Remembering Love: The Notions Of Reality And The Internet In Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain The Wired

For the last post in the Remembering Love series we go back to the 90s to look at Serial Experiments Lain – a series that raised the intellectual bar to standards no other series quite ever managed to match. It made bold statements about religion, the way people interact with each other in postmodern society and the internet-based future we were headed to. In a way Serial Experiments Lain predicted the future with a frightening degree of accuracy. But before I delve into the series itself let’s put things in historical perspective. The year is 1995. A strange show called Neon Genesis Evangelion airs on TV and attracts casual viewers to watch anime for the first time. It looked and felt new, not because of the mundane robot battles (which you could find in other series) but because it had some intellectual depth in it. When Serial Experiments Lain came out in 1998 people were already eagerly waiting for a new intellectually-inspiring anime. But Lain wasn’t your typical “defend the earth and defeat the evil overlord” anime. It was weird, it was surreal; and it started by showing a young girl committing suicide by jumping off a building.

I think, therefor I am Lain

I was attracted to Serial Experiments Lain because the series arouses deep thought and encourages you to think outside the box. Or perhaps it would be better to say that in this particular series there exists no box. There was something scary about the way in which Serial Experiments Lain portrayed normality, because nothing was absolute in the “normality” it showed. While the series focused on a middle school girl called Iwakura Lain it soon transpired that the world surrounding Lain – her friends, her family and even her city – might all be lies. At some point Lain even discovers that she is not the only Lain – even she might be a lie or have a different identity than what she believes. René Descartes once declared “I think, therefore I am” and Serial Experiments Lain clings to this belief for dear life. As Lain discovers that there are some who know more about her than she does the only thing she understands for certain is that because she can think and believe in her own existence she must exist somehow. This desperate assertion of reality might seem convoluted at first, but one might say it is the basis for modern atheist belief: since atheists do not believe in god they must, at the very least, believe in their own existence. As Serial Experiments Lain progresses things that should be stable, that are taken for granted, change. For example, the city in which Lain lives in changes its appearance. At times Lain’s house is tidied up in a way that makes you doubt if people are actually living in it. Shadows seem to have physical substance in Lain’s world while some humans are almost reduced to the level of mere shadows.

Serial Experiments Lain Shadows

Shadows (or perhaps bits of information from The Wired) creeping into the physical world.


Reality is Man-made

There is one important rule that guides the world of Serial Experiments Lain: if people didn’t see something it may not have happened. For example, if someone stole something but nobody saw him do it or noticed the absence of the thing which he stole than it’s as if he never stole it in the first place. This means that by deleting information (on the internet) or making people forget something they saw you can effectively alter reality. Serial Experiments Lain had a very atheist view on life and extended the rule above to encompass the existence of god as well. Basically, as plain as it may sound, god only exists if people believe he/she/it does. If everyone decides to forget about their current god and adopt a new one then the old god would disappear in favor of the new one. It’s as simple as that. I’m sure religious people will have a problem relating to such an idea, but by the logic of the series this meant that the existence of an omnipotent god is questionable. Furthermore it hinted that a human can become god if enough people believe he/she is one. I remember myself being utterly fascinated by these notion. Here I am, watching an animated series that offers more food for thought than any other article or book I have ever read (at that point in my life) about god.

Serial Experiments Lain Computer Room

Lain becomes more and more concerned with The Wired


In The Wired we trust

The only absolute thing in Lain’s world was the existence of The Wired – an advanced (yet in some forms archaic) type of internet. Everyone uses The Wired to communicate, exchange information and build their alter-ego persona. When Serial Experiments Lain debuted in 1998 the (real) internet was still partly in the realm of science fiction. It was new, undeveloped and cumbersome. As a result When Nakamura Ryuutarou, Yoshitoshi ABe and Kishida Takahiro set out to create The Wired they tried to predict, according to their world views, how the internet will turn out to be in the near future. Some of these predictions came true in the most eerie of ways. For instance, in one of the episodes Lain’s father is seen participating in a conversation via an online chat room. To do so he had to line up several computer monitors before him. I’m sure this depiction of “human interaction” via chat rooms made people laugh in the 90s. But while most of us are still not using more than one or two monitors at a time we have pretty much enslaved ourselves to chat and community websites in much the same way as Lain’s father uses them. In Serial Experiments Lain The Wired plays a bigger role than just being the internet. It is suggested that The Wired, which offers a non-physical form for people to exist in, is where our souls actually reside. Think of the movie The Matrix, in which people were unaware that they are in fact connected to an interface in the real world and live a fake life in the computerized matrix world. Now flip it over: our souls live in the computerized world that is The Wired (the internet) while we are mistakenly assuming that we have physical bodies and that those physical bodies reside in the real world. In this respect Serial Experiments Lain was similar to movies like Ghost in The Shell that suggested the human soul can be freed of the body and maintained inside the internet. The big difference is that, as Serial Experiments Lain would have it, our souls existed in The Wired even before we knew The Wired existed. Living in the internet is in fact the highest level of awareness we can achieve and using our alter-ego online is no less than a spiritual activity. Lain came to understand this and felt her internet self is more real and more empowered than her physical self. When you think about it we do tend to spend an ever increasing amount of time on the internet. Our lives are becoming more and more entangled with it. The day in which we will be forced to always stay connected to the internet might not be so far away as we think.


