escaping the inescapable: final essay on serial experiments lain

Give some examples of cybernetic systems at play in specific visual texts. What metaphors of the body in contemporary society do they suggest? And to what commodity end are they marketed?  

Serial Experiments Lain explores the cybernetic system of Lain’s modified body. The text suggests a desire to escape the hindrance that is the body in contemporary society. Lain’s body is a working body within the productive system of capitalism, a gendered body that is coded with patriarchal historical discourses, a ‘sick’ body of Japanese youth that fails at social communication, and finally a cybernetic body that is a collection of interactive processes.(Pinsky, 2003: 133) As individual’s and their bodies cannot be absent from their historical and cultural narratives, (Borer, 2002) Serial Experiments Lain presents us with the paradoxical nature of commodity culture. While fiction may offer us an escape from the body, or the possibility of inverting power relations, these utopic visions cannot be achieved under capitalism/patriarchy. 

Serial Experiments Lain explores the evolutionary ramifications of becoming cybernetic, and thus offers a metaphor for current debates on the future of the species. By suggesting the irrelevance of the body, Lain promotes active individual consumption and a future that involves engaging increasingly with private entertainment media. 

Conceptual tools from Deleuze and Guattari will be used to help to understand Serial Experiments Lain. Lain’s character will be theorized as a autopoietic body without organs who exists in a different mode. Furthermore, Deleuze and Guattari’s Re/Deterritorialization will be utilized to express the cyclical nature of Lain’s existence and the wider system in which we all exist. 

The Body Politic

In Layer 13: Ego, Lain abandons her body in favor of becoming a cybernetic system that exists everywhere. What is the significance of Lain (as an adolescent girl) leaving her corporeal body? The ‘body politic’ is a productive body that serves a certain function, and a subjected body turned into an object of knowledge. (Foucault, 1975: 26-28) Lain’s body is a useful force:  Discipline increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience). Discipline dissociates power from the body.  (Foucault, 1975: 138)   In the real world, Lain has little control over her body. She is made to study silently and productively in the uniformity of the classroom. The learning machine of the school ensures obedience and a better economy of time, while emphasizing hierarchy and supervision. Each individual is assigned a place, a desk to make the simultaneity of work possible. (Foucault, 1975: 147)   Lain’s time at school is a time of good quality where the body is constantly applied to its exercise. (Foucault, 1975: 151)  Start at 7mins This scene in Layer 10: Love, emphasizes the uniformity and productivity of the classroom through the brown monochrome of the students. Arisu says to Lain “you’re not needed in the real world.” By the end of the series, Lain’s body is no longer a useful economic body.  The body is a social construction whose value depends on the context from which it resides.(Fingerson, 2006: 73) The female body, while devalued compared with the male body, undergoes more mutation and transformation. The disembodied, cybernetic future renders absent certain reproductive, fleshy characteristics of a woman’s body. (Squires, 2000: 367) The status of the body is particularly important for teenagers, as girls learn that anything menstrual-related is of less value because it is synonymous with the powerless. (Fingerson, 2006: 73-79)  As a working body and a female adoloscent body, Lain’s physical existence is a burden. By becoming a cybernetic system, Lain is perhaps able to escape certain historical discourses encoded upon her body.  Suggestions that Lain may have asperger syndrome due to her restricted ability to interact socially with friends and family, add yet another reason for Lain to escape her body. She is shy, wearing bear pajamas and a hat to shield herself from those around her and remain childlike. Lain is trapped inside a body that doesn’t fit, and she feels alienated from that body. In the Wired, she can be powerful, bold, intuitive and assertive. According to an article published in The Age in light of the recent stabbing of seven people by a manga enthusiast, Japanese youth are increasingly alienated, lacking the skills to communicate with each other and express their feelings. This knifing rampage was labeled an ‘indirect suicide’ as the killer must have been seeking death himself. Lain’s body is a metaphor for alienated youth everywhere who feel they belong somewhere else. 

