weeks. This is probably the most intelligent and beautifully presented anime I have ever seen, it raises more questions than half the material on a university reading list, but because it is animation it will not be touched pseudo-superior members of society and that is their loss. Make sure you watch it with someone else, as you will need to discuss the themes, the issues, the questions, the way it made you feel. This is much more than simply entertainment.
   The series is available in four volumes, and DVD extras include game trailers, music videos and odd little piece called The Weird.
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