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Present Time, Past Words: A Look Into Culture


Chase Pritchard, contributor

Serial Experiments Lain is a 1998 anime supervised by Ryutaro Nakamura (Director of Ghost HoundKino’s Journey) and written by Chiaki J. Konaka (Head Writer of Big ODigmon Tamers), based on a story by Yasuyuki Ueda (producer of Hellsing UltimateErgo Proxy); it is a fine example of the collaboration spirit inherent in anime itself. Within, Lain Iwakura becomes involved in a spiritual quest to resolve her own existence after the suicide of a schoolmate—and the means of communication around why she committed it—prompts her to become deeply involved in computer technology. To discover the inner mechanics of the “wired world,” she eventually arrives at a significant quandary with the help of a classmate named Alice Mizuki. It is a philosophical question she must deal with in 13 episodes: Can she be communicated through separate realties effectively, and if so, how will that affect her own reality?

Even if that question was answered, how do the events inside the show relate to the central question Lain asks? What exactly is a good approach to a show like Lain? The fan base might help, and it’s even better if the creators themselves provide some clues on what exactly those intentions were, but sometimes, the answers only provide more questions.

As a core example, If one goes into the Serial Experiments Lain fan base, they are almost required to read upon a October 1999 interview where Yasuyuki Ueda, producer, expresses his thoughts on how the show comes off as a sort of culture war against American culture and the American sense of values adopted after WWII. With such a statement, debate naturally occurs, to the point where some readers might leave with an impression of tainted goods.

Years afterward, fans had attempted to contact Ueda and ask if he was willing to expand upon such comments. Below is one of many responses he gave–—at  Otakon 2000– —which is unusually descriptive compared to previous answers to similar questioning. Of course, the show itself never does discuss whatever if American values have any impact to what purpose Lain had as a series (at least beyond sympathizing the central character herself), but that has not stopped fans from looking into the comment and hoping to find something within that ideal that could eventually add to their perspective of the show. Whether or not such thinking benefits the show itself will depend on the viewers themselves.

“M(U):  ok, so basically, when I was growing up, American culture had a huge impact on the way I am now, and while I find American culture to be very interesting, there are some things that are very complex and hard for me to understand, and the way Japan and America is now, we’re on good terms, but there are still some things, there’s a communication barrier, that we can’t talk about certain things or we’re not ready to, that we just kind of skirt around the subject of certain taboo issues, if you will, culturally, and it’s not because we’re avoiding them, it’s just that we’re not aware of them because of the communication barrier. I wish we would go further into that.”

Afterwards, someone else asked Ueda about this theme, and Ueda’s answer only made the initial comment that much deeper to analyze.

“Q: when I served in Vietnam, there were some of the same difficulties between the Americans and the Vietnamese.

M(U): For many countries in Asia, the second world war left a lot of scars, and I assume this will kind of put a cloud over this room, and I assume most of you are Americans, but as for Japan, this generation has pretty much forgotten about it because the new generation always wants to step forward. they don’t really look back, and while my grandfather and grandmother both died in the atomic bombing, to me actually, it doesn’t leave anything in me. I don’t harbor any, hatred is a strong word, but you know, any feelings of regret and so forth, so basically I just want to keep on moving forward.”

(Source)

A lot has been written about what Lain represents as a franchise, and this post isn’t intended to extend any thoughts already given, unless the interest is there for a topic in a future post. But if one wants to be serious on the ideas that are expressed in the series, then easy access of that knowledge–that the 13 layers that constitute the anime is not the sole experience needed to fully embrace the ideas–would probably benefit fans better than taking granted what is already known among veterans.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Leave them below!

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