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Serial Experiments Lain: A Reinterpretation

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Serial Experiments Lain is one of my favorite anime series of all time. I wrote a few posts about it on my old blog if you want to check them out: Serial Experiments Lain Review and Serial Experiments Lain Thematic Analysis. It feels like nobody ever talks about this anime anymore, which is perhaps understandable since it's a 90s anime. But I never get tired of thinking or writing about it. So I've put together a post that offers a reinterpretation of Serial Experiments Lain.


How The Anime Ended

First, let's review what happened at the end of the series and the events leading up to it. I'll keep it brief. Lain essentially accepted her identity as a godlike being. She met the God of the Wired, Eri, but she doesn't see him as a god nor take very kindly to him. Lain stops taking care of her physical body and spends all her time plugged up to the Wired dimension. One day, Alice/Arisu comes to visit Lain since she hasn't been coming to school. She's shocked to find Lain in such a state.

What follows is an emotional scene where Alice tries to convince Lain to take care of herself, telling her she's not simply a program. She proves that they both have beating hearts. Because of Alice's intervention, and the way she got up close and serious, Lain started to accept the idea that she had worth as a physical being. Unfortunately, that's when Eri decided to interfere and challenge Lain again. Eri was able to manifest himself in our world as a hideous monster. He attacked both Lain and Alice. Although Lain was able to defeat the monster with psychic powers, and neither girl was seriously injured, the attack left Alice traumatized and crying. Being attacked by a human is bad enough. Being attacked by a disgusting monster claiming to be God is probably much worse.

That's when Lain decided to use her powers to alter reality once again. Earlier in the series, she reset the memories of those at school so that they no longer thought badly of her or Alice. The scandal with Alice and the teacher essentially never happened. But this time, Lain was going to make a much bigger change than deleting some drama at school. She decided to delete herself, so to speak. What she did was erase her own identity and all traces of it in the human world. She still exists in the Wired, and can manifest herself in the human world at will for at least brief periods of time. But her family, her friends, and anyone involved in the conspiracy of the knights lost all memories of Lain. It's like she never existed.

Why did Lain need to go to such lengths? One possibility is that she couldn't think of a way to erase Alice's trauma without removing her own existence entirely. But I believe Lain could have found a way. Another explanation is that she feared that it would be painful and dangerous for Alice to keep being close to her. That's the option I believe is more accurate.

The series ends with Lain manifesting herself in her home city years later. She encounters an young adult version of Alice, who comes to say a brief hello. Interestingly, Alice seems to have the feeling that they've met somewhere before. Lain says this is their first time meeting. The adult Alice seems happy and is in a good romantic relationship now. As she's leaving, Alice says that maybe she'll run into Lain again someday. Lain smiles and watches her leave. She feels satisfied not only because Alice is doing so well, but because she now realizes they can see each other any time.


Reinterpretation: A Love Story?

Let me explain my main point. You can see that Alice is critically important to Lain. The most common interpretation is that Lain loves Alice platonically. For this post, my purpose is to reframe the series in the light of Lain's love being romantic. Please note that I won't even be mentioning sexuality or expecting some kind of touchy-feely "proof" of a relationship. Nothing like exists in Serial Experiments Lain, and if did, it would probably be inappropriate due to the characters' ages. It should go without saying that kids have their own romances too and they are not necessarily sexual. I think Lain is romantically attracted to Alice and has a crush on her. Now let's reframe the series in this light.

Despite having limited screen time compared to Lain, Alice is a hugely significant character. What's also significant is how she relates to Lain throughout the series, and how Lain responds. Early on, Alice is the only one in class who is warm and friendly toward Lain. She's also the first one to send Lain an email/text. Alice tries to get Lain involved with her little friend group, presumably because she can tell that Lain is lonely and wants to help.

Lain's responses are not always very telling, because she's naturally quiet, in addition to being unsure of how to express herself. But one key fact to remember is that Lain only got a computer after Alice recommended it. Before, she claimed to have never been interested in electronics. Similarly, she is rather antisocial-- but she went out of her comfort zone to go to Cyberia with the group because Alice invited her.

Speaking of the Cyberia club, let's talk about what happened there that night. A man on drugs, confusing reality and the Wired, fired a gun. He then appeared to recognize Lain, and was terrified of her. Lain was puzzled and probably afraid, but she approached slowly and told the man to stop. The insane shooter responded by ending his own life in front of Lain's eyes. Alice was the first to rush to over to Lain and check on her. While Lain was still basically in a state of shock, Alice went with her to the police station and stayed by her side through the questions. She comforted Lain by stroking her hair. The kind girl also made sure Lain had a ride home.

