Serial Experiments Lain, or SEL as I’ll call it, is a profound philosophical, psychological, and science fiction production with relevance even to us today. There are a number of topics and themes in the anime I want to address, which show philosophical and psychological depth. Before that, though, let’s quickly examine the way SEL created an anime world with technological similarities to our own.
Like all great sci-fi, SEL predicted a lot about society in the future. It essentially foretold the internet culture we know today. The worldwide web was made public in the US in 1991, and began to be somewhat more widely used in 1995. However, to most of the world, and certainly to young generations at the time, the internet was still a great, undeveloped mystery that nobody really knew what to do with. It was still an outlandish concept to think that culture and modern life could possibly be dependent on internet. Yet it is. SEL showed a young generation obsessed with the Wired, which they can access on computers or tablet-like devices. Many of these kids play in increasingly realistic online games. I could list more examples, but let’s keep it brief.
Outside of the technology similarities, the elements of sci-fi with no real equivalent in our world are still highly interesting. For example, there’s the nano-machine “drug” that makes users connect almost fully to the world of the Wired. There’s also the Wired as a whole. It’s more than just internet; it’s a dimension of its own. There’s another awesome element that is more supernatural than sci-fi, if you ask me. That would be the existence of the entity known as Lain. What exactly is she? I will explain my thoughts on the entity of Lain and the world of the Wired in a separate post at another time. For now, let’s move on to the motifs and story elements.
There are many interesting themes in SEL. One of them is the value of the physical body. In this anime’s world, one can upload their consciousness perfectly to the Wired. Perhaps there is no need for a physical body. However, the overall trend in SEL is more of a warning against such thinking. When Lain discovers the truth about she is, she figures she should just exist in the Wired. Though this would give her great power, it is saddening. Lain almost goes mad with the idea. But thanks to the intervention of her friend, Lain rediscovers the value of the physical body. All through the show, people are trying to get closer to full manifestation within the Wired, even if it means killing their own physical bodies. This is a fascinating thematic element.
Similar to this is the idea that one must keep a grip on reality. When you can’t tell real from manufactured any longer, it may be too late. An example is when a boy is playing an online shooter game which blends the real world and the Wired. He is approached by a little girl who has powers within the Wired, and the boy assumes she is an enemy. He shoots her to death. Only later does he realize that the little girl’s real body was there. She was not an avatar. But I’m not talking about just technology here. There are other things which can tear us away from a stable view of reality, such as abuse of psychedelic drugs, pseudoscience, reliance on religion or superstition, and mental illness. Indeed, some of these examples are mentioned in SEL.
Don’t get caught up in just yourself. Two interrelated themes are the consequences of getting too caught up in yourself, and the way everyone is connected. Lain became too caught up in her solitary search for identity, and didn’t reach out for help. The scientist she questions got too caught up in himself and his research, resulting in the disastrous KIDS experiment. Lain’s family are all self-absorbed, too, forgetting to cherish their youngest member. On some level, everyone is connected, in reality as well as in a more supernatural way in SEL. Humans are social creatures. We need connections with each other.
There are many other thematic elements that all come together under the umbrella of identity. This is one of my favorite themes to explore. In a way, the whole story is about Lain finding out who she is. The duality of self, the disillusionment with the world, the desire to connect, the fear of connecting, the uncertainty of self– all these and more show up in SEL. In addition, philosophical ideas like solipsism are touched on a bit. There’s also the more supernaturally-themed topics of shared unconscious and the ideas of god/gods.
As you can see, there is immense depth to be found in this anime. There’s still so much I haven’t dived into in this post, but this I think it would be best to address those aspects in a separate post at a later time. Or I may add a few paragraphs to this post a bit later. For now, this concludes my rough analysis of Serial Experiments Lain. Thank you so much for reading.