“Serial Experiments Lain” (re)sources

I think I have inadvertently become a minor online authority on the cult anime “Serial Experiments Lain.” This is both very flattering and slightly confusing. It’s flattering because I have seen links to this blog pop up on other Lain-related or adjacent spaces (one of the oddest is a video installation/bro art project/Austrian road trip), which is about the nicest thing that could happen to my words. It’s also confusing for two reasons. The first is because that was not what this blog set out to be – it’s questionable what it did set out to be, but it wasn’t get attention for its “Lain” interpretations. Still, the episode-by-episode analyses of the series remain the most viewed posts on this blog, and, as of this posting, looking for “Serial Experiments Lain analysis” in a search engine of your choice frequently finds them in its first page. The people have spoken.

That’s why I’m putting this page together, a list of resources for anyone interested in further analysis of “Lain” – its philosophical influences, technological visions and psychological musings. In compiling the information, I realized my second confusion at thinking myself an online authority, which is confusion at anyone becoming an authority on “Lain” due to the sheer depth of the series.

There is simply so much to “Lain” that, the more I learned about it, the more I recognized how much I was still learning: perspectives and plot points I had missed; subcultures splintering off from the series and taking root on the quirky corners of the web; theories of consciousness by Carl Jung and Timothy Leary. I also recalled how I felt the first time I watched the show, a mixture of excitement and melancholy so compelling I watched the 10th episode on a peeling-screened tablet while I was brushing my teeth. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I am an online authority on “Lain” at all – if this blog has helped bring some of what I found and still find so compelling about the series to others – then I am happy to take on that role.

The following is a list of “Lain” resources. It presupposes that you have seen the entire series at least once and are interested in further background or context. It encourages you to look for keywords that interest you or bookmark it or whatever works (it’s probably not advised to take in one sitting). It’s also by no means exhaustive, and that’s by design. It focuses on encyclopedias or narrow analyses, with some notes from this blog about the content of each link. It won’t prominently feature straight reviews, image boards or music, although those are all integral parts of the vast, vague and vital Lain fanscape. I will try to spend a little time on the credentials of whoever provided the info as well. I find that all the resources have merit – otherwise they wouldn’t be on this list – but in the first two sections, I’ll note whether a link is particularly recommended.

RAW DATA

This section will cover encyclopedias and other places to discover “Lain’s” numerous references and inspirations.

Thought Experiments Lain – Lawrence Eng’s site is the OG online “Lain” site. I start here because if anyone actually deserves to be an online authority on the show, it’s him. He’s got credentials like crazy (the man has an MS in plant biology, a PhD in science and tech studies, and was a consultant for Opera), so one would think he’d have some insight into “Lain,” particularly its technological context. The main attraction might be an annotated glossary, with reflections on individual characters and conspiracies, as well as some tech (particularly Apple) and sci fi history. Expect links throughout, including quite a few – surprisingly still live – to various “Lain” shrines and fanpages from back in the day. Recommended.

The Serial Experiments Lain Wiki – There are two big “Lain” online encyclopedias that are still updating somewhat regularly: sel.fandom and lain.wiki. This blog gives our stamp of approval to lain.wiki. It seems much more “Lain” than sel.fandom. Its design is old school – with its retro web gray color scheme – and it has entries on both live and dead “Lain” forums, as well as copypastas of even deader “Lain” content from web years gone by (like All I Ever Needed To Know In This Fragile Layer Of Existence We Call The Real World I Learned From Serial Experiments Lain). All together, it’s a better snapshot of the community. Also, as of this posting, lain.wiki has three times as many articles as sel.fandom. Some of the categories at lain.wiki include scripts, themes and fanworks, categories that sel.fandom lacks. The individual pages themselves are largely comparable (although sel.fandom seems slightly more up-to-date on the “Despera” project). Finally, lain.wiki is not a Fandom site. Fuck Fandom sites.

UTS Anime Review: Serial Experiments Lain – Technically a video review, but all reviews contain some analysis even if it’s just qualifying something (and all analyses contain some review even if it’s just summary). This is a good primer for the philosophical and theological themes of the series, with focus on individual characters, like Alice, Lain’s sister and Lain’s personalities, and what they might symbolize. It was made by the well-spoken Jack Johnson – not the one with the guitar – who has a full-time job but still finds time to make videos about anime.

