Keeping connected: News January 2022

Hello there, tonstant weader. As usual around this blog, the year is getting off to a slow posting start. There is some more cosmic horror media in the pipeline – I wasn’t kidding when I said we hadn’t seen the worst of it – but most of our attention has been toward a certain “Serial Experiments Lain” research project. Expect to see that first. Hopefully there’ll be a 2021 roundup as well, but the future is unclear on that one. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, anyone who wants some insight into my love of gritty and gross old school web, I suggest this video by anituber MyCatHatesYou69. It’s anime focused, natch, but people of a similar age or outlook as me might find his review of YouTube from 2005 to 2009 nostalgic. Remember when YouTube had a charmingly clunky interface? or when one couldn’t upload more than 10 minutes of media? when Divix logos were in the corner of half the videos? when Newgrounds didn’t restrict adult content? Fan forums and YouTube poops were an integral part of my developing online identity and my ultimate interest in web arcana, so I do.

Special mention will also be thrown at Eddie Harrison of for a review of “The Last Broadcast.” I’ve always had a soft spot for this creaky found footage horror flick, which was understandably overshadowed by the media blitz that was “The Blair Witch Project.” The two movies came out months apart from each other, with “Broadcast” being older but, depending on your country, perhaps not available until after its witchy sibling. “Broadcast” certainly feels older, with a less dramatic stage presence and more bouts of melancholic monologuing. Basically, if “Blair Witch” was put together by community college drama students, then “Broadcast” came out of the philosophically-twinged wing of a media/communication studies department. Here’s to art projects either way.

Boogiepop you down: January 2020 news

Believe it or not, Tonstant Weader, this blog actually does listen to you. Using the tools that allow us to see what pages are the most popular, we concluded that one of our most popular endeavors was the episode-by-episode analysis of the anime “Serial Experiments Lain.” Why it was so popular is not in the data. “Lain” has a cult following, so we may have picked up the fandom. It was also an anniversary year, and our approach to analysis was novel, so those might have been factors.

(There’s also always the chance that our insight was valuable or our analyses were well-written, but who knows?)

Because we are nothing if not optimistic, or perhaps a little foolish, we believe that lightning can strike twice in the same spot, and we can all have a bit of fun if it does. That’s why we’re attempting the same thing this year with a different show. We wanted something that had interesting things to say and an intriguing way to say it, and we wanted something that had a limited number of episodes, so as to be manageable. We also wanted to stay with cult anime for the moment–although there are a couple of live action shows we might do in the future.

The list was not long, but it did have a few titles. However, only one of them had an anniversary coming up: “Boogiepop Phantom,” a trippy sci fi-horror mashup that examines memory, aging and the uncanny. It debuted 20 years ago tomorrow, which is when we’ll post the first analysis. It also has a connection to “Lain,” with the shows sharing designer/key animator Shigeyuki Suga and voice actress Kaori Shimizu in the titular role, as well as a downbeat, offbeat and introspective atmosphere.

For the next three moths, we’ll analyze an episode of “Boogiepop Phantom” every week, using its title as an entry point to analysis for the episode and the series as a whole. For an added bonus, the related series “Boogiepop and Others” came out last January, so we’ll review it this month while we’re in a Boogiepop kind of mood. If you’re not in a Boogiepop kind of mood, we’ll have some other upcoming posts as well.

And what were the other titles on the list? Feel free to speculate in the comments section, if you’re in a speculating kind of mood. Otherwise, you can always stick around for another year or so. Those anniversaries have a habit of coming due.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode 13 “Ego”

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.

First some background. In popular parlance, ego simply refers to the self, if not selfishness itself. In psychoanalytic theory, “ego” is a bit different. Sigmund Freud used the word to refer to a component of the human psyche that evolved as the id–the original, instinctual self–grew to comprehend the outside world. The ego is inextricably bound to the id, but it seeks to distinguish itself from its instinctual counterpart, all while allowing the individual to deal with the real world, which is not interested in the individual’s immediate, instinctual desires.

