Old Review: Summer Wars

Welcome to the World of OZ, OZ is the world’s largest and most secure digital network and virtual world, so powerful and expansive that businesses and services all across Japan and the world use OZ to manage and control their operations, and thanks to its fast chat translation program, people can easily chat with anyone of the 1 billion people that use it around the world. In order to maintain this network there are several adminds worldwide to monitor it, one of these is a Japanese high school student named Kenji, although in his honesty he didn’t plan to do this as his summer vacation job, having just lost out to representing Japan at the International Math Olympics.  Natsuki, Kenji’s classmate and crush, tries to ask both Kenji and his best friend/admin Takashi to take up a job, which involves travelling to Ueda with her to meet her very extended family to celebrate her great-grandmother’s birthday on the first day on August. Kenji volunteers, although he’s uncomfortable with the secret part of the job, he has to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancée. While getting along with the family, he gets a weird message containing a maths problem; however after solving it, things go wrong for the world. The world of OZ is taken over by an artificial intelligence program known as Love Machine, and using Kenji’s avatar, taking over millions of other accounts, taking over several services in the world and causing chaos. Now wanting to fix things write, Kenji along with the skilled members of a very large family, have to fight Love Machine to prevent this AI becoming an ultimate threat to the world.

This is the creation of Mamoru Hosada, the director of the first Digimon films and was the original director of Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle before leaving due to creative differences. After the latter incident, he made the film The Girl who Leapt Through Time along with writer Satoko Okudera and Evangelion’s character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto in 2006. The award winning animated film was so successful that in 2008, Madhouse announced Hosada’s new film at Tokyo’s International Anime Fair, which was later given the name Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ Samaa Wouzu). Due to the massive cast in the film, production took a total of three years, which lead to Studio Madhouse’s President Masao Maruyama insisting that Hosada’s next film should only have two main characters and have two years production time. Summer Wars was released appropriately on August 1st 2009, winning several Best Animated Feature awards and was a submission for the 83rd Academy Awards.

While the animation in the real world settings is smoothly animated, and remains consistent even when movements get really energetic, especially when large groups of people have to be animated at once, the best animation is clearly found inside the digital world of OZ. Not only is the animation, both CG and hand drawn, smooth and detailed, but the environment is, bright, colourful and beautifully designed. Some scenes are really striking and memorable, especially near the end with the battle with Love Machine. Sometimes the character expressions can get a little cartoonish or anime-ish, such as blushing characters going red, which feel out of place but the film is a visual spectacle nonetheless.

The music consists of both orchestral and digital pieces which work really well together, really suiting both the uplifting and sad moments. Some scenes have some really tense moments which work considerably well. Most of the film has its quiet moments and even the tense scenes are really effective when silent.

The voice acting in the Japanese is decent; the actors all do a good job, each of the many characters do a really effective job to put an impression out, such as the defiant yet polite great-grandma Sakae done by Sumiko Fuji and the serious toned 13 year old Kazuma Ikezawa portrayed by Mitsuki Tanimura. However this is probably one of the few cases where despite how good the Japanese dub is, the English one is better. Maybe it is because Funimation made this dub to be suitable for an American speaking audience, but I feel that especially for the main protagonists Kenji, Natsuki and some of the supporting cast emote and perform much better than in the original dub. It still isn’t a perfect dub, since the cast feel more like actors performing characters than real people, but at least no matter what your preference is you wouldn’t be at a loss either way.

While the whole digital world of OZ and the fight against the Love Machine is cool, and has the most engaging parts in the film, it’s practically half of the film. The other half focuses on family and relationships and in a way acts as a social commentary for Japan’s current views on that topic, since it expresses the views on what people in Japan are like, people’s reliance on technology and how families should spend time together. The interesting thing is how both really work together, since the digital world stuff is great to watch while the real world is one that people. I would say that the idea of technology isn’t entirely accurate, and a few characters like Natsuki’s second cousin Shota are annoying but for what it shows, it’s really good.

This film definitely deserves all the praise it’s been getting, along with being such a cool computer geek kind of film with its huge and vibrant digital world, it’s also down to earth with its exploration of the views of family. With its awesome visuals and a creative score to boot, it’s really fun and engaging and needs to be seen by many people.

Summer Wars is available from Funimation and Manga Entertainment. A Manga Adaptation, written by Iqura Sugimoto, was serialized by Young Ace and published by Kadokawa in Japan but hasn’t had a western release as of writing.

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