(Originally written 16 Jan 2015)
This was the first time in almost 5 months that I “marathoned” a 1-cour series(I finished it in 2 days). It was an interesting experience. I don’t think I missed anything by watching it quickly, nor do I think it’d have been better to watch it over 13 weeks, but it still felt kinda weird to watch so much anime again.
As for the show itself, oh boy, where do I begin? Well, first of all, I greatly enjoyed how relevant some of the themes in the show felt. The show is 17 years old, yet the talk about internet addiction, net pals vs. real friends, the line between the real world and cyberspace, and the fact that the internet is a scary place are all just as relevant today as they were back then, if not more. I also liked the now quite rare genres of the show. Serial Experiments Lain is definitely cyberpunk, but it’s mainly psychological. Episode 5 in particular really showcased the psychological nature of the storytelling, and I really liked the fact that it genuinely terrified me. I also liked how the story ended. It wasn’t a very unique ending – people who’ve seen some of the more popular recent anime will be familiar with the tropes and type of the ending – but I personally happen to love stuff like that.
It wasn’t perfect, though. I have 3 main issues with the show: KIDS, Knights and Masami Eiri. The first was a total red herring(or maybe it patched one or two plot holes), the second were seemingly a red herring, or at least I never noticed them having any effect on the relevant parts of the story, and the third one was, in my opinion, sort of unnecessary. Sure, Masami Eiri as Lain’s creator makes sense, but did Lain really need a creator? To me it felt like he was just there to provide exposition(which I found annoying, because it took away some of the pleasant ambiguity without actually providing any definitive answers). And all of these elements provided no measurable conflict either. The KIDS plotline ended itself almost as soon as it started, the Knights were hilariously trivially eliminated and Masami Eiri just kind of… disappeared?
Oh, don’t tell me, they were all actually connected. KIDS was connected to the premise, because it was this program that made the kids kill themselves/each other, which got Lain interested in the Wired. Lain then finds out that the Knights were behind it, so she increases her presence in the Wired to hunt them down. When she finally finds them, she’s at the breaking point where she becomes aware of her own non-existence. Then Masami Eiri pops up and provides all the exposition. Lain then experiments with memory manipulation, until she finally realises that even though she was never alive, she’s now more existent than Masami Eiri, so she ends him and then resets everything. By embracing her conscious non-existence, she finally becomes consciously omnipresent.
Yeah, I guess that is a reasonable way of telling a story, but I’m not sure if it was necessary. I liked the more speculative storytelling from the first few episodes better. I don’t think the show really needed a tangible antagonist. Lain was enough. Though that’s not to say that all the other characters were meaningless. Mika is a wonderful target for the horror aspects of the show, Arisu is a great human counterpart to Lain(like Murano in Parasyte, for instance) especially during the “doki doki” scene in Episode 12, and the 3 kids(Taro et al.) feel like this invariant anchor point in the otherwise ever-changing world.
In conclusion, I think this series has noticable flaws. However, I still think it’s different enough from your usual fare to warrant watching. Also, the soundtrack is pretty great.
EDIT: A rewatch is probably warranted on my part at some point in the future, because I didn’t touch on everything, like Lain’s sister’s initially slow and later very quick descent into madness. I don’t think I missed anything of great importance, but I had a hard time trying to incorporate everything into this one post.