Serial Experiments Lain famously delves into topics like communication, technology, and social constructs, and we’ve seen all those expressed in the first few episodes. But as we continue our dive into Lain for the show’s twentieth anniversary, we’ve hit an episode with another theme that hasn’t yet been explored, and a title that matches. Episode four is entitled “Religion.”
Lain’s turn from tech neophyte to hardware expert hits all new levels; rumors spread that a PC game, PHANTOMa, was played by students before they committed suicide; individuals who may be under the effect of Accela see visions of young people (sometimes Lain) before committing violence, and one PHANTOMa player turns a gun not on himself, but others.
From the very beginning, Lain, as a character, is unsettling. Mika kind of speaks for us when she remarks to her parents that Lain is acting strange lately, even for her. Lain does look a little strange and she acts peculiar—all of this is quite intentional. We as viewers aren’t quite sure what to make of her—is she a heroine? Is she in danger? Do we root for her? Will she become the enemy?
And what is Lain exactly? Although she’s a bit off, most of the information in the initial episodes tell us that Lain is a normal girl in abnormal circumstances. But there are of course signs that there’s something more—the doppelganger that keeps appearing, for instance, and especially expressed in this episode, Lain’s sudden leap from a girl that had no computer experience to hooking up multiple units and becoming quite an expert. What 12-year-old is able to do that?
At the same time, the trope of “becoming a god” has reared its ugly head, except in Lain, it isn’t ugly—its a question that demands exploring. Can we become our own gods? Should we? And how does it happen?
From the beginning, characters (and disembodied voices) express that Lain can become transcendent, surpassing the physical and become a more powerful being by transferring herself into the digital realm. She seems to be buying into it, as shown through a conversation with her dad:
“When its all said and done, the Wired is just a medium for communication and the transfer of information. You mustn’t confuse it for the real world.”
“You’re wrong. The border between the two isn’t all that clear. I’ll be able to enter it soon, in full range, full motion. I’ll translate myself into it.”
Lain’s father concedes that Lain, with Psyche processor in hand, may be able to do just that. But what is the cost of doing so? It may be very high—not just loss of body, as if that isn’t enough, but could the cost also be death to people other than Lain? Others are certainly dying now and there seems to be a connection between their deaths and Lain. But more than that, is she losing something else precious?
Lain’s father tells her the Wired is important for connection, but connection doesn’t really seem to be particularly important to those who have already made it from the physical world to the digital. Instead, they seem cult-like, wanting others to come over without much care for their well-being.
There are other signs, too, that moving to the Wired will lead to breaking of communication. As Lain “matures,” Alice worries about her, perhaps because she’s actually growing more distant. And a voice at the beginning of the episodes declares (could it be Lain’s?) that she “doesn’t need parents.” With parents like Lain’s, you might think the same, but there’s something going on with her dad, some guidance here that’s a little unexpected and strangely sweet. Perhaps he’s more than a frightening hentai after all.
Perhaps he has something vital to tell Lain. Perhaps its something important for us all.
Present Day. Question Time.
- I’ve already harped on this, but man, Lain is way beyond tinkering with her Navi. Like a young virtuoso asking for tips from a mentor she’s already surpassed, Lain seeks confirmation to questions whose answers she already knew, while hooking up so many machines that she now has the ability to speak certain actions—like destruction of creepy Men in Black guys’ goggles—into life.
- People are seeing images of Lain in her nighty, which is what she wears when she works on her computer units. It seems like Lain is already becoming the Lain we see in the opening…but how?
- By the way, speaking of religion, the Lain in the opening seems like a prophet to me, furiously telling people of all kinds some sort of message. What it is, we’ll have to wait and see.
- How do we define religion? The show takes a shot when discussing the Knights: “The Knights do not exist. They are thought itself in the Wired. They can be thought of as a religion that’s spreading through it.”
- Lain and her doppelganger are quickly moving toward becoming one, it seems. There’s a scene where a voice calls out to “JJ,” a friend of doppelganger Lain’s at Cyberia—we don’t see Lain when she’s talking, but we’re left to wonder which Lain it is. It could very well be the one we’re familiar with, as she grows stronger and even a little defiant. As I mentioned earlier, Alice is concerned about her, but I wonder how we as the audience feel.
