I just now got around to watching this, in the year of our lord 2022, but it is a period piece, set in an AU in the year of its release, 1998. This is going to be my thoughts on the piece as a whole, and will contain spoilers for everything, not just the anime, but also the PSX video game, because once I watched the anime I found the ending to be very unsatisfying and researched why, given how good the rest of the series was, and the reason was that it was meant to be a companion to a video game from the PSX. Both were meant to be consumed together and make one cohesive story, they were developed at the same time by the same team, etc. And it makes perfect sense together, but not really when taken seperately.
This is unfortunate, because I am an American and speak English exclusively, and the video game was never officially translated into English. However, fear not! Because the fans have picked up the slack and English fantranslations are now avalible!
I really enjoyed the experience of consuming this media, both the show and the game, and highly reccomend it. I can't believe it took me this long to watch it. This is not some obscure lost media, this is a franchise with a huge following that is widely considered a cult classic. I just never got around to it, and I cheated myself. If you have the time or inclination I heartily reccomend it, it's avalible on Youtube, and the game has been remade into a browser game with horrible controls that you can get used to if you leave the page with the keyboard controls open in another tab, both of which I will link at the end of this review.
I reccomend doing it the way I did it, and I watching the anime first. The game recontextualizes things in a way that I beleive makes the experience much better doing it this way, but chronologically the game comes first. However, the game was also released second, so it's likely that the intended consumption method was to watch the show and then play the game.
This is an Alternative Universe to our own, and it is set up nicely, with the differences being shown over the course of the character's lives. The main difference is how human communication is handled. In Lain, the dial-up internet from our world at the time is replaced with a very similar information sharing network called "the wire", which is paradoxically meant to be wireless, but currently runs along telephone and electrical wires. The plan is to use the Earth's own magnetic field to transfer information along the ELF band, which does not sync up with human brainwaves, but this series thinks it does and it's sci-fi so you have to suspend your disbelief because it's cartoon science. This would allow one to connect to the internet just using the human brain waves instead of, you know, a computer or phone or whatever. This sounds dumb as hell because you can't just cut off the connection so I don't know how you would make money on it, and a character actually asks someone from the wired company about this and no answer is given, so it is implied to have some kind of sinister reasoning rather than a monetary one.
This one, the blond one, asks what we're all thinking, and no answer is given and then his head explodes via his google glasses. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The second big difference is that nobody seems legally obligated to watch their kids or give any kind of shit about kids, as a society, in any way. Like there don't seem to be child neglect laws. They let 14-year-olds into nightclubs where drug deals and mass shootings routeinly happen. But other than that it doesn't seem to be a lawless society. So it's really strange. Those are the two main differences that I remember would warrant knowing.
For 1998, the wired is shockingly similar to what the internet would later become, which is something I always like with SciFi. It holds up. They got it almost exactly right, it's neat. Even the switch to wireless, even though obviously their science is off and that isn't how any of that works, you could concievably use the ELF band to transmit energy and data, Tesla wanted to do that back in the day for free electrictiy and even built working prototypes, but a banker and Tommy Edison fucked us as a society out of that, true story, look it up, so it's close enough for government work. If they had made it an implant you had to get instead of just brainwaves it actually would have made perfect sense.
And guess what! Hackers did do that! They made an implant that lets you pick up on the wired without the need for peripherials like touchscreens, mice, or keyboards, and the actual setup looks very much like VR goggles, or Google Glasses, so once again, they got it almost exactly right! It's so good!
Look at that! In 1998! It's so good!
So the worldbuilding is amazing, love it, cannot get enough of it.
However, our story is about a middle school girl named Lain, and the characterization is also really well done. Our story begins with one of Lain's classmates committing suicide by jumping off a tall building in front a couple who are trying to make out. That's how the story opens. It lets you know exactly what kind of show it is going in. The couple is traumatized, but... we'll get to it later but the game recontextualizes this. The game recontextualizes a lot of stuff.
The kids at the school are obviously pretty freaked out about this, as anyone would be; their trauma responses are pretty accurate and it's handled well, but it gets even worse when someone starts sending them messages from the late classmate's email. These messages tell them that she didn't really die, she just shed her mortal human body. And they should do it too.
Everyone thinks this is a particularly nasty troll who should be ashamed of themselves and are really upset about it. It's in such poor taste as to be almost inconcievable. One girl is bawling her eyes out while the others comfort her, she's so upset.
Lain, however, hasn't checked her email in so long a time as to be considered weird by her classmates and doesn't know this is going on, which makes sense based on what we'll know later. She has a computer (the brand is NAVI, and this particular brand seems to be the most popular in this universe) that isn't even set up, so she has her dad come and set it up for her so she can check the email and see if she got the creepy troll message. Because peer pressure.
She did, but for some reason that is not yet explained, she believes it, she truly thinks that this girl only killed her mortal body, and uploaded her conciousness onto the wired and is living in cyberspace as a piece of software. This really interests her, so she asks her dad for a new, better computer, and he thinks that she wants it for like, you know, school and video games and making a 1998 html site or whatever, not to research how to become software, because he's a regular human person, so he gets it for her and sets it up and everything.
Meanwhile, Lain's friends want her to go to a nightclub with them- and again, they are 8th graders, no mention of fake IDs or anything, just go to a nightclub, as 8th graders. It's a normal nightclub, with techno music and raver drugs and drinking, it's not a kid's nightclub or anything. It's really weird and one of those things that you have to suspend your disbelief for because no one thinks this is weird, so I looked it up and in 1998 in Japan in the real world, they totally carded at nightclubs, drinking age is 20, admission age to nightclubs is 20, so in this AU they just... don't card people. It might be that this club in particular, Cyberia, doesn't card people, because this is the only one they go to, and every so often you'll get a dive that just does nothing until they get caught in our world, but it's weird how easy it is.
