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Too Many Words about Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain is a very dense series, one


packed with provocative ideas and images. It is also very
confusing, and can be interpreted many ways. When I
watched it the first time, I came away intrigued, confused,
challenged -- but I did not feel cheated. It was clear that
there was an answer there, an underlying story being told,
but I was going to have to work for it.
It was on my third rewatching that I finally recognized the
story they were actually telling. I see the series as being
based on the fundamental Christian dogma. But before I
talk about that, a disclaimer: I am writing about an anime
series, not about a major religion in the world. Anything I
say about Christianity here will provoke objections from
some, and every such objectioon will be totally irrelevant
because they will be beside the point. What I will be
describing is how I think Christianity is perceived by the
series writers, and how they interpreted it for the series,
not about how Christians perceive their own religion. If
the two diverge it doesn't matter for purposes of this
discussion. (And I am not interested in hearing about
them unless and only unless they shed light on the events
portrayed in the series.)
I also want to make clear that though I am not a Christian,
I do not mean to belittle the religion with what I write
here. Again let me emphasize: I am writing about an
anime series, not about a religion. And though I am a
mechanistic atheist, the story being told in this series is
not explicable in mechanistic terms.
Having made that clear, the fundamental Christian dogma
as perceived which lays beneath this series is that God
created humans but could not really understand them.
God is flawless, whereas men are flawed sinners. So God
sent a part of Himself to Earth to live among humans, to
feel what they feel, to suffer what they suffer, to sin as
they do, to fully understand them. Then that human part
died and was resurrected, taking the burden of sin from all
humans onto Himself, so as to save all humans from their
burden of sin.
That's Lain. She's an aspect of God. They take some
liberties; it isn't an exact match to the Christian dogma.
Some of the liberties arise from the radically different
environments in which the stories were told. Jesus was
part of a bronze age tribe which had been conquered by
an iron age empire, whereas Lain lives in the age of
silicon. But some of the changes arise from deliberate
interpretations of the entire question of the godhead. From
whence does God come? Did God create Man, or did Man
create God? In Serial Experiments Lain, the answer to
both questions is "yes".
One particular part of the original Christian dogma they
do adapt surprisingly closely is the temptation which
appears in gospels of Matthew and Luke. 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.
A lot of what happens in this series seems inscrutable. It
lends itself to wildly divergent interpretations.
There are three particularly important reasons why the
series is confusing. The first is the omphalos problem.
There was a time when Creationism was scientifically
respectable, and when scientific orthodoxy believed in a
young, small universe. But as evidence began to pile up
that the world was much older than had been previously
believed, one attempt to save the "young earth" theory
was proposed in a book written in the 18th century
titled Omphalos (IIRC), the Greek word for "belly
button". The larger question was epitomized by the
question of whether Adam, the first Man, had a navel.
Adam had no mother; Adam was the direct creation of
God. Thus Adam was never born; there was no placenta
and no need for Adam to have a navel. Did he have one
nonetheless? Baroque painters usually ducked this issue
when they depicted Adam in their paintings by placing
objects in the way to obscure the view of that part of
Adam's anatomy.
The author of that book proposed that Adam did have a
navel. He proposed that there was a young earth which
carried within it evidence of older times which had not
happened, because God had created all that evidence at
the time He created the Heavens and the Earth in a six day
creation. Fossils were real, and so was all the geological
evidence of an old Earth, but none of it mattered because
God had created all that evidence at the time the Earth
appeared. It was all evidence of prior times which had
never really existed.
The author thought that he had found common ground
between the two sides in the young-Earth/old-Earth
argument. In fact, both sides rejected him. Old Earth
advocates thought it was rationalization and pointed out
that it was unfalsifiable; young Earth advocated rejected
the idea that God would promulgate what amounted to a
monumental lie.
A variation of that question also comes up in Serial
Experiments Lain. When, precisely, does time really
begin? At the end, Lain does an "all reset", which rewinds
everything back to zero. But zero is not billions of years
ago, zero turns out to be shortly before the moments we
see in the first episode. Everything which "happened"
before that was a created memory of events which did not
actually take place. In Serial Experiments Lain, Earth is
young, and is created with all the evidence in place of
times before the beginning which never actually
happened.
