My Shifting Perception of Serial Experiments Lain

Lain is a series that I primarily remember for its mood. Lain is very dark and very lonely, and at one point that was something I could heavily relate to. Paranoia jumps out at you from the unnervingly large shadows, while Lain’s social ostracization leads to little dialogue and therefore little sense of safety. From the beginning it’s clear that Lain can’t really make human connections, and that leaves her feeling fairly depressed. This depression is reflected across the entire show, and it’s something that was once incredibly comforting.

Lain finds a home in the Wired, the show’s parallel to the internet, as it’s the only place she can feel comfortable. She has other selves there, versions of herself that act totally differently, and while that’s somewhat scary, it’s also liberating. The freedom to act as a different person can be amazing when you don’t like yourself much, and it’s a freedom that Lain quickly comes to value. There was a time where the internet offered me a similar sense of freedom, a time when I wasn’t that happy and was in need of an outlet.

For a decent part of my adolescence, primarily in middle school, I wanted to totally escape from the outside world. I didn’t want to die or anything, nor did I want to cease existing. What I desired was the freedom to act the way I really wanted to, and I wasn’t able to do that in the physical world. The internet served as a brief escape for me, somewhere I could always flee to when things became too intense for me in my daily life. There’s a lot of reasons for why I couldn’t stand the physical world in this period, but they aren’t really important. I just needed a way out at times, and the internet served that role for me.

Online I was free to act as I wished. Rather than the shy, nervous person I felt like back then, I could be confident and talkative. Online I could act older than I really was, being treated as I wanted. I could present myself in whatever way I wished, and I would be accepted for it. Of course, the internet was a cruel place, but I was willing to endure mockery online, because I could always easily escape it when necessary. The freedom of pseudo-anonymity was incredibly alluring to me, because it gave me a vital outlet.

This outlet led me to desire an escape into constant internet use. I skipped school whenever I could get away with it, and whenever I couldn’t get away with it, I would play games on my DS or do other things to distract me from the world at large. My few friendships were neither deep nor engaging, and I just didn’t care about anything other than games I played and the various forums I posted on. This attitude continued into early high school, and it’s here that I encountered Lain.

As soon as I watched the show, I began to idolize Lain. Like me, she behaved totally differently online, though she was able to totally escape her normal life. She had only one close friend and was bad at forming human connections. She felt like a version of myself who was able to take that next step, which made it very easy for me to invest myself in the show and her arc. I saw her as a reflection of all my anxieties and feelings, which helped make the show a very quick favorite.

Over time, I started to forge closer relationships again. I started finding people who I actually had interest in, people who I could actually relate to. These people served the same role that Alice served for Lain, though in my case it lead to a more positive outcome. I followed a similar path to Lain here, becoming more open and empathetic, though unlike her, this allowed me to live a happier life in the physical world. I still preferred using the internet, but for the first time since elementary school, I got real joy from spending time with my friends.

It’s a bit sad to say, but coming back to it, I’m not able to relate to Lain the way I used to be able to. For the most part that’s a good thing, as it’s linked to me being a happier person in general, but unfortunately that’s made it hard to feel the same emotional connection I used to with Lain. It’s still an interesting, prescient, and shockingly accurate anime that goes into some very interesting themes. The skill with which the show predicted how internet use would develop is honestly somewhat scary, and while identifiably from the 90s, it lacks the sense of comedic wrongness that lots of sci-fi from the period has. But while these things remain as true now as they did well over three years ago when I first watched it, the show’s greater narrative doesn’t feel the same anymore.

At this point, I’ve accepted that the internet is a vital part of my life. I wouldn’t be upset if someone told me that most of my life will be spent online; in fact, I’d be totally fine with that. I’m still an introvert who prefers to spend a lot of my time basking in the light of technology, and I doubt that’s going to change. But by accepting the internet as a natural part of my life, I stopped glorifying it as this amazing escape that could save me from all my troubles. By truly accepting that you can’t separate the internet or the physical world, by accepting that neither is more real than the other, I’ve ceased to see the internet as truly superior. As Lain shows, it might be part of the real world, but it isn’t its upper level, and it isn’t humanity’s next step. It’s merely another means of communication, even if it is a useful one.

I’ve made progress in merging the me of the internet with the physical me at this point. I’m still in the process of completing that transformation, but I’m much further along than I was back when I first watched Lain. I don’t need the internet in order to express myself, because I’ve started breaking down my fears of what will happen if I just do so in the physical world. It’s a slow process, one that I might never truly complete, but it’s a worthwhile one, and I’m happy that I’ve made it so far.

And fortunately enough, this shift has allowed me to see Lain from some new perspectives, and I’ve found it has just as much value as it used to. In the past I was not that happy with the ending, because it values the body more highly than I was able to at the time. Lain asserts that the body is just as vital as the mind, and its his lack of a body that leads to Eiri’s destruction once Lain stops believing in him. The internet is a new field, one that I value as a primary tool for communication, but I no longer have any desire to abandon my body to live within it. The body is a necessary part of human experience, and I’m happy I can finally agree with Lain on that.

Ultimately, your opinion on any show will be affected by your experiences in life. My experiences lead me to idolize Lain in the past, and while I’m not in the position to do so anymore, those experiences are still a part of me. At one point, Lain was something I saw as extremely important, and the fact that I’ve put myself in a better place doesn’t mean that I’ll forget that. I’m just happy that I can still find new value in Lain, even if it comes in a different form. Life is all about changes, and I don’t regret that the ones I’ve undergone have changed my perception of Lain.


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