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Serial Experiments Lain Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

As the world becomes closer to the Wired, the lines blur even more for one young girl who is far more than she seems.

What They Say:
Lain Iwakura appears to be an ordinary girl with almost no experience with computers. Yet the sudden suicide of a schoolmate and a number of strange occurrences conspire to pull Lain into the world of the Wired, where she gradually learns that nothing is what it seems to be… not even Lain herself.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language in stereo along with the original English dub in the same format, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is primarily dialogue based but it also uses a lot of varied sound effects and music cues in order to create the mood and atmosphere it wants. The hum of the power lines alone is fairly distinctive throughout and capturing that in an engaging way is definitely important since it’s so ever present it feels like. The dialogue is well handled throughout, generally through the center channel, and the music stands out well while not being overpowering, even with the opening and closing sequences. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in the summer of 1998, the transfer for this series is in its original full frame aspect ratio and is in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Studio Triangle, the show is a product of its time with with simple CG effects and its blending with the animation, but it holds together well and definitely looks like it has its own style and design to it without going off the rails. Colors are generally dark and there’s almost a layer of haze on it in some scenes, but it’s all the intentional design of the show. The series generally operates in the darker environments, night time outside, the club, dark alleys and so forth, but it does show off its strong colors as well throughout, especially with the opening sequence. You can tell it’s a late 90’s anime series with its blending of everything but it manages to hold up a lot better than I thought with little in the way of line noise and no visible cross coloration or noteworthy noise issues.

The packaging for this release really is something of a prestige set, though it doesn’t quite come across that way on first glance. The heavy chipboard box is a dark affair as we get a creepy image of Lain on the front in her nightshirt with her hair a mess and scissors in hand, but it fits perfectly for the surreal side of things that she sees through her eyes. The logo is small but effective and they plug the creative side just right. The back of the box is an all black affair with some minor line work and a spot on tagline from the show that I still love. Within the box we get two Blu-ray cases, one to hold the two DVDs and the other to hold the two Blu-ray discs, and they look great. One has a familiar image of a soaked Lain along the rail that was used for promo artwork while the other has her on a table sitting along the edge. Both the back covers use more of the original Japanese cover artwork to good effect. The reverse side does the same with the right side showing off more, from the box art to the original first volume US DVD artwork from Pioneer. They also include episode names and numbers along with a breakdown of the extras.

The set includes a really great booklet where it has the team behind the restoration and authoring of the Japanese Blu-ray set talking about it on an episode by episode basis about the things done during the original work and the restoration and what they had to do to fix things where they had taken some slack during the original production. It’s a fascinating read of what’s involved with this kind of show because of its origins, but they also make it accessible with a great dictionary along the bottom of the pages to help flesh out certain things. We also get a collected gallery of cover artwork, which is used for the set, in a high quality form. They even include two pages of emails sent during the restore process as they tested out various ideas and what they had to work through.

The big, big extra in a different way here with the packaging is that they include an art book. I actually have this art book in full size as I was huge into Lain when it first came out, so this one is done in Blu-ray case size but doesn’t lose much. It’s not a full color art book but rather a look at character designs, settings and other aspects. It’s on a really good stock of paper and has a true sense of weight behind it that really drives home things. I’m still quite surprise something like this was included considering paper print costs, but it’s not something that needed translation work so it does help a bit on the cost side there. It’s an unexpected inclusion at a time when releases continue to be rather bare bones compared to a decade ago.

The menu design for the release is one that is certainly familiar from FUNimation in that we get clips playing throughout the background for the majority of it. But they also go in-theme in a rather nice way as the navigation and pop-up menu is more along the upper right side in the form of old style Windows/Mac pop-up boxes with folders and text to move around in. For old time computer users, you’ll definitely enjoy seeing that aspect pop-up and be usable in this fashion. The menus are simply but effective and the in-theme aspect makes it fun to load and work through. Navigation is a breeze and everything moves smoothly and quickly.

The extras for this release are on the second volume and are kind of meager, but not unexpected. We get two brief music promo clips, a commercial and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. I’ll admit that I was hoping some form of the LPR-305 promo disc made to promote the DVD format would be on here, but I’m not surprised it isn’t.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back in the 90’s, Pioneer was largely known for the bigger series it had running at the time like Tenchi Muyo and El-Hazard as well as a bunch of smaller OVAs that had done well, some of which branched into TV series form. As their layer of original works progressed, they had some more serious fare as well like Hakkenden, but the one that caught a lot of attention was the 1998 series Serial Experiments Lain. For Pioneer, who had helped to get more Laserdisc marketshare with its anime moves in the mid 90’s, Lain was one of its more natural pushes towards the DVD market to try and sell hardware. Enough so that the company in Japan put out a fascinating little teaser disc that showed of multi-angle technology which never really caught on in a big way but made for a great little extra disc for this series.