Weird (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 01) et al. – This is an entire series run-through by Cody Ward, currently an English MA student at University of North Carolina. There are occasional allusions to works of art, historical asides and touches of philosophical musing, but this is largely an episode-by-episode recap of the series. It’s definitely more thoughtful and descriptive than simply reading scripts of the episodes, but it’s also less than a narrow interpretation.

Top Level Canon – Run-throughs of “Lain” and Lovecraft? How did I not notice this blog? Perhaps it didn’t run across my radar because this episode-by-episode overview of “Lain” grows increasingly unsatisfied as the show gets increasingly obscure. It’s still entertainingly written, well researched and contains bits of theorizing along the way, if you’re interested. It’s not the worst thing to read a dissenting opinion, especially since lainatics can sometimes look a bit cultish from the outside. The writer is Leslie Hann, a by-commission creator of both web art and media reviews.

The Serial Experiments Lain Iceberg Explained – A somewhat brief description of an image that suggests depth, this is a bit of fun from Sceledrus, a YouTuber who does lighthearted overviews of anime content. More of a diving boarding than deep dive, but it provides some interesting points to consider later (Lain as tulpa, Lainism, blood pools/shadows and static electricity). Also far from the only Lain iceberg. Try the IcebergCharts and Lain subreddits for a few more high dives.

OTHER PEOPLE’S HEADS

This section will cover video essays, articles and blog posts that go beyond broad background and take a narrow or novel focus, evolving into complex overviews or tight analyses of “Lain” and its themes. This section is compounded by the sheer amount of “Lain” analysis out there – much of it from the last couple of years. Let’s all love Lain, I suppose.

The Philosophy of Serial Experiments Lain – A quick but surprisingly packed video introduction to Lain’s themes, including technology, ontology, epistemology and existentialism, and their connection to thinkers like Bishop Berkeley, Julien Mettrie and Alan Turing (I don’t find the Sartre link quite as convincing, but that could likely be fixed with some expansion). The narrator is presumably by one Finley Caufield, the anime philosopher who unfortunately has not posted any videos in a few years. No credentials listed, but she seems pretty informed. She does say it “Burk-LEE” not “BARK-lee,” but, fuck man, I’m from California. Recommended.

A Look at Eyes in Serial Experiments Lain – A video essay that gets into symbology and perception, both of reality and of Lain herself, which are topics that have long fascinated me. Altogether, it’s a tidy, novel approach that never bites off more than it can chew. It was put together by Crabe, I guess, who has no bio but mostly works on “Revolutionary Girl Utena” videos. Nothing new for about a year as of this posting.

Topologies of Identity in Serial Experiments Lain – In case the name didn’t tip you off, this is an academic article delving into what “Lain” can teach us about identity in the digital age. The author is Craig Jackson, who holds a PhD and teaches mathematics and computer science at Ohio Wesleyan University, so I’m willing to bet his thoughts are interesting. That said, I’ve never read the article as I’m not a member of University of Minnesota Press. If anyone out there is, they might take a look and tell us what they find.

Serial Experiments Lain Explained! – Queer Junk sporadically releases some thoughtful and amusingly edited video analyses of one to three episodes at a time, going into the standard tech, philosophical and psychological angles, with perhaps a particular focus on subcultures. A poet/armchair philosopher/gamer/CSUN student, no major declared, but they used this blog as a source, so you know their taste is good.

Serial Experiments Lain: Retro-Postmodernism (ANIME ABANDON #250) – This is a video review, but it’s a thorough one that looks at “Lain’s” technological and sci fi literary origins (think cyberpunk in large flashing letters). It’s from Bennett White, aka Bennett the Sage, who is one of the original anitubers (among other things; he was also watching us fap). He has a stagey verbal style that might require some getting used to, but he touches on a lot of cultural, philosophical and emotional topics that will appeal to Lainspotters, including some novel musing on Y2K.