The next big thing that happened was the situation with the teacher. Alice had a crush on her teacher. There are many versions of Lain on the Wired, and one of them likes gossip. So she used the Wired dimension to spy on Alice having sexual fantasies about the teacher. Alice noticed she was being watched and was shocked and angry to see it was Lain. This version of Lain laughed at her and spread rumors all over the Wired. At school the next day, the Lain we know (the conscious human version) is accused of spying. Alice is extremely upset since now there are rumors all over school about her scandalous sexual fantasies.

Lain insisted she didn't do it, and was also terribly upset. It was the first time Alice wasn't being kind to her. Lain almost cries in front of everyone. Alice wants to believe that Lain is telling the truth; maybe it really wasn't her who spied on the conversation. Maybe she was mistaken about seeing Lain. But the doubt was still strong in her mind. Things would never be the same. This was too devastating for Lain, so she experimented with altering reality. It isn't clear exactly what she changed. Worst case scenario, she deleted the teacher's existence so there could never be any scandal. But I think all she did was delete everyone's memories of the sexual rumors and the other version of Lain.

The experiment was a success, and the friendship continued. It was like the "scandal" never happened. Take a moment to let all this sink in. Lain loved Alice enough to alter reality itself. It was so devastating to have Alice hate her that she didn't want to exist in the current reality. The scene in episode 8 where Lain is lying in bed with eyes wide open, dripping tears, was a response to this situation. The ruined relationship with Alice was even worse than all the other identity crises and strange conspiracies Lain was getting involved in. This is a little much for just a friendship. Lain probably had feelings for Alice. She may not have been conscious of them, however. All she was focused on was saving Alice.

Then we come to the most important interaction between the girls. Alice goes out of her way to come visit Lain, and finds her half dead and plugged up to the Wired. Although Alice is scared by the state Lain is in and the incomprehensible things Lain is saying, she stays put. She takes Lain hand an puts it up to her chest so she can feel her heartbeat. It's a very touching scene. For Lain in that moment, Alice must have been like an angel. The words and actions of Alice restored Lain's belief in her worth as a unique physical being. She started to appreciate her body again. It's possible that Lain would have spent more time with Alice after that, learning to be more social, and taking care of herself.

By rewriting reality and erasing her existence, Lain wasn't only saving Alice from her trauma. She was also giving up on her own existence. She had the potential to start having a good life as a human, hiding her unique powers and making friends. Lain's life was in no way hopeless, and Lain realized that thanks to Alice. But Lain still chose to give up her human existence. She literally loved Alice enough to sacrifice the potential her own life held. This was definitely an act of love.

The ending scene where Lain meets Alice was also important. It suggests that Lain was unsatisfied, but that meeting randomly with adult Alice brought her peace. The series ends with Lain smiling, which for me was a surprise. I was expecting a darker ending. It's likely that Lain kept loving Alice, even years after their experiences together. Meeting Alice again was the closure Lain needed. It also suggests they will meet again. Even if they can't have a friendship/relationship, they can still see each other. That's good enough for Lain. If you ask me, that's an incredibly altruistic form of love that goes deeper than the love a friend feels for another. While Alice's love is believable as "just friendship," Lain's love is not. It is not believable unless it was romantic in nature.


Closing Thoughts

Imagine Lain as a queer character. She is portrayed as a character who doesn't fit in. She she has unique powers and strange experiences. She is fundamentally different from other humans, and she's having trouble with her sense of identity. These aspects of Lain's character are similar to how we feel as social minorities. I have always argued that Lain's character is analogous to the experiences of a person with mental illness. As someone who is mentally ill, I know. The world is strange and foreign. But I also think you can see parallels to the experiences of a person in the LGBT+ community. (I am in this category too, as a pansexual enby.) We also feel isolated and left out, and we have experiences that make us different from cis-heteronormative people. Lain could easily be interpreted as a young lesbian or bisexual girl.

I've said a lot about my reinterpretation, but I also need to say that I understand the difference between reinterpretation and the intent of the story-makers. I'm aware that the writer/creator of Serial Experiments Lain did not intentionally write Lain as a queer character. Similarly, the story was not written in a way that confirms Lain's feelings as romantic love. I do understand that much. However, just because someone didn't intend to write a young LGBT+ love story doesn't mean I can't enjoy it as such. For me, it's fun and interesting to reinterpret it this way.

That wraps up my post for today. I hope you enjoyed thinking about this different way of seeing Serial Experiments Lain. Thanks so much for reading, and I'll see you next time!

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