In case you hadn’t guessed, the Freudian concept of “ego” is complex. However, “Lain” is nothing if not willing to embrace the complex. What are the odds it wants us to take the Freudian definition over the pop psychological one? In fact, one troper suggested that “Lain” is possibly the only TV show that actually got the Freudian definition correct. Considering that part of the ego’s function is to mediate between the individual and reality, it’s not a bad observation.

The first word of the 13th episode is “I.” Said by Lain, it kicks off a small monologue about the scattered nature of her identity. For the monologue’s duration, all we see is Lain, her head filling the screen. Even her environment is the same blue burst of background that begins every episode.

“Am I here? Or am I there? Over there, I’m everywhere. I know that,” she says. “But where is the real me? Oh right. There is no real me. I only exist inside those people who are aware of my existence. But this is me that’s talking right now. It’s me, isn’t it?” Both the concept of the ego as integral to identity and being one part of a greater identity are introduced here–and have been suggested repeatedly throughout the series.

Perhaps this episode, as the series has before, tries to examine what something is by observing what it is not. It begins where the last one left off, with Lain and Alice seemingly caught in the clutches of the grotesquely embodied Eiri. Lain observes Alice’s eyes in an extreme close up–a shot usually reserved for Lain–and finds them to be wide open and red rimmed with terror. The eye close up is repeated for Lain, only hers are downcast. “I mess up everything I try to do for you, huh Alice?” Lain sadly asks in one of the most emotionally taxing moments in the series.

A wider angle reveals Eiri is gone and Lain alone is gripping Alice. Whether that suggests Lain-as-deity has erased Eiri or it was all a hallucination is up to the viewer; either way, Lain realizes that her existence is the problem, and she resets reality. This action is more in line with the Freudian superego, the portion of the psyche that contains a sense of right and wrong connected to guilt and obligation. In fact, it is the ego, meditating on behalf of the identity, that stops the superego from directing the individual to kill itself. Lain’s suicide, whether individual or cosmic, represents the superego taking control. The world is better off without Lain, she decides, so her sense of duty prompts her to remove herself.

This idea of showing by showing what is not is perhaps alluded to when, following the reset, the familiar scene of Lain leaving her house and going to school is replayed–except Lain herself is absent from the shots. Her family eats breakfast; the train goes by; even the telephone wires still hum overhead, but Lain is not there. We are reminded of her not by her presence but by her absence.

At school, Alice–seeming to sense something is off–says to her peers, “If you aren’t remembered, you never existed.” And yet, she might mean an ego rather than an entire individual. An ego only exists with an outside world to reflect it; an individual, one that’s more than an id, exists with other people, with society, and relates to it. Since the ego is a reaction to society, it needs it to exist. Here, it is true to say that, without others to observe it, there would be no ego.

Another possible identity for the ego of the series is the Wired itself. Lain, echoing her father, says that the Wired is not an upper layer to reality; she also says that the Wired is merely a reflection of an older, deeper way that humanity used to be connected. In that way, the Wired itself is a kind of ego. It’s a way for the jabbeirng id of humanity–represented by the endless chatter about risqué topics in previous episodes–to interact with a social reality.

But perhaps Lain is the ego after all. In a final climax, Lain and her shadow self crawl through the various locations of the series. “It’d be so much easier if you became God,” the other Lain says in the spot where Chisa first threw herself off the building. “Let’s start everything over again from the beginning!”

This suggestion–which the other Lain ties to the desire to not be hated, which, for the isolated Lain, must be tempting indeed–comes from her id. Our Lain rejects it, and is rewarded by having tea with her father. There has been debate about the identity of the father at the end of the series; recall that, for Freud, the superego was the father figure internalized.

