Until now, I have watched many beautiful anime series. Overall, there hasn’t been a single anime that I didn’t like. Each one of them was a successful work depicting unique themes. Every anime contains a puzzle, but the story comes together in the end, and questions find their answers. Now, for the first time, I will attempt to explain an anime that I truly didn’t fully understand what it was trying to convey. I’m not alone in this because the information each viewer gathers from it will differ. Many anime series enjoy confusing the audience, but the one that truly deserves the term “mindfuck” is Serial Experiments Lain.
Serial Experiments Lain is a Cyberpunk Anime that was published in 1998, consisting of 13 episodes. The manga and character design were done by Yoshitoshi Abe, while Chiaki J. Konaka took charge of the visual direction and concept design, and Ryutaro Nakamura directed the series. Currently, the anime is available on YouTube for everyone to watch until 2028.
The anime tells the story of Lain Iwakura, a 14-year-old girl living in a small Japanese town. Lain is socially disconnected from society and doesn’t get along well with her family. Her sister is more socially active than her. Her mother is emotionless, and her father constantly works and rarely comes home. Lain’s detached life takes a turn when she receives an email. The peculiar part is that the email is from a student at her school who recently committed suicide.
Lain naturally becomes intrigued by the email from a person who has committed suicide and begins to investigate it. In Lain’s universe, there exists an internet system called the Wired. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to describe Wired as simply the internet. It has a structure resembling something closer to the Matrix. People connect to Wired for various reasons and spend their time inside it. However, after spending time in Wired, Lain starts questioning certain things. She even begins to question herself and the world she inhabits. She first questions the necessity of physical existence. I believe this is where the foundation of the anime lies. In today’s world, after the internet that connects us, is physical existence necessary? It reminds me of the “San Junipero” episode from Black Mirror.
As Lain questions her existence, some of her statements remind me of a philosopher I greatly admire, George Berkeley.
“What isn’t remembered, never happened. Memory is merely a record.”
According to Berkeley, nothing we see in our surroundings is concrete. Everything is abstract. You’re probably familiar with the famous question, “Prove to me that this chair doesn’t exist.” According to Berkeley, that chair never existed in the first place. The reason it appears to be there is because we observe it. When we turn our back, the chair ceases to exist. It is our thought of “the chair exists” that brings it into being.
A perfect example of this is the laughing emoji. We perceive the combination of two different symbols, “:)” as laughter. Essentially, it’s just two symbols next to each other, but we interpret it as “laughing.” It is a reality we assign. Let’s further perplex our minds. In science, there is an experiment known as the double-slit experiment. The results of the experiment revealed that the photons composing light behave differently when observed. However, the exact reason for this is still a mystery.
Within the anime, it is suggested that our physical existence is nothing more than data. Let me explain with another famous quote:
“When everyone who remembers you dies, you will cease to have ever lived.”
Memory or memories are mere data. What defines our existence is the awareness of others. As Berkeley also stated, our reality is derived from others knowing and seeing us. But where is the real me? Oh, right, there is no real me. I only exist within those individuals who are aware of my existence.
Lain begins to realize that during her time spent in the Wired, she transcends her physical form and becomes something far greater. Her transformation triggers the actions of a powerful entity called Knights, which tries to impede her progress. However, Lain develops herself and even erases the person who refers to himself as a god within the Wired. This is where it deviates a bit from The Matrix. Neo was rescued from an artificial world and awakened from the Matrix. On the contrary, Lain, during her time in the Wired, realizes the insignificance of her physical reality. The Matrix is built upon the concept of transitioning from the computer world to reality, and one of the characters in the first film, Cypher, criticized this transition with the following words:
“You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”
Once again, we are drawn to San Junipero, and I pose the famous question: If we can exist entirely in a conscious realm, what is the meaning of the physical world?
The experiment within the anime is reminiscent of the San Junipero episode. We can even say that the very essence of San Junipero is where the Kids Project accidentally ended up. The difference lies in Berkeley. Although the Wired within the anime appears to be a computer system, it is, in fact, a reality akin to The Matrix. It is not constructed; it already exists. We live within it, yet we are unaware of the curtain in between. The Wired serves to tear down this curtain. As Berkeley argued, we are actually within an abstract system. We can call what lies behind us in the Wired or even the Matrix.
Is there a message to be gleaned from the anime? Frankly, I do not know. I believe Lain can even be portrayed as a different version of Neo. In the first Matrix film, Neo managed to exist between the real world and the Matrix, perceiving the difference with his own eyes. As the episodes progress, Lain, like Neo, becomes aware of both sides. To the extent that the man at Cyberia kills himself out of fear by merely looking into Lain’s eyes. He was able to sense her uniqueness and awareness in a single glance. The difference lies in which side of the curtain one desires to be on.
The most ironic aspect of the anime is the god trying to deceive Lain. There is a god who has convinced her that she is just an ordinary person. It’s quite amusing. I can’t help but wonder if this is the message. Are we also believing in the Matrix like Neo? Can we not see what is behind us, as Berkeley mentioned? Have we been made to believe something? Is the limit to transcendence a delusion of god?
The most intriguing part of the anime, which captivated everyone’s attention, is its narrative style. Serial Experiments Lain has a more contemplative storytelling approach compared to other animes, and it also exudes a darker atmosphere than many of its counterparts. It weighs heavily on the viewer. From scene designs to character designs, there is a gothic undertone present. Moreover, the scent of mystery lingers throughout the entire anime, keeping it vibrant. Despite not containing any overtly frightening elements, every step Lain takes can sometimes unsettle one. In terms of evoking emotions, the anime possesses a depth far beyond typical examples.
After watching Serial Experiments Lain, Matrix initially formed in my mind, followed by Berkeley and, ultimately, San Junipero. If I have been able to add something to those who are reading, then I am delighted. However, I would like to emphasize that my writing is not investment advice. Perhaps, maybe I haven’t written anything correctly in any way. In fact, I haven’t encountered anyone who is confident that they have written something correctly. Everyone who has watched it has been affected by their lack of understanding. It has even been called clever. But how can something we don’t understand be considered clever?
Cast & Crew
director: Ryûtarô Nakamura, Lia Sargent, Jôhei Matsuura, Akihiko Nishiyama
writers: Yoshitoshi Abe, Chiaki Konaka
starring: Kaori Shimizu, Bridget Hoffman
JAPAN | 1998 | 13 EPISODES |