So she gets there and her friends tell her that she's not dressed for clubbing because she wore like, a maxi skirt and a sweater and they're right, she'll sweat like a pig and trip in that, it's not good dancing clothes, but Lain doesn't seem to want to dance anyway, it very much reads like she only came out because she was peer pressured into it. And the reason that she was peer pressured into it is because her friends thought that she went there all the time anyway, because they saw someone who looked like her there before. In addittion to that, she runs into another group of straight-up children in this nightclub who have also seen her there, but she has absolutely no memory of ever going dancing in this place in her life. The boy child she meets tells her that he has not only seen her in the club, but in the Wired. Which she also has no memory of. So she's getting pretty freaked out because she thinks there has to be a doppleganger running around.
In this universe there's a stimulant drug that is exclusive to this universe but when it breaks down what it is, it's literally like... every other stimulant on the market, there's nothing special about it so I don't know if this is a censorship thing and they couldn't have somebody just doing cocaine or whatever on TV- because Japan is weird about drugs, they're even weirder about them than we are here in the states, but there is a guy who is coked up on not-coke who brought a gun to the club to do a mass shooting.
So when he starts shooting, of course everyone is freaking out, but Lain went freeze with the 'fight flight or freeze' and is just standing there, so her friend Alice runs back to her to try to get her to, you know, run away.
But she absolutely cannot get her to budge, Lain seems to be in shock and completely unable to do anything, even when the guy points the gun right at her. Now, apparently the reason the guy is going after Lain specifically, is because he, too, was in the club the previous night, getting high on this new drug, and then while high he bumped into this doppleganger of Lain that everyone is seeing and she got mad about it. That is a very stupid reason to shoot up a club. This is a grown ass man and the doppleganger is a child, just like Lain is.
Lain seems to snap out of her stupor, and begins walking toward the shooter, which of course Alice keeps telling her not to do, but Lain walks up to him, tells him that everyone, all people, are connected, and for some reason this makes the guy shoot himself dead.
This is actually treated as a traumatic experience for all these middle schoolers, we see them talking about it the next day and accurately describing distancing, disassociation, and psychological shock. I was a little amazed at how well-done it was. They even talk about feeling negative emotions for being emotionally stunted (from the shock reflex). It's just really well done, really accurate representation for how trauma works when no one deals with it. I don't think they ever do work through it, they just surpress it. I mean, obviously not a good example for children who experience trauma, but it's not a kid's show meant to teach how to build healthy coping mechanisms, it's made for adults.
But the reason I like this is because it is actually really rare in my experience to see this kind of accuracy. Normally, kids this age who experience trauma, even in media for adults, do not react appropriately, they don't go into shock, they display these just... buckwild symptoms that aren't real, like I discussed in my review of Life Is Strange. This lack of accurate representation and instead just making shit up is dangerous if it's all we see in media, because that bleeds into the zeitgeist and has real-world consequences that lead real people, including those like police officers, to think that the media lie is reality, because it's all they see, and then when people display real signs of trauma, to not believe them, because they aren't acting the way they think a trauma survivor "should" act. This is a major problem and a lot of psychologists have spoken out about it, the APA has even released documentation about how to properly represent this kind of thing in media, but it has gone largely ignored. But I see this, and I'll tell you that if they could do it in 1998, there's no excuse to still be having this problem in 2022.
So because no one is going to work through this trauma and they're all in a developmental stage called adolescent egocentrism that is characterized by a lack of brain mylenation to the prefrontal cortex that leaves them at-risk for risk-taking behavior and LITERALLY NO ONE IS WATCHING THEIR KIDS IN THIS UNIVERSE, I'll be goddamned if they don't just keep going back to this nightclub. Lain's parents don't even pick her up from the police station where she's being questioned about the shooting. The amount of child neglect in this show is just... I mean it's meant to be depressing. It's meant to be sad, the whole show has this meloncholy atmosphere, it's not a feel good show, so when I say that I reccomend it, I do want you to know that it's not for everyone. This is a depressing show. I mostly like it for how accurate it is, rather than because it makes me feel good to watch. I like horror and whatnot as well, so media is not an escape for me, if it is for you, this is not the show for you. But they don't even pick her up from the police station. The police have to take her to her house and let her in all alone. Which, here in the states we would not do. Just to be clear, if your child is being held for questioning and we can't get up with any legal guardians we don't just release them, we hold them in child protective services until we can find the guardian, and then they're going to have to answer some questions about child neglect, about why their kid was in a nightclub, why we couldn't reach a guardian, those kinds of things. We don't just take them to their house, say, "Do you have a key?" and then drive away. If the cops can't find a guardian they're assigned a social worker/child advocate. It's just sad. It just makes me really sad. There's a lot of scenes about child neglect in this show. Both Lain and her sister are neglected to the point of criminality.
The show is hammering this point home, as well, Alice, the friend who invited her to the club, rushes in to apologise for putting her in that situation, and her parents are there to pick her up and take her home. Even in this universe where this kind of criminal neglect is not criminalized, it also is not normal. I mean, Alice's parents are letting her run around wild, but they at least care enough about her to pick her up after she witnessed a mass shooting. Poor Lain doesn't even get that.
As a result, Lain starts desperately searching for some form of control over her life, because that's a really common symptom of unprocessed trauma, and just starts getting obsessed with the 'wired', and that email that she got before about transhumanism and shedding your mortal body to live as a software application. This obsession starts to take over her life, but again, her parents just kind of let it happen. I have no idea where she's getting the money for all her computer upgrades, but she slowly tansforms her entire room into a terminal, in a way that doesn't even make sense but looks cool, like there are monitors set up in a way that she wouldn't even be able to see while using the computer and stuff, it's just meant to look cyberpunk. But it's good symbolism for her deterorating mental state.