One final thought. In its conclusion, “Lain” has a moment that possibly wraps up its various themes–identity, memory and contentedness. Lain suggests that memory can work both ways–we can recall the past as well as “right now, even tomorrow.” This is followed by a cryptic scene of an adult Alice encountering a still childlike Lain, resulting in a ghost of recognition.

If we exist because others observe and remember us, and our interactions with reality are determined in part by our past experiences and expectations of the future, then memory is a component of ego, something that helps us articulate with reality by remembering the past, informing the present and expecting the future. But memory is also a part of the collective unconscious, the cultural and human web that binds us to each other. Memory is what allows us to connect to others at any moment by simply remembering them. Lain herself is linked to the collective unconscious in the final moments of the series, telling us, “I’m here, so I’ll be with you forever,” and leaving us, not with an image of her, but with the ubiquitous humming wires.

Human identity, like an ego that is distinct from an id and superego, that interacts with an external reality, is a more complex thing than any one part of our psyche. Perhaps that’s one of the final takeaways from “Lain.” Humanity is bigger than it can even comprehend.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode 12 “Landscape”

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 12th episode of “Lain” is called “Landscape,” which is interesting because it’s one of the few titles that’s not based on something that’s human–whether its social or psychological, the previous titles have all related to human beings. “Landscape” does not. Originally, a landscape referred to a natural environmental that human beings could encounter. In art, a landscape is the opposite of a cityscape; it is an image of nature, not necessarily with any human beings in it, as opposed to a civic skyline, which portrayed an environment that was made by human hands.

This episode seems to exploit both concepts. It opens with landscape characters, those who populate the background of “Lain” rather than its foreground, where the titular character resides. The episode opens with Alice, her head and later eye filling the screen; Lain is pictured from a distance and behind–and it’s important to remember that that Lain is not “our” Lain.

Later, we encounter again the children at the club Cyberia, the man from Tachibana Labs and even the nameless masses that cross the street at the beginning of the every episode. The Men in Black, also previously “landscape” characters, are given a significantly memorable final scene. Their deaths at the hands of an invisible enemy is one of the creepiest scenes in the series. The horror is relegated to distant landscape. We don’t see what the subjects–the squirming, screaming MIBs–can see all too well.

“People only have substance within the memories of others,” Lain tells us–perhaps us directly, since she appears front of the same blue screen that begins each episode. “That’s why there were all kinds of mes. There weren’t all kinds of mes. I was just inside all sorts of people, that’s all.” In this way of thinking, the memories of others acts as a kind of landscape, a background for the subject of identity. Taken to its Jungian extreme, part of what contributes to individual identity is the landscape of cultural memory–you are the archetypal image that everyone else sees you as.

This collective understanding is the data that is more than any one individual can acquire. Perhaps that’s the data that Lain uploaded in the last episode, or perhaps Lain herself, existing in the real world and on the Wired, is both landscape and subject. That might be why Eiri couldn’t be a deity. His vision was limited by his lack of a physical body–all landscape and no subject. A true deity would need a broader, more eternal, perspective.

The episode suggests, as does the series to a certain extent, that humans are biological machines. In this interpretation, the landscape of the collective unconscious would be the Wired, the data collected by individuals now lashed together concretely, not just abstractly. Given the rate at which the Internet has evolved, “Lain” continues to be startlingly predictive–“Protocol Seven is expected to allow the seamless sharing of information between the Wired and the real world,” a distorted news anchor announces at one point. Outside the screen, the digital has become our landscape.

Of course, the title might as easy as its literal landscape. “Lain” has always had an unusual background, with its stylized shadows and ubiquitous phone lines. In a way, it’s dully ironic. If landscape is supposed to be about the natural world, “Lain” is anything but.

Rather than allowing us to embrace a natural environment, “Lain” isolates us with a grimly unnatural one. Alice, upon entering Lain’s home, finds an environment that is filthy and poorly lit. She enters it via a classic John Ford shot–her in a doorway, backlit and surrounded by darkness. By contrast, when Alice locates Lain in the mass of wires that has become her room, she tries to connect with Lain by forcing something natural onto her–Alice touches Lain with her warm hand and place Lain’s hand on her own racing heart.