I do not truly know where exactly they think time actually
began, and which memories from before that were
created. The problem is that there's no way to know by
examining the logic of historical events. There's no easy
way to determine where the dividing line is to be found
between false manufactured history and true history. And
in one sense it may not matter. If the manufactured
history is consistent, then it "explains" events properly
even if it never happened.
Another problem is that Serial Experiments
Lain embraces teleology. Teleological thinking considers
the human mind to have primacy, and considers
our perception of reality to matter at least as much as
reality itself. To some extent, reality conforms to what we
believe it to be. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no
on there to hear it, it does not make a sound. In fact, it
may not even have actually fallen if no one ever sees
evidence that it did. (Think of this as a kind of impersonal
collectivized form of solipsism.)
The final problem is that a lot of what we are shown isn't
true. I don't mean that in the sense that Serial Experiments
Lain is fiction, I mean that in the sense that we see what
Lain sees, and she was being tempted by the "Father of
Lies". Much of what Eiri tells her is a fabrication, and
much of what she sees is false visions sent to her by dark
Lain (aka "Lain of the Wired"). One of the tricks in
understanding what is going on is to figure out what parts
of what Lain saw and was told were lies by Eiri and by
dark Lain. And again this is difficult, and subject to
dispute. I have my own opinions about what parts of it
were real and what parts of it were deceptions, but others
can and have come to other conclusions.
A good example of a deception is Yomada Chisu. In the
first few minutes of the first episode, she jumps from the
top of a building and dies. Then people start receiving
emails from her saying that she wasn't really dead. Lain is
among those recipients, and it is that which sets off the
sequence of events in the series. Lain also sees Chisu
several times after that. But was it really Chisu she was
seeing? Did Chisu actually survive and move into the
Wired?
I think that she did not. Chisu was lied to by Eiri and dark
Lain. When she died she thought she would move into the
Wired and continue to live, just as Eiri had, but she was
wrong. The emails sent to Lain actually came from the
wired, but it was dark Lain who sent them. When Lain
thought she saw Chisu, those visions were actually sent to
her by dark Lain.
Dark Lain is the reflection, the shadow, of Lain. Lain is
the "scattered god"; the godhead which existed in
fragments within the souls and minds of humans
everywhere. That is why everyone on some level knows
Lain; she is everywhere, a part of everyone. God created
all humans, and endowed each of them with a fragment of
Himself. God is present within everyone, and in some
Christian traditions, finding that connection to God is the
true essence of being "born again".
And because Lain is made of parts of all humans
everywhere, she partakes of all the characteristics of
humans everywhere. The scattered God had all of
humanity's virtues and all of its faults and flaws.
The writers extrapolated from that and gave it an
interesting technological spin. The Wired made possible
the creation of the true deus ex machina, the God in the
Machine. When the Wired reached a certain point, it
became possible to collect those fragments of the
scattered God together, making them coalesce into an
actual deity. Two competing projects were undertaken
simultaneously to do so, at cross purposes.
One was Eiri's, supported eventually by the Knights. Eiri
tried to make himself into God, with the Knights as his
worshippers. He did successfully shed his body and move
into the Wired, because he was able to manipulate
industry standards to make that possible for himself. He
was inspired to do so by dark Lain, or by the darker
aspects of the scattered God which appeared in the Wired
before Lain appeared in the real world.
The relationship between Eiri and dark Lain is an
interesting one which doesn't really quite map into the
Christian dogma. It's one of several ways in which the
writers took some liberties. Eiri cooperated with dark
Lain, and he thought he was using dark Lain. In fact, dark
Lain was using Eiri; dark Lain is the true spirit of evil.
Eiri was her most important dupe. She tempted him with
the power of the godhead; she seduced him with the idea
that he could attain ultimate power. In fact he was always
her tool, her "front man".
The other project was undertaken by other researchers at
Tachibana labs, and Lain was the result. With the
development of the Wired, it became possible for the
fragments of Lain to coalesce, especially when given
deliberate help. It is not correct to say that they "created"
Lain; rather, they helped Lain to appear, and they put her
into material form. My opinion is that they were inspired
to do this by God. Lain is the result of an immaculate
birth; she lives, but has no biological mother or father.
They took as much of Lain as they could gather from the
Wired and moved her into the real world. But they were
selective; they tried as much as possible to take all the
positive aspects of the scattered God. What was left
behind was dark Lain, who existed in the Wired only.
Lain could enter the Wired, but dark Lain could not leave
it.