Previous posts in the Remembering Love Series:

Aria and the Importance of Relaxation
Streching Artistic Boundaries in ef – A Tale of Memories

Adult Themes in Digimon Adventure 02


Other participants in the Remembering Love Series (Week 4):

Deluscar: Gintama and the Art of Zura

Related posts:

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  • Kai

    I watched this anime a long time ago, and it’s philosophical themes are interesting. Now that when I think about it, it is kinda scary how accurate it depicts future (now) internet. The wired can be used to meet up with other people, exchanging information, while all the time, using an alter-ego persona. Sounds quite familiar indeed..

  • Malcolm McLean

    Bought the dvds back when they were released in the states, re-watching the series again today. Finding the intellectual quality of the show hasn’t diminished a bit. Yes it has doses of inadvertent cyberpunk and technology that are still in the realm of science-fantasy; however, there are far more parts that resonate with me as incredibly familiar. Chillingly so in some parts.

    Lain stands the test of time of relevance in a world ever increasingly technological. That in itself is one of the reasons this series is so amazing.

  • Seraph

    Many, if not most would disagree with your interpretation that Serial Experiments Lain is atheistic in philosophical themes. In fact, most commentators, including some really huge essays about the themes of the anime, point directly at the anime being a Biblical allegory, where Lain represents Jesus, while the Eiri represents the anti Christ, a false arrogant person who claims to be God but really isn’t God. Both he and Dark Lain constantly tempt Lain into decisions, which she ultimately rejects. They supported the notion(taught in Eastern religions) that the physical body is nothing but a flawed aspect that should be cast away. Lain rejects this, and supports the idea that Lain actually confronts God in the end of the series(no joke, watch layer 13 again carefully), who seems to take the form of Lain’s earthly Father, which is likely not a coincidence, as he would be representing “The Father”. Her final discussion with him about how she loved humans (after living with them) is insanely similar to Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, where he pleaded to God.

    Lain’s Dad: “Lain you don’t need to wear such a thing anymore.” (referring to her bear suit)
    Lain: “Dad, do you know?”
    Lain’s Dad: “What?”
    Lain: “I…everyone…”
    Lain’s Dad: “You love everyone? Isn’t that right?”
    Lain: (shakes head and cries)
    Lain’s Dad: “Lain, next time I’ll prepare a good tea. And a madeleine. Certainly that would taste good.”

    Both characters were born in the world of man, to experience life as Humans, to understand and suffer with them. Both wanted to live with humans, and wanted to live with them forever. Both knew that for the betterment of humanity, they had to die. Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified, while Lain deleted herself.

    Also, you misunderstand some parts of the anime. Lain did exist, in a way. While no one knew her anymore after she restarted everything near the end(as the *true* god of the Wired), and thus you could question if she truly does exist, it is shown that she indeed does, and acts as a “Guardian Angel” of sorts, and eventually returning to mankind, as Christ will eventually will( The Second Coming). Both she and the Wired are shown at the end to exist *beyond* the naturalistic physical world we live in. As we see at the end, Lain, the true God literally resets time itself. Also, Lain didn’t *think* herself into the God of the Wired, she was the God of the Wired all along, from the very beginning. The person who wasn’t God of the Wired was Eiri, who was a computer programmer who implemented himself and some changed into the Wired, in an attempt to become “God”. He is much like Satan/Anti-Christ, a created being that arrogantly attempts to seize godhood. Both thought themselves God, and both are thrown down by the True God, Lain/Jesus. In fact, Eiri tempts Lain over and over again in the series, much how Satan tempted Christ.

    Lets look at the Gospels
    Matthew 4:1-10:
    1: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
    2: And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.
    3: And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
    4: But he answered, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
    5: Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple,
    6: and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
    7: Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”
    8: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;
    9: and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
    10: Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

    All three of those temptations appear in modified form in Serial Experiments Lain. The temptation of the loaves isn’t about physical hunger, it’s about spiritual hunger. Lain is tempted not to use her power to make food, but to use her power to make friends.

    The temptation of jumping from the temple also appears in modified form. Eiri tempts Lain to commit suicide, as Yomada Chisa did at the beginning of the first episode. It’s not that angels will save her, as that she won’t need to be saved, since Eiri tries to convince her that she doesn’t need a body. Eiri also tries to convince Lain to worship him.

    This is just merely a few small parts segment of the parallels between SEL and Christianity. I honestly couldn’t believe how in-depth some of the essays I’ve read on it are, and how many parts of the series are so close, if not screaming “Christianity parallel” are. No one knows for sure the true answer of the series, as the creators *wanted* us to come up with our own subjective conclusions. Its not that my(and many of the commentators) interpretations are right, and yours are wrong, or vice versa. Thing is to not make an absolute claim that the series conveniently fits your ideas on God and existence. For all we know, virtually everyone could be overthinking it all. Anime’s like SEL are unique, and bring discussion and ideas. People often interpret things to fit their own views, so if your an atheist, its normal to interpret the series as atheistic. Same with a Christian. Granted, one major essay I read on it about the parallels of SEL and the Bible was written by a self proclaimed mechanist atheist who referred to the main symbolism of the series to be “Christian Dogma”. Anyways, it was interesting ready our views nonetheless.

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