And yet, the episode’s final image–that of Eiri trying to force his digital self into a physical body–is frighteningly natural. Recalling the body horror of “Akira,” weeping eyeballs and musculature glistening with gristle twist themselves into existence. When the digital disturbs the physical, the background crashes into the foreground with horrifying results. In “Lain,” just because something’s in the background doesn’t mean it’s normal, unreal or lacking physical and psychological danger.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode 11 “Infornography”

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.

Infornography, the title of “Lain’s” 11th episode, is an interesting word to dissect because there isn’t exactly a consensus on what it means. It seems to be a combination of “information” and “pornography,” and it refers to an addiction to information. However, here the meaning seems to be an overload of information.

The entire first half of the episode is a dump of information, which takes several forms. Sometimes it is clips from previous episodes, which are played straight or edited together and filtered through unusual effects to give them an old, distant or distorted appearance. Sometimes it is words, phrases or slogans that appear on screen or are read by disembodied voices. Information comes in less direct forms as well. An opening montage that is apparently interrupted by Lain adjusting connections to the Wired, or a jarring jazz score instead of the usual soundtrack, suggest that, once again, things will be different this episode.

An interesting question is “when” is all this going on? If it is happening in the universe of the show, then it is presumably something Lain sees after her encounter with the self-proclaimed god Eiri, who says to her later in the episode: “It’s dangerous to subject yourself to that much information all at once.” Is this what the world looks like for Lain in her quest to tear down the border between the real world and the Wired? If so, it is a confusing, disenfranchising, even identity destroying place. Given “Lain’s” interest in equating digital constructs with psychological elements of identity, the impact of this flood of information–physical and emotional exhaustion, disorientation and disassociation–appears chillingly like an abstract form of psychological assault.

However, if the episode isn’t happening any time within itself (“Present day, present time–hahaha!”), then it’s a rather extensive and self-aware recap, which would make it one of the strangest examples of breaking the fourth wall ever engaged in by a television show.

All of this is preceded by a phrase that quickly flashes on screen: “Nothing as ambiguous as memory.” Lain is ridding herself of human memory in favor of digital information.

This could be understood within the context of the show’s frequent metaphor that the body is a biological machine and the brain is software, which is brought up later in this episode. Despite the comparison, human memory is not as clean or clear as digital information. Digital information is made of unflinching zeros and ones, and human memory is plastic, influenced by distance, experience and emotion as much as the actual event being remembered, which suggests that memory is ambiguous at best.

However, this episode suggests a dump of pure information has its own problems. If anything, the structure of the recap appears to be as influenced by emotion as any kind of expectation of clarity. It begins with images of Chisa and her suicide, which you would expect if the info dump were guided by the show’s chronology, but it ends with images of Alice, suggesting that the structure is based on subjects that are dear to Lain.

Like a gun or a drug, information–knowledge–is a tool. But tools can be utilized two ways. They can either be used or withheld, and Lain has apparently decided that the best way for her to proceed is to withhold the information that she ever existed from the people she can influence. However, she cannot withhold information from Alice, who seems to remember Lain despite her efforts–Alice seems to remember the old Lain when she is completely replaced in the “real” world with the less savory version of herself. “Lain, you smiled,” Alice says, and it’s far from a good observation.

The true nature of this Lain depends on one’s interpretation of the series–whether she’s an evil technological construct, a shiftless Freudian id, a Jungian shadow self or something else altogether (presumably involving aliens). Perhaps, in the way one’s identity can run amok online, the series is challenging us to consider that the psychological interpretation is not so different from the digital one.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode 10 “Love”

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 problem with trying that approach with this episode is that it’s called “love,” and human beings have been trying to define love for the last 14,000 years or so. How is “Lain,” let alone this blog, going to handle that in 24 minutes? Perhaps that’s the statement being made by this episode, since the opening sequence contains no narration whatsoever. It’s as if there’s nothing it can say about the subject–at least not in a literal, vulgar way.

