Serial Experiments Lain Revisited: Episode 03

As we continue our rewatch of Serial Experiments Lain, 20 years after it first aired, we arrive at episode three, perhaps the first one in which decisions and actions are made which will have an ultimate impact on how the series turns and ends.

Layer 03

12-year olds are supposed to be concerned with school and peer pressure and bullying, but all in one episode, Lain experiences adolescent troubles to the extreme: she is brought home from the club shooting by police to find that her entire family has gone missing for the night; begins to hear even more voices, including one instructing her about the Psyche chip, which enhances Navi units and most any electronic device; and receives a Psyche unit, confirmed when she returns to Cyberia. Lain’s response is to dive deeper into the digital realm; meanwhile, her sister begins to realize something isn’t quite right.


Episode three is a bit of a turning point for Lain. The episode begins with Alice breaking down and crying on Lain’s lap, apologizing for goading her into coming to the club and experiencing the shooting. And finally, through that, Lain experiences an authentic, positive connection to someone, and it emboldens her to move further toward investigating the truth.

Lain must still have a measure of fear—the voices she hears are growing in number and the men in black (or grey?) continue to stalk the household—but she boldly moves forward, first by returning the club and asking about the chip she acquired, which turns out to be the Psyche unit she’s heard about, and then by installing the chip herself, without the help from her father, who knows hardware far better than she but refuses to assist.

Lain, now with state the art desktop and chip, is suddenly in demand

Lain’s sister, on the other hand, reminds me of me, the way I would react in such a situation. She bumps into the men conducting surveillance and feels a mixture of fear and resistance. She also reacts to the strangely happy and static-y imagery of Lain at the end of the episode. Mika isn’t jumping into to discover truth like Lain—she’s simply wondering what the heck all this is about.

Perhaps each situation in real life is different, but I wonder, also, if we tend to be one way or the other, like Lain, moving forward without regard to fear, or like Mika, trapped by the reality of the situation. Are we able to change, just as Lain transitioned from the way she acted in episodes one and two to now? And is one way better than the other?

All I know for sure is that Lain is starting to remove her bear hat, as she does in the closing moments of the OP, which makes me wonder if I still have my own bear suit on.

Present Day. Question Time.

  • This is the episode where the parents go from strange to being part of the mystery. We can’t just chalk up creepy dad and absent mom to bad parenting—they might be true to that, but they are also suspicious on their own account—their disappearance at night, the dad’s strange refusal to help Lain, and Mika’s own questions demonstrate as much.
  • Power lines and transformers, as well as electric and telephone poles, are commonplace in this series. They are frequently seen in the background, and that’s obviously with a purpose. They indicate, of course, a connection. Often seen when Lain is walking somewhere, they’re pointing to her growth in establishing relationships, but also speak of the Wired, a digital connection as well as an interpersonal one. Also, I found out that of all the anime that feature power lines (and there are many), Lain is prime among them.

  • If Alice is my favorite character, Mika isn’t far behind. I think I like them both because they are real and they are flawed. In fact, Alice is presented consistently as bratty and ungrateful, but maybe there’s a reason for that—after all, she is a teenager and her parents are distant. She also reacts in a realistic way when the stalker guys are at her front door. She’s just a very real character, helping to anchor a series that might too easily fall prey to its own high intentions.
  • According to the random club guy, Lain is apparently a ravemaster. Who woulda known? Btw, hot con tip: stay away from the raves.
  • There are a lot of sides to Lain (or a lot of Lains?) in this show. Already we’ve seen regular Lain, Cyberia Lain, and happy younger sister Lain. But my favorite Lain, or more accurately the the one I fear most, was hinted at early in this episode when Lain was hearing the voices of different people. This Lain doesn’t show up until near the end of the series, if I remember correctly, but I felt goosebumps just being reminded of her…

Let us know your thoughts below! And join us next Friday for the next installment.


3 thoughts on “Serial Experiments Lain Revisited: Episode 03

  1. Once again, I find myself blaming BtT for causing me to watch a series I wouldn’t otherwise have known existed. You all are such a bunch of trolls like that. 😛

    This is possibly the weirdest, most surreal anime I’ve seen (which may say more about my limited experience with anime than anything, but still…). There are so many details that appear inscrutable yet thoroughly purposeful. Even things that in another show I might regard as signs of laziness or cost-cutting (here’s some stock footage to fill time) seem like here they are deliberate acts (e.g. the same shot of streets at night at the start of every episode, or the repeated shot of Lain leaving her front door, or the repeated shot of the disco ball at the club). The show is sort of like Disney’s creepy, not at all valid representation of the hilarious book, animated version of Alice in Wonderland, fused with *throwback ’90s reference* the X-Files. Honestly, I’m impressed.

    The use of sound in this show is likewise fascinating. I’m not sure I recall any anime (which again probably says more about my limited experience than about SEL) which made such heavy and deliberate use of sounds – music, beeps and boops, voices, cars, everything. Each one comes or goes, fades or reverberates, cuts off or echoes, in this overwhelmingly meaningful way. Only in films have I experienced a comparable sense of such meticulous sound design.

    Initially I thought Mika (the elder sister, right?) was just a jerk. After this episode, I appreciate her for at least being seemingly the only character (other than Lain…sometimes) who acts like anything super weird is going on. Everyone else (again, excepting Lain…sometimes) seems either totally fine it all, or crazy.

    The show has something to do with the connections and relationships among people. Lain’s statement to night club shooter makes that much is clear. We humans are connected to others (and not just other humans – “There’s not a place where we can be but God is present there,” as Isaac Watts wrote). Beyond that…?

    1. Thanks for the comment (and sorry for trolling you, haha). Yeah, I’m in total agreement—it’s so interesting how well the show makes use of every single scene, every single movement. Stock footage-type animation in this series seems absolutely necessary and is used better than full action scenes in other shows. It’s really an amazing work.

      Oh, and that verse? Interesting connection! I’m going to keep that in mind as I plow through the show…

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