ighth-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.
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.