louferrigno’s review published on Letterboxd:
(NOTE: THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE ENTIRE SERIES EPISODE-BY-EPISODE. AS SUCH, SPOILERS ARE PRESENT ALL-AROUND. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED).
Few series have had their legacy defined by mystique and complete obliqueness like Serial Experiment Lain, delving into complex themes like the nature of reality, identity, and communication just as the internet’s interconnected stream of information began taking the form it takes today. Forming a trifecta of late 90’s anime mindfucks alongside Neon Genesis Evangelion and Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series like Lain was always destined to have niche appeal, something people will say is 100% the best while fully knowing that it's nowhere near accessible as something like Cowboy Bebop or, hell, even Evangelion to a certain degree (at the very least, the latter eased one into its philosophical content and had giant robots in the mix, whereas the obtuse philosophizing about the gestated meaning of Lain's world, characters, and the viewer watching the events unfold comes right out of the gate swinging).
Originally intended to cross over several different forms of media, as a sort of experiment in how a central idea mutates and adapts its information based on the means a person has to access it, the end result of this experiment resulted in merely two forms of continuity, which is a lot less interesting than my theorized approach. One, covering only the series itself, has rarely stayed out-of-print in both Japan and America, thus being the accepted and preferred way of experiencing the world of the Wired. The other, covering a PS1 "game" (in reality an interface to travel through Lain's story in a non-linear, very convoluted, and not very fun manner) and a single-chapter manga tossed around magazines and artbooks, is decidedly much more obscure and something that only hardcore fans of the show know about, especially given how the game was never localized to the US, while an official English version of the manga only exists in one localized artbook. Needless to say, the essence of the work is heavily defined by the anime series and not the sum of every media product, which is all well-and-good considering how much of a beast it is to dissect the show on its own.
My experience with Serial Experiments Lain runs a similar course with Neon Genesis Evangelion, no doubt thanks to the latter embedding an interest in works of surreal existentialism that fully captures the irrational fears, delusions, and conflict of the self that dealing with a mental disorder brings about (small bunch, but almost all of it's good). Binging it over the course of a single day, then years later reliving the unique experience through a purchased Blu-Ray copy and taking each episode one at a time, picking up on bits of throwaway dialogue that becomes important only through remembering its many plot tangents, as well as better grasping the concepts at play while still knowing there's a few keys of the puzzle I've still yet to pick out, appreciating the many layers present (a common phrase bounced around this show is that it takes four watches to understand everything, so, y'know, still another to go after this rewatch).
The success of Lain lies in how implied many of the basic plot directions are, letting viewers interpret what happens in the overarching tale as a reflection of the distorted processing of information in the show proper, challenging people to make up their own mind of what's presented to them while still giving enough inklings of a consistent story, world, organizations, and meaning to not have it be a mindless barrage of ideas. Much of this influenced by creator/producer Yasuyuki Ueda's tactic of taking an entirely Japanese approach in its themes and values, in conjunction with lead writer Chiaki J. Konaka's American/British methodology, to create a "war of ideas" that conflict and create deep discussions over how people from both sides of the world react to the new concepts presented in Lain, debating in its meaning and inviting the same direct communication of human feelings the anime presents as a central theme (this ended up failing because every American and Japanese person had the same first impressions of "Ayo, what the FUCK??").
I have my work cut out for me, as even though this is half the length of Evangelion, the sheer amount of personal reflection and interpretation is plentiful and enough to go past Letterboxd's restrictions of how long a review can be (calling it now, dudes, this is gonna be a long one). It also requires extensive research on topics like Vannevar Bush, the Knights of the Lambda Calculus, Lewis Carroll, Timothy Leary’s Eight Layers of Consciousness, 90’s Macintosh OS, and about 50 other different points of reference and conspiracy inserted into this mindtrip, so...that’s fun.
At any rate though, let’s close the world, and open the nExt…
I have to give special attention to the theme of the show, considering how perfectly it sets the tone for each and every episode, in both lyrics and mood. From the British band Bôa, the first line of the song has managed to perfectly capture the confounding nature inherent with the show, lost in confusion yet nevertheless looking for some sort of reaffirming connection:
”And you don’t seem to understand…”
In the context of the anime proper, many of the lyrics convey a form of struggle in understanding the world, misunderstood and subject to having to cope with others only being a part of Lain’s life for the sake of their own personal gain. Thus, others cannot understand the severity of Lain’s journey like she does, and thus she loses her own sense of identity as she dives deeper into the Wired.
”I am falling
I am fading
I have lost it all…”
As Lain feels her own worth as a physical being slipping over the course of the anime, becoming more and more defined by inhuman technology just as the images of her on other’s televisions and video games suggest, there is a deep melancholy undercurrent in this loss of self. Fittingly, the theme itself deviates from the bombastic intros nearly every other anime utilizes in favor of a downbeat ballad, very distinctly rock but still completely mellow in its approach. Rather than utilize an electronic-heavy opening to communicate a theme of technology overtaking, the series goes for expressing the human, living form of communication, now in a world where everyone’s secrets, thoughts, and emotions can be sent from various points in the planet and become more exposable, completely in the open and leaving behind a virtual paper trail. Anything that would “seem” to be the case in any form of communication is subject to any form of minute or major inaccuracy that defines the flawed perceptions of humanity rather than the perfect, clear-cut comprehension of machines, showing that under the metal casing there are living, breathing beings desperate for emotional connection.
Of course, what’s a human being without layers trying to guard them from pain, metal or intangible?
Layer 01: Weird
”Present day...heh. Present time! HaHaHaHaA!”
Kickstarting our strange tale off is the suicide of Chisa Yomoda, a high schooler rejecting the world of reality in favor of the Wired, a world similar to the Internet of the late 90's. With floating text on top of a psychedelic background, we learn of her disinterest in being in our modern physical world, abandoning her body in order to stay connected to a heightened state of being beyond our current comprehension. The concerns of our own identity and purpose in life, and whether we can achieve further enlightenment through a supernatural reality and deity, have morphed forms into that of a technological debate, the questioning over the existence of a God, if Chisa's emails from the wired (and beyond the physical grave) suggest as such, continue the modernization of primitive ideas, the evolution of what we understand as life and our choices in finding communication the way the individual self can find it (which, given the cheeky smiley emoticon after the floating text creates a response as to what dying feels like, is as infinite as the human experience can fathom).
