What is Lain? I'm afraid that after three viewings I cannot give a definitive answer. Lain is most atypical Anime. I've been told that it becomes clearer with repeated viewings however I have yet to 'get' Lain.
The story is based on a central premise. It is Tokyo in the near future. Guns are still propelled by gunpowder, music has a techno-dance flavour, cars run on octane, however computers seem to advanced slightly more than 1998 when Lain was produced.
Lain is a withdrawn, meek, introvert schoolgirl in an all-girl school. She is different to the girls around her and an opposite to her older teenage sister who is assertive, a bit angry at the world. One of Lain's classmates suicides in spectacular fashion however a short time later, Lain receives email from the dead girl. The email seems to imply that the dead girl has in fact transferred her 'being' into the 'wire' and has chosen to leave her body for an existence within the 'Matrix' as it were. Lain is intrigued by this concept and becomes immersed in the online world and the tools to access this medium. Like a lot of Anime, the concepts here are excruciating in complexity with the computers and technology being incredibly detailed and accurate. Lain's personality changes dramatically as the series progresses. Are there two Lain's - the wired girl and the physical?
There isn't much that happens in the first four episodes. In fact, it's my opinion that this whole series is a very slowly paced affair with the plenty of time to look at the 'shooting angles', deliberate editing and recurring themes.
Watching this disc in isolation is not recommended as the other three fill in the blanks. In fact even watching all four discs in one sitting isn't likely to make this all that much clearer. It's inscrutable and I would welcome any explanation... you have my email (yes I understand the irony...)
Video quality is excellent with very few flaws visible. Anime and PAL has not had an easy relationship, The originating source is usually NTSC and it is often said that DVD compression does not take to animation all that well. Compound that with NTSC and it was expected that some titles would suffer. This is not the case here with an extremely smooth, fluid motion and colourful if pastel palette. There are instances of apparent poor focus however it's also on the NTSC version so in actually, any flaws are on the original and not the DVD itself. There's also some image bleed with black lines on stark white backgrounds.
The PAL version shows some differences to the NTSC version - almost all positive and one arguably negative aspect. The print is sharper with clearer boundaries, less bleed and it looks like a more modern transfer. The major difference I could immediately see is that the NTSC version looks like a darker print, dominated by more solid primary colours. The PAL version looks more pastel with weaker more, watered down look. Reds in the NTSC print looks pinkish in the PAL version. It's not a huge difference and who knows what's more 'correct' however played side by side - it is present.
An English and Japanese track in Dolby Surround 2.0 at 224k/s. Almost no rear ambience and limited dynamics, which reflects the original track. Intelligibility is excellent as is ADR sync. Music is of good quality and the limited use of L/R bass and some explosive effects. Decent stereo front panning and there's a reasonable effort in recreating the ambience of certain locales. This is a dialogue heavy film so all I can ask for is that everything is easy to understand and it is.
Some Otaku really love this series. The theme 'clicks' with them and I'd expect that they will buy all four volumes from Madman. For even casual Anime fans I would caution this enthusiasm with a rental as this is not structured like customary Anime. There's almost no violence or sexual themes or tentacles.
Lain is a four DVD set - with three roughly 22 minutes episodes per disc with the first disc adding an introductory episode. Actually I'm describing the American boxset however I expect the Australian series will be the same. It's my feeling that this four episode first disc is a very limited introduction to Lain. Some aspects of the plot are only barely introduced and they aren't resolved until the final few episodes. With that in mind it's either buy all of them or buy none. I'm left more confused after seeing it,,, I think I'll play some 'Urotsukidoji' now...