November 12, 2006

SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN (1998) hypnotic web anime

13 x 25 minutes, anime series
Available in Region 1 and Region 2 DVD boxsets

Weird on the wired

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks revisiting Lain.

There are many reviews and descriptions of the series out there.
Anime News Network has a good one. I’d just like to add my thoughts on one of my favourite anime series.

Lain is a withdrawn young schoolgirl who gets an e-mail from a classmate who has committed suicide. The message was sent after the girl's death, claiming that she is still alive in the net, no longer in need of her physical form. Intrigued by the message, Lain gets her father, a computer designer, to set her up with his experimental internet navigation equipment. Then Lain gets complicated...

Watching the series induces a sort of hypnotic effect, that I’m very in tune with. It certainly captures the immersive effect of spending a long time on the net.

The story looks forward to people being actually recreated online, and able to exist without their physical beings. Only last month, I saw a BBC Horizon documentary about scientists and theorists already trying to make that work!

Lain is one of the first anime series I got into. I was surprised at how adult and cerebral anime could get. There’s very little action, but it’s rich with ideas and atmosphere, and the plot is hard to follow – it makes you think. I get the drift, but I’ll probably never fully understand everything that’s going on. Which again makes it intriguing and rewatchable. As it stands, this series will remain ahead of it's time for a while yet!

Of course, the producers were trying hard for this to be a different kind of anime – but just the fact that they were able to complete the series (and not get cancelled halfway, for instance) impressed me with the genre. That there was a medium out there that could allow experimental and intelligent products.

The look of the animation also impressed me. It had impact without using much motion, a technique perfected in anime, usually constrained by budgets. But the effort and technique that go into the fairly static shots is impressive. For example, in the opening of every episode – there’s a shot of out of focus traffic – car lights are recognisable as blobs of color, and abstract lens flares. Easier to film than to draw. Beautiful and interesting to watch.

The sound design is also extremely well done – like the indistinct murmur of traffic and crowds in the opening shots, or the ominous sound of power in the overhead wires. I hope that an even more immersive audio mix will be made in 5.1 surround, perhaps for a future video release.

The series spawned three official soundtrack CDs, confusingly one of them is called Bootleg. There are still new books and merchandise being produced. There was even a video game.

Like Lain’s worshippers in the series, I’m almost hypnotised by watching the series. In the future, I know I’ll have to return and gaze at her again.

Do you want to know more?
There's an in-depth site on the ideas in the series, called
thought experiments Lain.

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