From there we meet Lain, another schoolgirl that initially behaves as neither connected with the real world, yet completely oblivious to the world of the Wired as well. To Lain, the world around her is composed mainly of minimalist white and deeply red splotches on top of encroaching black, as if to show how unnatural and otherworldly she perceives this world she struggles to actually communicate towards. Further hallucinations causes the white sky to pulsate even brighter in Lain's eyes, other people dissolving into vaguely-familiar shadows, and the words on her school's blackboard further blurring together, all symbolic of her detachment from the everyday world and her slow absorption into the realm of mystique. The theme of her existing in-between our two established worlds takes on another image, one that for the longest time eluded me yet at this point I feel confident enough to say "ah, I think I get it". During one of her classroom sessions, one of Lain's hands emits smoke from her fingertips, in a manner similar to a steam engine or any other inorganic material capable of expelling such a gas, utilizing the concepts of antiquated technology to show not only how far behind Lain is on her journey towards the Wired, but also the cancellation of her organic and robotic traits, never one but showing enough reason for Lain to accept the invitation to "Come to the Wired as soon as you can" without spelling it out.
Fittingly, the episode's title perfectly describes the avant-garde presentation of this first taste of things to come, what with the visual presentation I discussed a second ago but also with the strange developments that come from Lain booting up her Navi (the stand-in for a Windows or Mac in this universe), as she reads Chisa's mail that seems to respond directly back to Lain's verbal wondering. Lain's home life further shows the disconnection she has with others, her mother barely responding to Lain's emails and her father absorbed to the array of computers in his office as he lectures her on how humanity is organized based on connection and communication, never glancing away from the headless figures on his screen to look at his daughter (although, as we learn later on, there is a reason for that). From there her fate is decided, wanting to follow onward towards the weird unnatural reality she's already had one foot in this whole time, holding us captive for the extraordinary ride.
Layer 02: Girls
Our first glimpse into the interconnected worldbuilding that supports the overarching theme of connectivity is Cyberia, the nightclub that plays all the hip, hot Hardcore Techno beats everyone's listening to. There's two artifacts of '94 history to which this name could be lifted from, either referring to the London internet cafe that would expand to other parts of the world (especially in Japan where many have hybridized public usage internet and manga), or the Douglas Rushkoff nonfiction book (incidentally, available as an online PDF courtesy of the Cyberpunk Library) as the author explores and integrates himself more and more into the online culture, discussing the concepts of technology constructing the possibilities of one global brain between users and the aesthetic surrounding it (the latter utilizing its pun of Siberia as a means to create a metaphor for the cold and neutral sounds and iconography, additionally using the extensively-manufactured and technologically-sampled-edited Brian Eno/David Byrne collaborative album "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" as a subtle precursor to this similarity). Both show the growing relevance of the internet and its strength by the late 90's, as more and more people take action to become closer and form an obsessive attachment to the internet and the people connected to it (especially given our introduction to the drug "Accela", a mechanical chip one consumes to accelerate their sensations enough so that one's consciousness and body processes their information at the same speed as the Wired, escaping reality for the virtual world).
I mentioned the avant-garde presentation in the prior episode's discussion, but in tandem to that is the cold and unnatural look and feel to the series that becomes significantly pronounced here. Many of the character designs are relatively realistic, yet "off" in unexplainably uncanny ways, the empty gazes and pronounced bags under the eyes being dead giveaways. In its detached dialogue and near-robotic, near-human delivery, the theme of social isolation in a connected world becomes unsettling, rarely having any sort of score accompanying Lain's disoriented interaction with others and how Lain simply cannot connect with the real world (one series of shots in particular shows a discussion between Lain and her classmates, which a "spinning camera"-type of cut used in between shots in order to exemplify how much distance really is between Lain and those around her, only stopping when Alice, arguably the most outwardly-friendly person in Lain's life, walks towards her to further discuss and try to get Lain to come with them to Cyberia).
With that comes a permutation on the notion of identity in the cyber age, in the form of a doppelganger of Lain that we will get to see more of later on. The title of "Girls" could be referring to the psychological coming of age each of our female characters undergo, first with Chisa abandoning her biological identity for the virtue of a virtual one, and now with Lain trying to find an identity of her own among the social cliques existing in one larger reality, whether it be the larger construct of the Wired or the immediate reality of Lain's female classmates, who are clearer much more mature in a social sense (i.e. Alice going to Cyberia in a short skirt and red medium-length top, while Lain goes wearing a pink sweater and bear-shaped stocking cap, as if to say Lain is inadvertently protecting herself from grown-up interactions). With Lain's unknown sense of identity and a mysterious splitting image roaming around, it'll become a journey of self-discovery towards the many Lains that exist in others' minds. Everyone is connected, including Lain through her continued existence and delusions of existence from others, able to be perceived and thus knowing she exists within that larger global brain.
Layer 03: Psyche
By now one is libel to notice the usage of repetition with two key establishing sequences, namely the opening of people walking the busy crosswalks and the shot of Lain exiting her house using the same animation we've seen the past two episodes. At this point we've become familiar to the distant world and mood inherent in Lain's world, yet slowly these two recognizable morph into a different form of unease we've experienced thus far. The familiar narration that waxes philosophically is gone, asking as if in response to the shooting at Cyberia and Lain's unusually confident response, if we've heard of "Lain of the Wired", and Lain's walk from school to her school becomes interrupted out of fear, in the second episode from a man in a black suit, and in this episode from a intimidating black car, thin red lasers being the only light source we see within. It's here that we start delving further into the specific psyche of Lain more than we have before, as an omniscient voice starts asking Lain who she is and and the drive to go into the Wired becomes stronger than ever.
