Anime Secret Santa Review: Serial Experiments Lain


Here’s something different to what I usually blog about, I thought I’d take part in the Aniblog Secret Santa project organised by Reverse Thieves. Basically someone will chose three items, I pick one and review it. I was given Tokyo Godfathers, Last Exile and the show I ended up choosing Serial Experiments Lain. I’ll be honest and say I’m not very good at reviewing things in detail.  I think the reason I chose this show is simply because I didn’t want to review a movie and Last Exile was a little too long for my first attempt at an anime review.

Serial Experiments Lain is an anime series from 1998 that deals with the idea of self, how a person identifies to themselves and to other people in the world. It uses technology, especially the Internet as a way of telling this story. I can imagine back in 1998 when the Internet was still gaining ground it was a good subject topic to create a story around.

The lead character is a middle schooler named Lain Iwakura. She first comes across as a shy and simple person. Someone who is very much absorbed in their own world, who lets her mind wander quite often, almost floating through life. She’s not a loner however as she does seem to have a group of friends that she hangs out with often. Her home life is also nothing quite special, she lives with parents and an older sister. It is with the suicide of a fellow pupil and purchase of a new computer does Lain’s world starts changing around her causing her to question just who she is.

The one thing that stayed with me from this show is the atmosphere. With SEL, the show spends the first 3-4 episodes setting up an engrossing atmosphere and does the world building in the background. This is different to what most anime shows tend to do in that they try to build up and offer a world to the viewer in order to hook them in so that they carry on watching the show. SEL instead builds up an atmosphere that hooks you in instead. In these first episodes there are moments where little is said or done, we simply follow Lain in her every day life with odd moments spliced in that slowly tell you something is not quite right here. There were also moments which might cause a viewer to jump in their seats since there are some sequences that absorb you right into the moment. I can think of two moments, the public toilet scene and the later on the “alien”, that certainly caused me to be on the edge of my seat.

SEL made me think. This is another aspect that I enjoyed about this show was that it did not make light of the viewer. It did not dumb down anything or lowered any of its punches just so that the message would reach everyone. With the aforementioned atmosphere this lead me to often pause to think and question what I was actually watching, to question what the motivations of the characters were and to try to think of my own ideas to explain the on goings in this show since the show was not going to do it for you. I can imagine had this show aired in 2012 and if I watched it weekly, I would have been jumped right into various forums and blogs reading up all the different ideas people had. It would have been interesting to see everyone’s own interpretations of the events in the show as each episode unfolded.

Lain is the focal point of this story, the show revolves around the discovery of her true self and how she deals with it along the way. Since she is one of the few key characters she affords the comfort of having a lot of character development devoted to her. I can imagine there might be people out there who wanted to see other characters developed, but then the show would cease to be Serial Experiments Lain and it would become Serial Experiments Lain and other characters. The ending of the show is a little bitter sweet in that she will no longer be remembered but as she does show us in the ending, she will always be able to visit and talk to her friend and that is a comforting thought to finish the show on.

On the visual side the show SEL had some nice use of animation to help portray some of the more surreal side of the show. The characters were often drawn quite detailed and there were few instances, if any, where the animation felt low-budget or bad. Though some of the CGI used is certainly quite dated from a modern perspective, but I don’t think it is going to hamper the viewing experience for many, it certainly didn’t really bug me. Music was used well in this show, especially to build up the atmosphere in those early episodes. It wasn’t overly obnoxious or in your face and it certainly wasn’t bland either.

I do still have some lingering questions about the show, like what happened to the sister? Or the specifics to do with the various different Lain personalities, why were there 2 or 3 different Lains? What relation did the KIDS project have? Was there any reason behind the Accela drug item? I guess I’d need to jump into some more detailed reading for me to get my head around some of these questions.

I did have some preconceived notions about this show, none of which came true as it surpassed what I was expecting it to be. I’ve always been meaning to watch SEL but my never-ending backlog prevented me from doing that. So I am glad I did take part in the 2012 Aniblog Secret Santa project as it allowed me to have this enjoyable experience. A big thanks to my Secret Santa for picking out some great shows by the way!

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5 Responses to Anime Secret Santa Review: Serial Experiments Lain

  1. processr says:

    SEL is up there with the best for me. Everyone has lingering questions after watching Lain, you’re not alone there.

  2. Pingback: Secret Santa 2012 Project Reveal « Reverse Thieves

  3. You’re definitely right about the atmosphere. Even if nothing makes sense to someone about this anime, they should still watch it just for the incredible atmosphere. The only anime similar in atmosphere to this I think is Boogiepop Phantom, though the storyline differs enormously.

  4. snaughty says:

    Really awesome review. SEL is my all time favourite and I genuinely appreciate the way you reviewed the show without giving anything away, as it’s so easy to accidentally reveal something when you talk about it. Lain, at least for me, was one of those shows where you notice more things every time you watch it.

  5. Pingback: Through the Looking-Glass | Au pays du Teletubbies otaku

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