Also, her liquid coolant system is very clearly leaking onto the floor and other electronics and no one seems to give a shit, like it is puddled up on the floor. That's so dangerous. Nobody is watching this child.
So on her obsessive journey through the wired, Lain learns about the wireless applications of the wired, that work on the ELF band, the earth's magnetic field, and in this universe also the magnetic resonance of the human brain just, I guess coincidentally, and learns of this game that the kids are into that is killing them. These two things are connected. The research about this wireless wired was pioneered by a researcher who's name I don't remember, but who is currently dying, and for some reason he was using human children and their electromagnetic brainwaves as an energy source, kind of like in the Matrix, how human bodies were used to produce electricity. Better scientists than I am have explained in detail how the human body gives off so little electromagnetic energy that this is the dumbest possible energy source, and it's not really explained why this guy was doing this, and it was killing the kids so he lost his funding and erased his research, what with it being inefficient and murdery.
So Lain asks him why this is happening again and why these kids are getting real into this game and then dying in what is clearly an extention of his research, and he tells her that he has no idea. And also he is using the wired from the hospital room where he's currently dying and basically that he hates that that is happening but like, he is gonna die and there's nothing he can do and he did delete his research and it's not his fault. Then he either logs off or dies.
To make a long story short, what had happened was there was this programmer who did find this dude's research, and the only part he really needed was that he could use the ELF band to beam free internet into everybody's heads. So he made the technology to do that and then either threw himself into the path of a moving train or hung himself in his office, and died.
Now, the thing about that is that there's a group called the Knights of the Eastern Calculus who say that he actually unlocked how to upload your entire brain itno the wired, into the cloud basically, and live as a software program. They want to unlock how to do that, and have made a cult around this programmer, Masami Eiri, where they basically worship him as a god, because he knows how to shed your mortal body and live as a piece of software. It's never really explained why you would want to do that? I guess for the immortality but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Because he wrote the program the wired is running on he can basically hack it to do anything in the virtual avatar world, so maybe that's the appealing part but like... couldn't anybody do that? Like literally anyone who is good at programming? Wouldn't some group spring up instantly to debug your code and learn how to do that and not have to die to do so? Well, to be fair, Masami is not known for his intellect and yes, that is happening. It's those dudes from before, those men in black looking dudes. They're just from the same company Masami used to work for, and when Lain starts getting too close to this cult they show up at her house and talk to her about how dangerous the cult is, and then her computer explodes.
Everybody acts like this is an attack from the Knights making her computer overheat and explode but literally her cooling system was leaking really bad, like it was established that it was leaking ridiculously badly, and she never fixed it or seemed to care so I honestly think it just overheated because it was broken.
Anyway, it's very probable that the girl from the first scene who keeps emailing Lain is one of those Knights and has also just done that, uploaded her brain to the wired to live as software in the Wired. Because it's set up to be a thing you can do. So these guys from the software company take Lain to their boss, who asks her to fix his computer, which she does, and then starts asking her questions that she does not know the answer to, but really should, like just information about her family that it would be impossible to not know if she was raised by them. So she gets all mad that she can't answer these easy questions about her family and leaves. But that's weird, right? It's weird that she doesn't know her own life, right?
To make a long story short, she does find this programmer, finds out that it was his cult that was telling people to upload their brains to the wired and then kill themselves, including those kids, and he tells her that she's not a person, she's a cyborg. She was a piece of software from the wired, but his company made her a cyborg body (maybe even him himself), put her with foster parents, and seemed to be trying to prove that there wasn't a clear distinction between AI and a actual human, that the wired and the real world were basically just two plains of equal existance, that there is no true reality, just a bunch of transhumanism bullshit that is obviously untrue. Reality is reality and the internet is the internet and he's batshit insane. But according to him she's only like 3 years old and that's why she doesn't know anything.
Lain though, even like... as young and questionably not human she is, sees through this bullshit because it's such obvious bullshit. This dude is calling himself a god because he figured out how to internet real good. That's not... being a god. His argument is that because he has the wired hooked up to human brains he can go in and mess with people's minds and like, delete memories and stuff, you know, just being shitty, and that makes him a god. And Lain is all, "I think that just makes you a shitty person, how is that a god?"
He has no real argument because it's the dumbest possible shit, and he was floating by on pure charisma with the cult and if you question it at all it falls apart, so instead he just gives up on logic and tells her that no one loves her but him and if she kills herself and becomes software she can connect with people. This is less obvious bullshit because she really does want real human connection, so she has every intention of doing that.
But here's the thing, by this point Lain has also learned how to use the wired to get in people's heads and delete memories, she did that to stop a rumor that had been spread about Alice wanting to fuck their teacher, which was apparently a really bad thing that everyone was shittalking her for. I don't know why having a crush on your teacher is this big life-ending thing Alice was acting like it was, but later it's implied that he actually is a child molestor, so she might have done it to save her from being molested, but it's not really clear. The point is that Lain can already do that and doesn't need some dead programmer to tell her how. So she's just sitting in her room, thinking about whether or not she should kill herself, and Alice comes to check on her, kind of pissed because she deleted everyone's memories of the rumor, except for Alice, so Alice thinks she's going crazy and having false memories.
So she finds Lain and Lain tells her what she did and Alice is all pissed, but then Lain starts talking some crazy shit about killing herself so she can live on the internet, and Alice tells her not to do that. Because like... don't do that?
And then Lain is like, "Oh wait, you're right, that's stupid, I should just be alive and make friends and have real human connection."