The word "psyche" has many permutations and a long history attached to it, but the baseline definition is the human soul, mind, or spirit. The existence and obsession with the Wired and its cutting-edge capabilities, though, blurs the line between human identity offline and online. This is not just with Lain, who briefly breaks out of her confused, robotic vernacular in Cyberia and the episode's ending, but with everyone who uses it, as Alice even brings up and asks why nobody seems to be shaken up considering her friends witnesses a man shoot himself in Cyberia the night before. With everyone connected to the Wired, everyone becomes accustomed and has easy access to others repeating the same types of terror and diluting the sensations of the real world, one sequence in the middle of the episode consisting of different, disembodied voices from the Wired's users and their smaller conversations, reverberating their fears and paranoia for everyone to hear and thus letting far-away panic exist at the same time and same place as real-life panic, each mood battling each other and weakening each other's power as a result.
Because of this mixture of humanity and technology, the word "psyche" has too been adopted in the world of Lain as the technologic soul, becoming a shorthand name for an add-on NAVI chip Lain finds in her locker, which allows one to connect to the Wired without keyboards, mice, or even voice control, further blurring human and machine into one being. Through installing the Psyche chip into her NAVI, Lain installs a soul into her machine, interpreting the data and becoming an elevated consciousness as it upgrades. Once she starts fiddling with the chip and NAVI, so too does her technological soul start become inserted, the final scene showing Mika, Lain's older sister, confused at Lain behaving closer to the descriptions of Lain's "Wired" personality we hear at Cyberia, as well as her not wearing her school clothes or her bear pajamas, the usual shields for the outside world's interest with technology we've seen thus far. Her Wired personality now bleeds into her everyday life, the closing line of "Welcome home, big sister!" and the screen itself filtered through static, and the non-identity we've seen of Lain the prior two episodes has now become two identities, both within the realms of human and mechanical.
Layer 04: Religion
In past episodes there's been a great emphasis in the complete isolation in Lain's life, whether it's through coming home late at night with no one else to be with her, or with careful editing to prove this point in a visual sense. This level of disconnect is no different now that Lain is acting "a little different", something that concerns her sister and Alice, two of the most human characters we've seen. The Wired personality is at the forefront of Lain's walking persona, trying to put up a facade through the strange staccato's of the real world Lain's voice, yet it's clear this isn't the same Lain we've followed for three episodes. Just as she upgrades her NAVI system, now overtaking a good chunk of her room, so too does she receive an upgrade in personality, sacrificing some of her connections to the real world and the same techniques to keep her isolated when shots are framed become somewhat increased (and, fittingly enough, one lingering shot shows the NAVI bright blue screen completely overtaking her pupils, as if technology has invaded her life).
The topic of technology invading the real world, however, isn't limited to Lain's experience. PHANTOMa, the newest and hottest game from the Wired, is a case where the virtual world bleeds into the real world, its players unable to distinguish and escape from the dungeon crawler the Wired has lured them in. Two different individuals are perused by the same young girl, the severity of their situations reflected by the increase in quick cuts and close-ups, trying to become free from this supernatural purgatory. However, the last encounter takes a turn once a young boy realizes, after using an in-game gun that we the audience never see, he has murdered the young child in the real world, clearly traumatized because of it. As he explains, the modified PHANTOMa server became intermixed with that of a simple "Tag" server local kindergartners were using, thus blurring and revealing no distinctions between worlds in the Wired, supporting the "everyone is connected" thesis into further, darker directions and proving that the Wired has become such a strong experience, that it exists everywhere, all at once.
This transcendent mindthink is of course in tandem with the basic functions of religion, that of worship towards a superhuman entity and a recognition of a secular and spiritual world. We've seen one suicide with the intent of achieving enlightenment of superhumanity, there's talk of another suicide this episode rumored for similar reasons, and Lain herself even confidently states that the border is no longer clear, and that she can enter that state of techno-spirituality. The appeal of transcendence, and the Wired as we've demonstrated thus far, is the altered states of consciousness many humans haven't been able to explore, and it's the tools like Accela, the Psyche chip, or PHANTOMa that help achieve that mysticism, all of which are speculated by some in the Wired to come from and exist because of the Knights, a mysterious organization that nobody knows if the really exist, and yet their modus operandi of further spreading the religion-like experience of the Wired is clear enough. The Wired, thus, is not a mere medium for communication, but a way for the abstract digital and concrete physical to be confused as one, and Lain is the constant variable of that given her non-literal presence in the game of PHANTOMa we see and the destructive sound wave she uses in the episode's final moments, a potential oracle for the humans and superhumans of the Wired.
Layer 05: Distortion
The prevailing theory in biological research is that human evolution is still occurring in the world, developing selective resistance for killer diseases and mutations for living in higher altitudes. Yet, at its core function, humans are no different from the homo sapiens that existed 150,000 years ago, adapted in their cranial capacities and cognitive skills, but still by definition human. To evolve would require denying the human flesh, and to become something we don't recognize as human, but rather an entity without the characteristic form or identity we imprint ourselves with. This evolutionary dead end for traditional humanity is directly at the forefront of Lain's thesis, where we have created our own ways to accelerate forward, seeding new information from the Wired's collective databases and reaching a spiritual form of enlightenment and ascending into a new form of life, or even afterlife, if the note we see stating "The other side is overcrowded. The dead will have nowhere to go" means anything.
Lain as a person is that symbol of the potential to evolve beyond humanity, already becoming transcendent based on her multiple personalities and omniscience, at least in the eyes of the audience and Mika. To that end, Lain's evolutionary state is that of becoming a prophet, if her conversations with the unreal dolls and visions of her "parents" are any indication. History connects itself not entirely by random independent points brought together through chance, but through intervention in a human or spiritual sense, just as humans connect themselves wittingly through sources like the Wired. At its root, humans function and are connected based on the same energy that runs machines, electrical synapses being a minor but ever-present link to any two neutrons, occurring anywhere including the brain, governor and dictator of consciousness. The link between the world of reality and the world of the Wired is something we already have access to, but it's something we choose not to accept lest we forgo the identities the former brings, and become something that which resembles our visions of God.
