This is the second half of a paper I wrote trying to relate a couple anime
s to Japan
ese history and Japan
relations. (The first half was about Grave of the Fireflies
) I believe this fits well with the director's comments cited in other posts. (Spoilers)
The second anime this paper will discuss is a television series called Serial Experiments Lain. With thirteen twenty-five minute episodes, the series is almost five-and-a-half hours long. There are a variety of elements present in the series that will be omitted, those mentioned being those most relevant to the topic of this paper.
The viewer is introduced to the series when Lain, a junior high school girl, receives an e-mail from a classmate who has recently killed herself. The dead girl tells her that she is still alive in the "Wired" (something much like the Internet) and that God exists there. It is an eerie beginning to a disturbing storyline.
Over the next few episodes, Lain becomes increasingly involved in the world of the Wired. She gets a more powerful computer, and with the help of mysterious forces is able to obtain the equipment needed to fully translate herself into the digital world. Things turn dark, however, when Lain discovers that someone who looks like her has been spreading vicous rumors about her friends. Her only real friend, a girl named Alice, is ashamed when her classmates are told about her lust after a teacher at the school. Lain learns that there is another Lain in the Wired, an evil and cruel side of herself that is tormenting her friend.
Lain eventually meets the God of the Wired, a now dead programmer who managed to connect the human subconscious to the Wired using the Earth's "natural resonance". He tells her that people and experiences only exist as information. He introduces a system of subjective reality that is redolent of Orwell's 1984. If it isn't remembered, he tells Lain, it never happened. He extends this to people, whom are described as "software." He also tells Lain that she the ego for the human consciousness in the Wired. He tells her that he created her ego and body, that she is his homunculus.
Lain buys into what he tells her, taking advantage of her newfound power. She discovers that she can manipulate reality, and removes all of the memories of the rumors her alter-ego had spread. She leaves only Alice's mind intact.
Another factor that adds to the surreal feel of the series is its repeated references to the Roswell incident. In one instance, Lain is actually shown with the body of a classic sci-fi alien. It also goes through much of the early history of the Internet, discussing some 1950's-era American scientists who came up with the concept before the advent of powerful computers. Portions of the series almost feel like a documentary.
In a scene close to the conclusion of the series Alice confronts Lain over what she has done. Lain tells Alice what the God has told her. When Lain tells Alice that people are no more than information and the bodies have become unnecessary, Alice responds by placing Lain's hand over her heart. Together they chant "Doki, doki . . ." (The Japanese word for heartbeat, an onomatopoeia). She says to Lain, "I don't really understand, but I think you're wrong. You're body is cold, but it's alive. Mine is too, see?" At this point, Lain comes to some sort of revelation concerning the Wired and the human subconscious.
Below is part of Lain's final conversation with the God character, which follows her exchange with Alice.
Lain: What you did was remove devices from the Wired. Phones, television, the network . . . without those, you couldn't have done anything.
God: Yes. Those are things which accompanied human evolution. Humans who are further evolved than others have a right to greater abilities.
Lain: Who gave you those rights?
God: (startled noise)
Lain: The program that inserted code synched to the Earth's characteristic frequency into the Protocol 7 code, which would raise the collective subconscious to the conscious level. Did you really come up with the idea by yourself?
God: What are you getting at? No, it can't be . . . it can't be! Are you telling me that there really is a God?
Lain: It doesn't matter. With no body, you can't understand.
("Serial Experiments Lain")
Lain goes on to tell the (false) God that he is merely a proxy God, only standing in for someone else. That someone else is never specified. It might be, however, that the higher power she refers to has something to do with the aliens the series makes reference to.
Lain destroys the God character and presses the world's "reset" button. She realizes that the Wired is not an upper layer of the real world (as she previously believed), but merely a means of connecting the vast human memory and subconscious. The final episode implies that Lain is the essence of this subconscious.
Serial Experiments Lain is a dark and bewildering series, particularly to the Western observer. However, when veiwed in the context of Japan's relationship with the United States from World War II to the present, it becomes easier to understand.