Written by Chiaki Konaka, who was pretty much at his prime during these years, it also featured character designs by Yoshitoshi ABe, who was gaining a lot of attention during this period as well. The series delves into a lot of themes and feelings that were big at the time with the turn of the century coming and the growing influence of the wired and connective life. There’s a strong feeling of disconnect that comes throughout it with most of the cast, but it mires it in by pushing the characters up against each other with different agendas, fears and cravings with a really great blend of “cyberia” music through the regular use of a club that a lot of the kids end up attending. At the time of its release, the show definitely hits all the avante-garde aspects one would expect and it still shows them plainly, but it’s also something that definitely comes across as a turn of the century work.

The central character for the series is an eighth grade student named Lain who is a bit of an odd girl overall. She’s not overly friendly with anyone in her class and she’s fairly clueless about technology, making her more of an outcast in a way since even at this point the youth culture was heavily invested in texting and email though cell phones, something that didn’t catch on in the West until several years later. Strange events are occurring in the city around her, punctuated by the regular home of technology and power transmission, and there are deaths that occur as well which she’s not quite sure how to process into her own life. As we get a handle on her basic life, things change slowly for her as her father gets her a high end Navi computer in order to connect with the online world more. Her first interactions with it are tentative, but as she uses it more and starts to modify it, stripping down to her bare essentials to get at it, you see how pervasive it’s becoming in her life.

The show spends some good time slowly exploring the strange aspects of the world as Lain gets drawn in more and more, especially as there seems to be a version of her in the Wired that’s almost evil, but just more cruel and purposeful in a way. That starts to blur the lines for her between reality and the Wired as she wants to understand what it is that’s going on there, and as she adds more and more gear, more layers of the real world are stripped away from her. This gets touched on as the question are asked about her connections to the real world, if she’s even real herself as she begins to understand that things she thought she knew she never did and even her family is stripped away in as she questions whether they truly are her family. And in the midst of it all, we get a group of Men in Black that are pursuing her as well as a mysterious hacker collective called the Knights that she’s trying to grapple with and understand.

Lain does start to draw all of these varied aspects together and it spends a good bit of time on various things such as the connection between the real and the wired, global consciousness and the whole perception versus reality angle. With Lain coming to grips with what is real and what isn’t, it gets fairly trippy at times, even with the music score, as things just don’t make sense for her. The various groups that re involved here also make their motions towards control and we even get an amusing bit of factual back story to the creation of the Wired and how it all comes together. As Lain begins to realize more and more about how connected she is to all the events out there that have happened while getting to know more about who is who in the present, it pushes her in some interesting ways as it tries to reset her stance through a sort of sixties or seventies rush of images until she can take firm control herself.

Having not watched Serial Experiments Lain since its original run in 1999 on DVD from Pioneer, it was definitely strange in coming back to this and seeing it in this fashion. With every show, you bring your own baggage into it but mostly it doesn’t impact it in a big way. You can watch an action show or a romantic comedy and get the basics of it, like particular characters and enjoy it. With Lain, what you bring to the table definitely influences your enjoyment of it. With its 90’s Internet lingo, it can be a bit disconnected in some ways, but you have to immerse yourself into this time period and its perceptions of where the Internet could go at the time. And since the show wants to ask a lot of questions while giving few answers in regards to mind versus body and its relationship to distributed computing, it can be a little unnerving as well. But it is the kind of show where you can sit down with someone and have really good conversations about it as everyone will pick up on different parts of it.

In Summary:
Serial Experiments Lain is one of those series that is key to many older anime fans in the English speaking world because it was one of those early releases when DVD was new that had some neat tricks about it, lots of buzz from being very recent and it has a really strong creative team behind it. It’s also a show that has been shown on TV in North America several times on different networks which gets it a bit more of an audience than a lot of other shows. Lain is a show that makes you question a lot of things, provides some answers but generally wants to leave a great deal of it open to interpretation. This high definition presentation gives the show a bold new life while still showing off what made it so engaging in the past. And with the great package and the incredible art book included, this is an easy pickup for old and new fans alike that I can’t recommend enough.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Music Promos, Commercial, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 27th, 2012
MSRP: $89.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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