Which pisses off Masami because he really wants people to be in his cult, you know how cult leaders are, so he tries to build himself a robot body using the computer parts in Lain's room, but he apparently doesn't know how to do that so he makes like some weird Akira monster that just falls apart. It's really anticlimatic. This ending makes no sense without the game.
It works for like ONE second and he's like, "Ooooh, I got you! With my big stretch arm!"
And then it literally just falls apart.
They don't fight him to make it fall apart or anything, he's just really bad at making robot bodies from random parts he finds in a child's room. Which I mean, fair enough, how often is that gonna come up? Like in just general life. How often are you going to have to do that?
So this show ends, I shit you not, with Lain getting so good at the internet that she resets time, because she's good at the internet. There is no explination given for how she did that with the internet, the wired is literally just a network that connects human brains, so it would make sense for her to be able to make people think that she reset time, but like no she literally resets time. Like this programer is alive again and bitching about how bad he hates his job. She ressurected him and got him out of the wired, somehow. No explination given.
That's it, that's the ending. She internets so good she can reset time. You see why I'm saying that taken on it's own this makes absolutely no sense? There's nothing in the rest of the series even implying that's something you can do. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and let scifi be scifi, but this is the FIRST instance of time travel and the only explination given is, "Can internet real good".
Lain also wiped everybody's memories of herself, for some reason, again, this is not explained that well, she doesn't seem to want to do this and it accomplishes nothing really, and it's treated as really sad but I have no idea why she does it. She could have just lived in the new timeline. Literally no reason given.
And then she just hangs out in the wired forever, traveling to pop in at different times or hanging out with a program she made that looks like her dad. And then we just end the series.
Also, there's grey aliens from the Roswell crash in this show but they literally do not do anything or even interact with any of the characters and I have no idea why we, the audience, need to know about them. They're just kinda there? Not doing anything. I guess it's kind of implied that we back-engineered some tech from them or something, but they really are just kind of there.
So this show is really really good up until the last 2 episodes where it just falls apart and abandons any kind of internal consistancy. It watches a little bit like they didn't know how to end it, but I don't actually think that's the case at all.
I think we're watching a kid with schitzophrenia have a psychotic episode. And I really did not want that to be the case, at first, it was my joke guess, until I played the game and it spelled out in no uncertain terms that that is what's happening. But to be fair, it was my joke guess because it's really well done, well done enough to be able to diagnose from it.
In the game, you're not really... playing in any meaningful way, not even in a interactive novel kind of way where you make choices to progress the story. Really it's a simulation of logging into the wired and reading stuff you have no buisness reading, or watching videos you have no buisness watching. You just mess around menu systems- more like an ARG than an actual video game. Again, I'll link to this game, but you unlock these tidbits of information randomly, so I'll lay out what happens here, linerally.
There's 3 main sources of information avalible in this game:
1: Lain's diary
2: Lain's medical information
3: Lain's "therapist's" diary - I put therapist in quotes because the more you read the more you see that this lady is NOT a clinical psychiartist, she's a research psychiatrist, they're two different things and it's releivent to the story that she is not qualified for this job.
I'd like to tackle the researcher, Yonera Touko, who is put in a role as a therapist for no reason, against her wishes, a role that she is not qualified for, and does so badly it has long-lasting implications for the entire series. Touko went to study abroad here in the states to get her doctorate in research psychiactrics. She enjoyed her time in the states, did her thesis, made some friends, learned about how we celebrate Halloween and enjoyed it, and met a man whom she fell in love with in her exchange program who graduated a semester earlier than her and went back to Japan, so she had a few months in the states without him.
The important part about this part of her life, is she decided on her own that they were in a serious committed relationship, whereas he saw them as having gone on a couple of casual dates. This becomes important later when she starts structuring her life around him. She gets a job in the same research center as him- and I don't think I understand how research science is done in Japan because of the way she talks about this center. So here in the states, this kind of research is usually attached to a university and a hospital, like UK research hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, is the closest one to me. But in Japan they must not do that, because she describes the place as being like an office building of some kind. I don't really know how you'd do psychiactric research out of an office building, but I guess you just order out all the tests you need to the nearest hospital, because she talks about getting brainscans and stuff and you can't really put something like an fMRI in a room full of cubicles, there's specific... electromagnetic imaging, which is what we use for almost all brain imaging, is like, dangerous? It can be bad for you to be around constantly? You have to put it in it's own like, room, that is set up to do that. So I guess they just outsource the tests to the hospital and have them send over the results or something. It's just a cultural difference that threw me off. That sounds like it would run into some money real fast, though, to have to use someone else's equipment, I'm sure they charge you for that. But whatever, that's a complete aside, I believe this is just a cultural difference that I thought was interesting.
Also this dude she's obsessed with seems to be a chemist, not a psychiatrist, but he works in the same research center so I just genuienlly do not know what's going on here. There are computer scientists working in the same building too, like they just throw all the research scientists together regardless of what field they're in and they're just on different floors or something.
So this lady is a researcher, but for some reason her employeer wants her to take on clients, for psychotherapy, instead of actually doing research, which is SUPER illegal here in the states, that's not just a thing you can do. It doesn't seem to be illegal in this situation, though, just very stupid, so Touko keeps telling her boss that she's not a developmental clinician and has no buisness doing this kind of work, is bad at it, doesn't know how to do it, needs to be given a research project because that's what she actually knows how to do, and they keep telling her to fuck clean off and do this job she's not trained for without giving her any explination. Which, understandably, pisses her off and slowly eats away at her.
