Serial Experiments Lain Revisited: Episode 05

A couple of our faithful readers pointed out after episode four that it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not in Lain, what the truth is and what isn’t. It’s a tricky series, one that keeps you guessing and, if we didn’t already know how acclaimed the show is, at times makes you wonder if the series has any real depth at all. But we know it does—we just have to go along for the ride, keep thinking, and do our best to try to tell apart what’s real and, as the title of episode five tells us, what’s distorted.

Layer 05

As the episode beings, Mika leaves a boy’s home and wanders into the city, where a car runs into a group of pedestrians; meanwhile, Lain speaks to a doll, and later, to images of her mother and father. At nearly the same time, Mika sees Lain standing in an intersection before switching places and appearing there herself, as she begins to hallucinate—soon, she loses all sense of reality on a final visit home—or has reality lost her?

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There’s a creepiness factor to Lain, but episode five feels full out like a horror film—not a slasher pic, but something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Mika, who has become a “normal” voice to us in this unusual series, is the victim here. The viewers watch as she gets nearer and nearer a disturbing (distorted) end.

Meanwhile, Lain is growing, both in knowledge and in power. In a worldly sense, she is very strong now, having become a hacker of some extraordinary extent, as explained to her by her friends. But further, she continues to make impressive and even supernatural events occur in the real world. It seems that “god” has selected Lain to express this skill, but for what reason she’s being indoctrinated and powered, we don’t yet know.

This distance between the sisters, the normalcy of Mika and the extraordinary quality of Lain, is but one difference explored in this episode. In fact, episode five can be viewed in light of a comparison between the two. Lain is pictured throughout the series as innocent, as I mentioned before—and even in this episode, we continue to see her as the child she is, speaking to a doll and reaching out to images of her mother and father. Mika, on the other hand, is trying her hand at being an adult, leaving an apparent sexual encounter at the beginning of the episode (immediately after “god” notes that humans are silly for wanting to fulfill fleshly desires). And all along, she has of course expressed typical teenage attitude toward her parents, part of an adolescent selfish streak which culminates in a lack of concern when a car runs into pedestrians walking nearby her.

The juxtaposition is purposeful. As “god” explains to Lain the idea of prophecy preceding an event, images of Lain are seen, but when the event actually takes place, it’s Mika that becomes the actual victim. Lain is in the intersection during the time that Lain is learning about prophecy, and replaced by Mika afterward. Mika is there to “fulfill the prophecy,” while Lain is learning about and perhaps even providing it.

mika iwakura

The idea that Lain is experiencing and maybe even speaking prophecy into life makes me wonder if she’s a different life form than Mika. After all, Lain is starting to move into the Wired and affecting the real world, not a human feat by any stretch; she also has progressed to ridiculous levels of hacking power in short time, while learning like she’s a robot, obediently and calmly processing information given to her by voices, some disembodied and some represented by objects or people she knows. Mika, as I mentioned, is all too human, and that humanity—the selfishness, lust, and indifference—may contribute to why she is chosen as a sacrifice of sorts, why she isn’t in on what’s happening to Lain, like the parents seem to be.

But despite Mika’s flaws (perhaps because of them), I feel for her. I know what she’s like, because I was there, too—I still am in many instances, choosing my own desires over helping others. The price she pays is unfair. It’s too high.

I believe the god of wired knows this, which is why he effectively hides Mika’s replacement from his student, Lain. He knows that she’s too innocent and too kind to approve, and he needs Lain on his side as he continues to manipulate her, though to what end and what level of success, we’ll have to wait and see.

Present Day. Question Time.

  • The voice in the Wired doesn’t mince words—he introduces himself as “god.” He’s not all-powerful, though Lain’s dad indicates that within the Wired, he might be approaching that level. At the very least, he’s transcendent.
Lain doesn’t seem convinced.
  • At the beginning of the episode, “god” mentions that humans get cancer at a lower rate than animals. I did some research (meaning that I looked through Google for a couple minutes), and the indication is that this is probably untrue. One articles notes that the rates are similar, though what we new 20 years ago may have been different.
  • “God” also mentions the idea of neoteny. It’s an interesting concept to learn about—plus, the Wiki article about it contains a manga-style drawing to illustrate it.
  • It was interesting to see how an automated car is involved in an accident in this episode—I immediately thought of recent crashes of self-driving cards.
  • The director loves to focus on eyes—there’s a lot of this in episode five, particularly to show different emotions, like Mika’s fright. We also get a close up of her nostrils, which seems to build this fearful tone. Typically, such close-ups have been reserved for Lain and Mika’s mother.
  • When “Fulfill the prophecy” appeared in red in the bathroom, did anyone else think, “Redrum?”