Accordingly, love seems to inhabit the episode in small, odd ways rather than simply or blatantly be defined by it. The characters of Lain and Eiri read each other’s dialogue in their first conversation, which has the effect of unsettling viewers. It also associates Lain rather drastically with Eiri, which associates her with (self-proclaimed) divinity and with an identity that is measured in multiples rather than in an individual. But it’s also perhaps a grotesque parody of lovers who are so in tune they can finish each other’s sentences.

Further, when Lain begins to see the results of erasing herself from the memory of her peers–and thereby ceasing to exist–she experiences the reverse of the old adage: “if you love something, set it free.” Rather than freeing something else, Lain freed herself from those she loved. And yet, when she does not feel love in return, she responds like a betrayed lover. “Why is this happening?” she asks a classroom that no longer feels her presence. “Was it something I did? I always tried to keep something like this from happening.”

Lain returns to her house and finds it empty, in a state of disarray, and yet some things are the same. She feels the presence of her sister, but she cannot reach her. She casts the same bloody shadow–the one she cast when she had a physical body. If Lain was always in the Wired, then she was always connected. Her “father” posits that if Lain connects to the Wired, she will be loved. But being loved is more than being connected to someone–it’s being with someone.

Her father might be closer to a definition of love when he says: “I wasn’t given permission to say goodbye, but I loved you.” Love is, to paraphrase John le Carre, whatever you can still say goodbye to. If you can risk the pain of goodbye but still find it worthwhile, and if you can say goodbye and hear it in return, then you’ve made more than a mere connection with someone else.

In one of the “Lain’s” most jarring sequences, a montage of members of the conspiratorial cult the Knights, having been exposed to the real world by Lain, are killed or commit suicide. A devotion unto death is not the worst definition of love; the Gospel of John reports that Jesus, who it is not unfair to call an expert on love, said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

It goes both ways. The men in black are just as devoted to their cause, and they’re willing to kill for it (from Jesus to Alfred Hitchcock, this perhaps recalls Pat Hitchcock’s line from “Strangers on a Train”: “I still think it would be wonderful to have a man love you so much he’d kill for you”).

The show takes one more stab at a definition. After informing Lain about the situation with the Knights, one of the Men in Black turns and faces her, even removing his eyepiece, suggesting he is entering a state of nakedness or vulnerability. “We still haven’t figured out what you are,” he says to Lain. “But I love you.” If Lain really is a god, then this might be the show’s most daring definition of divinity: God is what you cannot help but love.

After offering so many definitions, or at least locations, of love, “Lain” has one final thought for us. “Love sure is a strange emotion, isn’t it?” the same MIB asks before turning away and leaving. Again, it’s as if the show is admitting there is no easy definition, leaving it up to us to figure out.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode nine “Protocol”

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 ninth episode of “Lain” is entitled “Protocol,” a word that usually brings to mind a set of rules, especially those that govern data in an electronic communication system, which seems wholly appropriate given Lain’s electronic leanings. And yet, after the narration, this episode breaks protocol. This is the infamous info dump episode, where all characters are seemingly tossed out the door in favor of documentary style explanations of conspiracy theories.

Beginning with some grainy footage of a desert, a new narrator casually starts detailing the Roswell, N.M., UFO landing. The identity of the UFO has never been proven, the narrator assures us: “Conjecture has become fact, and rumor has become history.” Another definition for rumor, perhaps, but also perhaps a suggestion for caution when considering “Lain.”

Those images cut to the ubiquitous phone lines, then to Lain herself depressed and in her room, alone yet surrounded by the Max Fleischer-esque steaming and green tubed machines that keep her connected to the Wired. The association with the previous images might suggest that Lain is a kind of alien invader–a point further reinforced when Lain sees an alien at her door, the same alien that has been seen earlier in the series and the same alien that might very well be Lain herself.