bear pjs

At the end of the series, Lain’s body no longer exists physically in the real world. However, it is interesting that Lain is still represented by the image of her female adolescent body. While the physical body always remains located within historically specific discourses and practices, (Hallan, Hockey and Howarth, 2001: 66) does the imaginary body? Perhaps the imagined body doesn’t carry the same historical weight as the real body. Lain says ‘I’m still me‘ but can this ‘me’ ever be separated from its origins? Cyber feminists believe it can as they hope to reject a science of origins and embrace multiple overlapping subjectivities (Hables Gray and Mentor, 1995: 229)  Sadie Plant notes that patriarchy is ‘an economy, for which women are the first and founding commodities.’ (Plant, 2000: 266) Lain’s nymph-like appearance is a source of pleasure or fan-service, especially when fiddling with her Navi in a white nightie (see clip below). As Screen Jam notes when discussing Lain as a “gendered and territorialized” cyborg body, her naked teenage body is emphasized throughout the series. Most notably, Lain is sexualized at the end of each episode when her body is naked and connected to wires in true cyborg fashion. Also, this scene in Layer 3: Psyche depicts Lain (at 6.50 mins) wearing very little clothing to avoid static electricity.   The body itself is invested by power relations (Foucault, 1977: 24) The soul is the effect and instrument of the political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body (Foucault, 1977: 29)  By escaping her body, Lain is able to escape the power relations invested within it. Gendered power relations are often inverted in the Wired. A number of games depict grown men afraid and running away from little girls. In Layer 4: Religion,(at 5 mins) a man screams in agony at the sight of a small girl in a pink dress with pig-tails. Furthermore, Lain is worshipped as a God in Layer 6: Kids and is the most powerful being in the Wired.  Through the character of Lain we can envision an inversion of power relations. However, Lain’s body is a sexualized teen body that is heavily coded with historical discourses, and packaged as a consumable commodity. Lain’s body is the marketing point for the whole series. The series exists so firmly within commodity culture, that any attempt to envisage an escape or an inversion is immediately interrupted. This will be conceptualized in relation to Re/Deterritorialization later. 

Cyberfeminists view the Net as an anarchic, self-organizing system where genders can be blurred and identities can become fluid. (Plant, 2000: 266-268) Lain demonstrates that identities can become fluid as we embrace multiple subjectivities in becoming cybernetic. It also demonstrates that perhaps we need a new paradigm to fit our new complex and contradictory existence.(Gonzalez, 2000: 61) However, the gendered discourses that encode our physical and imagined bodies are not as easily discarded. It seems that anything working from within the systems of capitalism and patriarchy (and it is pretty much impossible to work from without) cannot escape gendered discourses. 


The pre-millennial, apocalyptic moment of 1997 is transposed onto the body of Lain. Due to the destruction of the 20th century, Japan is a country distanced from its traditional history, and the sacrifice of children in Japanese anime is a common theme.(Napier, 2001: 199) The historical moment of 1997  is a moment where human bodies are vulnerable to threats of AIDS, cancer, nuclear war, overpopulation, environmental disasters and environmental destruction. (Springer, 1996: 27)  If the physical future of the human species is questionable, then perhaps we need to adapt in order to survive. Lain advocates this need to adapt and ‘preserve human consciousness outside the body.’ (Springer, 1996: 27) In Layer 12: Landscape, the voice over says.. The body is nothing but a machine.                                                                                                                  If the physical limitations of the body restrict mankind’s evolution, it would be as if the fall of the species called ‘man’ had already been decided by a God that didn’t exist.  We need to adapt for survival but survival has become suicide. (Springer, 1996, 27) Is this suicide or just existence in a different mode? It is a very interesting historical moment in which we live, as organic evolution is replaced or joined by ‘mechanical’ evolution. (Horner, 2001: 73) Looking at this in terms of Darwinism means that new technologies have the potential to divide the species into two. (Horner, 2001: 76) There are those, like Lain and Chisa, who embrace cybernetics and realize the irrelevance of the body, compared to those who view the abandonment of the body in conjunction with the destruction of human beings. (Springer, 1996: 11) Furthermore, technology is hierarchical, and survival may depend on having the economic means to finance a cybernetic self.(Springer, 1996: 41-42) 