Fuck, this shit's confusing. I love it, but goddamn...
The act of evolution is itself an act of distortion, as doing so is to twist a source out of shape, changed from its original form as a result of natural selection. We think of distortion through the lens and constructs of media imperfections, and Lain naturally uses that to its advantage, distorting sound and visuals (such as a news report morphing into a static-ridden form of itself once Lain's presence is made) to make us feel uncomfortable and experience new territory that we don't even know how to respond to (I mean, if you rewatch the series that effect is kinda lost, but nyeeeeeh). The theme of distortion, however, is intrinsically tied to Lain's themes and narrative, as Mika's fractured reality distorts and changes into unfamiliar and frightening imagery, all subtly linked to the Knights' spread of the information of the Wired, using Mika and disconnecting her from reality to give Lain less reason to exist in reality and move closer into the Wired (maybe, I'll admit this is a case where I'm grasping for straws more than usual). By the end Mika's conscious and her visions of the mad disintegrate from reality, the enlightenment causing her old form to disappear in a shimmering essence of energy, with a new "Mika", one that will become lost between the confines of human understanding and Wired understanding, left to take her place, changing shape and form. Time and space now distorts the world of Lain, thanks to the growing influence of Lain, the Wired, the Knights, and whomever it will be, today or tomorrow, that falls victim to that radiant technology.
Layer 06: Kids
Continuing the developments of recent episodes, Lain has adjusted herself to be completely free-roaming in the Wired, her steadiness in mind and body as well as the swirling infinite colors when she talks to the Knights being in direct contrast to the timid and blinding whites and encroaching blacks of the real world. As an entity within the Wired, she behaves maturely, indifferent to the childlike wonders of the grinning smile that greets her, akin to Alice in Wonderland's own Cheshire Cat, but in the real world she is still in many ways a child, reverting back to her naive persona at school and almost being out of place when her friends try to take her for a walk around town, the mature clothes and lipstick she wears appearing like a disguise rather than a true indicator of (one of) her personalities. As the Wired becomes Lain's escape from isolation, despite the protests from one classmate who claims such Internet beings can't even be called associates, it gives her a way to escape childishness, as well as bury maturely-inclined secrets within her youthful-minded presence in the real world.
It's no secret, though, that Lain has been privy to utilizing children for reinforcing an uncanny effect, especially in seeing children regularly hang out at a nightclub. Here, this disturbing innocence is played further, as many kids seem to be taking part in some sort of game where they raise their hands to the sky, as if to acknowledge the heavens and create another connection to the theological themes rampant throughout. Proving this, the image of a giant Lain, stripped of all material clothing, appears in the sky in an act that, judging by everyone's reaction, is not a hallucination. By this point Lain has shown godlike abilities and prowess and is certainly teetering on the edge between the infinite existence the Wired provides and the real world's mortality, and this sign from the Heavens suggests Lain has completed evolving into the prophet that the Knights needed, fulfilling their actions by becoming the prophecy they so demanded.
The darker, uncomfortable secrets behind the actions of kids doesn't end there, as it ends up referring to the Kensington Experiment, informally referred to as "KIDS" in reference to the motherboard used. Meant as an attempt to exploit the psychic power that remains dormant in a child's mind, not for the sake of of any specific scientific result, as its conductor Professor Hodgeson explains on his virtual deathbed, but rather to see what happens, the experiment horribly backfires as the bodies of the children are violently dissolved by the pure energy amassed. By attempting to achieve enlightenment and see beyond the perceptions of reality, much like Lain and her upgrades of her Wired experience from that of a small computer to that of a cavern of computer monitors and coolant fluid, the spirits of the children "murdered" by KIDS has been something of a punishment for Hodgeson, but one he cannot absolve and only react to in a stoic manner similar to the reactions of the teen suicides we've heard throughout the series. The game the Knights use, modifying the leaked schematics of "KIDS" in a way that allows them to continue Hodgeson's failed experiment, is just another way to achieve victory for their goals, sinister and throwing away that which has been surpassed by their current position, as the bomb that goes off in Lain's room that nearly kills her is an testament of. Like PHANTOMa, the childish games and identities can be a cover for dangerous truths, grave and terrible realities hiding behind that which we want to trust the most, throwing Lain and us into a state of unease over the fact that there's nobody we can seem to trust.
Layer 07: Society
There's been plenty of references made towards the Knights, the group of hackers aiming for transcendence in the Wired that we've slowly learned more about as Lain gets closer to their conspiracy. But who are the Knights, now that information about them seems to be leaking out as the walls between the Wired and reality begin crumbling? In reality, the Knights of the Lambda Calculus refers to an organization of hackers specializing in the LISP programming language, whose source code mainly relies on concentrated lists of data clumps in order to provide mathematical functions and structured solutions. Of course, unlike the Knights in Lain, any mention of the KLC is done in half-jest, as there's no structured criteria or genuine proof of their existence, behaving more as an in-joke than anything to poke fun at the mythical status hackers seem to have (remember, any movie that shows hackers as these lightning-fast typers with the computer's code going by at a blazing speed with Trance music in the background is lying to you. Real hacking is really, really, really boring).
Of course, myth-making is more interesting, especially when the mysteries lurking in the Wired occurs at such disparity and at such obscurity. Throughout the episode we are introduced to people that by any other account would not be truly connected, except all have affiliations with or are fascinated by the Knights, thanks to the theological beliefs the group share (one of the key functions that can make a "society" that somewhat-ordered communion it is). Continuing the theme of a person in reality becoming a different person in the Wired, like with Lain's meekness in contrast with Lain from the Wired's commanding godliness, we are shown many people who on the surface have clear-cut traits, a businessman, a work-at-home mother, and an overweight shut-in, yet all of their identities in the Wired are in the same superhacker vein in cahoots with the Knights, forming their own society separate from reality based on their own rules, their own form of fun and games, and their own morality in terms of treating people as pawns for their own purposes.
