published in Empire No.79, Sydney
An early entry in the mass-teen-suicide-internet-conspiracy subgenre of anime is Lain - Serial Experiments. 8th grader Lain starts out as a withdrawn naive girl, still dressing in cutesy animal pyjamas. But once she is set up with a powerful computer, she connects online, and therein connects to the simmering sensitivity she had latently been experiencing in her everyday life. However Lain is less about such a plot trajectory as it is about slowly revealing the social and psychological world which ensnares Lain and – by symbolic inference – many Japanese youngsters.
The series unfolds in a manner not unlike a shy child telling a story in fragments and spurts. Sometimes the action appears lacking in confidence, but this is in keeping with Lain’s perceptual distrust of all that appears before her. Like the stereotypical dysfunctional youth, she ‘becomes alive’ once immersed in an alternative world of role-play and interaction. Yet the strength of the series is not the way it reports this, but the way it unravels the coded domain of her home life and school life. Indeed, both domains become progressively alien, and her parents start to resemble shell-like pop people from an inhuman realm – which in some senses is where this complex story ultimately heads.