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.
In any medium or genre, there are titans. Stories and creators that are looked upon as the very best examples of what that medium or genre can be. When a genre or medium has been around for a while, it’s natural to find works and creators that start to question why it exists. Why do we read and follow superhero comics? Why do we watch and enjoy giant mech anime?
To deconstruct something, is to tear it apart to reveal and expose the subject’s weaknesses. To understand and explore its flaws, inconsistencies, and tropes. To literally take it to pieces. However, what happens when the deconstruction becomes the celebrated work? What impact does the work have, when it’s the first thing recommended to new readers or viewers?
Both Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion are held up as master works of their medium and genre. Watchmen appears on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Best Novels in the English Language. The BBC Culture section, even refers to the series as ‘The Moment Comic Books Grew Up’. Taking apart and examining the superhero genre. Exploring the characters, motives and world, through the lens of a murder mystery. Many regard it as one of the greatest comics ever written. While others, including the books writer, Alan Moore, see it as more than a little overrated. Regardless of the opinion you have on the series, it’s hard to deny its impact, both in and outside the medium. DC Comics have even found themselves leaning back on to the books popularity and world for their storylines “The Button”, and “Doomsday Clock”. Neon Genesis Evangelion holds a similar reputation. Praised as one of the best and most influential anime to come out of the 90’s, let alone of all time. Evangelion is a cult classic, that takes apart the Mecha genre of anime. Exploring what drives the characters, the creation of the giant mechs, the EVA’s in this case, and what it’s like to face the end of the world.
Many ‘must-watch’, and ‘must-read’ articles suggest both of these are top contenders in their fields. Giving multiple reasons for why every fan of both mediums should see them. Many also suggest them as entry level material. This raises the question, what’s the point of a deconstruction, if the audience has no idea what is being deconstructed?
To use Watchmen for a moment. Readers walking into Watchmen for the first time, who have no grasp on the superhero genre of comics, or very little. Will find themselves confronted with the story of a group of apparently former heroes who grew old. When one is killed, the rest take it upon their selves to learn why, as well as dealing with their own everyday lives. However, as Walter Hudsick puts it in ‘Reassembling the Components in the Correct Sequence: Why You Shouldn’t Read Watchmen First’, using Watchmen as an introduction to Superhero comics, is a grave mistake. Watchmen is built on the very history of comics. Its characters are stand ins for specific characters. Dr Manhattan, Nite Owl II, The Comedian, and Ozymandias acting as replacements for The Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and Thunderbolt respectively. The world’s history mirroring real world comic book history. Superheroes coming to prominence before a war, thriving through, only to begin to fade in the years after. The in-universe comic of The Black Freighter acting as a stand-in for EC Comics horror line. Even the comics very core as a deconstruction of Superhero literature predates Watchmen’s creation. The likes of Larry Niven’s Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex, Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s Superduperman!, and Roger Mayer’s Super-Folks, are all sighted as highly influential works in the industry. The influence of Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex showing itself in the relationship of Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre II for example. The further you dig into comic history, and the more ingrained you are within it, the more you get from Watchmen.
With Neon Genesis Evangelion, we see a slightly different, but equally valid problem. When it comes to Mecha Anime, that is the focus. The Giant Robot battles. The pilots are children or early teen. One or two of them have family who worked on the project that created the robots. There is massive destruction to cities, and the heroes are praised regardless, because they defeated the big bad that episode. That happens when we take this apart and play it as real? We get broken people. Children told that the world rest on their shoulders, that if they don’t do their job, then everyone they know or love will die. Children struggling with depression, anxiety, and inferiority complexes. Haunted by the deaths caused just to write wrongs. A father who is so focused on his work, that the very child he calls upon to save the world, he has driven away and alienated to the point of cruelty. A world population suffering due to the destruction even the battles cause. Adding to that, Evangelion takes apart even anime wide tropes of the ‘submissive but attractive girl’, and the ‘hot headed and tempremental bomb shell’ with Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu respectively. If someone approaches Evangelion, without an understanding of Mecha anime, or even anime tropes, then how are they expected to make sense of it, on top of Evangelion’s already confusing nature?
When approaching a deconstruction, with no understanding of the base. Part of the meaning is loss. The comments the creator is making on the subject, fall on ignorant or deaf ears. While that is never meant as an insult on the audience, it’s worth wondering why we recommend such material before a proper introduction? A new reader approaching the material, can certainly enjoy it, and in many cases, it leads to them discovering the very source material they need. But why is it the first point of call?
Upon leaving the university for the evening, I entered into a conversation discussing The X-Files with a friend. With the current airing of The X-Files revival, it’s a pretty hot topic right now, with people discussing how it relates to the previous series and, especially in my friends case, how exciting it is to finally have it return. Discussing all of its connections to the original and just how much it means to those that saw the original as it was coming out. Unlike my friend, I am only just watching the original series for the first time, at the time of writing this I’m half way through season 2. It hit me after the conversation, that even when I have seen all 9 original series, the 2 films and become completely up to date, I will never appreciate the revival as much as they do. The passion to which my friend describes the original series in regards to the revival, is something that can only be achieved by having a long standing connection to the franchise, as well as the anticipation for a continuation. With my adoption of the franchise having only just taken effect, (which is really shocking in hindsight, due to my love of Science Fiction, Conspiracy theories and FBI dramas) in a time where the series can be easily accessed online or on Blu-Ray/DVD (For the record, the Blu-ray box set is high on my list right now of things to buy when I have the spare cash (Spare Cash, that’s an odd thought)), I have all 9 seasons and films readily available and by the time I reach the end, all six episodes of the revival will be just as easy to access. In essence, I have to wait for nothing. The notion of The X-Files returning is simply a fact that I can have no emotional connection too, I can fondly remember discussions of it in the future or ones that I have overheard now, but I will never appreciate it as much as others.