- PHANTOMa looks and plays a whole a lot like Wolfenstein 3D or Doom II, two first-person shooter games which likewise brought about talk of violence in video games.
Let us know your thoughts below! And join us next Friday for the next installment.
4 thoughts on “Serial Experiments Lain Revisited: Episode 04”
Almost everyone in this story is weird. Mika and Alice are the only ones who come across as somewhat normal. Lain suddenly turning into a mad computer engineer and conjuring up an entire room full of hardware was…certainly mysterious. I didn’t pick up on the connection between the apparitions of Lain in a nightgown and the fact that that’s what she wears when working on her supercomputer.
The point where Lain contradicts her father about the nature of the Wired struck me as a significant moment, though I don’t know what it means. I lean toward agreeing with the father, but I think there’s an element of truth to Lain’s counter, as well. On the one had, there is an artificial element to the internet, erm, I mean Wired. There’s a reason we now have the term “IRL.” Cyberspace is a sort separate realm in which people can have much more influence than they wield “IRL,” portray themselves in dramatically different ways, and even become nearly anonymous. On the other hand, the internet isn’t “not real life.” We’re still interacting with real human beings, and just because something happened via the web doesn’t mean it won’t have IRL consequences. We as humans are prone to inventing artificial distinctions between things that aren’t nearly as separate as we make them out to be (e.g. racism). Or we compartmentalize certain aspects of life as if they are non-overlapping categories (e.g. politicians who claim a faith but simultaneously insist that their faith doesn’t/shouldn’t affect how they vote). In this context, we ought to recognize the artificiality of “the Wired” and also take care not to draw too sharp a line between it and “real life.”
While I agree with Lain that perhaps the border between “the Wired” and real life is a bit fuzzier than her dad makes it sound, I find more troubling her notion of translating herself into digital form. Our nature, by the design of our Creator, is a combination of both physical and non-physical elements. Without both, we are incomplete, fractured. There’s a reason the scriptures insist there will be bodily resurrection – God will restore the sundering of spirit and body wrought by death so that we are truly whole. Whenever I encounter talk of discarding our physical forms and passing into some ethereal / spiritual / digitial / metaphysical state, I find myself thinking “Gnosticism? Again?” The gnostics’ ideas of the body being evil and a prison from which the spirit needs to escape just keep popping in slightly guises over and over. If God means for us to exist as embodied spirits, then attempting to pursue another mode of existence is a perilous endeavor indeed.
“But more than that, is she losing something else precious?” The answer to this question will depend on who or what Lain is. She can’t lose something she never had, after all. There’s been a judicious mix of “Lain the odd/awkward but mostly normal-seeming human girl” and “Lain the robotic-unnatural-genius-demigoddess-of-the-internet” that keeps her true nature ambiguous so far.
And then there’s the question of godhood. Fantasy / sci-fi fiction, including anime in particular, frequently seems to explore the idea becoming a god, being a god, claiming to be a god, etc. Sometimes this is done in fairly overt fashion: the novels of Brandon Sanderson contain a fairly clear theme of deliberately pondering what exactly it means to be a god. Sometimes, especially in anime, the questions are more implicit. Anime is full of people killing gods, calling themselves gods, trying to ascend to godhood, evil gods, mildly benevolent gods, whether man has outgrown the need for gods, etc., etc., etc. The frequent uses of gods and godhood in anime lead me to suspect that the nature of deity is a topic on someone’s mind. Sadly, the true answer to all such riddles is Jesus, whom all too few Japanese know. Human-devised versions of divinity are laughable in comparison to the glory of the one living God.
FYSA: Japanese, while not all Christian, aren’t even overtly religious, and much of the symbolism is enriched in lore of the past; thus, it’s not entirely fair to admonish the use of the idea of godhood in anime.
Thanks for the comment! Yes, we’re certainly aware of how the Japanese often treat religion: “practically religious” is how a book on it I studied once described it. The admonishment, if you could call it that, was toward the overuse of villains wanting to become “god” as a plot device, rather than anything particularly religious. Thanks for bringing it up as it needed clarification.
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