The Terrifyingly Prescient ‘Serial Experiments Lain,’ 20 Years Later – An interesting overview of the series because it appears to take the position that Lain’s identities represent her psychological expansion onto the Wired and the impact it has on her social life. I always like an allegorical reading. Still, I find the writing style of this article a little idiosyncratic. Perhaps it’s because the author, Justin Charity, has a background in political writing and reporting rather than philosophy or film criticism.

Serial Experiments Lain’s Supposed Cultural War Againts American Culture – Interestingly, this video essay takes a cultural approach (again, in case you couldn’t tell from the title), which is often overlooked by more philosophical, psychological or technological approaches. It uses a quote from producer Yasuyuki Ueda about the effort to exploit, expand or just utilize culture clash between Japan and America, cast here as a clash between a traditional society and a capitalistic one (the essay still manages to fit conspiracy theory into things; this is “Lain” after all). The channel is called NEETzsche. It’s a clever name, but no credentials and there have been no new videos in about a year as of this posting.

Serial Experiments Lain: A Guide to Proper Mindfucking Procedures – Interesting because, in the midst of all the philosophical musing about this show, this essay’s anti-philosophical – or at least irreverent – stance is that “Lain” is actually unconcerned with its own navel gazing and more interested in the human story. Focuses on script and framing. One of a number of “Lain” posts on the blog, the second most important likely being an analysis of Lain’s costumes. The author is (as far as I could tell) a nameless individual who seems pretty savvy about history and not unfamiliar with media analysis.

The serial experiments lain Project – A playlist by Brent Newhall of Anime Archaeology filled with concise videos that effectively talk about a host of topics, including: Lain’s relationship to Alice, the way people relate to technology, religious iconography (and the series’s connection to Christian schools), Lain’s genre, identity and memory, and lighting and color. Everything concludes with almost an hour and a half of Newhall discussing themes and presentation with various viewers. Newhall really ought to be a club with me cos we’ve both thoroughly analyzed “Lain” and “Boogiepop Phantom.” That’s gotta be a right of passage for old anime weirdos, right? He has a background in computer science and has appeared in some media as a tech expert, and it shows through these thoughtful presentations on the series. I love how he wears a blazer and shorts. Recommended.

existentialism in anime; serial experiments lain and Sartre – This relatively short video essay is a look at “Lain” through the lens of both bad faith and identity, awareness and freedom. The plot description is a little off kilter, but I blame that on English not necessarily being the first language of the creators (a team of media and communications students from Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg). Overall, it’s a nice, tight analysis and recommended for anyone seeking that existentialist perspective.

Reconfiguring Mental Illness & Identity in Serial Experiments Lain – A kind of experiential analysis of the series by Elma Myers, who comes from a film studies background but treats “Lain” like a slice of humanistic psychology, and considers its comments on depression, trauma, derealization and perhaps depersonalization.

The Secret to Becoming a God in Serial Experiments Lain – This video essay taps into Jungian psychoanalysis, tech flavored hive minds, maybe a pinch of the human potential movement and edgy theology (natch). Creator Max Derrat has no stated credentials, but he seems to run a mental health support site. Certainly things seem to come from a positive psychiatry angle.

[Analysis] Serial Experiments Lain – This is a truly exhaustive episode-by-episode look at the entire show through the novel lens of what the creators themselves have had to say about it (which is the typical goal of the blog). It is exceptionally well sourced, from Jungian psychology to the disparate opinions of series producer Yasuyuki Ueda, writer Chiaki Konaka, artist Yoshitoshi ABe and director Ryutaro Nakamura. The writer is one Vieilocean, and although there are no particular credentials outside of anime fan, the dedication to research seems pretty clear. Recommended.

DO YOU EVEN UNDERSTAND?

This section will cover some resources that are interesting but flawed – still worth a mention but with a word of warning. They might be painfully incomplete. They might be notably inaccurate in spots. They might be both.

The Ending of Serial Experiments Lain Explained – This title is a lie. The ending of “Lain” is not explained in this article, at least not in any way I could recognize. Also, it gets some subtle things off about the series in its breezy recap. This is more of a light primer than a true analysis, and its most novel point is briefly bringing in sociologist Erving Goffman. The article was composed by Bethy Squires, an entertainment writer, so it makes sense she’d take a media comparison approach that casually brings up a few other titles for context (including “Space Jam: A New Legacy”?).

