Anime Movie Review: Summer Wars

It might officially be autumn but that won’t stop me from talking about one of my all-time favorite summer anime blockbusters: Summer Wars.

It is a 2009 Japanese animated film directed by Mamoru Hosoda who is more well known for The Girl who Leapt Through Time in the anime community. It is animated by the top-notch studio Madhouse which is well known for many other high-budget films and anime series.

Many people say that this movie is much like the Digimon movie but 1) I’ve never watched the Digimon movie and 2) I’m not reviewing Digimon vs. Summer Wars.

 An Introduction

The movie follows the main character Kenji Koiso: a shy high school math nerd and a low-level site maintainer for the popular OZ network  as he takes on a “job” for his pretty and popular classmate Natsuki Jinnouchi.

Kenji ends up being Natsuki’s pretend fiance and is stuck staying with her large extended family as they prepare for Natsuki’s great-grandmother 90th birthday. The Jinnouchi clan is a very old and proud group descended from samurai and needless to say, this gives a dateless quiet nerd much undue stress.

Unable to sleep the first night, Kenji solves a math puzzle that turns out to be an encrypted user security code for the popular social network and virtual world of OZ. Not only does he gets hacked but he gets framed for bringing mass chaos to the online world, which rippled, into the real world.

He finds out that the trouble is all caused by an A.I. named Love Machine that is using Kenji’s avatar and account to take over countless other accounts. It’s all up to Kenji to stop it before it brings the internet and the entire world to its knees.

But this movie isn’ a thriller aimed to demonize the internet or its users. That’s just as backwards as criticizing the telephone and the television for changing how people talk and absorb information. The internet is a very integral part to how people live these days and that’s just the way it is. Just like that damn rock and roll. Different era, different norms.

The sequences that showcase the online world of OZ are amazing. Sci-fi often portrays computer systems as dark, structured, and grungy (ie: Tron, The Matrix) but Summer Wars presents it as a bright and colorful place that is both flexible and organized….at least until Love Machine shows up and frolics around.

It is a place with no bounds yet the different depiction of a super-powerful network does not cheapen the power that it has. In a way, it makes the experience seem more plausible since OZ is all about ordinary people and not sexed-up characters. The fight sequences are heart-pounding and exhilarating be it with fists or with wits.

The slice of life aspect of the film is just as powerful and entertaining as the more fanciful world of OZ. In fact, it’s so natural and charming that you kind of forget about the online world of OZ when the movie focuses on the Jinnouchi family and Kenji’s struggle to fit in and impress. No matter what your relationship to your family is, you can feel the strength of the Jinnouchi clan.

The film does a good job of splitting the two worlds visually as well as it does with the narration. The characters in the real world are drawn in a flat and simple style   with a muted color palette against a beautiful rural setting while their OZ counterparts are bold and outlined in red with ultra-sharp detail against CG backgrounds.
Regardless of which setting the movie is portraying, there is always the greatest attention to detail. No matter what the movement is – be it a powerful roundhouse kick or the silent movement of fingers lacing together – it is so natural and it really brings out the richness in the film.

Communication is the Key

Summer Wars is all about the strength of human interaction be it online or offline. Just as the film does not demonize internet users, it doesn’t ridicule the older generation that is not up with the times.

The great-grandmother Sakae Jinnouchi is the strongest character in the whole movie. And she doesn’t even have a cellphone. Her offline communication is so old-fashioned yet seems so fresh and amazing in contrast to the previous surreal online interaction. Her actions and words are a sharp reminder of the real importance of keeping close ties to those around us.

Summer Wars is a movie both of its time and timeless that people can connect to on a deeper level. It balances light comedy with action and drama seemingly with ease. I am still astounded to find new small details every time I watch it and I find a small sense of pride when I introduce the film to other friends. You might also need a box of tissues because there are some scenes that just might get you good.

The American Release

Summer Wars is out on DVD and Blu-Ray in America via the anime distributor Funimation. They also provided an English dub which I am happy to say is excellent (I actually went all the way down to San Diego to see the premiere of the dub with my friends).

I met voice actor and script writer Patrick Seitz at Anime Los Angeles at the beginning of this year when they announced the dub and I then got the chance to gush about the dub in person when he showed up to a friend’s birthday party. Regardless of which language you prefer, you will not be disappointed.

I have the Blu-Ray and this is what it contains:

  • The film (115 minutes)
  • Interviews with some of the Japanese cast (subbed)
  • An interview with the director Hosoda Mamoru (subbed)
  • Trailers/Original Trailer/TV spots/Funimation release trailers.

The packaging itself is alright. It uses the Japanese art on the front showcasing the OZ personas instead of the “real world” characters and has nice artwork on the inside. But there are no physical goodies inside. Just the disk.

Logging Off

I’m not a very big fan of anime movies despite being an anime fan and it’s rare that I repeatedly watch a movie. Yet I’ve been to nearly all the local showings of Summer Wars at film festivals and limited releases and it never gets old. It’s not meant to be strictly a family film but there’s something for everyone both young and old.

I’ve also done cosplay from Summer Wars but that is best saved for another entry….

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