A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode Six “Kids”

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of “Serial Experiments Lain,” a cult anime that is still boggling minds decades later. Famous for its abstract narrative and obscure references, each episode (or “layer”) of “Lain” sports a one-word title, which provides a handy entry point for analysis. So, each week this summer, we’ll post an analysis of each episode using its title as a kind of guide to the series as a whole.

The sixth episode of “Serial Experiments Lain” is called “Kids,” and it’s a topic that should be a bit familiar to viewers. We have already noted the odd juxtaposition of ages that occurs throughout the show, which is sometimes unsettling, and it is certainly unusual. The uncanny effect of seeing children in a nightclub contributes to the odd atmosphere of the show.

There is a cultural angle to this as well. A noticeable amount of anime–at least, the anime that seems to find its way to the West–is about middle and high school. Other people have gotten into this, and it makes for enlightening background, but we’re interested in why “Lain” is interested kids. It might be as simple as the show utilizing the trope that already existed. Populating “Lain” with middle and high schoolers is natural because it’s what other anime do.

The trope is played pretty straight, except that many shows–even other sci fi or horror shows–that have middle schoolers for protagonists don’t psychoanalyze them so violently or dispatch them so easily. Remember, “Lain” begins with the suicide of a female student, and there will be more deaths and dead children before it is over.

In fact, some have argued that its atmosphere and lack of concern for children, coupled with its philosophical leanings, pairs “Lain” quite nicely with the thoughtful body horror of let’s-put-adolescents-into-giant-robots show “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” “Lain,” in part due to the conspiracy involving children and experimentation introduced in this episode, has also drawn comparisons to the bloody cyberpunk classic “Akira.”

Finally, perhaps it is notable that “Lain’s” head writer, Chiaki J. Konaka, would go on to work on a series of the kids-capture-monsters Digimon franchise that was known for its mature, even Lovecraftian, themes.

This episode sees Lain free and bodily on the Wired. If anything, it’s where she’s the least childish. Lain, who is repeatedly isolated at school and comes off as too young among her peers, is finally in command of her body and her mind. Her movements are more fluid, and her voice is steadier. The Wired that she travels through is rainbow bright and presented in soft focus, a far cry from the swirling blacks and harsh whites of the “real world.”

Tellingly, when Lain’s friends get her dressed up and take her out, she seems like a child pretending at maturity. Her clothes and makeup seem to disguise rather than enhance her character. For contrast, during her outing, a giant nude Lain–looking youthfully androgynous and, shockingly, not a hallucination–appears from the clouds, a “pure” Lain to contrast with the clothed one below. When Lain swiftly returns to her room, and her gateway to the Wired, she removes her hat and wipes away her lipstick.

“Kids” also refers to KIDS, an old experiment conducted by a Prof. Hodgeson, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Sigmund Freud. It was specifically the Kensington Experiment, where children were hooked up to a computer–called (mockingly?) KIDS–to exploit their innate psychic power. The experiment went bad, as often happens in these types of shows, and children’s lives were lost.

Hodgeson is an interesting character because he mirrors Lain in a couple of ways. First, Hodgeson and Lain are the only other characters so far who can manifest themselves bodily in the Wired. Second, his Kensington Experiment was conducted not for a specific result but simply to see what would happen (:Science isn’t merely proving a hypothesis,” he tells Lain). Like Lain, Hodgeson wants to see–to see more or to see more clearly what is. When he dies–passing from both the real world and the Wired–he seems stoic about the experiment. “No matter how much I punish myself, the children will never return to the real world,” he notes, recalling Lain’s casual attitude toward the suicide at the end of episode two.

For kids, anything can be a game, and Lain hypotheses that the Knights, like children, are treating the KIDS blueprints bumping around the Wired like a game, as well as the resulting exploitation of children that results from recreating the experiment. This is echoed in a later episode when a man from a rival faction to the Knights asks rhetorically what game they are up to.

The Knights’ goal is far more serious than a game, and their apparent sabotage of Lain’s computerized room indicates the gravity of the situation. Like Phantoma, these games disguise harsh realities. As it is with children–as it is with both “Lain” the show and Lain herself–great and terrible truths are sometimes locked at the bottom of seemingly childish things.

The final reason that “Lain” might be interested in kids is right at the beginning of this episode. The opening narration alludes to the concept that, if our lives were to be connected, we would live longer. If this is added to Lain’s epiphany that we exist in the minds of others, the implication is that our longevity–our continued existence–depends on how connected we are to other people. If so, individuals who have not embraced that mindset are children by comparison to those who have.

5 thoughts on “A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode Six “Kids”

  1. I think you really nailed how Serial Experiments Lain plays with the trope of kids in crazy anime situations, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion. On top of that, I would add that a big theme for me this episode was kids growing up, much how the modern day internet is in many ways how kids become adults or at least become exposed to adult concepts. Thinking about children pre-internet, it would be much more difficult for them to learn about the adult world, yet now the youngest children literally have the world at their fingertips. Thus, this episode really shows us the impact of the wired on Lain’s maturity, from her wearing makeup to her newfound confidence, and thus how the internet can and does rapidly “mature” children into adults whether we’d like it to or not. Given this show coming out in the pre-2000s, that’s a big prediction that 100% came true.

    Liked by 1 person

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