That filtration was not perfect. Initially, Lain was not pure
good, and dark Lain was not pure evil. It was possible for
the darker aspects of Lain to come to the fore under
extreme provocation; we saw it happen twice. (Once was
in Cyberia when Lain talked to the kid with the gun; the
other was when Lain was challenged by the executive
from Tachibana Labs.)
As the series goes on, the two aspects of Lain polarize
more and more. As Lain comes into her power and as she
learns to love and learns to care she draws more light out
of Lain of the Wired, and Lain of the Wired becomes
more and more cruel and wicked. By the end, when Lain
and dark Lain meet in the void, the polarization is
complete.
Dark Lain only existed in the Wired, but dark Lain could
manipulate the perceptions and memories of others when
they visited the Wired, and even to some extent in the real
world. If everyone remembers seeing some event, did it
actually happen? In a sense the answer is "yes". So for
instance, dark Lain never was actually at Cyberia. But in
a sense she actually was, because she made everyone who
was there remember that she had been there. In that she
was aided by JJ, the DJ, who was a member of the
Knights. They were false memories, but if everyone has
consistent memories of an event that never happened,
perhaps it actually did happen after all.
Eiri was a pretender. The true struggle was for the
godhead which technology finally made possible. Eiri was
tempted to try for it himself, but in that he never really
had a chance.
Dark Lain coveted that power; she hoped to coopt Lain
and attain control over both the Wired and the real World.
The true struggle was between the two aspects of Lain
herself. Once the godhead coalesced, would it be
dominated by the light or dark aspects of the human soul?
Eiri helped dark Lain, though he did so because he
believed that it was he who would coopt that power and
gain the godhead. Dark Lain deceived him, and in a sense
he deceived himself. He was blinded by his arrogance and
his lust for power, and dark Lain was able to work
through him by taking advantage of his character flaws
and failings.
The second most important character in the series is Alice
("Arisu"). Alice was a true friend to Lain. Alice may have
been the only person to love Lain fully. There were others
who loved Lain, but they also feared her, and knew her
for what she was. Most notable among those was Karl, the
taller "man in black". Karl always loved Lain, but it was
worshipful love, love inextricably mixed with fear. But
that was because Karl recognized Lain, and knew her to
be the manifestation of the godhead.
Alice did not. To Alice, Lain was just a girl, a classmate.
And Alice's love was the reed on the shore which Lain
ultimately was able to use to pull herself from the torrent
to avoid drowning in the river of Eiri and dark Lain's lies
and deceptions. Alice's love was the reality which tested
their lies, and helped Lain recognize those lies for what
they were.
Alice loved Lain before she came to fear Lain. Alice is
kind and caring, but Alice is herself a sinner, as all
humans are. Her sin was to consumate forbidden love of a
teacher. Dark Lain recognized the danger that Alice
represented, and revealed Alice's sin to the world, while
making it seem to Alice and everyone else that Lain was
responsible.
Lain then tried to use her power to correct the problem.
She erased that knowledge from everyone except Alice
and Lain herself. That left Alice confused, and ultimately
frightened. She didn't understand what was happening.
She was the only one who remembered something which
no one else seemed to remember. Did it actually happen?
If an event is only remembered by one person, and not by
any of the others who would have witnessed it, did it
really happen? Whose memory is at fault?
Alice feared Lain, but in the end her love was stronger
than her fear. She went to Lain's house, and despite seeing
how the place had been vandalized, and running into
Mika in her insanity, Alice found and entered Lain's
bedroom. She reached out to Lain, in an act of altruistic
love. Alice was a sinner, a flawed human, but she showed
the best aspects of what we are or can be. Despite her fear
and uncertainty, she reached out. That was what saved
Lain.
Sadly, it did not save Alice. Lain used Alice and Alice's
love as an anchorage to moor herself in the maelstrom of
lies, and rejected them. She turned the tables on Eiri and
caused him to begin to doubt what he had previously
believed. Eiri manifested physically, as a monster, and
Lain defeated him and banished him. But in witnessing
these events, Alice went insane. She became catatonic.
That was the final straw on the burden of guilt Lain had
been carrying. It was too much; Lain could not bear to
cause such pain and suffering, and she concluded that it
was better that she not ever have lived than that she live
and harm so many so deeply. She reset the system and
extracted herself out of it the next time. She removed all
memories of her from the minds of those who had known
her. And for good measure, she rearranged things so that
the terrible things which had happened to those she'd
known were undone. But in so doing, in a very real sense
Lain herself died.