I am far from the only person to experience this, in fact it’s something that can be seen all the time. In the case of Star Wars, People who were children when the prequels came out will never understand the hatred that those that grew up with the original films feel towards The Phantom Menace. To them, it’s just a bad film in the franchise, but to those who waited 16 years for any form of continuation on the screen, it’s a whole other matter. See the episode “Change” of Spaced for a genuine reaction between generations to The Phantom Menace, in fact, just go watch Spaced. It’s a damn good series.
It’s an odd sensation, and one I have expressed several times with formats or shows I grew up with and my younger brother’s discovery of them. As someone who grew up in a world just prior to cable TV, satellite and the internet becoming household necessities, its difficult to explain how exciting it was to sit down every week for a new episode of a show that had already aired weeks or months ago in America or even years ago from elsewhere, especially when you only had 4 TV channels. Anime fans growing up with subtitled episodes being released hours after its Japanese airing, will never fully appreciate the old days of Fox Kids, Manga Entertainment and bootleg VHS’.
The Times They are a changin’.
Now, enough of the long rant. The X-Files is calling me.
Holy Golden Anniversary Batman!
The 1966 Batman television series has become a touch stone in pop culture history. Running from 1966 to 1968, the show became a phenomenon, boosting comic book sales and ” resonated with the ironically detached ‘camp’ movement of the era” [Rossen.2014]. 50 years later you can see its impact everywhere. It’s been referenced in countless other series, become a quintessential idea to the general public as to what a comic book is, and has provided hours of enjoyment for the young and the old, the comic fanatic and the novice.
Despite the popular consensus of laughing at it compared to the ‘dark’, ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ Nolan films of recent years (actually, you should be laughing at it, it’s a damn funny series), the 66 series not only helped to save the Batman comic books, “but it turned him into a global superstar” [Diaz. 2012]. When you consider just how comics were viewed in the post war 50’s and 60’s, the fact that a show like Batman could be made, let alone last for 3 seasons and 120 episodes, is astonishing. Unlike our modern interpretations, “it walked the line between sincerity and parody” [Rossen. 2014], creating a culture all its own and infecting the general consciousness. For many, it was their introduction to the world of Batman or even comic books in general. Bringing not only Batman and Robin into countless homes, but 32 villains! From the hugely iconic Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwomen, to the laughable Clock King, Minstrel and False Face. As well as bringing phrases such as Biff, Bam and Pow into the public lexicon. The series was so successful at launch that despite the series having only begun in January, by the Summer a feature film was pushed into theatres, using many of the same sets and props. Though it’s worth noting that the Film was in fact originally intended to be produced before the series to introduce the Batman series to the general public. This allowed some of the props and vehicles to be reused in the series due to the films slightly higher budget.
Despite the series long lasting impact, it’s hard to believe just how long it took for the series to come to DVD and Blu-ray, much to the joy of many long time fans and collectors. The first ‘official’ collection wasn’t even released to the public. In fact the first and only tapes of all 120 episodes, were created by Fox for a post-Star Wars Mark Hamill. Coincidentally enough, Hamill would go on to become what is considered the quintessential Joker voice actor, almost 30 years later. ” Home-video distribution didn’t exist when the series was produced” [Rossen.2014] and even when attempts were made in the 90’s, Fox and Warner Bros. were “at odds” [Rossen.2014] when it came to home distribution rights and the legal problems that would come from handing it over to a third party. In the case of the 90’s, Columbia were the ones most interested in distributing the series. Thankfully by 2014, the series is now widely available and easy to access.
In recent years, the series has most noticeably been revisited by the ‘Batman 66’ Comic Book, revisiting the plot, style and characters of the original series with their own 60’s art inspired flare. The just announced Lego 66 Batman Batcave, and the soon to be released Batman 66 Animated movie are adding more and more to the pop culture phenomenon. The legacy of the series is destined to continue in the hearts, minds and media of all those that have been touched by it, weather directly or in directly.
Here’s to another 50 years!
- Carpenter, N. (2016) Lego Batman ’66 set officially revealed. [Online] IGN. 12th January. Available from: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2016/01/12/lego-batman-66-set-officially-revealed [Last Accessed: 12/01/2016]
- Diaz, E. (2012) How the 1960’s Batman Television series helped save Batman. [Online]. Geek Scape. Available from: http://www.geekscape.net/how-the-1960s-batman-television-series-helped-save-batman. [Last Accessed: 12/01/2016]
- Neumyer, S. (2014) A visual guide to all 37 villains in the Batman TV series. [Online] Metal Floss. 21st November. Available from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/60213/visual-guide-all-37-villains-batman-tv-series [Last Accessed: 12/01/2016]
- Roach, A. (2015) ‘Batman’ 1966 TV show getting animated movie adaptation for 50th anniversary. [Online] Screen Rant. 30th March. Available from: http://screenrant.com/batman-1960s-tv-show-animated-movie/ [Last Accessed: 12/01/2016]
- Rossen, J. (2014) Why we’re just now getting the 1960’s Batman TV show on DVD. [Online] Wired. 4th November. Available from: http://www.wired.com/2014/11/batman-home-video-finally/ [Last Accessed: 12/01/2016]
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