Chisa abandoning her body

Lain poses some interesting questions concerning the way in which human evolution is approached. Also in Layer 12, “God” takes on an anthropocentric view, whereby human’s are the centre of existence and thus may exercise power over animals, plants or other humans who lack access to evolutionary technologies. Lain asks “God” the question “Who gave you those rights?”  The dialogue between Lain and “God” in this scene perhaps acts as a metaphor for current dialogue over ethics concerned with technology. One example is Cloning, where debate exists over the ethics of making copies of organisms. One side says that cloning is like “playing God” and interfering with the natural process, while the other points to the scientific and medical benefits. A sense of ambivalence about the future survival of human beings emerges as a reflection of these debates. (Springer, 1996: 11) This current concern with the cybernetic can be placed within the context of an ongoing ontological concern with the nature of the self. (Squires, 2000: 362)  Serial Experiments Lain seems to support new communications technologies that facilitate the eradication of public life, in favor of a new private life centered around television, video games and the internet.(Haraway, 2000: 306) Lain’s media products (DVD, playstation game, manga) all promote consumption as an individual pastime. Bauman contends that even when consumers do share physical spaces of consumption, (shopping centres, concert halls, tourist resorts) there is little actual social interaction. (Bauman, 2000: 97) Lain’s text evokes existence in a different mode where physical social interaction need not be feigned. Furthermore, new entertainment media look to more active opportunities for consumption as opposed to passive television watching. (Borer, 2002) A sense of liberation or community may be evoked through interaction with virtual worlds, fan sites etc.. Therefore, in its content and its existence as a consumer product in commodity culture, Serial Experiments Lain promotes active individual consumerism.   

Body without Organs and autopoiesis 

Lain can be conceptualized using Deleuze & Guattari’s notion of the Body Without Organs. In Layer 4: Religion, the female voiceover that opens the episode says: I do not need parents. Humans are all alone. They are not connected to anyone at all.  The full BwO rejects:  …any attempt to impose on it any sort of triangulation implying that it was produced by parents. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983: 15) Family dinner – 3.50-5 mins  Lain’s relationship with her parents lacks the warmth and openness that typically characterize familial relationships. Their house is minimalist, sterile and quiet. The family members find it difficult to communicate with each other and their faces, especially the mother’s, are inanimate.  The BwO is a witness of its own self-production and of its own engendering of itself. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983: 15) Therefore, the BwO is also an autopoietic machine. It is a machine of self-creation that can engender and specify their own organization and limits. (Guattari, 1995: 39)  Lain is an autopoietic body without organs.  Lain can control and manipulate herself and her body through her interaction with the Wired.  While this might suggest that Serial Experiments Lain advocates the irrelevance of the family, Lain’s conclusion rests on the triumph of humanism over machinic and technological power. (Colman, 2003) At 8 mins of this clip, Lain’s father authoritatively says “Come, Lain.” As they talk, surrounded by the beautiful flame-coloured sky, the music evokes an emotional response as Lain realizes that she loves everyone.  Perhaps then, rather than the dissolution of the family, it is just existence of love and relationships in a different mode rather than the traditional triangular parental relationship.

In Lain:

Everyone is connected 

rather than no one, or just some people. 


Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Deterritorialization’ (D) is of use in theorizing Lain’s place in the cycle of commodity culture.  D is the movement by which one leaves the territory. It is the operation of the line of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 508)  Serial Experiments Lain adopts the discourse of cyborg theory and cyberfeminism through Haraway’s eradication of boundaries. For example, the eradication of the boundary between the real world and the Wired, dead and living, physical and non-physical is broken down in this scene when Lain talks to Chisa. (from 6 mins-7 mins) The text thus leaves the territory of capitalism and patriarchy founded on binaries. This was elaborated on in an earlier post. The text is then reterritorialized:  D may be overlaid by a compensatory reterritorialization obstructing the line of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 508)  As Serial Experiments Lain exists within the systems of capitalism and patriarchy, a reterritorialization occurs on the ideal/fantasy of escape. Although it may be imagined that the binaries of patriarchy may be escaped through fiction, as a form of entertainment media that is made to be consumed, Lain exists within the system of capitalism.   D is in turn inseparable from correlative reterritorializations. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 509)  In this context, R is associated with capitalism and capitalism is an inescapable force. The D, in this case, is said to be negative because there is always a R obstructing the line of flight.  Lain helps us to understand the cyclical nature of the systems of capitalism and patriarchy under which we live and from which we can’t escape. 


Serial Experiments Lain offers several metaphors of contemporary society for us to ponder. The nature of machines and how they are packaged and marketed in commodity culture emphasizes the way almost everything exists for consumption. The inescapability of the body and our constant consumption of the body means it is concretely embedded in commodity culture and historical discourses. Even debate over the evolution of the human species is packaged as a consumable product.  It seems as though commodity culture can only be escaped through an absolute Deterritorialization:  D is absolute when if conforms to the first case and brings about the creation of a new earth, in other words, when it connects lines of flight, raises them to the power of an abstract vital line, or draws a plane of consistency. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 510) I do not really believe that an absolute D is possible. As much as the utopic writings of cyberfeminists like Haraway are appealing, escaping commodity culture and the systems of capitalism and patriarchy in which it exists, is an impossibility. 



Zygmunt Bauman (2000) ‘Time/Space,’ in Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity, pp. 91-129

Michael Ian Borer (2002) ‘The Cyborgian Self: Toward a Critical Social Theory of Cyberspace,’ in Reconstruction Studies in Contemporary Culture, Vol. 2, No. 3, Accessed on 26th May 2008 from:

Felicity Colman (2003) ‘The Sight of Your God Disturbs Me: Questioning the Post-Christian Bodies of Buffy, Lain, and George,’ in Refractory: a Journal of Entertainment Media, Vol. 3, Accessed on 5th June 2008 from:

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) ‘Deterritorialization,’ in B. Massumi (trans.) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London and New York: Continuum, pp. 508-510

Laura Fingerson (2006) Girls in Power: Gender, Body and Menstruation in Adolescence, Albany: State University of New York Press

Michel Foucault (1975) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Alan Seridan (trans.), London: Penguin

Chris Hables Gray and Steven Mentor (1995) ‘The Cyborg Body Politic and the New World Order,’ in Gabriel Brahm Jr. and Mark Driscoll (eds.) Prosthetic Territories: Politics and Hypertechnologies, San Francisco and Oxford: Westview Press, pp. 219-247

Felix Guattari (1995) ‘Machinic Heterogenesis’ in P.Bains and J. Pefanis (trans.) Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Sydney: Power Publications, pp. 33-59

Elizabeth Hallan, Jenny Hockey and Glennys Howarth (2001) ‘The Body in Death,’ in Ruth Holliday and John Hassard (eds.) Contested Bodies, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 63-77

Donna Haraway (2000) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Last Twentieth Century,’ in David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 291-324

Susan J. Napier (2001) Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, New York: Palgrave

Michael Pinksy (2003) ‘The Cyborg Body: Two Case Studies’ in Future Present: Ethics and/as Science, Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 119-156

Sadie Plant (2000) ‘On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations,’ in Gill Kirchup, Linda James, Kath Woodward and Fiona Hovenden (eds.) The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 265-275

Claudia Springer (1996) Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age, Austin: University of Texas Press

Judith Squires (2000) ‘Fabulous Feminist Features and the Lure of Cyberculture,’ in David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 360-373  

June 10, 2008. Tags: , , , . commodity culture, tv. 3 comments.