I am a clinician, and her approach is... Jesus Christ it's bad. She does literally everything wrong. She gets basic terminology wrong, her rapport building is so unethical that she would absolutely lose her license here in the states, it's just so bad. And I don't think the writers thought it was good, I'm sure they knew it was awful, it was written to show that she's bad at this job and has no buisness doing it. She repeatedly says that herself. Also it takes her months to make a diagnosis and IDK how insurance works in Japan but there's not an insurance company in any of these United States that would pay for that, they would drop this lady like a hot potato. I actually think that she has this client for TWO YEARS and never makes an actual diagnosis or treatment plan. We get 50 minutes to do that, here in the states. Goddamn, she's bad at her job, especially when we look at her paperwork just... goddamn she should not have this job. She would be fired for having this in the system. It's so bad.
Lain has a psychotic disorder, probably schitzophrenia, and needs to be put on a psychopharmacological medication to help her manage it, as well as probably some emotion focused coping skills taught to her and some exercises to raise her emotional and social intelligence. Like that is really really obvious within the first session if you actually read these case notes. In a developmental setting this sucks, because this can be TERRIFYING for children, they have no context for it. Instead of giving her that context and working with her to create an evidence based treatment plan, she tells her things like, "Listen to the voices and see what they're saying! Maybe they're nice!"
Or maybe, dumbass, they're compulsive delusions that will tell her to do things in line with risk-taking behavior and she's at-risk for, things like behavioral outbursts up to and including harming herself and/or others? Like maybe she's a fucking at-risk child? WHY DID THEY GIVE YOU THIS JOB!?
It's never explained why she was given this job, but she fucks it up as bad as somebody can fuck up a thing, she even cylces a goddamn TWELVE YEAR OLD on and off psychoactive medication- you should NEVER just quit that, btw, it can lead to a worsening of symptoms and is highly correlated with suicidality, you have to wean a client off but ESPECIALLY in developmental, Jesus Christ. I don't think you even have to be trained to know that, I think that's common knowlege.
Then she for some reason pretends to ba tutor and goes and talks to her classmates about her in a COMPLETE ethics violation, even says that she knows it's an ethics violation like why the fuck did she do this? Why does she have this job?
She tells her about Savant Syndrome, which is not a thing, that's just low support autism, and it wasn't a thing in 1998, and Lain might be autistic with a special interest in computers or the wired, I mean that is possible, but that's not a diagnosis that requires a treatment plan at this time, the problem is the night terrors and delusions, that's what's affecting her quality of life. A lot of low-support autistic folks, I mean the reason we call it low support is that they don't need a lot of support services, they're usually pretty fine, it's not usually a problem that affects quality of life. It's a weird ass thing to focus on. A lot of low-support autistic folks actually don't need any support services, so they choose not to use them (or the insurance won't cover them) so they just... I don't know, you can have autism and it not be a big thing that affects your quality of life so we just kinda let them be autistic. It's not like, a disease that needs fixing, and if it ain't broke don't fix it, you know? So what a weird thing to focus on.
What needs fixing is the nightmares and delusions, the depersonalization (that she calls something else, I forget what term she uses but it's the wrong one, she also calls the sense of self "ego" and self actualization "self" so she just genuienly has no idea what the fuck she's doing, like she just uses a lot of industry terms wrong and tells her client wrong, and her client is TWELVE) and the disassociation (I think she gets disassociation right but I genuienly do not remember and even if she does one correct term in a vat of dumbassery does not a good job make). Which she choses not to build a treatment plan for AT ALL.
She does seem to understand the low self-identity is a problem, and that Lain needs to build up her emotiional intelligence to build up her sense of self, which is a real treatment plan, and tells her to start keeping a diary of her own thoughts, emotions, and what triggers those emotions. That is a decent way to do that IF it's paired with emotion focused coping mechanisms, given her disassociation and delusions. But she doesn't, she just basically says, "Keep a diary, no further explination."
At the same time she's compeltely fucking up her job, that guy she was seeing that she thinks she's in a realtionship with even though they've been on like 2 dates, and she asks him on more and he turns her down, marries someone else, and she, having thought for no reason that they were in love, loses her absolute shit. I mean, that sucks for her, wires get crossed sometimes but the dude didn't even know your birthday and you barely went out with him. There was no reason to think you were in a relationship. There was no reason to try and get a job in the same building as him. Your actions and thought patterns are not normal, and you are not in a good place, mentally.
So then she goes back to work, confident that everyone is making fun of her for thinking they were in a relationship, which they might be, I don't know, she says she overheard somebody calling her stupid for thinking that in the bathroom and maybe she works in a petty-ass childish research center, it happens. So now she hates going to work, she has no family, apparently, because she lives alone and mentions no family, and she has a small social support system anyway, she has a couple friends that she mentions, but they were people she didn't talk to the entire time she was in the states working on her doctorate and none of them understand what she's feeling, why that marriage feels like a betrayal or any of that.
Another guy is also actively trying to date her while she's all upset and gives her like, flowers, and an exercise machine that he's doing research on, and waits for her to get out of work, and just seems like maybe the rebound guy you should hook up with? Like maybe date that guy? The one who actually likes you? Instead of fuming in a rage about betrayal that just flat out did not happen?
But instead of doing that she just gets stagnated in her emotional turmoil, which is a thing that happens, she lost her relationship that she thought she had, she needs some research project for an approaching deadline to prove that she has a career, you know, at all, and can't get one assigned at work because her work is ignoring her and giving her assignments that are outside of her field that she isn't qualified for, she lives alone and has no real social support system.
Not a good combination of circumstances.
Then the research director hangs himself in his office. She just goes into work one day and he's killed himself. And if you know anything about psychology, in her current state of mind, she's at-risk to become a copycat and then we'll lose two lives. And she is actively surrounded by research pscyhiatrists. But nobody thinks to do anything about this.
