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Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series(TV) (1998)
Close the world. Open the next. Decades before the internet was something people carried around in their pockets, these words introduced anime fans to a surreal existence where computer monitors served as portals to brave new worlds. Serial Experiments: Lain and its deceptively "ordinary" title character redefined an entire generation's concept of the world wide web, prompting us all to suspiciously take note of humming power lines and central processing units. Follow along as fourteen year old Lain - driven by the abrupt suicide of a classmate - logs on to the Wired and promptly loses herself in a twisted mass of hallucinations, memories, and interconnected-psyches. Close the World. Open the Next. It's as simple as the flip of a switch.
For more about Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series and the Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 30, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kaori Shimizu, Shō Hayami
Director: Ryűtar˘ Nakamura
» See full cast & crew
Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray Review
An all time classic is causing quite an internet stir.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 30, 2012
Even those not especially well tuned in to anagrams have probably noticed that "weird" and "wired" share the same letters, only slightly rearranged. That little bit of orthographical synchronicity rather nicely sums up Serial Experiments Lain, certainly one of the weirdest anime of all time, and one which exploits a virtual world known as the Wired, which for all intents and purposes boils down to our very own internet. The press sheet accompanying this handsomely packaged new set from Funimation Entertainment claims that Serial Experiments Lain "inspired" The Matrix, but lovers of cult television flops may wonder if perhaps Serial Experiments Lain was itself "inspired" by the little remembered 1995 series VR5, which saw star Lori Singer as a telephone engineer lapsing in and out of various realities, with the viewer never quite sure what was actually happening and what was simply part of some mysterious virtual world. Much the same thing happens to the heroine of Serial Experiments Lain, a young schoolgirl named Lain Iwakura who, as the series opens, finds herself a bit taken aback to receive an email from a classmate who has supposedly committed suicide the week before. (There's an awful lot of "inspiration" going around, for lovers of cult film flops may recall something very similar happening in the 2006 thriller Pulse.) Serial Experiments Lain is one of the most intentionally intellectually dense pieces of anime ever produced, one which doesn't shirk from exploring, at least tangentially in some cases, some very thorny philosophical and even epistemological questions. As such, this is not typical "popcorn fare", and in fact requires a certain level of concentration to begin to ferret out what exactly is being hinted at, sometimes quite obliquely.
Lain is revealed to be a sweet if perhaps overly passive (in her pre-Wired version, anyway) young girl in the opening few episodes. She's surrounded by family members who are dysfunctional at best, including her typically dyspeptic (if bored beyond tears) teenage sister Mika, her oblivious mother (who dotes on Mika but usually ignores Lain) and her computer obsessed father, whose few interactions with his younger daughter revolve around updating her operating system. Lain also doesn't seem to be particularly popular at school, though she does have a small coterie of friends, many of whom have also received the mysterious emails from the supposedly deceased classmate.
Once Lain accepts the quasi-invitation to enter the Wired courtesy of her ostensibly dead classmate, Serial Experiments Lain begins its phenomenally trippy ride through a number of alternate realities, and, ultimately, alternate versions of Lain herself. The viewer is consistently kept off kilter by what is happening where, something intentionally exacerbated by a non-linear approach to the story as well as a lot of onscreen data in the form of textual information that is presented as graphics and visual representations of things like online chat boards. As the series progresses, what rather fuzzy lines there ever were between the "real" world and the Wired are blurred to the point where they basically don't exist any more, which brings about one of the series' central plot points: who exactly is Lain, and what exactly is happening to (or perhaps because of) her?
Serial Experiments Lain is easily one of the most consistently thought provoking anime ever produced, one which deals with issues of identity and community in a "wired" world, and one which actually also touches upon some deeper issues of what exactly it means to be a human in a world so overrun with technology. The series does have a tendency to engage in perhaps a bit too much psychobabble and technospeak, and there's absolutely no doubt that the intentionally oblique storytelling methods often lead to confusion and consternation, which is also obviously intentional. This is one of the few anime that never, ever dumbs down its content for the lowest common denominator, and in fact insists in its own hallucinatory way that the viewer rise up to its level of "vibration," a la the physical phenomenon of entrainment.
