Lain is both a very current series and a relic of the past. The questions it asks are still as significant today as back then, though the answers and context may be different. The animation is obviously of its time, but I can still appreciate it today. The storyline, direction, and structure is of a series from the 90’s, but I would love to see more shows today emulate it.
It’s been wonderful revisiting Lain and viewing the series twenty years later with eyes anew. I encourage you to do the same as we stream through the one remarkable season of this anime.
At Cyberia, a dance club catering to underage customers, Lain fiercely admonishes men and walks out, away from crowds who purchase Accela, a “smart supplement” that accelerates awareness. Or is it Lain after all? Her classmates think it might be, and invite her to join them the next time they go—but this visit ends in more than angry words. A violent, stoned murderer identifies Lain as the one he has seen connecting the Wired to the real world.
In episode one and again in episode two, Lain’s father expresses to her how important it is to make connections. Her new state-of-the-art Navi is important because it will help her establish these relationships.
But Lain, herself, is apprehensive. When invited to Cyberia by her classmates, and even with the sweet encouragement from Alice, she resists. But a series of events, both strange and normal, encourage her to go the club. She sees phantoms coming out of the school walls and rightly fears them. Later, when her Navi arrives, she desires to use it immediately, the kind of request that’s unlike her to demand. And when she does connect, Lain is disappointed to find that once again, she has no email.
Ultimately, Lain decides to go the club and I sooo feel her in this scene. I was also the awkward person going to parties and clubs, who didn’t quite fit in (though personally, I went to those establishments when I was older—it was at church gatherings, strangely enough, where as a middle schooler I felt like a fish out of water). Lain is made to feel silly by even children younger than her, and is chided by her classmates for wearing something too childish, though Lain has obviously made an effort to look more adult.
But within the action of the club scene, as we get some important clues to what’s happening and who this doppelganger of Lain—shown both in the initial scenes of the episode and in the opening credits for the series—is in dialogue critical for the series as a whole. As the murderer literally takes aim at Lain, she suddenly changes personality from frightened child to calm and confident adult, and speaks these words:
No matter where you go, everyone is connected.
There’s much to unpack in this line. The action itself indicates the conflict between those trying to connect the Wired to the real world—whether it’s Chisa, Lain (or her twin), or someone else, while it also shows steps that Lain is taking toward relationship.
In the short-term, this quote means friendship. Alice feels terribly guilty for bringing Lain into this situation and cries to her, as what was an acquaintance relationship becomes a friendship. In a way, Lain has seen through Alice the same way she (or her doppelganger or both) saw through the killer. In that case, there’s something existential going on, but in Alice’s, it has to do with regular relationship. Alice appears as the kind, smart girl who is friendly to all, but she knows that she’s not as perfect as she presents herself to be—she texts during class, says things to Lain that are helpful and superficially friendly, and she used Lain as the rest of the girls did, out of a sense of seeing a duck out of water, though the other two were plain and clear about that; Alice feigned friendship. Jumping ahead, her tears at the beginning of the next episode demonstrate remorse, as Alice is confronted with “sins” that might not seem so bad to others or even the audience, but which are very real to her. That contrition pushes her into relationship with Lain, for better or worse.
As Lain states, we are all connected—but how true do we want that connection to be? And do we want to be connected at all?
Present Day. Question Time.
- Alice was always my favorite character in the series. I mentioned it above, but I really like how she’s subtly layered. The character archetype is the girl who is top of the class at everything and whose faults are silly anime issues, but Alice is more real than that. Her faults, as minor as they are compared to others around her, are real—deceit and manipulation are true to her. She’s very real.
- Less real and more shadowy are the people watching Lain (or her house). I can’t remember who these guys are exactly. But while they’re shady, the terror in this episode is in the form of students and no-face shadows coming from school walls. Deceased girls? Chisa? The girl hit by the train? Scary.
- Lain is made to look like a child in this episode especially. She’s shorter than the other girls and has features, including a rounded face, that make her look even younger. But most especially, she continues to wear teddy bear stuff. Even when she goes to the club, she wears a hat that has a bear on it, which she embarrassingly takes off when called out on her childish clothing. I’m eager to see if there’s a point later when she loses the bear outfit and hat entirely.
- Note that the bear hat goes flying off in the OP. By the way, I’ll talk about that opening later—one of my favorites in all anime.
- Creepy parent make-out session. Yuck. But more than yuck, disturbing and entirely fitting with the series’ tone. The mother walks away and doesn’t even acknowledge Lain. She doesn’t seem to be blood-related, judging by her sharper facial features…a step-mother is entirely possible without any further context given at this point.
Let us know your thoughts below! And join us next Thursday for the next installment (we’re shifting this series to every Thursday from the originally proposed Friday dates).