Layer: Battle Arena is the esports anime we've all been waiting for
Sports anime is all the rage these days. There's a volleyball anime. A swimming anime. A cycling anime. But while there seem to be countless oh-no-we're-trapped-inside-an-online-game shows these days, there hasn't been one devoted to the world of professional esports. Until now.
Layer: Battle Arena follows five school-aged players of a popular, if fictitious, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), modeled closely on League of Legends and DotA 2. Our protagonist Rei (the redhead on the left) is a MOBA noob and self-professed non-gamer who happens to take over for his friend during a match one day at an internet cafe. Falling into the role of the team's primary AD carry (basically, a ranged fighter), Rei soon proves to be a prodigy, picking up high-risk strategies like a pro in seconds. It isn't long before Rei is scouted by a local league, one that just happens to be on the cusp of qualifying for a national championship...
While we don't have much information about the show to go on as yet, there is the official site and this tiny teaser trailer, giving us a glimpse of the show's combined 2D-3D style. Production I.G., which also animates Haikyuu!! and Kuroko no Basuke, is heading up the animation. Crunchyroll and Hulu, two primary online platforms for anime in the West, have already announced they will be simulcasting the show when it premieres this fall.
What follows below are translations of the brief character biographies found from the official site. Many thanks to LolKing's Rhea for helping me with the translations!
Tohru Fujiwara (Position: Secondary carry, Mid-Laner)
17 years old and the self-appointed captain of Rei's newfound guild, Fujiwara is cold, strict, and always gets what he wants. He attends a college preparatory high school and has excellent grades. Despite his personality, he is a staunch defender of less experienced players like Rei and Kazuko.
Ohka Yukishima (Position: Tank, Top-Laner)
19 years old. She is a university student and does not appear to make friends easily. Seems cold and aloof, is actually just shy and a bit lonely. Her goal is to become a history teacher (but she doesn't tell anyone this). Works part-time as a barista.
Gon Ishiwatari (Position: Support)
17 years old (although often mistaken for someone much older). Ill-tempered but very talented, he is known to berate his teammates even as he's helping them. He is loud and rude, but he will go to extreme lengths to protect someone. This tendency has earned him the nickname 'Mama Bear' which he hates.
Kazuko Fujiwara (Position: Tank/Assassin, Jungler)
13 years old, but she is already in her last year of middle school because she skipped a grade. Fujiwara's younger sister, she is even smarter than he is. However, she is inattentive and prone to zoning out in the middle of a match, missing ganks. Most often responsible for the team's losses.
Rei Kanemaru (Position: Primary carry)
15 years old, your typical 'outdoors' kid always in way too many sports clubs. Dismissive of videogames at first, Rei nevertheless finds a niche as the team's primary AD/AP carry. The most likely to get into an argument with Ishiwatari.
(One interesting thing about Rei's profile, which should be noted, is that the writing goes well out of its way to not assign or even imply Rei's gender. The show's art depicts them with short hair and long eyelashes, and while we see them briefly in a boy's school uniform in the trailer, there appear to be skirts hanging in their bedroom closet as well. Japanese animation has embraced genderqueer and non-binary characters in the past -- Hange Zoe from Attack on Titan is a recent, high-profile example -- but it could be that Rei's gender is something the show intends to address at a later point.)
Each player has two or three main 'Layers' (as the champions/heroes are called) they are shown cycling through regularly, though it's hard to pick out their exact designs in the teaser. Apparently the studio is holding off on revealing these, as the Layers appear as grayed-out silhouettes on the character biography page. We also don't yet have a sense of how the game in Layer: Battle Arena will differ from the real-world MOBAs that inspire it, but there's a good chance more information on this will be rolled out in the near future.
Still, exciting, right? I'm not going to lie, I'm a little skeptical of how this show is going to manage to communicate all the complexities of its subject matter in an interesting, easy-to-digest way, but if a sports anime can't do it, nothing can.
EDIT 4/4/2016: So as many of you guessed, this is one of ZAM's April Fools gags! We hope you got a chuckle out of it. Be sure to check out Laura's secret fanfiction megapost and our best of April Fools roundup guide as well!
Kris Ligman is the News Editor for ZAM. They tried to get me to watch Daiya no Ace, but I said no, no, no. Share your reaction to this story with Kris on Twitter @KrisLigman.