The series may not be overt enough (for want of a better term) to please some viewers, especially in the show's endgame, when Lain's "true" identity (or should that be identities) begins to be dealt with (though again from an awfully discursive perspective). This is one of those shows where the hero or heroine turns out to be a perhaps unwitting fulcrum around which everything pivots, and in that aspect at least Serial Experiments Lain may seem less convincing than it typically has been. Serial Experiments Lain is fascinating in that it is at once hyper- intellectual but so viscerally weird (and wired, one might add) that it almost short circuits the rational mind and delivers a veritable gut punch to some deeper, intuitive level of awareness. This anime is one that will provoke considerable thought after having viewed it, but as one watches it, it must almost be felt to be understood.
Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
There has been a lot of online chatter (appropriate, given Serial Experiments Lain's setting) about Serial Experiments Lain's AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.41:1 courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment. Most of the alarmist postings have dealt with the quite noticeable banding that is especially prevalent in the series' opening few episodes, but I wonder how many of the folks virtually screaming and yelling about the issue bothered to look in the accompanying "commentary" booklet, where it's quite unabashedly mentioned in a conversation between Ueda and Saito, specifically with regard to the first episode, which has been one of the prime examples that disappointed fans have been disparaging rather vociferously since receiving their sets. The bottom line is this: the banding has always been an issue with Serial Experiments Lain. Should it have been dealt with more aggressively here? Probably. The one thing that very few people are seeming to realize is one of the reasons the banding is so much more evident in this new transfer is that this is quite noticeably brighter than either the Japanese set or the previous DVDs. This also affects black levels, which are pretty inconsistent throughout this presentation. Quite often blacks look almost like they have a milky or even purplish overlay on top of them, and yet at other times (like Lain's hair in the closing credits sequence) they're exceptionally solid and deep. My personal opinion of this set, taken as a whole, is that it is certainly a quantum leap forward from the DVD set (which frankly isn't saying much), and is often comparable to the Japanese Blu-ray set in terms of sharpness and clarity, which, banding aside, is commendable. Colors are nicely saturated and line detail, which has been a problem in previous releases, looks very stable. The brightness issue is really my biggest concern, and I have no facile explanation as to how or why it's happened, especially since it seems to be a passing situation in any given episode.
Note: It should be mentioned that some of the online chatter is devoted to the fact that the first BD, which contains episodes 1 thru 9, is a BD-50, while the second BD, containing episodes 10 thru 13, is a BD-25 (our specs can't accommodate this anomaly, hence the listing above showing only BD-50). Some feel that the episodes have been "crammed" onto the discs, but that's simply not the case. The first disc runs about 3 and a half hours, far less than a BD- 50 can accommodate at a more than amply decent bitrate, and the second disc is barely an hour and a half, again well within the capabilities of a BD-25. Whatever issues this set has is not due to the amount of content on the discs, at least in my considered opinion. Would things have improved had we been given, say, six episodes on one disc and seven on another, both on BD-50s? Maybe, but I think you'd be hard pressed to make a really serious case that quality would have been improved dramatically by such an approach.
Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Serial Experiments Lain features two Dolby TrueHD 2.0 audio options, one with the original Japanese track and one with an English dub. The Japanese track sounds strangely tinny to my ears, overly boxy and not as full bodied as one might hope for. The English dub, by comparison, boasts much stronger amplitude and overall full bodied sound. Voice work on both languages is excellent, and the really fantastic opening and closing themes sound great on both mixes. The English language track offers sterling fidelity and good dynamic range.
Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This is something of a deluxe set from FUNimation, coming in a slipcase and containing both a smaller booklet with episode commentaries between Saito and Ueda, as well as emails from Saito, and a much larger book full of key art. The on disc supplements include:
Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Serial Experiments Lain is one of the higher profile domestic anime releases of the year. This is a much beloved series and has only been available on Blu-ray via a very spendy Japanese import up to now. That fact may at least partially help to explain the rather astoundingly hyperbolic reaction some viewers have had regarding the banding issue, but my personal opinion is that this is at least a bit of an overreaction. The banding is evident on the Japanese release as wellŚ not as much, due to the brightness issue, but it's there, so I'm kind of surprised at all the fuss. And from my studied review of the entire series, it's really an issue in the opening few episodes for some reason, therefore largely absent from many if not most of the subsequent episodes. I personally am more bothered by the brightness issue, which seriously affects some of the black levels, although not consistently. All of this said, the general image quality is excellent, with great clarity, good and stable line detail and very nicely saturated colors. The on-disc supplements are a little on the slight side, but this handsomely packaged set comes with two great pieces of printed matter. Taken as a whole, and with certain caveats noted, Serial Experiments Lain comes Recommended.
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