After the war ended in 1945, the United States occupied Japan until 1951. This time would largely shape US-Japanese relations up to the present time. Although American occupiers originally allowed for a truly democratic form of government, it clamped down in 1947 when Japan began leaning toward socialism. Known as the Reverse Course, this period saw many of Japan's prewar leaders allowed to return to positions of power. Labor unions were crushed, and remain ineffective today.
The occupation did result, however, in the total demilitarization of Japan. American occupiers also helped refocus Japan on industry. The governement was encouraged to be very protective of local industries. Industries took advantage of the emotional void left by the defeat, and the family-state became the family-company. The samurai became the sarariman, the corporate salaryman.
Where beating the West militarily had been the goal of prewar Japan, beating the West economically became the goal of postwar Japan. The Japanese people were still being manipulated with ideology to serve the needs of those at the top. In addition, part of the reason Japan was industrialized was to serve the needs of the United States; Japan's labor unions were crushed and industry protected at the expense of democracy because the Americans wanted a stronghold of capitalism in Asia.
In Japan's postwar economic miracle was one of Westernization. Japan has been trying desperately to catch up with the West ever since Perry "opened" it in 1853. By any material measure, they have suceeded. In the 1980's, Japan came close to surpassing the United States as the largest economy in the world.
All this catching up, however, has left the Japanese people asking the inescapable question: if all we do is import Western ideas, what makes us Japanese? This is reflected in the popularity of a Japanese literary genre known as the nihon-jinron, or "the theory of the Japanese." Also popular, oddly enough, are works by foreign authors critical of Japan. Japanese scholars, who claim that non-Japanese authors are incapable of understanding Japan, universally reject these works.
The nihon-jinron echoes the exceptionalist rhetoric of prewar Japan. Although it does not claim that the Japanese race is destined for world domination, it does emphasize its superiority and its "spirit." It describes Western cultures as dry and Western people as disconnected, in contrast to wet, close-knit Japanese. Japanese culture is said to be warmer and more humane. It also emphasizes the supposed Japanese ability to understand without words.
The nihon-jinron also extols Japanese homogeneity, which is actually a myth. Discrimination exists in Japan, mostly against the barakumin, descendents of people in professions considered unclean in the Confucian Tokugawa period, and Japanese born Koreans.
Lain now begins to fit into the overall picture. The false God and his vision of the Wired represent the West, or more specifically, the United States itself. The fact that the Lain character was partially created by the God seems to be a reference to the American occupation, which reshaped Japan into what it is today. The way that the God views humanity, as "software," is in line with nihon-jinron descriptions of cold Western culture.
Lain, however, rejects this. Alice, representing ordinary Japanese people, shows her that there is more to humanity than information. The scene where Alice has Lain feel her heartbeat is clearly influenced by nihon-jinron, with the Alice character encouraging Lain to feel her warmth.
Lain then tells the God two important things: that he is a proxy God, standing in for something else, and that he is unable to understand the truth because he has already given up his body.
The central message of Serial Experiments Lain, then, seems to go something like this: Lain, representing the spirit of the Japanese people, comes under great influence from the God, the West. The West has a lot to offer, primarily technology (the Wired). Western culture is, however, cold and inhumane. The West/God attempts to push its coldness onto Japan/Lain. Japan/Lain rejects this, and incorporates the foreign technology into the Japanese spirit. It is implied that the West served only as a means of transmitting this technology to the culturally superior Japan, and that the West may have gotten the technology from some other higher power (the Roswell aliens). The West/God is incapable of understanding the truth because he has no body--or, like the authors of nihon-jinron claim, because he is not Japanese. Viewed in this way, Lain is a dissappointingly exceptionalist work.
Clayton Naff's About Face and Patrick Smith's Japan: a Re-interpretation were important sources for this part of the paper.
The central thing for me is this: Alice calls Lain back to true Japanese-ness, after she was led astray by western ideas.