This all before we return to the narrative of Lain in the Wired, grilling a group of beings who seem to be purely sensual–their bodies are static, television white noise, except for a pair of eyes on one, a pair of ears on another, an arm on a third–which stand in stark contrast to the purely informational dump we are shuffled back into a moment later.

This breaking of narrative rank is not senseless. The entire episode is not a study of protocol, of rules, but rather, it’s a subversion of it. Note that, as fascinating as these sudden dumps of random information are, they are conspiracy theories at best. Theorizing on conspiracy is a breaking of protocol–it’s a breaking down of the rules of society, the background that keeps us all culturally in check. Conspiracy theorists, for better or for worse, are societal rebels.

The episode continues to break its narrative protocol, bouncing back and forth between Lain’s experiences in her room, in the Wired and the disconnected realm of conspiracy documentary. And yet, the conspiracy dump seems to tie to the main narrative–alien technology, courtesy of Vannevar Bush, along with John C. Lily and his sensory deprivation tanks, leads us toward the creation of the Wired. Even the narrative order is skewed. Mystically speaking, we’ve been here before.

Taro, Lain’s child informer from the club Cyberia, gets his date with Lain in what is certainly a break from the protocol of romantic norms. Taro says he doesn’t want to go out with her; he wants the other, wilder, Lain. “We’re the same,” Lain responds. “I’m me. I’m the only me.” And yet, as she says it, the top of her head is cut off and we see her huge, black eyes. The kids in Cyberia recoil in response. This is an unsettling start to a date.

Ultimately, the date is an opportunity for Lain to grill Taro about microchips and for Taro to see Lain’s hacker lair and comment on truth. The Knights, he assures her, are only interested in ultimate truth, the truth that has power because it is true and just. Then, he kisses her. “Hey, this is a date, you know?” he tells her. “I’m a guy. I had to do that.” In other words, he’s just following the rules.

Next, the rules of time and memory are broken. Lain suddenly remembers being shoved into her house, her family being no more than actors standing out from an overbearing white background. Even the rules of individual identity are in question, as she sees this happen to herself and quizzes herself about it.

At the end of the episode, we finally see the psychic form of Masami Eiri, the Tachibana labs employee who killed himself and assumed godhead in the Wired. Before Eiri appears, Lain suggests that there is only one truth: God. This bookends the narration from the beginning of the episode: “If you want to be free of suffering, you should believe in God. Whether or not you believe in Him, God is always by your side.” Perhaps the definition of God in “Lain” is the one who follows the rules even when you don’t.

There is another definition for the word protocol, an older definition than digitized regulations: the first draft of a document. When Lain encounters the sensual beings on the Wired, creatures that are obsessed with record, one states: “Since the moment of the Wired’s creation, you have always been here.” Is Lain the first draft of the Wired? If so, she is the first draft of an effort to link all of humanity into a communicative whole. The information dumps of this episode, if nothing else, indicate how that could be a conscious raising experience or an oppressive, confusing weapon.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain”- Episode eight “Rumors”

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 eighth episode of “Serial Experiments Lain” is called “Rumors,” and it opens with a series of questions. “Do you want to be hurt?” a female voice asks. “Do you want your heart to feel like it’s being scraped with a rasp?” It seems like an odd thing to ask someone, and yet audiences do desire those experiences. The proof is in the fact that we continue to watch a show like “Lain,” which exposes us to unusual and confusing phenomena, as well as expressions of depression and anxiety. The voice ends its questions with “If you do, don’t look away, whatever you do.”