So she stops sleeping, stops eating, falls right into that trap she was at-risk for, has some sleep deprived hunger hallucinations, and they find her dead in her home office.
It just is genuienly awful. But, it's a real thing that happens to people. What this woman needed was a social support structure, she needed a processing partner, whether that be a close friend, a family memeber, or a professional, she needed someone.
She also needed some real training on transference and countertransferance, which you get when you go into clinical, because the game really plays up that this was a big part of it, too. She had NO professional boundaries at all, started calling her client, "little sister" and building a very inappropriate relationship, and when you do that-
I feel like I need to explain what transference and countertransference are. So social animals, like humans, have these brain cells called 'mirror neurons' that are in the prefrontal lobe and let us do a lot of stuff that we need for survival as a social species. They let us pick up on other people's emotions, is one of the main things they do, emotions, intentions, the things that you can't really get from language- it's what picks up on all the communication that is not just the content of speech, so things like body langauge, intonation, tone, eye contact, all that kind of stuff. It's actually really complex.
So as a therapist, you have to be in control of all of that, all the time, you have to create a space that feels welcoming and safe, mirror the client's energy level, there's a lot that goes into it. She does NONE of it. And you have to draw a professional boundary that keeps you from tranfering those signals to your own self, like how if a client gets mad, in a normal human interaction when a person comes up to you with a lot of anger, with that high energy, this is the part of the brain that raises your energy levels to match.
So like, in a normal interaction, if someone comes up to you like, "Yo, FUCK YOU, BITCH!" and they're coming in real aggressive, this is the part of your brain that instantly goes:
"Fuck me? FUCK YOU! YOU WANNA GO, LET'S GO! IF YOU'RE FEELING FROGGY, JUMP!"
You can't do that, as a therapist, but this chick totally does that. Your brain will instantly take in that energy, that emotion, and want to match it, and you need to be trained in de-escalatin techniques to bring the energy in the room back down to a managable level.
So because she doesn't have those skills to set those professional boundaries, she's at-risk for tranferance from her client, and this happens so badly that she completely loses the professional boundary and says things like that she can't tell if she's treating Lain or Lain is treating her. This lady could literally not handle a caseload of ONE client- and this is no fault of her own, she wasn't trained for it and should not have been given that job. And the way this is illustraited in the game is really well done, she and Lain are shown in the case notes talking together as if Lain is actually treating her while she is treating Lain. The reason this is important is because she is so at-risk for suicidality, and because she can't keep up this boundary, she starts believing some of Lain's delusions and Lain is part of her hallucinations the night she kills herself. It's really sad.
So now that we've handled how Lain was failed by the system, let's move on to her diary. The game, again, lets you just unlock those diary enteries in random orders, because it's set up as if you're hacking into her blog or something, through the wired. But once again, I'll present them chronologically.
Lain has been having hallucinations for a while, both auditorially and visual, and being 12, is scared to death. This is the sort of thing that would scare an adult, but with developmental, it's even worse, because children just don't have adult level processing skills. If only she had a therapist who could teach her some! She also has really low social intelligence and because of that has difficulty making friends at school, these things are likely connected, usually they are. See, Lain is having one particular hallucination where she sees another version of herself in various situations, this is a really common hallucination, so common we have a name for this specific form of hallucination, "autoscopic doubles". And Lain is in the perfect age range to develop it if she has any form of psychosis. This is the beginning of adolescence and a lot of things are happening in the brain, but one of them is that the child is developing their own individual sense of self outside the units that they're attached to. They're entering adulthood, and in a healthy development will be able to distinguish a consistant identity outside of say, their friend group, their family group, etc. That's why during this time we can see kids trying on a lot of different identities to see what "fits". But if you're prone to psychosis, you can project that developing identity outward and actually see it. Again, there are tons of good treatment plans for this, but the kid needs to know what it is and that they're not being haunted by a doppleganger because I'm sure you can understand how scary that is. Like imagine if you're on a playground and you look over and just see a copy of yourself, that to you looks very real. It breaks my heart that she was taken in for help and did not get it.
Especially because in the sessions we see, Lain BEGS for a dianosis, she even says that she looked up the condition herself and thinks that she has skitzophrenia, which, yes, she probably does, and her therapist just refuses to diagnose her and give her a real treatment plan, because she unfortunately got a bad therapist, she just got someone who didn't know what they were doing, so she's left to flounder. The thing that really breaks my heart is that I know for a fact this happens in real life. There are people who have to delay treatment until adulthood because they just got bad therapists. And if you've read my secret diary about some of the training I've recieved you'll know I went into this field to not be that bad therapist. Because seriously, your quality of life can be really affected based on your access to treatment. If you've ever been cheated out of a real treatment plan, I don't have to tell you that, but also I want you to know that on behalf of my entire profession I am so sorry that happened to you. You deserved better. We are supposed to be better.
Lain is also having auditory hallucinations, and honestly this makes perfect sense if all humans in this world are on the same electromagnetic frequency as the ELF band, because this is a real disorder you can have that gives you these exact auditory hallucinations around electricity. I know because I have this disorder. I have it because I have a skull malformation that squished my brain and does a lot of stuff, but this is one of the things it does. But, it's fairly rare, so even with a good trained therapist I'm not sure they would have known to check her for this. I actually didn't get mine checked until well into adulthood, and even then only because I got into a car wreck and have to have imaging done to check for injuries from the wreck. I was misdiagnosed for two decades, but because of my personal experience I identified it instantly. This is SO WELL DONE IN THE SHOW, it's literally the first time I've ever seen it represented, and whoever did the sound design I swear to god has the same malformation because they got the sound exactly right and I've never even been able to describe it to healthcare workers and get them to understand what I'm hearing. It's so so good. She needs some x-rays of her skull, and you can actually correct your electromagnetic brainwaves to get them back on a normal spectrum with a treatment plan called TMS, which is NOT the kind of electroshock therapy you see on TV where they just shock the shit out of people. They administer a low, painless shock to the head that resets the specific neurons that are causing the abnormal patterns. Now I probably wouldn't reccomend this for a child, because it just has not been tested to my satasfaction, the safety guidelines have only been in place for around 20 years, making longitudinal studies brand new and all with relatively small sample sizes, but I'll do it my damn self, I'm grown. But I do know with younger patients if you turn it up too high you can basically accidentially make a seizure focus and give them a seizure during treatment and we should, you know, not do that. New treatments without longitudinal research backing it up are for grown folks who can make risk vs reward assesments, not for 12 year olds.
