Serial Experiments Lain is a series that begs to be interpreted. Premiering in 1998, Lain is a slow paced, and surreal series that many describe as ‘ahead of its time’. Written by Chiaki J. Konaka, the series acts as a look at our relationship with the internet, and Konaka’s prediction of what the 21st century will look like. Many celebrate the series for how forward thinking it is. Incorporating themes of reality, identity, and communication, while exploring computer history, conspiracy theories, and computer history. While it’s plot comes off as complex, given it’s slow pacing, unusual imagery, cyberpunk styling, and synth/electro-pop soundtrack, the series has gathered itself a cult following. With many dedicating their time, to unravelling the meaning of Lain.
The series follows Lain, a shy young girl with an inability to communicate with her peers. When a classmate commits suicide, she learns of a mysterious email going around the class from the deceased girl. Having no knowledge of computers, barley checking her emails, she finds herself driven by curiosity. She goes home and finds the email waiting on her barely used PC. Reading it, she finds herself having a conversation with the deceased girl. She tells Lain that while her body maybe dead, she still lives online in the Wired. Asking Lain why doesn’t she join her. Be free in the net. From here, the series becomes Lain’s journey exploring the net, watching the lines between reality and the Wired blur, and finding her place in both.
It’s clear, even from a cursory look at the series, Konaka had his eyes firmly set on the evolution of computers and technology. The series features multiple references to Apple. It’s slogan being “Close the world, Open the nExt”, referencing the NeXT company. It’s ‘to be continued’ slates at the end of episodes, featured a blue and red Be, reminiscent of the logo for Be Inc. The robotic voice heard throughout the series, uses Apple’s Synth Speech synthesiser, specifically the ‘Whisper’ setting. As well as the appearance of Lain’s first computer in the series, resembling a red version of Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Episode 9, “Protocol”, explores throughout the episode the history of computers. Detailing figures, projects and devices such as Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Project Xanadu, and the Memex. Serial Experiments Lain is certainly a well-researched, and thought-provoking series.
What’s interesting, is how well the series can be used to explain and explore Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village. Spoken about in both the books, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964), the Global Village comes out of McLuhan’s teachings about media always extending one part of ourselves. For example, a car extends our legs, and television extends our eyes, ears and sense of touch. With the Internet, or at least McLuhan’s prediction of the internet, he describes a system that extends our central nervous system. Creating a Global Village, populated by everyone. A way for us to stretch our consciousness across the planet to communicate with others. This can be seen not only with the deceased classmate, but also with how Lain and others appear while online. The random appearances of online entities in the real world, further blur the line. Questioning how far consciousness can be spread, as well as the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds.
Throughout the series, the humming of electricity from telephone wires, reverberates through the screen. Reminding us of the Internet’s consistent presence. Essentially buzzing all around us every moment of the day. If our consciousness is extended through this Global Village, and its existence is all around us. Then the story and strange occurrences within Serial Experiments Lain, could very well be possibilities at some point. If we could truly expand our consciousness, as McLuhan says, to the point that we could leave our physical bodies. Then, wouldn’t the opposite also be a possibility? Expanding something from the internet, to affect the real world.
This is certainly not the first time McLuhan’s work has been touched on in popular culture. A notable, and highly relevant example in this situation, is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome in 1983. The digital prophet within the films plot, Brian O’Blivion, parallels McLuhan not only in appearance, but in his teaching.
While Serial Experiments Lain spends a large amount of time explaining the history of computers and the internet. Predicting the likes of Anonymous with ‘The Knights’, and even touching on conspiracy theories. Konaka seems to have hidden far more academic influences within his work than it initially seemed. Turning what could have been a largely forgotten, and somewhat uncomfortable series. Into a highly relevant, and teachable show, that is still being spoken about and examined almost 20 years later.