Serial Experiments Lain Episode 1: Connecting to the Wired et al. – There are only two posts on Anime Commentary about “Lain,” covering the first two episodes of the series, and it’s a shame. The posts are dense and engaging recaps, with plenty of musing on the technological and sociological sides of the series. The author (unnamed, no bio) seems like they’d have plenty to say on the subject if they were to take it up again. The blog still updates occasionally, so although the odds are slim (the last “Lain” post was in October 2019), I suppose anything’s possible.

Serial Experiments Lain Review – This is an episode-by-episode review in the format of two hosts – one well-versed in the show and the other a relative newcomer – talking through the plots in about six to 14 minutes. It’s notable for beginning (but then never completing) to develop a perspective that events are already happening in the Wired; for only covering six episodes; and concluding on hosts John and Scotto disagreeing on everything, from whether the sub or dub is better to whether “Lain” or “Star Trek” predicted Siri. Not a lot of info on those hosts, by the way, outside of the boilerplate media commentators bio. John is a bit of everything – poet, podcaster, etc – on Twitter. Obviously incomplete, but might be a worth a watch if only to see a discussion rather than reading one particular point of view.

Return to the Wired Part 1: Connection – It’s not that this post lacks insight. On the contrary, while Lainspotters often jump right into notions of what is real, anime blogger TheSubtleDoctor considers what the appeal might have been for Lain herself, considering the question from social and emotional angles. However, the post notably features spelling errors and, despite promising to analyze the entire series, stopped after the first episode. There are also no credentials I could locate for the Doc.

Serial Experiments Lain – A creatively named playlist by C. J. Cala that goes very deep and fast into a lot of ideological territory, with individual videos covering philosophy, psychology, the internet and some thinkers referred to by the show. It’s a breathtaking amount of information, all very relevant, thrown at the viewer at a very brisk pace. There are a lot of bullet points and arrows, and like anything trying to pack a ton of information into a small space, sometimes metaphors and various verbiage run into each other. A couple of ideological hiccups I caught: in a philosophy video, I found the presentation of Berkeley’s idealism lacked nuance; in the psychology video, the representation of yinyang was incorrect (yang/light is the masculine and yin/dark is the feminine). Someone with more background than me in tech might want to take a look at the videos as well. For his own part, Cala is a writer and poet with a ton of free ebooks but not a concise biography.

Serial Experiments Lain An Analysis – This oddly edited video is more of an overview of a couple of theories (mental illness, aliens, divinity) than a true analysis. It makes some interesting points concerning mental illness, although they are a bit leapish. It also contradicts itself (“all [interpretations] are equally true”; “the mental illness theory… kind of falls apart when you realize the story is fiction”), and its plot description is off. No biography on the creator, The Eternal Worm, but he mostly analyzes music, which might explain why the soundtrack eventually drowns out his narration.

ABSENT TIME

This section will cover content that didn’t quite fit into the above categories. They’re either broad “Lain” resources that aren’t encyclopedias or focus on other aspects of Lain culture, like overviews of the PlayStation game or Lainsim, as well as some comedy dubs.

Playstation Lain and the Weird World of Interactive CD-Roms – One of the most comprehensive reflections, rather than a review of even analysis, of the Lain PlayStation game, with a particular focus on mental health, media and a touch of psychedelia. Note that the first half or so is “Lain,” and the second half is other similiarly indie quirkhouses for PC. For credentials, Hazel is… Hazel likes anime. I have a few things in common with her, including a love of the creaky old web and a distrust of the new Fandom wiki system. This video quotes therapist R. D. Laing and another uses the word “Platonic” in its ideal sense (ha! That’s not funny outside of a philosophy class), so she seems informed.

Alienation, Depression, and Dysphoria – Serial Experiments Lain – I struggled to place this one on the list, so I’m putting it here. It’s less an analysis of the show through a particular interpretive lens, and more a self-analysis through the lens of the show. It also subtly debunks the idea that one has to watch “Lain” a certain amount of times to “get” it. It’s an important essay (there’s also a video version of it) because it gets into the way we, as individual viewers, can relate to “Lain.” That’s a repeated topic of blogger Zeria, a student (at the time at least) and self-labeled queer Marxist Christian. Anyone who describes themselves thus I find very hard to dislike.