Two pawns, one arguable, one definitive, are in central focus here. Lain's role reversal here is directly discussed, what with her sister Mika, stuck between the Wired and reality as a result of her manic hallucinations two episodes back, muttering and completely distant, worrying Lain in how different she is now in a direct parallel to Mika's own worries towards Lain that same episode. This complete upset in Lain's life as a result of the Knights heightens even more, not by them but by the Men in Black that's been following her, working for the equally mysterious Tachibana General Laboratories and the enigmatic "Office Worker". Thought they believe the separation of the Wired and the real world is dangerous, in practice their own mythical, shadowy presence and tactics do not appear too different from the Knights' own agenda, especially as they toy with Lain's sanity by heavily suggesting Lain's family and history is a fabrication (something Lain breaks down crying in unsuccessfully trying to refute). This reconsidered examination of a structure we're taught to be familiar with, in the same way we're forced to reconsider aspects of religion, identity, and humanity, all work in the same theme of questioning what is reality, what we have defined it as, and how much the basic constructs of the things we've agreed exist can let us down and not be the black-and-white mechanitions we know reality and, in a microscopic scale, society to be.
While Lain's journey provides satisfactory proof of what makes the groundbreaking themes as memorable and prophetic as they are today, it's the small mini-journey of our other pawn, a man suited up with technology surrounding him wandering around Shibuya, that provides proof of what makes it so horrifying in a psychological root. Visually, the lens that this man-machine sees through his camera is that of a real-life imagery of Shibuya's streets, mutated through bleeding colors achieved through HSB noise (in short, referring to "Hues", "Saturation", and "Brightness") that makes for possibly the most visually unnerving imagery we've seen in the series. The horror of the common man so lost in reality that he results in trying to achieve the same enlightenment Lain has received, yet bungled so much so as to become a crazed shell, stably moving and desperately pleading to be a member of a Knights and join that shared transcendence. His failures are marked with a phantom image of Lain, a new manufactured persona distinct from the reality and Wired personalities we've seen from Lain (which I'll get to later), as well as being unable to escape the hole he's created by entering into the Knights' communication channel. The eventual death of this cameraman, left in a ravine, is marked with the same type of mystery the Wired has attached to everyday living, the possibilities equally chalked up to either blind accident, assassination by the Knights, or the abandonment of the flesh that Chisa and the other suicidal victims we've heard of have accomplished in one form or the other. Either way, the growing power of the Wired and the inability to separate it from reality becomes the greatest horror we humans can naturally face, standing-in for the uncomfortable reconsideration of what is our existence, and what is our reality, if we can build a new reality so appealing that it becomes the new preferred "real world". The real world is not the real world at all, so long as we can augment it into something beyond normal human sensory reception.
Layer 08: Rumors
The prominence of a new entity bearing Lain's likeness and "identity" warrants bringing up another major theme that pops up within the series. Mental illness, specifically dissociative identity disorder, brings up a psychological debate towards how far deep Lain really is at the center of this conspiracy, as three versions of Lain now exist to affect and alter each other's existence. This disturbance of reality is usually defined as the splintering of identity, various aspects of memory and consciousness drifting within a single multidimensional self, where one primary identity (the "childish" Lain we mostly follow) carries the given name and is usually passive, dependent, or depressed to a notable degree. Lain's case is peculiar in that her other two self-images, the "advanced" Lain of the Wired and the "devious" Lain likely constructed by the Knights, share the same name and at least some general foundational knowledge of the world, but all of them operate on very different agencies, cognition and acceptance of more cerebral knowledge, and moods based on different sets of social skills. All of these are symptoms of DID, and all describe the internal battle Lain is facing, a conflict that, thanks to the infinite reach of the Wired, has spilled into reality, as open conflict from the Wired Lain and the "evil" Lain surfaces, much to the fear and confusion of Real-world Lain unaware of how the two identities are affecting her personal identity.
With such malleability on truth and existence on the Wired, the illogicalities and desires of people become more pronounced and revealed, as we share and want to know about the things that make life complex and painful, thereby knowing what's real through an unreal place and state of mind. We as humans don't completely know what's "fun" or pleasurable to us, as such excessiveness of things we deem as fun can be tainted or imperfect based on key excursions and scenarios, or why at times we want to be exposed to confusing phenomena, to witness negative emotions in the realm of fiction, to feel like our hearts are being scraped by a rasp, shaving our souls for a brief moment of time. That is an instance of not thinking through with logic, of letting our desire for the unknown dictate our actions, by wanting to gaze at something new and gain insight and knowledge we didn't fully grasp, or repeat in order to further realize "how" we understand things, even if "why" is something beyond our human capabilities.
I was talking about Lain at some point, wasn't I?
Anyway, Lain's own primary persona is damaged thanks to the titular "rumors", as well as her family's falling apart, Mika fully disconnected and her parents recognizing the obsolete state they're in, their stone-cold momentary glares towards Lain confirming the rumors she seemed to have concerning their reality. The Wired allows for people to openly share whatever they feel needs to be shared, the long rows of users with floating mouths Lain encounters at one point being indicative of the disease-like spread of misinformation, statements like the Knights being a joke by American students or a building being a prime space of hauntings existing alongside potentially real information, yet treated just the same because of the equal power of individuals we have, informing those who want to believe and polluting the hive mind of Wired users in such a way that there becomes no way to distinguish lies from truth. The Wired is everyone, the Wired can be anyone, and the Wired can create a person and destroy them in one fell swoop.
As for the other personal rumors swirling around Lain's livelihood, "news" about her being a "peeping tom" spread through and creates a Lain in their minds wholly different than the self-image of Lain in reality, this claim more referring to her omnipresence and advanced insight of the world around her. The "devious" Lain that spies on Alice's forbidden fantasies spurs a confrontation, one that sees the "advanced" Lain desiring to be someone else that the rumors haven't painted over, as well as the "childish" Lain terrifyingly experiencing the effects of enlightenment, immobily seeing all the worlds the different Lains experience clash into one, understanding all and fearing this power she holds. Either way, there is a clear struggle and apprehension to becoming one with the Wired that our two "protagonist" Lains face, and the attempts to delete the primal effects of such rumors, whether literal or metaphorical, forces the deletion of the Lain we call Lain in the minds of her friends and the world around her. Whether the ugly intonations of rumors in life, the split we create between our real selves and the self-curated image we create online, or the desires of the unknown, uncomfortable, and unpleasant, all of these are a part of us, our own multidimensional identity that we simply cannot partially delete. The destruction of the self is either complete or isn't done at all. We cannot escape ourselves fully even if we tried.
