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Serial Experiments Lain (1998)

Serial Experiments Lain Volume 3: Deus

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 72 minutes

UK Certificate: 12


Shy and awkward, 13-year old Lain suffers alienation at school, feels detached from her family at home, and has a strong sense that everything and everyone around her is fake – her only escape is in the Wired world, where she finds identity, empowerment, company, and something to believe in. All of which makes her not unlike so many other young teens – except that Lain is at the centre of a reality-warping conspiracy on such a vast scale that it is not even clear whether she is a dreamy girl, a young god, a clever piece of computer code, or a messianic bridge between two worlds. Imagine 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' adapted for the screen by Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, and directed by David Cronenberg and David Lynch in collaboration with a team of bi-polar animators on seriously heavy acid, and you will be somewhere near the apocalyptic cyberpunk weirdness of 'Serial Experiments Lain', a 13-part made-for-television animated series that astounds, perplexes and enthrals in equal measure.

Far from answering any of the numerous questions raised so far, Volume Three, which comprises episodes (or 'layers') eight to ten, ups the enigma ante even further, compounding mystery upon mystery. In 'Rumours', Lain is accused by her schoolmates of spying and spreading intimate rumours about them over the Wired, is informed by 'God' that she is merely a hologram of the other Lain in the Wired world, confronts herself in the Wired, and discovers that she can delete her friends' memory of her.

In the deeply disorienting 'Protocol' (my personal favourite 'layer' of the series so far), a 'documentary' (with real photographic images) which links the Roswell incident, the Manhattan project, experiments with sensory deprivation and drugs, and the development of different multimedia communication systems (including a worldwide wireless neural network created illicitly by one Masami Eiri, now deceased) is intercut with scenes in which Lain is visited by a grinning alien, discovers that Club Cyberia is not what it seems, has her first kiss, learns more about the Knights' quest for the One Truth, retrieves a memory of being introduced to her family by the men in black, and finally meets God face-to-face.

In 'Love', after Lain has an uncanny conversation with God wherein it is revealed that he is Masami Eiri's omnipresent and evolving residue on the Wired, worshipped by the Knights, Lain becomes invisible at school, receives an odd (and oddly moving) farewell from her father at home, and no sooner has she made enquiries about the Knights than their names have appeared across the Wired and they are all assassinated by men in black – one of whom declares his love for Lain, as in the end does God, too, while telling her that the other Lain is the real one.

Rich in dislocated detail, 'Serial Experiments Lain' defies ready summary (leave alone comprehension), but the strange beauty of its images, the dizzying inventiveness of its ideas, and the sense that some sort of explanation, however elusive, underlies all its surreal incidents, make the series addictively engrossing, even as it discomfits the viewer's grip on reality.

It's Got: Descendants of the Knights Templar, a grey alien (in a striped T-shirt), men in black, bizarre expositional sections (reminiscent of early Peter Greenaway mockumentaries), multiple Lains, memory-modifying chips, a real world that is resembling the Wired world more and more, rows of silhouettes each with only a single defined feature (be it eye, nose, ear or forearm), and God.

It Needs: A steady mind.

DVD Extras Choice of English or Japanese audio (each with optional English subtitles); elaborate episode and scene selection, plus short, eccentric live footage of Japanese girls appended to each episode; promotional trailers for the DVD, television, cd (featuring the title song duvet by Boa, who sound like Dido), and Playstation game; concept art (18 design stills); plus a suitably enigmatic (and very short) trailer for Lain entitled the weird. DVD Extras Rating: 5/10


The Wired really gets weird in this stunningly lysergic high-concept animé.