But I would give her some psychoactive medication, you know, basic low dose antipsychotics, which this researcher does, but then cold turkey takes her off of. Don't do that, do continuity of care, Jesus Christ.
So Lain starts having a lot of the behavior you would expect her to be at-risk for, her mental health is at the point where she can't make herself do her basic day to day activities, and skips school a lot for mental health days, to the point that her parents have to basically take her out of school, isolates from her social circle to the point that she's basically alone, and starts just being in her room alone on the internet, back in 1996 so she's basically on those old group forums for various activities and interests. She has one online friend who goes by the username, "Mr. Rabbit" who is nice to her, but he's obviously not online all the time because he has a life outside the internet so she'll go days without speaking to him. She's just not in a good place.
On top of this, her father has to travel for work, which leaves her even more isolated because her parents were basically her only social interaction at this point, and upon his return she starts picking up on the fact that her parents are really bad for each other. She worries that the stress of taking care of a mentally ill child is putting a strain on her relationship, and it might be but that's them and their poor parenting skills, not the 12-year-old. But again, her therapist, for whatever reason, never goes over her diary with her to help her process those emotions so it just festers.
After a few therapy sessions, and if you read the timeline, just enough time for her meds to kick in, she actually stops having the hallucinations and the nightmares, and is able to go back to school, a new school where no one knows her as the crazy kid who has hallucinations, and makes a friend. So it seems like everything is going fine. She looks to be in recovery.
But then, a bunch of life stressors happen in a row. First, her new friend is accused of plagarism in an art contest, and because they're little kids this becomes a whole big thing and everyone is gossiping about art theft, if you've ever watched middle school art youtube you'll see the kind of bullying that goes on with that, but Lain gets on the internet to find the magazine that her friend is accused of copying from and sees that the sketches she showed of Lain of the painting were done before the magazine was published. Which it was literally a picture of a pegasus in the sky, it's not some brilliant new creative work, it's something a middle school girl would paint, that has been done to death, so it makes sense that she didn't copy the idea, just had it around the time it came out in this magazine. So Lain makes her dad take her over to her friend's house to show her the proof she got, that she knows she didn't do an art theft and will support her and show everyone-
But the friend's mom tells Lain that they're moving to a new town and she already sent her daughter and husband to the new house and she's just there packing up the last of their stuff. Lain thinks that they might have moved specifically because of the bullying. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what Lain thinks.
As a note here, when Touko went out pretending to be a tutor, she asked Lain's classmates about this girl and the two girls she asks don't know her. There's two possibilities here: 1: This art theft scandle is not as big a thing as Lain thought it was and the whole school wasn't gossiping about it and this girl just wasn't popular enough to be known by these two random students or 2: This girl doesn't exist. Touko assumes it's the latter, on the word of two middle schoolers who think she's a tutor. At no point does she ask Lain's father, who has met this girl repeatedly and often drove Lain to her house. Because she's awful at her job. So we don't know if this girl is a hallucination or a real person. Because she's bad at her job. It would have been really easy to ask ADULTS who are COMPETENT under the law without breaking ethics violations, and again, if she was actually going through the diary and helping Lain process it, she would have known about the scandal and very easily been able to ask school administrators about it ethically without disclosing her client, but she just... is bad at her job. Again, Lain was failed. And because of that, we the audience will never know whether or not this girl was a real person or a delusion. I can't make a call on that beacuse I can't ask the father but I have no idea why she didn't ask the father. Like just... no idea. Bad. Bad child avocacy, bad therapy, and not to be that bitch, but bad research. Not to speak ill of the dead, but she's a cartoon character, so like... I will.
Around this time, Lain's parents' relationship deterorates completely and they decide to divorce. Lain's father moves out and her mother has full custody. So now Lain has lost her entire small social circle, except for her mother, who herself uses a coping mechanism that is not great to handle the stressors in her life, alcoholism. She gets so bad with her substance abuse that she frequently falls asleep leaving her daughter to fend for herself. Lain attempts to bring this up in therapy, but her poor social intelligence means that she doesn't really know how to do it, so she basically asks why adults drink and if alcoholics are bad rather than, "Am I being criminally neglected by a drunk?" and her dumbass therapist just tells her that adults drink sometimes, even she drinks sometimes and it's not that bad. Why the everloving fuck wouldn't you explore that? That's not something a 12-year-old just asks out of the blue. You prod that, you ask why she's asking that. Jesus Christ Touko should not have been given this job.
