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Serial Experiments Lain

Fantastic connections in a wired world

* Serial Experiments Lain
* Vol. 1: Navi (Episodes 1-4)
* Pioneer LDC
* $24.98 Dubbed
* $29.98 Subtitled (Reviewed)
* 95 Minutes

Review by Tasha Robinson

Eighth-grader Lain Iwakura is a vague, fey child who has trouble making connections, both mental and personal. She drifts through her life staring out windows and doodling through classes. When one of her schoolmates commits suicide, Lain misses the announcement. When several people receive e-mail from the dead girl, Lain misses that as well, since she doesn't touch her computer at home. She only logs in after some pointed mockery from the girls in her class. Sure enough, there's a message from the suicide, Chisa Yomoda, explaining that she's left her body behind but she's still alive. "God is here," the cryptic e-mail concludes.

Our Pick: A+

Hesitantly, Lain reaches out toward Chisa, upgrading her computer and learning how to use it to access the virtual community called The Wired. Bizarre things are happening around her--she sees a ghost-girl jumping onto a track in front of a train, and she meets a grimacing phantom flanked by blocky molten bodies. Her hands glow and steam in class, and she hallucinates scenes of isolation in the midst of crowds. Her classmates report seeing a girl just like her at Cyberia, a popular dance club, except that the Lain from Cyberia is wild, stylish and aggressive. Strange men in black suits hover ominously outside her apartment.

And Lain's life isn't the only thing that's getting weird. More suicides are reported, all teenagers involved in a popular Wired network game. A kid on a nanotech-based hormone-inducer called Accela runs amok with a gun, while a mysterious group called The Knights releases a super-computer chip called Psyche. It's not clear from these opening episodes how all this cyberpunk gabble is related, but as Lain abruptly comes out of her shell, she comments pointedly that everyone is connected.

Lyric images, cutting-edge story

The world of the dead, the "real" world, and the virtual world of the Internet junkie all blend into one shifting reality in this spectacular series opening. At first blush, Serial Experiments Lain has the power and poetry of last year's Key: The Metal Idol, meshed with the focus and cutting-edge immediacy of a William Gibson story. Lain is clearly another attempt to address that old anime standby theme: retaining humanity in a sterile technological age. But these spooky and gorgeous early episodes give the theme an unusually relevant, real-world treatment.

For one thing, the Internet is easier to relate to--as both salvation and threat--than giant robots or sentient computers. For another, the beautiful graphic images, provided by different animation directors in each episode, are hauntingly evocative. Visual metaphors for the mysterious online world abound in Lain's everyday life--in buzzing, muttering telephone wires that fall silent when she approaches, for instance. The ghost world--which manifests itself through horrific, twisted child-creatures with multilayered faces--may not seem as realistic. But it's certainly memorable.

And the central story, about an unconnected, unpopular girl discovering a hidden world where even she can find friends, is the most basic kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy. It's packed with visual sophistication and symbolic tricks as well as up-to-the-minute computer references and popular culture. But Lain's most basic appeal is the bearing it has on normal people in an increasingly abnormal world.

This is the most exciting series I've seen this year, and probably the most thoughtful. Let's hope it ends better than the last series I said this about. -- Tasha


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