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

3 thoughts on “Serial Experiments Lain Revisited: Episode 05

  1. I finished the show the other day, and I feel like I would probably need to watch it about eight more times to have any clue what is really going. LOL. If you understand any more than you’re letting on in these posts, please write a followup explaining the rest. 😀

    Series-spanning question: why are the opening song and the “present day present time ha ha ha” voice speaking English? And not English with a clear Japanese accent, but native-sounding English? It’s an unusual choice for non-dubbed anime.

    I was surprised by Mika’s abrupt descent into gibbering madness. It just seemed to come out of nowhere and have no resolution. Is she not the normal human she appeared to be? Or is the point that what’s going on with Lain is so incomprehensible that it can drive an ordinary person mad (Lain = Cthulhu)?

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  2. There is so much going on in this episode… The “prophecy” which Mika is fulfilling, as stated in the last one, has to do with the “God” of the Wired: Humanity becoming the “Homo Deus” a là Noah Harari, by reaching the supreme level of control of its environment throught advanced technology. After all their thoughts and desires have an immediate echo on reality, the planners believe that humans (or some of them) will “naturally” or innocently understand themselves not as dependent beings, but as the source of all which is real. The show is illustrating this process as if it was a experiment, “layer” after “layer”. The crisis of the family is as the heart of this form of thought (Paranoia Agent and Every becomes F, which share some of Lain´s themes, make a similar point), because it creates a distorted world of isolated individuals which carry a great burden. In addition, the Wired, suicide culture (again, as in Paranoia Agent), mind-altering drugs, the disco, videogames or cults can be the basis of this subjetivistic parallel reality (which, due to that character, feels distorted), but the ultimate step is the suppresion of the concept of real, exterior world. And that requires a sacrifice.

    In order for this being possible (as in every utopia) the “normal”, needy, dependent human with his or her flaws and oddities has to be destroyed, and Mika fulfills that role here. The sacrificial aspect is very real for the planners of this deification: a dependent human being (what Nietzsche would call “flock”) will simply die or become insane in this new world in which “the truth doesn´t exist, and everything is permitted”. So, in a sense, for the Homo Deus they are already dead. Above everything else, the unelected mustn´t be allowed to contaminate the “innocent” Homo Deus with their logic of dependence, so isolation, and erasure of those who become near the subject which is being prepared to assume this power, become neccesary. Everything becomes F follows a similar line of reasoning. Horrific acts are a stage of this plan, something of a turning point: they mark the point where the Homo Deus “goes beyond” conventional morality to dictate his or her own rules, as Dr. Magata also did. The flawed one needs to die, so the omnipotent one can emerge.

    But the great thing about Lain is that the show understands this logic and portrays it “from the inside” while subtly den denies it: we´re seeing the experiment as spectators, discovering new riddles and connections, and the fate of Mika may be another riddle to be solved for the initiated. But nor for us. This is more than a riddle. Because we are with her, we feel what she feels. She´s normal, human like us, and in a way, her suffering has the opposite effect as the described: in a way, it brings a spark of humanity to the show we´re watching. So for the first time, here we can see (more or less) clearly two conflicting logics, two different sets of values, two uses of theological concepts, two different ways in which everyone is connected.

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    1. WOW, great commentary! I’ve tried to avoid “explaining” the episodes because, well, I’m not great and doing that kind of deep dive, so thank you for adding this helpful analysis.

      I love that you connect the series to others, particularly The Perfect Insider, one of my favorite series of recent years and spiritual successor to Lain. It’s more accessible than Lain is, and a little more straight-forward (though only slightly so), but also shares these same critical themes which the Japanese (writers and animators) seem to again and again deem important—and they are, if we’re willing to look at them and see what they mean for our view of reality and how we treat both those around us and the invisible world.

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