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One of my favorite movie series ever is Back to the Future. And say what you will about Part II, its handling of a timeline-shifted “bad future” has become foundational to anything that gets within spitting distance of the genre. Here in this week’s 16bit Sensation: Another Layer, Konoha (who’s perhaps only slightly less on top of these things than Marty McFly) finds herself touring a world completely unlike the one she expected to come home to. A burgeoning real-estate market has flattened out the beloved landmarks of Akihabara, and her beloved bishoujo games now sport the signifiers of their new American home. The sight of an ame-comi-styled Arturia Pendragon punching the screen in service of hawking Fate/Gears of Order might be the funniest thing this season, beating out this same show’s Madoka Magica needle-drop a few weeks earlier.

The trick with Another Layer‘s channeling of BTTF (Mamoru even draws a timeline diagram identical to the one Doc does in Part II), apart from being yet another thing this show does better than Ready Player One, is the way it pries at the idea of what a “bad future” even is. There is a concern there, at first. The erasure of Konoha’s cherished bishoujo games and the erosion of Akiba culture by a wave of American capital certainly raise some eyebrows. After all its articulation of love of art forms, is this anime going to arrive at a simple accusation that those darn Westerners are ruining everything with their globalization? Is it that important to keep bishoujo and visual novels as some niche art form only able to be appreciated by “true” otaku?

Luckily, inherently goofy as Another Layer always has been, it’s more ambitious than that. The “twist” by this episode’s end is that the future that Konoha inadvertently created with Alcohol Soft and The Last Waltz is effectively a lateral move and turned out pretty well for all her friends. Everyone at the developer may have moved to America, but they’re still incredibly successful and, by Mamoru’s accounts, happy in their new station. Meiko even made Person of the Year; take that, Taylor Swift!

What’s shown occurring here is but a continuation, an acceleration, of what Konoha knew would already happen. She happily crowed about the inevitable victory of otaku culture in her future. Shifting the timeline via technological leaps caused things to intersect with the similarly inevitable nerd rise in the West. And living in a 2023 where media like VTubers are globally successful and Fate/Grand Order is the most popular mobile game on the planet, does this monocultural model seem so far-fetched? The cultural spread detailed here is exactly what the Aniplex industrial complex is already doing in real-life, art style shifts be damned. This is the key point of Mamoru rejecting Konoha’s guilt over her assumed butterfly effect. This sort of thing was always destined to happen, one way or the other.

Since the first deployment of its time-travel gimmick, Another Layer has clarified how Akihabara has constantly been changing. Just last week, the characters in 1999 were remarking that they couldn’t believe something like the Dejiko building could be erected in the Akihabara they knew. The outlandish Americanized style of “bishoujo” in Konoha’s new present is arguably as far-removed from the anime girls of 1985 as those in her “correct” timeline. And this alternate wave of “Cuu” games isn’t represented as a hollowed-out cultural loss but something that brings as much genuine joy to the nerds of that world as “moe” does in our own 2023. It’s telling that Mamoru’s proposed solution is another history-altering compromise, where he’d previously asserted his wish that everything could stay the same. I suppose this is what watching the PC-98 still fade into irrelevance does to someone’s priorities.

I have even less idea where Another Layer will land or if it will stick doing so. But it’s now blown past being an earnest expression of love for an art form and its culture to being a thoughtful (if still extremely silly) meditation on the broader inevitable place of that culture. The story had the opportunity for simple shallow satire and instead swerved into what it has always done best: Reflecting on the earnest joy this material provides and the specific chronology that’s created it, regardless of the current monocultural mainstream. That’s why this episode arrives at Konoha at last, getting the opportunity she longed for at the beginning of the series, to develop a revolutionary bishoujo VN in her era because it is creation, not consumption, that ultimately steers the evolution of art.


Bonus Bits:

  • Having Ayako Kawasumi already on-hand in the 16bit Sensation anime (she voices Kaori) meant it was a no-brainer to have her step in as “Saber” in the Fate/Gears of Order ad. The bigger surprise is Rie Takahashi as the narrator, obliquely referencing her role as Mash Kyrielight in the real-life Fate/GO.
  • Mamoru rattles off a list of legendary VN developers who all moved to America in this new timeline, with AliceSoft as the only one remaining in Japan. AliceSoft is an eroge developer who has been around since 1989, likely their most well-known work being the Rance series. Even the more accepting bishoujo-game sensibilities of this alternate-timeline America still couldn’t abide the unapologetic raunchiness of AliceSoft’s flagship series and its title character. Rance is a legend in its own right, and the first installment was seen among the historically important time-travel games in Konoha’s collection, though it has yet to be opened.
  • I am way too invested in the implications of the alternate timeline showcased in this episode. If Type-Moon did wind up moving to America, how did the rest of their empirical evolution play out to arrive at Fate/Gears of Order? Did the doujin game scene still work out the same, or was Melty Blood made by a Western team as a more Mortal Kombat-styled fighter? Was there a Tsukihime Netflix cartoon that fans petulantly pretend never happened? With VNs becoming the dominant game genre, does that mean they’re wholly respected. In contrast, military first-person shooters are the ones that developers dismissively mock and trot out as “subversive” exercises or April Fools’ Day jokes? You could probably make another series just based on this concept!

16bit Sensation: Another Layer is currently streaming on

Chris mostly knows many of these VN game characters from the fighting games they popped up in. You can catch him meditating on any amount of game, anime, and manga subjects over on his blog, as well as posting too many screencaps of them as long as Twitter allows.

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Episode 10 – 16bit Sensation: Another Layer