With no memories of her, had she ever really lived?
Arguably the answer is "no". In one sense this was death.
In a different sense it was retroactive non-life. She erased
all evidence that she had lived, and that meant she had not
actually lived.
But though she could erase all the memories in others, she
could not and did not erase her own memories. Lain, in
her two manifestations, was still the embodiment of all
the traits that make us human, whether positive or
negative, and Lain's final trial was to choose between
them. Dark Lain came to Lain, and tempted her one last
time, and Lain rejected dark Lain, and all that she stood
for.
That was her final purification. It was also her ultimate
death. She was totally alone; no one else knew that she
existed, or so she thought.
But because she was purified, she then "ascended into
heaven", and then returned to Earth.
In the end Lain surmounted all the challenges she faced,
and became the pure embodiment of love, the "child"
aspect of a loving God. Lain existed on the Earth and
helped the people there. Lain is love, and Lain is not
lonely as long as she has people to love. That they do not
necessarily know her or love her back is no longer
important to her. It is enough for Lain that she loves them.
Yet they do all know her. Even if they have no memories
of her, everyone will recognize her, because Lain exists in
everyone. Lain is everyone; she is all the good in the souls
of humans everywhere. Everyone knows Lain, and in
some way everyone loves Lain, and because of that Lain
is not lonely. She is with everyone, everywhere, all the
time.
That was why the grown Alice, honorably affianced to the
teacher, thought she recognized Lain. She had no
memories of the canceled sequence of events before the
master reset, but she still thought she knew Lain.
Serial Experiments Lain is a very rich and complex series,
which operates on many levels and contains many
provocative ideas. Religion is a central theme of the series
but it is not the only one. It also touches on questions of
teleology, of our perceptions of reality. But at its core, I
think it is a modern retelling of the fundamental Christian
dogma. Once I finally perceived the heavily-disguised
outlines of that dogma beneath the events of the series,
everything made a lot more sense to me.

A few random notes about specific events in the series as


I interpret them.
Why did Mika go insane? What happened to her? I think
that Mika was the target of a trial run, staged by the
Knights and by dark Lain, of certain kinds of deceptions
and memory manipulations which they later hoped to use
against Lain herself. And it worked against Mika, though
it did not work against Lain.
Before it began, the boy named Taro interrupted Mika and
asked her if he could "hit on her". Taro later admitted to
being a kind of associate of the Knights, though he wasn't
really a full member. I think that somehow or other he
was the one who set off the assault.
Most of the things we see happen to Mika don't really
reflect real events. Rather, they are false memories
implanted into Mika which eventually drove her insane.
Thus there was no replacement, no second Mika. Rather,
there was a memory of a second Mika implanted into the
first and only one, and an image of the second one sent to
the first.
When Lain finally met God, why did he look like Iwakura
Yasuo, her earthly father? Were they one and the same? I
don't think so. The meeting of Lain and God-the-father
(another aspect of God, according to the Christian dogma)
is presented to us in symbolic terms; what we see isn't
real. For Lain, Yasuo was the only father she knew, so
when she met God, her true father, that was what she saw.
Why did the wall between the Wired and the Real World
start to break down? To a great extent that was the result
of the revival of the KIDS system by the Knights. Using
dark Lain's power in the Wired, and the power collected
from children in the real world, they made a connection
between the two. But it wasn't enough. What they needed
was Lain's power in the real world, and that was why Eiri
and the Knights tried to seduce her.
Why did the Knights help Lain in the beginning? Why did
they give her a Psyche chip? They hoped to entangle her
with the Wired, subverting the original intent of the other
project. Lain was supposed to be the manifestation of the
godhead in the real world, but if she could be convinced
that the Wired was more important, and if she could be
taken over by dark Lain, then the unified godhead would
exist both in the Wired and the real world, and the barrier
would break down.
That was what dark Lain wanted. What the Knights
themselves, and Eiri wanted, isn't really important
because they had been deceived by dark Lain. They were
her tools, and they served her wishes because she
promised each of them what they wanted, even though
she had no intention of fulfilling those promises.
Did Lain commit any sins? Yes; she committed several, at
least one of which was profound. She gave into her anger
and resentment and cracked the Knights' records,
revealing their roster to the world. She did not realize that
this would then lead to their murders, but once it
happened she felt great guilt. She also gave into greed and
selfishness, and tried to use her power to force her friends
to love her.