Layer 09: Protocol
While we've seen the consequences of "rumors" within the universe of Lain, here we see the true spread of floundering rumors, through narrated history pieces, dropped onto our laps as if we are processing random, yet strangely connected, pieces of data, all concerning the destructive phenomena of conspiracy theories. Two very specific documents, that of the investigation of a Army-issued weather balloon crash landing in Roswell, which quickly deformed into a discussion of the government creating a cover-up for their investigations of a crashed UFO and the potential alien life inside, as well as Majestic 12, an organization and signed seal of documents from high-ranking scientists and military leaders for the purposes of recovering and investigation alien life around the time of Roswell, which was revealed as bogus by the FBI on account of contradictory evidence of meeting times, as well as inconsistencies in signatures, typeface, and register numbers. The thing about conspiracy theorists is that, even if the information they rely on has been debunked, they are so committed to being crackpots that they will never reconsider their position and instead find further ways to support their claims. The power of stupidity and those willing to listen has only been increased by the Internet, and concurrently the Wired, where someone can post a webpage saying John F. Kennedy was assassinated because he kept asking too many questions about such alien creatures before his presidency (like I said, complete lunatics), and be taken as the truth by others willing to believe. The lies of rumors now has the power to overtake the truth of reality, and if the little alien in a red-and-green sweatshirt that creeps into Lain's doorway is any indication, such paranoia can transcend the mouth of one and become the unfortunate reality of people subjugated to the nonsense of the world.
This subject of volatile memory continues with the attempts to collect the information of the populous into immediately-accessible pools of information. Based upon microfilm, Vannevar Bush's memex concept, constructed in 1945, was designed as a tool to understand and study the linking of date by association, in the same way a human brain would, as well as create new information in order to better replicate the process of human thought and recollection by creating new associations (in his '67 article "Memex Revisited", Bush also theorized that advancements in technology through magnetic tape could also be used to erase and destroy such memories and links, modifying information to emulate, too, how we change associations and differentiate them over time). John C. Lilly, recognizing both the scientific and supernatural capabilities of the mind, developed a more unusual form of a communication network, attempting to use his sensory deprivation tanks as a means to come into contact with cosmic entities (the most notable bunch being of the Earth Coincidence Control Office, or E.C.C.O.), and comparing that to how dolphins communicate through echolation. This way, more humans can achieve this same form of mental networking to link together and not need any external devices (and, more importantly, form the same ability to talk to the little creatures that kept telling Lilly he's in a training regiment on Earth to control the short-term coincidences in life, whatever the fffFUCK that means).
In the footsteps of Bush's and Lilly's means of collecting information from any source and having the capabilities to immediately access that, Ted Nelsons' utopian project of hypertextually giving everyone non-sequential access of non-malleable information, titled Project Xanadu, is one of the most infamously-unmanufacturable concepts recorded to history. Intended to have completely unique and secure servers, as well as thoroughly-identified users and documents, it was a dream project meant to completely scrub any traces of human interference, designed to deny any such corruptibility that rumors, theorists, or others of a more insidious nature could bring about. A dream library where everyone could have safe access to data and spread knowledge wherever it goes, this is the model that our current system of internet access is founded on. Yet, the capabilities of the human mind and its intentions brings an asterisk to that dream, and as we've seen from this series so far, domination and control over what truth people hear is tangential, but able to be the things we know the internet and its users of as today, a wonderful highway polluted by garbage and spam when you least expect it.
And then there's Lain...
The presentation of these information segments, as well as Lain's understanding of her role within the realms of her current time and space, is a destruction of protocol, an official system of rules that's so callously mistreated throughout that it becomes meaningless to abide by them. Lain's own protocol was disrupted by her experiences in the Wired, and is rendered redundant is this episode upon her accessing her memory and remembering being shoved into her home by the Men in Black we've seen throughout, her past a myth and her family frauds, waiting for their mission and protocol to end (indeed, Lain's father states “It’s almost over, isn't it? Finally.”, indicating his awareness that the family's relevance to Lain is gone and she will fulfill her purpose). As the history of the wired and the falseness of truth concludes, it begins to tie in more with Lain's research, firstly with the Schumann resonances, peaks in Earth's electromagnetic spectrum that affect the brain in an unknown way, and how such resonance could be harnessed and create a mental psychic link for wider communication (similar to the failed "KIDS" experiment, as well as the fictional (from our understanding, again tying into how truth and lies can become constructed into one) research of Masami Eiri, able to replicate and send his consciousness into the first functional drafts of the Wired, fully ascending upon his death a week later and becoming the first in the line of suicides desiring to reach higher enlightenment in the wired. Life has no real protocol, as aside from its most basic rules humans have the will to change our way of living, whether those unaware want to on not. There's only one being that seems to follow all rules even when humanity doesn't, to be there invisibly and have some sort of understanding of how the world works, including the many illogical rules man creates:
God, or that who assumes such a role.
Layer 10: Love
What is a god? To many it is the one creator and ruler of the universe, a being that holds great power and dominion over its creations, controlling fortunes and misery based on an infinite plan of action. This description, though, merely describes specific gods in different religions, as the basic description merely stands as a supernatural deity that is regarded as divine or sacred, commanding respect from those who know it and labeled with reverence. On paper, Masami Eiri, the first true entity of the Wired that Lain finally meets after he proclaims himself as such, is not technically a God, as he did not create the Wired, and those that follow him are not suggested to know of him directly, but more the concept of the Wired he manages in some capacity. Concurrently, Lain is not a god either, based on her complete isolation and difficulty in controlling her own sense of identity as well as livelihood. Thus, there is no real god of the Wired, evidenced by the two's voices being flipped to show the equal power/potential they hold, and both are merely escapees of the flesh, Lain temporarily and Eiri permanently (though, as we learn later, Lain herself may be a creation born from the Wired, possibly from Eiri but nevertheless supported by the fact that her family and, to some degree, her friends are mere constructions in her life). Yet, Eiri still holds an upper hand, that being there exists those that do follow in his transcendential beliefs, willing to spread his messages and indirectly acknowledging his existence: the Knights.
