Nostalgia is a two-way street. It can be enlightening to fondly recognize how events in the past led to the present. However, there also runs the risk of being too beholden to that past. This is the crossroads that Mamoru finds himself at in this week’s episode of 16bit Sensation: Another Layer. The world of games and computers is already gearing up to move past his precious PC-98, but he isn’t prepared yet. There’s only a mild irony in how Mamoru is a person living in the past from the perspective of Konoha and the audience. But his journey still provides a framework to analyze that adherence to the old ways and what a healthy relationship with nostalgia looks like.
I’m a little disappointed that this week’s episode didn’t follow up on Mamoru’s more technical concerns about the jump to Windows, i.e., streamlining development and lowering the overall know-how that informs game development. Perhaps this will be revisited in future episodes, especially as this entry leaves Mamoru convinced of Konoha’s time-travel status and the state of technology from her home era. But as of this week, any worries about making game dev “too easy” (aside from a brief aside of Kaori and Meiko remarking on the wonders of Windows) are left on the back burner. I hope they’re returned to, as there’s some salient commentary on that issue.
Instead, this episode focuses on Mamoru’s attachment to the PC-98 on a pure familiarity level. It’s shown that he grew up with the hardware, and he’s been using it to develop games for Alcohol Soft for over four years. In the age of people who upgrade their phones every six months, that can seem like an absurd amount of time to be beholden to a single system. But that speaks to the kind of lifetime the PC-98 had during its run and why it enjoys such a wistful fanbase even today.
That’s sort of the point Konoha trips into when she discusses things with Mamoru after he finally comes around. Mamoru is a technological wunderkind; he absolutely could learn how to use Windows if he wanted to, and even he’s seen the writing on the wall that the PC-98 is on its way to being outclassed. But while Konoha’s suggestion that he attempt to change history to cause the PC-98 to come out on top is characteristically goofy, she’s on the right track. Recreations of retro platforms have proliferated in this modern day and age. Alongside the resurgence of vinyl records as a collectible music medium, enthusiasts are allotted the opportunity to buy functional reproduction cartridges for classic game consoles. Modern games like VA-11 Hall-A strive to replicate the aesthetics of those formative PC-98 releases. Enthusiasts can even buy a mini version of the PC-Engine (the game console produced by NEC, the company behind the PC-98). The pre-loaded games include legendary visual novels and dating sims like Snatcher and Tokimeki Memorial. Even without Mamoru and Konoha’s intentional interference, the past is carried forward into the future.
It’s a spirit that lines up with points touched on earlier in the episode. Konoha describes to her new past-tense friend Toya the kinds of bonus materials games come packed with in the modern day, unintentionally blowing the poor girl’s mind with the mere concept of ASMR. Those retro-reproduction cartridges are often included as buying bonuses for games. So even if she doesn’t directly articulate that to Mamoru (since he’s already convinced himself to move forward), Konoha is at least indirectly aware of that future avenue for “classic” materials. That overarching point is further symbolized in how Mamoru, at last, confirms Konoha’s time-traveling truth, using 1996 technology to fix her busted tablet. These advancements are best when they’re used as a bridge between eras rather than seeing them in pure deference to one another. Is that symbolized in how Konoha has seemingly made more friends in the past than she has in her present, or how she’s ineffectual at solving problems only for her mere presence to seemingly sort them out anyway? Only time will tell.
- This week’s episode features a guest appearance by the intro for Leaf’s Shizuku, which I mentioned last week. Shizuku is the very first visual novel actually referred to as a visual novel and is also regularly credited with codifying many of the more dense, dark, psychological elements of the medium’s offshoot genres. As heard and remarked upon in this episode, the music quality in its Windows port was a strong indicator of the power of the new platform.
- 16bit Sensation is an otaku-geared series, meaning Konoha and the crew at Alcohol Soft make an obligatory pilgrimage to Comiket as part of this week’s plot. My snark aside, this does fit with the overall basis of the series. Many game developers would moonlight as doujin circles, which was no different for Misato Mitsumi and Tatsuki Amazuyu. Their experiences would even inform one of Leaf and AQUAPLUS‘s games, Comic Party. To say nothing of 16bit Sensation starting as a self-published doujin.
- Speaking of Comiket, its appearance in this episode continues the series’ theme of historical relevance. The one attended by Konoha and Co. is quite a landmark. In the summer of 1996, this would be Comiket 50: The very first iteration of the event at the now-iconic Tokyo Big Sight.
- I talked last week about anime that would have aired during Konoha’s time in the past, but this episode made clear a particular oversight in that approach: The shows that aired in-between her trips. As seen by the off-brand cosplays of Alcohol Soft/K Works, 1996 puts the otaku-sphere firmly in post-Evangelion territory. Obviously, they don’t have the space to be able to directly remark on any influences the landmark series would have on their approach to aesthetics or storytelling. But it still serves as a clear reminder of how time, for both technology and culture, is ever moving forward and changing.
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.