But that is not inconsistent with the fundamental dogma.
Lain had to live as humans did, and feel everything that
humans felt, whether good or bad, in order to fulfil her
role as the embodiment of the godhead on Earth. To be
purified you must first be soiled. To truly understand
humans, you must live as one of them. And to save them,
you must save yourself. To relieve them of their burden of
sin, you must take all their sins upon yourself and suffer
the punishment those sins merit. Jesus suffered on the
cross; Lain suffered in the void. Jesus suffered physical
pain; Lain suffered the psychic pain of loneliness. Jesus
was killed by the Romans; Lain "killed" herself. And in
the end, both were purified, both ascended to the heavens
and met God, and according to the Christian dogma
eventually Jesus will return to Earth, and will save all
humans alive at that time. Lain actually did so in this
series.
Where the heck did Lain get all that equipment which we
ultimately see in her bedroom? That's not really a very
iimportant question, I think, but my answer is that the
Knights gave most of it to her. During the period when
she was building her super-system, she was also active
online and was friendly with the Knights, and I think
different ones among them offered her pieces of the
system she eventually built. (They also tossed in a
boobytrap which was later triggered once Lain turned on
them.)
The Christian mythos you describe doesn't agree with my
Christian beliefs. No doubt. Don't send me mail to tell me
about it unless it directly relates to helping to interpret the
events of this anime series. Remember that I was not
discussing Christianity, I was discussing the way that I
believe Christianity influenced this series.
How big is the world, actually? If there can be memories
of times before the creation, it is also possible that there
can be communications with and memories of places
outside of reality which don't actually exist.
There are subtle hints in the series that the city in which
Lain lives is the only place that actually exists. At one
point we see it from a distance. Everything which
"happens elsewhere" is edge effects, simulations created
by God to maintain the fiction of a larger world. Not only
is the world actually young, it is also very small.
If it pleases you to do so, think of this series as an
extended play session of the game Sim-God. That's not
really far from what I think is going on. Yet it is not that
simple, because Lain truly does exist within the world,
even though she has access to the controls which make
that world what it is.
What was going on in the scene in the street where Lain
and Eiri talked? The reason that scene seems confusing is
that Eiri was trying to trade bodies with Lain. The
discussion was a distraction, a way of keeping Lain
occupied. When Eiri spoke, his voice was distorted by
reverb; Lain's voice was not. And temporarily Eiri
actually did manage to trade bodies. Lain's voice began to
be distorted by reverb; Eiri's voice was not. And the
dialogue spoke by Lain was Eiri's, and Eiri in turn spoke
Lain's dialogue. Eiri's attempt failed, and Lain returned to
her body by the end of the conversation. I think that was
because Eiri found that even though he had switched
bodies, he did not gain Lain's power. So he abandoned the
attempt.
If Alice really loved Lain, why did she speak so harshly to
Lain in the classroom when Lain found her desk was
gone? That wasn't Alice. That was a vision sent to Lain
by dark Lain. Alice didn't really say those things; Lain
only thought she did.
Why did Yasuo initially encourage Lain to experience the
Wired, but later warn her against it? The Wired is part of
the human condition in that time and place. Yasuo was
the head researcher on the Lain project, and knew that it
was one of the things Lain needed to experience if the
project was to be a success. But when she seemed to be
getting sucked in to the Wired, it then represented a
threat. Lain needed to experience the Wired, but for the
project to be a success she had to remain firmly grounded
in the real world.
If Eiri, the Knights, and dark Lain all want Lain to die,
why didn't they just kill her? I think it's because they
cannot kill her. She can kill herself in any of several
ways, and ultimately she actually does do so, but they
can't kill her without her cooperation. What they need is
for her to kill herself in a fashion which grants them her
power. Eiri thinks he's going to get it, but in fact it would
go to dark Lain.
So what's with the space alien? I don't think that is real.
The supposed events at Area 51 take place before the
beginning of time, and the image of space aliens is part of
the human collective culture. That's really all there is to it.
In some cases when dark Lain was trying to affect people,
sending an image of a space alien to them was one way to
do it.
What about the doll, mask, and images of Lain's parents
that appeared in episode 5? None of those things actually
happened. Those were memories which dark Lain
implanted into Lain.

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