Lain's identity has completely fallen into a state of collapse, the analog version in the reality becoming nonexistsent in the perception of others. By erasing herself from the memories of her friends, her presence and relevance is no longer present at her school, wandering like a spirit with any proof of her existence, namely her desk, gone. Similarly, her home is in disarray, entering a twilight world of what she knew and unable to fully understand why. As she exists gone in a mist, so too is Mika, trapped between the Wired as she communicates purely through modem sounds, her soul lost and her presence felt only by Lain, equals in isolation from reality. The only person who does acknowledge her existence is her surrogate father, saying goodbye in spite of it breaking protocol, and attempting to reassure Lain that her freedom, of being a full-fledged entity of the Wired able to connect with everyone, is worth more that his existence as a being meant to fulfill one purpose. Lain, and the Wired, has meaning, but only if her actions can support it.
Realizing this, Lain sets out to use the Wired to her advantage, in order to render the self-proclaimed God just as nonexistent by destroying those that call themselves followers. In doing so, Lain accesses the buried information of those working in the Knights and doxxes them to the news of the Wired, creating the path for the Men in Black of Tachibana to follow and eliminate, thereby attempting to seal the boundaries between the Wired and reality. Throughout the world, numerous suicides are reported (how much of them are just that or assassinations is never fully clear, and indeed only adds to the mysterious control those from Tachibana wish to enforce) and the danger they wield is mitigated, the way for Eiri to manipulate reality fried. Yet even still, as he proclaims, if there is one person that acknowledges his existence, in confirming there is power to his word, he is still in some degree a god, with Lain being the only one to prove his life still holds some meaning.
But what about love? It's a concept that we're still trying to figure out ourselves, aside from the recognition that it requires two people for such a connection, even if it's one-way. No opening narration is present that can succinctly answer this, and different forms of it jump around to acknowledge how much of a strange thing it really is. Lain's "father" goes out of his way to say goodbye, risking pain for the sake of imprinting some worthwhile meaning to her, and one of the Men in Black admits some form of love despite not knowing what Lain really is, to call onto that sense of divinity by loving something simply out of a feeling of respect, in acknowledging it as an unknown and showing signs of wanting to understand more of it. Either way, love is a form of communication, an unexplainable force that propels people together even if they can't or shouldn't, and it's a deep sensation that our human instincts demand we follow through on, untangling the complexities of life even if it's for one form of admittance and acknowledgement. Love can't be explained, but it's what governs the world and how we want people to think of us as.
...Or you could be one of those dickheads that hangs out at parties and simplify the discussion by saying "love is nothing more than a chemical reaction our brain tells us is important", as you high-five your big-brained friends who just so happen to look a lot like the Talosians from Star Trek.
Yeah. Yeah don't be like those pricks.
Layer 11: Infornography
A lot of people really revile at the concept of the "recap episode", whereby a summary of a series' events is shown in order to get people up to speed and create a transition from one major arc to the next (which is pretty important in Japan considering, due to anime companies buying time slots as opposed to broadcasters picking up series to air whenever, anime reruns are very, very rare and would be an incredibly unprofitable option). This is understandable, as people usually don't want to feel like their time is squandered by having to sit through material they've already seen, or have to consider in rewatches if it's worth sitting through for the pure experience or just skip it in order to make the long binge a little bit shorter. Lain in my mind holds the best, or at very least the ideal, example of how to make a recap episode, as the recap is a transformative work unique from the material it's built from, and only lasts for the first half with the rest being new, relevant information.
On that note of information, here we see Lain downloading emulators of her Navi systems straight into her brain, trying to find evidence within herself that she is real in an attempt to disprove Eiri. Addiction to information in the same ways pornography can be results in cycling through many different events in the series, trying to piece together failing memories from one association to another, all accompanied by acid guitar solos and frantic blues-jazz in a way that supports this disorientation. The bounce back-and-forth between the digital constructions of her memories and the real world experiences is an emotionally exhausting one, identity destroying in how ambiguous memory morphs and changes as we try to piece fractured links together. By the end, though, Alice is the proof Lain needs, the person that seems to genuinely love and look after Lain the most, and thus form meaningful communication with to ground Lain somewhat into reality.
Yet, Lain was never truly meant to be in reality. As Eiri explains, Lain is merely software, neither human nor machine, and is merely a program of sorts with flesh, planned to abandon the body to warp the fabric of reality and the Wired into one. The question of whether dying to abandon the flesh is worth it becomes a moral quandary to Lain, argued between two figures of her past with contradictory viewpoints. Chisa, who committed suicide, sees the concept of dying as difficult and not a simple act, and the Accela user from Episode 2, who was more or less controlled to die out of fear, sees it as an easy act, encouraging Lain to ascend fully into the Wired through his gun in order to relieve her pain. Those looking for meaning and purpose in their deaths know that it is a painful process, emotionally wrestling with if there's anything at all that makes the world worth sticking through, and Lain, suffice to say, still has some meaning in this world.
As Lain has now fully broken down the boundaries between the Wired and reality, able to traverse anywhere and everywhere, her goal becomes to rid herself of her loneliness and fix the deception she inadvertently caused with her "deletion" in Alice's life. Appearing to her in the same red-green sweatshirt and alien hands/legs, symbolizing the secrets and knowledge that may be different or doubtful from our own, Lain attempts to apologize and prove her identity, the one that isn't the smiling sinister image of Lain, is the real Lain, the true self underneath all the mysticism in her life. Because of this, Alice is capable of seeing past all the lies of the "post-deleted" world, and recognize that the Lain that smiles at her, the one with ulterior intentions not looking for the level of communication one looks for in a form of friendship or love, is not the true Lain. Alice is a spectator, only now learning of the supernaturalism once dormant in Lain's life, but by this point she becomes the key and goal for Lain to prove she is real, even if reality isn't her origin.
