Movie: Anime has as many sub-genre's as mainstream movies and they run the gamut from the kid shows to the more sophisticated adult fare. I like many types myself but have always been drawn to releases that show a little depth, like Kino's Journey or Arjuna, both shows that display character growth and themes about how everything is inter-connected. One of the original deep shows of anime, Serial Experiments Lain, has now been re-released as part of Geneon's Signature Series (a series of classic anime at lower MSRP).
The show has been available on DVD for years but this re-release may allow for a new batch of fans to get into the kinds of arguments so many did when this one first came out. The show centers on a young 13 year old girl, Lain, who gets involved with computers and finds that there's a whole new world out there that she had previously overlooked. As she's drawn into this new world, she finds that something far more invasive than reading internet reviews is taking place online and quickly becomes absorbed into a mystery of epic proportions after she receives an email from a friend that committed suicide just days before. If you've never watched the series, you really owe it to yourself to give this one a look, perhaps several looks, and here's a brief look at the four episodes included on Serial Experiments Lain: Navi (volume 1):
Layer 01: Weird:
The first episode introduces the basics of the series, including the main characters and who they start off as. This is very important since the characters evolve as the show progresses, a main reason why the show is so well liked. Lain is a young girl who is a bit of a wallflower. She has friends but mostly tries to fade into the background and has little will of her own. She is made aware of another world, a wired world, when she receives an email from a classmate that committed suicide not long before. This sparks her interest in upgrading her "Navi" (another term for a computer) and the adventure begins.
Layer 02: Girls:
A new type of drug, Accela, hits the streets and is found to speed up the brain by a factor of twelve. Lain's friends seem to think she's living a double life and her new navi comes in. Her father sets it up for her and she soon finds her life to get increasingly complicated when she goes to a club with her friends. She begins to see that the suicides taking place in the real world are not random but she doesn't have the understanding to alter their outcome, yet.
Layer 03: Psyche:
The police hold Lain as a witness to the suicide at the club but eventually let her go. Lain begins further down the path to her destiny as she connects more to her computer and she starts to hallucinate. Lain finds out that a component of her navi is highly sought after by the street kids as a device that allows you to manipulate data. While that sounds boring, the implications of the device will soon become apparent.
Layer 04: Religion:
As Lain upgrades her navi and becomes more reclusive at home, her sister worries about her even as their parents brush it off as normal behavior. Participating on "the wired" (the internet) is having an effect on her that her friends notice. A game, Phantoma, is increasingly popular and Lain keeps seeing her name pop up online but can't explain it. Lain then finds herself targeted by an unknown group but fends them off with an unexplainable ability.
I have always thought very highly of this series and with the lower price point, it is even more affordable for anime fans. The use of metaphors and other literary devices may go over the head of some people and this isn't a light anime series to sort of pay attention to but if you stick with it, you're bound to find it a prime example of why anime has grown beyond the limitations of snobs everywhere. I'm rating it as Highly Recommended for all the positive aspects of the show. Had it been in a boxed set with all four discs, I'm sure it would have earned the collector's rating but this was a really good deal for the price.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, the anime industry standard. The colors were crisp and clear except when the material called for it, and the material did call for it a lot. I thought the use of some effects was strange when I first saw this one years ago but after you watch it over and over again, you'll start to understand (or at least think you do). In any case, there were no compression artifacts and the picture has stood the test of time quite well.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese (the original track, with or without optional English subtitles) or English. I think the voices sounded better on the original track but each had its own flavor and added some measure of entertainment. In general, the mix was solid, the music and effects extremely well done, and the voice acting good (great on the Japanese track).
Extras: The extras were not very special and included trailers, a conceptual video, artwork, and a couple of Easter Eggs (on the main page highlight the "E" and on the scenes page go to "devices").
Final Thoughts: The picture and sound combined with a compelling and interesting story, make Serial Experiment Lain: Navi well worth your hard earned dollars. That the voice acting and creative forces behind the show gave it so much replay value is just a bonus. As Geneon and ADV release more of their classic lines at lower prices, I think a lot of fans are going to be really, really happy.
Check out DVDTalk's Top Anime of 2003 for more hints on good anime to watch.