Because Lain is so alone now, she gets more into the internet, but some jackass sends her porn, again, her a child, and freaks her out, so to get back at him she hacks him to freak him out, and then with her new l33t hacking skillz hacks into the research center to get her medical records and reads them. They are quite shitty and she's upset by how shitty they are, and adds some things to make it look like the records extend into the future, which is one of the things that freaks Touko out on the night she commits suicide, because she thinks that they actually extend into the future because in her poor mental state I guess that's more likely than a kid getting in and dicking around, like in her head. Like I said, it's just really sad. Her death is just sad, Lain being failed is just sad, the whole thing breaks your heart. Really well written. I didn't cry but I came close to it. Excellent writing. If you can speak Japanese you could also comment on the acting, because I found that to be really good as well, but because I don't speak the langauge I can't tell what words they're stressing and stuff like that so I can't have that kind of deep appreciation or really speak on it, but just going by pure emoting it seems really good.
So Lain, now completely alone, spends more and more time on the internet, she stops going to school again, and is just in a really dark place, the stressors pile up and her delusional thoughts and hallucinations and nightmares come back, and it's just heartbreaking. So what she feels she has to do to get any kind of human connection, is to make a robot version of her father and then just kind of pretend like it's her real dad. So she starts trying to do that, gets some free AI software to program as her dad and sets it up to do some learning, and starts building the shell. She doesn't want to do that at her house because she's scared her mom will get mad about it, so she takes the robot parts to some like, abandoned house on her street and starts making a robot dad.
I don't think you should have to have my amount of student debt to know that this is a terrible coping strategy. That maybe CPS should be called for child neglect and the child placed with the father. I really feel like any person with human decency who saw a kid building a robot replica of her father would think to themselves, "Now, that just don't seem right."
But the thing is, this robot is kind of shitty, because it's built by a 12-year old using computer parts and a free AI program and is obviously nothing like her real dad, but she gets the torso made, this like, headless robot torso, and tries to hug it, and she thinks that, "the electricity will make him warm," but like... it's a robot, it's not her real dad, obviously, and again, it's not even a good robot, it doesn't really look like a person it looks like a bunch of electronics with a skin casing on it, so the hug doesn't feel like her dad or bring her that social and emotional connection. The game lingers on this and it's just pitiful. This child deserved real help.
So now that she realizes she can't be parented by a robot and get the love and support of a real parent from something she cobbled together out of free software and computer parts, she has a behavioral outburst and breaks it with a baseball bat. In her head she's gotten so mixed up that she thinks AI are real people and writes in her diary that, she "killed dad today, and tomorrow I'll kill mom".
Now, of course she doesn't really kill her mother, these are common and predictable negative thoughts a kid in this situation could have, but what she does do is use that computer program to create an AI of herself that she says she's going to send out on the internet to live a fake virtual life and meet people and be happy. But then she also regrets that when she realizes that AI aren't real people, and says that she deleted it, or 'kills it' as well, but if she actually sent it out somehow I don't know how she would do that. Like if it's been torrented or backed up anywhere it's just going to be there as software, but she's 12 and I don't think really understands that, but symbolically she does realize that it wasn't a good coping mechanism.
But by this point her delusions are so bad, and her autoscopic double in particular, she somehow gets a hold of a gun, wanders out into the street, and listens to the autoscopic double when it tells her to shoot herself. This 12-year-old lies there in a pool of blood, and the last shot is what I interpret as her AI running free on the internet.
So here's my hypothesis for what happened and how these things tie together. I think there are two major things that could have happened.
The first is the most likely. Lain survived the suicide attempt. This is an extremely survivable gunshot; I grew up in gun country and my first thought was that the angle of that shot wouldn't kill her. She doesn't point up she points straight back with the gun in her mouth, and the amount of blood shows that there was an exit wound. That bullet would have gone straight through the back of her neck, possibly nicking the spinal collumn. Or if she's tilting her head back, maybe a little bit of the cerebellum, if she actually does have a chairi malformation, which she wouldn't have to in this world, since all humans are on the ELF band, not just the malformed ones.
What that means is that somebody probably walked accross that bridge before she bled out, saw a 12-year old bleeding out, and called somebody, got her to a hospital, got her rushed to emergency surgery, CPS was called, she was taken from the home and placed with a foster family. She, for some reason, recieved no psychiactric care and was left to live her life, repressing these events as a trauma response- two years later the show picks up and she goes into another psychotic episode (they are episodic, she could have had minimal to no symptoms for two years, easily, but also she specifically avoided triggers like computers, in the show, as if she had some unprocessed triggers around them, and the second she starts using computers it triggers a new psychotic episode).
This would exlain the ending completely; it's a psychotic episode, it didn't really happen. That's why she has a delusion of grandure, that she can basically get time travel powers by interneting really good. It doesn't seem like a real thing because it's not a real thing. It's also why the show ends with her only comfort being a made-up father figure, her foster father, who had filled that role in her life fairly well.
The less likely but more scifi option is that the little kid, the real human child, did bleed out that night on that bridge and died. But the AI that she made in her image lived on on the internet. And that company found it, decided to make it a cyborg, and then placed that cyborg with a human family as an experiment. The AI was made in Lain's image and acted like her, but really was just a piece of software. Maybe it was augmentated with alien technology for some reason. I say this is the least likely option because that doesn't give it the ability to reset time or anything, it literally is just a computer AI walking around in a body, like what Lain tried to do with her dad. But it is the more scifi option.
So that's my interpretation and thoughts on Serial Experiments Lain. Again, really good series, I heartily reccomend it! I do think the first option is the most likely and makes the most sense, but art is subjective and I haven't read any other interpretations. Keep in mind that I just graduated as a developmental psychologist so my background is going to influence how I see media, it happens to everyone. And I haven't looked at any other interpretations. The series leaves a lot of things up in the air, and other folks might have different viewing experiences. But I really liked it!
If you want to watch the show yourself, you can do so here: Serial Experiments Lain, English Dub for free!
And if you'd like the play the game, you can experience the fan-made experience here: Serial Experiments Lain PSX Game, English Fan Recreation also for free!