Layer 12: Landscape
"And now, the following message: let's all love lain.
LET'S ALL LOVE LAIN!
LET'S ALL LOVE LAIN!
LET'S ALL LOVE LAIN!
LET'S ALL LOVE LAIN!
We've been gifted throughout the series with the landscape of the Wired, how it interacts with its users and the many exploits and flaws brought upon by either its own creation or ulterior motives, shown through games, factions, and lies. Through the memories and interpretations of others, the Lains that exist in the minds of friends, associates, and enemies, we have been fully immersed into what essentially is the backbone for the Wired's existence, from the average everyday people that walk the streets in every episode, to Taro and his equally young friends at a dying Cyberia, and even the Men in Black who graduate from their minor roles in Lain's venture to significants once they learn of the ruse they're in, these are the people that define the Wired's existence, the reality where such a connective network is the result of the evolution and understanding of our current tools and capabilities of the world. The Wired is a part of reality, but the Wired cannot exist without reality, a destructible part of the wider landscape.
Two voices on this concept coming from different sides become our central focus in this episode, pivotal to Lain's complex understanding of reality and her self. Masami Eiri, schemer and self-proclaimed God, sees no need for bodies so long as he has some dominion and control on the landscape of the Wired and reality. To him, the Wired is the only option for humanity's evolution, and those that don't want that enlightenment are merely obstacles to be discarded of, knowing full well that everywhere has some sort of connection thanks to the Wired. Eiri's form of connection is that of overwhelming force, either sending creations off to those hesitant to connect (such as the Men in Black who are killed off by the smiling Lain in arguably the most suspenseful scene in the series, considering how much of the information concerning their attack is teased rather than stated, even by this show's standards), or using software like Lain to demolish the border and create easier ascension.
Alice Mizuki, schoolmate of Lain, is the closest Lain has had to a family, given the distance every member of her surrogate family created even at the beginning, and has made efforts to communicate to Lain regardless of the Wired. Naively understanding Lain's scenario, she still shows sympathy and understands a little bit of what Lain has attempted to communicate, proving to Lain that she is real by way of their heartbeats and unreplicable human emotions. Alice has been willing to go through the twisted Wonderland of Lain's world, trekking through her now dilapidated home and the uncomfortable illogicalities the supernatural brings, all because of the genuine desire she has to help and communicate with Lain in natural, directly human ways. Eiri's attempts at being natural, in creating a body to spite Lain's rejection and arguments of him merely being an "acting god", is wholly unnatural and founded on unintentional denial of his philosophies for his own gain, his body mass mutilating itself into a formless musculature. Life isn't as simple as a programmable function, but rather one fueled and changed by emotions, fear, doubt, love, sympathy, and trauma, are all just small descriptors of the boundless opportunities of reality.
Layer 13: Ego
Lain's efforts to try and protect Alice end up hurting her once more, her mind traumatized by the knowledge of the demons in Lain's life that she simply can't handle. Lain, understanding this act as another one of her mistakes in communication and trying to make things better, tries one last solution: a "factory reset" of the world had she nor Eiri, and by extension the Knights, ever existed. Finally recognizing that the act of abandoning the flesh can be done for selfless purposes, she accepts this fate and merely exists now as a spirit of the Wired, only to be remembered by those who seemed to care for her. The lives of those we've followed and bore witness to their deaths, the Accela user living peacefully and walking with his sister, the Men in Black now employed as construction workers, and even Masami Eiri's normal human body grumbling about quitting Tachibana as opposed to his megalomania, all appear in their real selves unaffected by conspiracies and can now attain some sort of tranquility in comparison to what once was.
Lain, however, is now worse off then she was. She has become completely isolated from the world, her worst fear, with no one to talk to but herself, that is her Wired persona. Forced to accept her flaws as a human being, her Wired self tries to convince her to accept the responsibility of godhood, perhaps even reconstructing the world from scratch just the way Lain would want it. Lain, having finally made some sort of communication with Alice on the prior episode after being able to connect herself, rejects this notion knowing that the easy way to happiness and remembrance has no meaning, and thus her Wired personality disappears, leaving the Lain we've followed as the true Lain, even if we and her don't have any clear idea of just who Lain "is", apart from a being capable of humanity and sympathy, as well as a being that knows what suffering is like.
Lain's ego, that which determines the conscious and unconscious self through meditation of individual and reality, is nothing short of scattered. Without people to interpret and create a reaction of the self to know and remember, there is no ego and thus there is no Lain. However, memory is of the cultural unconscious, the connective link between humanity that allows people to exist through memory, just as madeleines in freshly brewed tea becomes the trigger and link to fond Sundays in Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past". By existing within that unconscious, such as the final meeting we see with her and a grown-up Alice, a recognition of the past's ghosts that Lain selflessly chooses to not recall further moments of a disregarded past, she can exist in anyone's mind if they so choose to remember. Our final shot is not Lain, but the power lines that we've heard hum for most of the series, representative of both her connection with the Wired and with the invisible knowledge of her floating around.
Anyone can be Lain, anyone can be everywhere, and anyone can stick around forever. All it takes is those memories.
Serial Experiments Lain is one of those rare series that actively asks you to think about your own place in the universe, and how your identity is perceived in both the mind of the self, and the minds of others. Smart enough to leave plenty of questions and answer some, but leave the more important ones for the viewer themselves, it begs us to reconsider the notions of "truth" and know that it is a flexible notion, but one we can unearth from our own sense of humanity and our goals of improvement, one that we can take to heart for ourselves, or corrupt to change others that shouldn't be a part of it. In the end, though, love reveals the beauty inside such a show laced with horrors from the mind, the concept that allows us to mature and understand it from a standpoint of charged emotion and suffering, as divinity becomes not the end-all solution, but a path to greater enlightenment and acknowledgement of what the soul really needs. The connection of people's emotions is the most powerful bond of all, and that is the heart of what has made people like many others and I love Lain like we do.