[CULTS]: The Mysteries of SystemSpace.link || The Tsuki Project. – An overview of the Tsuki Project, aka SystemSpace.link, an online cult that claimed observable reality is a simulation and offered digital immortality. Then it was unmasked to be an art project with ARG undertones, unless that was a lie too… This matters to us Lainatics because the cult used “Lain” imagery and touches on sympathetic themes. Some interesting thoughts on energy and data from an Austrian content creator, who calls himself “an average horror/mystery YouTuber.” He hasn’t updated in a few months as of this posting, but he is a Marble Hornets fan, and he said he emailed a trucking company to ask if they were the Illuminati, so I’ll grant him that.

Mebious – Welcome to another little piece of the Wired. This website is more art project than anything, but it contains bios of the characters, some notes on Lainism, a ton of broken links and, most importantly, “The Nightmare of Fabrication.” It’s a manga by “Lain” artist Yoshitoshi Abe that touches on memory, identity, AI and isolation, and appears to exist between the anime and the PS1 game. Accordingly, it’s either another piece of the larger Lain puzzle or a fascinating red herring.

Lainzine – This Lain-themed cyberpunk zine – which was birthed on Lainchan – looks to be getting more into electronic/ambient music as time goes on (listen to 24/7 Lain radio!), but it still sporadically launches an issue, often bits at a time until the whole thing comes out as a PDF. The articles look to be about computer science (from pretty simple looking creative how-tos in programs like Audacity to more intimidating instructional or informational programming pieces), stream of consciousness cyberpunk fiction, web privacy and security, drug use, trippy art, and topical book reviews. If that sounds up your alley, all back issues are free to read.

Serial Experiments Lain – I drink and watch anime – If you’ve made it this far, then you deserve a drink. Luckily Irina – she drinks and watches anime – has created a “Lain” drinking game. Luckily there’s no trigger for “finish the bottle” (rather mercifully she suggests getting water when you don’t know what’s going on), but why is the recommended drink an electric lemonade? Is it the power lines? I bet it’s the power lines.

Serial Experiments: Episode 1 – Take it all in, cos there’s no episode two. This musically minded comedy dub could also be called “Serial Experiments Craig,” and touches on topics like drugs and cyberbullying. Of course, the drugs include birth control pills and Lain’s father’s shirts, and the cyberbullying is excused by incest. Stick around for the cereal commercial.

Serial Experiments Lame [Reupload] – This comedy dub is about the misadventures of misanthrope Lain. She fights with her friends, gets kicked out of her family, and plots to take over the universe with nothing more than a race of super soldiers, an intergalactic strip club and time dilation. Don’t be a hater gator.

i love the lain english dub so much – All right, so some of the dialogue and delivery of “Lain’s” dub do sound pretty goofy, particularly when isolated and taken out of context.

LAST LAYER

lainspotter (noun) lain-spot-ter \ lane-spaw-tur \ : someone whose hobbies include watching “Lain” or tumbling down the various rabbit holes opened up by the series. A portmanteau of “Lain” and “spotter,” ala trainspotter. Possibly coined by Lawrence Eng.

lainatic (noun) lain-a-tic \ lane-uh-tik \ : one who is so far down the “Lain” rabbit hole as to cause concern among their loved ones. Possibly coined by this blog.

lainon (noun) lain-on \ lane-awn \ : an anonymous poster on Lainchan. Presumably a portmanteau of “Lain” and “anonymous.”

No one of the above overviews or analyses should not be understood as the “correct” reading of “Lain.” Rather, they are individual viewpoints. Think of “Lain” as a house whose walls conceal the scope and scale of its meaning. The house has no doors, but it has many windows – its various readings and interpretations. No single window gives the entire view of the inside, but each has the potential to reveal its contents from a different angle. The best understanding of what’s within is to peek through multiple windows and come up with your own complex, informed perspective.

Again, this list is by no means exhaustive. Hopefully I will add to it when appropriate. If you think I’ve missed a window or two, feel free to drop me a line.

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