A rumor is a kind of desire. It is a wish that is hoped to be made true by spreading it around. In this way, conspiracy can be a kind of rumor; it can be the desire for a larger mechanism to be at work. Conspiracy takes the onus off the shoulders of the individual–it’s not your fault if it’s really the fault of the government or a corporation or beings from another world. Or it can be the desire for intrigue, for a life that is not as boring or insignificant as it appears to be. The conspiracies that haunt “Lain” could fall into either category: a desire for her life to be more than a that of a forgotten school girl or a desire for her hallucinogenic experiences to be grounded in something real.

In the case of Lain’s parents not being her parents, it appears as if the rumors are true. A seed was planted in Lain’s head in the previous episode, and it starts to take root here. In a scene that is devoid of any soundtrack, Lain asks her parents if they are her parents, or rather, she asks them to deny they aren’t. As casually as she can, she mentions that someone questioned their authenticity. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” she asks. “People say the funniest things, right?” Her parents do not respond with words, instead finally acknowledging her presence with stony glares.

Tellingly, Lain and her parents are never quite pictured together until the last shot, an overhead shot that obscures their faces–the closest is a moment when Lain passes them as she walks to the kitchen, but even then it is quick and none of the characters face each other. In this case, a desire has been dashed on the rocks of rumor. Lain did not wish her parents were not her own; she feared they were not (although it’s interesting to remember that Freud would suggest some fears have their roots in unexpressed desires).

In something a bit more straightforward, and certainly something that seems prescient in an era of cyberbullying, Alice’s crush on a teacher becomes the subject of a rumor that is spread through the Wired. This is foreshadowed when Alice and the group confronts Lain about her being the origin of the rumor. Remember, a crush is, of course, another form of desire. Also, just because something is a rumor doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

Some might say the ultimate rumor is God. “It doesn’t matter if God exists to the user,” says one of Lain’s young peers at the beginning of the episode. God’s literal presence is less important than his abstract presence, as a concept perhaps, at best something to strive toward and at worst an idea that is passed from person to person.

“How do you define ‘God’?” a voice asks Lain in the Wired. It’s an interesting question, in part because the word that is being translated as “God” is “kami,” a Shinto term that refers to an entity that is worshiped by practitioners. Although it is often translated as “god” or “deity,” it is just as liable to be translated as “nature spirit.” If nothing else, this suggests the flexibility of a god concept in the world of “Lain.” Oddly enough, there is not an episode of “Lain” called “God,” despite that being a hot topic on the show.

In this episode, “God” is defined as both a creator deity and an entity that is omnipresent (but not simply something that can be worshipped). The God of the Wired admits that he did not create the realm he inhabits, but he does exist throughout it. To a degree, anyone who uses the Internet today has that divine quality, the ability to observed by everyone else on Earth who is connected.

In the world of the Wired, Lain is omnipresent–which is precisely why she is accused of being a “peeping Tom” by another round of schoolyard rumor. That is, assuming anyone other than Lain sees that rumor–there is a ghostly quality to its introduction that leaves its reality ambiguous, and it would be easy to understand Lain seeing the rumor as either cosmic forces at play or another hallucination.

Regardless, when we take the rumor at face value, it certainly seems to be true. There is nothing Lain seemingly cannot observe, from her friend masturbating in this episode to total strangers making out, something that is depicted in every episode in the credits sequence.

When Lain literally confronts herself, she is confronting the part of her that spreads the rumors–the “id” in Freudian theory, the primal part of the self that is most liable to give in to desire. Does Lain desire to be someone else–a notion manifest by the chattering Lain heads on the bodies of strangers? Does she desire to commit suicide–symbolically presented when she tries to strangle her other self? A psychological reading of the series might suggest so.

A mystical reading, however, might suggest that, as an unrealized omnipresent entity, Lain is struggling to come to grips with being One with the Wired. This notion is perhaps manifest when all of Lain’s worlds come crashing together–the wires of her ceiling becoming the omnipresent phone lines becoming the disco ball of Cyberia. In this reading, Lain is undergoing the sometimes terrifying process of enlightenment.

