What really scares us? Death or the oblivion? Of course, the oblivion. It is not dying itself that frightens us the most, but rather knowing that we will lose everything we loved and cared for. All of the memories we've treasured, the choices we've made and the people we've touched; everything will cease from existence. So why do we treasure our past so much? Is that just a collection of memories the nostalgia bounds us to, or is it the part of who we are?
Serial Experiments Lain is not your average show, and definitely not something you run into every day. It is a unique piece of entertainment that completely transcends its genre, and presents itself as a work of art. An avant-garde show, not restraining itself to the boundaries of traditional storytelling and plot building, creating a completely unique and revolutionary piece of media.
This anime series is NOT for everyone. One of the reasons this show is popular even now, two decades after its initial release, is because its plot is still not completely figured out. The story is told in a rather convoluted fashion, which makes the already complex plot even harder to interpret.
Lain is one of those shows that require the viewer to pay full attention to every detail, and challenging them to put all the pieces together to grasp the content of the story. The theme portrayal in this series only becomes more relevant even now, that the use of technology and internet is becoming larger. A nearly prophetic story of what will happen if the lines of reality and virtual world start to blur.
Not only does the show do an excellent job at connecting its elements with its heavy commentary on psychology, sociology and technology, but it also has a very striking approach to the themes of human connection and loneliness, and overall an exploration the existential self in relation to the world. it raises a series of very thought provoking and intellectual questions about identity, existentialism, and religion. The show is also very famous for its mind-bending thoughts about reality, evolution and the existence of God.
Lain's narrative is rather cryptic, meaning that nothing is told to the viewer directly, but rather gives them the undertone hints and pieces that, combined, make the story. The story is devoided of any dialogue or character's inner monologue, not allowing the viewer to know more than they should, giving them a strange sensation of being lost, and forcing them to search for answers. Due to the absence of dialogues, the show relies heavily on its visual presentation. It tells its story through massive, yet subtle use of symbolism and visual keys. The series is rich of surreal and expressive imagery, with commonly metaphorical content.
In terms of characters, there are just the two worth mentioning, with one being far more relevant than the other: Lain and her best friend, Alice. They represent the two sides of the same coin, or, in this particular show, a physical world, and the virtual one. Lain is a lonely, shy, and seemingly depressed middle-school girl, who also suffers from a split personality disorder. She is used to portray most of the show's themes, one of them being a demonstration of the internet's ability to split ones personality, creating a whole different person online. Alice, on the other hand, is much more down-to-Earth, realistic and communicative. Her character is used to resemble reality, and common sense in general, but she is also the key trigger in Lain's development.
Also, even though other characters have an important role in the story, and are used as a symbolical representation of a certain element the show portrays, they aren't as significant as the two aforementioned are.
What i think is the strongest point of SEL's characters is the manner in which their characterization is done. As a fairly good compensation to show's lack of dialogue, Lain's characters aren't defined through cheesy lines or forced exposition conversations, but rather through their very actions. The show can clearly depict the character with little to no dialogue, only through visual presentation of characters reactions, movement and behavior. In an essence, 'show' is of a far greater value than 'tell' in visual media, and SEL follows that rule in a nearly flawless manner.
From the technical sides, even tho the show lacks budget and doesn't have as much production value as most of the shows nowadays do, it still managed to use this in its advantage.
The character designs are much more realistic and humanoid than most of the series. They are devoided of any abstract, but very commonly seen elements, such as weird and unique hair styles, unnatural hair colors, huge eyes and so on. This is due to the fact that the show wanted to make itself closer to the viewer and make them project themselves to the characters easier, but also to set a certain border of reality. In a show where so many surrealistic things happen there must be a certain sense of realism so the viewer can actually see what the paranormal happening is.
Also, due to the lack of budget, the backgrounds in the scene have minimal amounts of details, and a somewhat inconsistent animation. This allows the author to literally point out elements the viewer should pay attention to.
The show also uses lots of repetitive sequences, like the cityscape scene from the beginning of each episode. This is also used quite well, combined with new monologue each episode that really help a lot in the theme exploration. The show uses a very murky color pallet, with two different sets of colors: the deep blue tone, and a thick yellow and nearly sepia tone. This is not only used to locate the time of the happening, which is usually at night or twilight, but also used to switch tones and suggest a certain mood change in a scene.
It is very noticeable that the show lacks music, probably due to the lack of budget. In this certain show, this is by no means a flaw.
For a such a cryptic and mysterious show such as SEL, the absence of music creates a very unique atmosphere. The over-present silence and sometimes a quiet, but sharp techno sound absorbs the viewer in a world shrouded in absolute mystery, creating an atmosphere that perfectly complements the viewer's feel of being lost.
But also, surprisingly enough, such lack of music and creating an absorbing ambient can be use very well when invoking drama. For example, a sudden hard techno bass after a long period of silence can help in creating a sense of tension, and also signifying to the viewer that he should pay attention to the plot point. This can also work the other way around, when the omnipresent background musing is rashly interrupted by silence, creating a very clear tone contrast.
Serial Experiments Lain is one of the greatest anime shows ever made, and a personal favorite of mine. It takes an absolute focus on singularity, developing its themes beyond the limits, and pulls the maximum out of its platform for storytelling. It has some of the most aggressive and infinitely deep theme explorations ever put in any sort of media. Its story is complex, intriguing, and somewhat immersive, with thousands of plot-twist, fascinating narrative style, and unparalleled and grounded thematic side. A thoughtful and unique 13-episode experience that can only be described as an onslaught of brutal mindfucks, digging deep into the core of your brain. A perspective-changing brain-basher introducing a completely new look onto this so called "reality".
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