A Review by Dennis D. McDonald
I originally published this review in 2002. I thought about it again after seeing The Last Exile, a more recent Japanese animated science fiction TV series.
This is the Pioneer DVD versions of a recent Japanese animated television series. The story follows a young teenage Japanese schoolgirl of the near future who becomes entangled with an evolved form of the Internet called “The Wired.” She has a gift for crossing over into and interacting with The Wired. How this affects her family, social, school, and other relationships is dealt with in a mature and artistic fashion.
This is definitely NOT a “poor misunderstood teenager with secret identity” but a rather serious look at some of the implications of new technology on society.
There are a lot of things to like about Lain:
- The character animation is excellent. Watch, for example, Lain’s expression as she sits in front of her bank of computer terminals, lost in communication with The Wired. Despite the minimal facial features used throughout the series, a wide range of emotion is clearly communicated.
- The characters are well drawn. Each of Lain’s family members and friends has a unique physical trait that sets him or her apart.
- The artwork is striking. Look at the use of shadows, sometimes deep black, sometimes black incorporating abstract color elements.
- Cinematic framing and transition effects are used throughout the series. Pay attention to the scenes of Lain at her family’s dinner table and how the point of view shifts/is shifted.
- The sound is well designed and ominous. A common theme is the hum of the phone lines that crowd the sky, a constant reminder of how The Wired surrounds us all.
- The story is engrossing and thoughtful. It incorporates complex cyberpunk elements as well as philosophy and religion.
- The technology is believable. It is obvious a lot of thought has been put into user interface design as well as the design of futuristic handheld wireless devices. Even more interesting is the common acceptance of this technology among the young people in the movie — if you have teenagers at home you know how true this is.
This series really holds my interest. There are 5 episodes on each of the two DVDs I’ve seen so far. Intellectually, this story is much more interesting to me than, say, PLEASE SAVE MY EARTH, another Japanese animated series put onto DVD that incorporates much more traditional character and plot devices than LAIN.
I fell asleep during that show; LAIN, on the other hand, holds my interest from start to finish. LAIN is thoughtful and interesting, despite the lack of battling robots and mecha. Check it out and be thankful that we have this well produced DVD to experience.
This DVD contains three more episodes of the Japanese “Lain” TV series.
The Deus episodes are a mixed bag. Most engrossing are the doubts raised about who Lain is in relation to the real world Lain and the Lain who dwells in the word of the Wired (Internet). The distortions in Lain’s view of reality and her quest for answers that continue to elude her remind me not of a TV series but of a fine Philip K. Dick novel, but without the playful/sardonic twists.
The questions of “what is reality?” “who is God?” and “who am ?” permeate the episodes. The only really jarring note is the faux history lesson interspersed with the middle episode that purports to connect Vannevar Bush, Roswell, and Project Xanadu. It probably sounded clever to the writers but reads like “pop” history pulled from a pulp version Library Science textbook.
The appearance of a flying saucer alien at Lain’s door doesn’t help any but obviously contributes to the general confusion about Lain’s identity/reality.
Bottom line, though, is that Lain is still infinitely more interesting than your typical SciFi Channel series crap.
This is the best and most unsettling in the series of four DVD’s. It will make no sense however if you haven’t seen the preceding episodes.
Lain’s recurring question of “Who am I?” returns with a vengeance as she revisits (or is revisited by) characters she’s known through the series. The ending is somber, in keeping with Lain’s personality.
One reaction I had was, this was a television series? Are there other intelligent and intellectually stimulating TV series out there like this?