That was a very solid show! The ideas were quite interesting and seemed fairly consistent, the mood shifted pretty organically from meditative psych thriller to sci-fi drama, the visual and sound design was excellent, Lain was a solid central character, and it ended very well. Some specific things that really stuck out to me were the excellent contradictory ideas it introduced later on, some really well-directed thriller elements (the sister episode in particular was a highlight), the excellent use of a very broad visual vocabulary (the colors, the repeated camera shots, etc), and the so-smart-it-seems-obvious connection of defining the self with online personas.
There are definitely things that did bug me, here and there. The biggest ones were the times the show sort of attacked its own pacing by directly telling things to the viewer – when the various personas talked to Lain as her sister was being attacked, when it introduced all the historical internet information, when it just sorta recapped the show for half an episode… in addition to being a pretty clumsy kind of storytelling, they also hurt the impact of the other things going on at the time. I think the show would be a decent bit better if those things were cropped.
I also thought the show focused maybe a bit too much on the ideas at the expense of its narrative. By that I mean that while Lain’s development and the ideas about identity were obviously the focus of the show, the show definitely also wanted to work successfully on a straight mystery/thriller level, and many scenes were dedicated to this pursuit. Because of this, when it turned out that the G-Men didn’t really represent anything more than themselves (they were just two guys being paid), and when the ultimate “antagonist” only really showed up for a couple episodes (frankly, I don’t think this show actually needed Eiri – but either way, I think the lines of connection between him, the G-Men, and the Knights could have been a bit refined and more fully articulated in general), it felt somewhat anticlimactic to me. I generally try to judge shows according to what they themselves are trying to do, so picking at the plot structure of such an idea-focused show does seem kinda inappropriate, but I think this show was interested enough in having those plot points land in a satisfying way that it’s a valid comment.
I think a complaint many other people would try to make is that some of its ideas are derivative of Eva – the construction of the ego, the question of whether living with the pain of the real world is worth doing, the occasional allusions towards singularity, the plentiful time spent in Lain’s mindspace, essentially talking to herself about her feelings… to this, I’d just say “these ideas are fucking fantastic, and Eva doesn’t have a monopoly on them. Lain uses all these things in its own way for its own purposes, and that’s totally cool and should be encouraged.”
Overall, my complaints are with very specific elements, and I think the show in general is very strong, and its ambition and creativity far outweigh their impact. Assigning a score to this one is a little tricky for me, because it’s kind of an impersonal show most of the time, and I really, really prefer shows that connect to me on an emotional level. But that’s my personal bias projecting unfair assumptions on a confident, distinctive, and generally excellent piece of art, and I don’t gotta be that way. I’ll have to think about this more, but for now, I’ll give it the full 9/10. Hopefully that’s enough love to keep Lain trucking.