The episode ends with perhaps a reminder that our primal nature is an essential part of our humanity. When Lain attempts to erase her rumors from her friends’ memories, she also erases their experience of her, the Lain that calls itself Lain. Whether we like it or not, the rumors we spread–and the desires we house–are a part of us. A whiteout from the schoolyard takes us to Lain’s room, where she, alone again, asks her Navi computer if she is the real Lain. That’s a rumor that might be confirmed or denied, but until the series is over.

A critical analysis of “Serial Experiments Lain” – Episode seven “Society”

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 seventh episode is called “Society,” so perhaps it’s fitting, for a show that likes its Freud and Jung, to start out with a Freudian sort of definition for the word. Freud might say that society is any two people, because as soon as you have two people, you have to start creating rules so they don’t start killing each other–the rules of social etiquette that can run against individual desire, and the potential clash between those pulls is what results in psychological illness. Right on cue, in the opening narration, a female voice says, “I’ll tell you, but it’s just between you and me.” Two people and conditions–that’s a society formed between the viewer and the speaker.

And yet, Lain herself does not appear to be any closer to anyone else. In the first scene, despite her increased connection to the Wired, when she speaks, no one answers–no one the audience can hear. Lain’s sister appears at the door. Her lips move, but we can’t hear what she’s saying. As if to reiterate her isolation, the camera pulls back, Lain a small pale blob in the middle of the dark tangle of wires that is her room.

Lain and her family are far from the only society on display in this episode. We are rapidly introduced to a diverse group of people: a man wanders the streets of Tokyo wearing a suit of gadgets and umbrellas, and people cautiously avoid him; a businessman checks his email from a penthouse office and plans a rendezvous with a female coworker; a shut in proclaims his digital dominance from a mattress surrounded by food wrappers; a young but streetwise mother who works at home gets a package.

These characters are nothing alike, and yet they are all implied to be connected to the Knights, a secret society that exists online. If nothing else, they are all part of the society of the Wired. Again, part of “Lain’s” appeal after two decades is its predictive nature. The society of the Internet includes online communities and armies of trolls, and the Knights appears to be both.

Part of what bonds any society together is a shared set of beliefs. The Knights also function as a kind of religious society, one that believes transcendence can be found by tearing down the barrier between the real world and the Wired. “Is God really in the Wired?” asks the man wearing the suit of devices. “I’m not ready to believe that yet, but if you let me join you, I’ll be able to learn more. Then I’ll believe!”

This is contrasted by Tachibana General Laboratories, the organization that appears to employ the Men in Black. That society believes that it’s dangerous to remove the separation between the Wired and the real world. It’s a truth only revealed to Lain after she, like a holy child prodigy, amazes her elders by solving a riddle–in this case fixing an old computer–after which she is rewarded with knowledge about her own identity and her family’s identities.

And yet, like the blurring between the real world and the Wired, the Knights and Tachibana Labs do not appear all that different from the outside. Shadowy and dangerous, they both toy with Lain and her sanity. Whether that’s because Lain is at the center of a conspiracy or is mentally ill is up to debate, but part of what seems to be “Lain’s” mission is to force us to reexamine familiar structures: peer groups, family, government authorities, religions, scientific communities, as well as identity, humanity and reality. Reality is, after all, the biggest society of them all. It’s the list of things that we’ve agreed exist.

It’s important to remember Lain’s society at school as well, her peers, who humanize her amidst all this intrigue and philosophy. In perhaps the most touching scene in the episode, Alice finds Lain on the school’s roof and say her friends are worried she’s slipping into her old, disconnected habits. “We wanted to make you happy, so we’ve been taking you out with us,” Alice says. “But if you weren’t happy, I apologize.”

It’s one of the few optimistic scenes in the episode. It opens with Lain, appearing behind the bars of a railing, commenting to herself on the unreality of the real world, but it ends with her smiling and thanking Alice for checking on her. Sometimes societies lead to inner clashes and psychological illness, but other times they uphold us and make us whole.

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.