Ah, summertime. A golden period of sunshine, vacations, baseball games, and for many of today’s youth, a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of gaming. Among adults gaming has acquired a reputation mostly associated with bad grades, lack of self-discipline, and guns. Many of you who are reading this are probably grounded right now. Solution? Watch Summer Wars with your parents, and not only will you convince them of how this bastion of electronic entertainment will someday save the world, but you will also treat them to a heartwarming reminder on the importance of family values (which just might induce them to buy you that new Starcraft you’ve been eyeing).
Okay, maybe not the Starcraft. But Summer Wars blends cold technology with a warm family reunion to create a cinematically brilliant oxymoron. Battles rage on the computer screen, but lush green fields lie a head-turn away. Men are breaking into sweat and blood at their keyboards and just in the next room lunch is being made. It’s a juxtaposition that highlights the wonders of both worlds. How lovely the rolling mountains and cotton clouds look next to the chaos swirling inside the cesspool that is called the Internet! At the same time, lunchtime sounds laughable when compared to the vast ecosystem blaring within a fifteen-square-inch surface area. It’s clear: Summer Wars lives up to its name admirably. It is a summer flick almost at war with itself.
For a movie of about two hours, the time flies by, just like a summer vacation. At the end, you’re left thinking, “Aww, it’s over?” and yet you feel satisfied. The story exemplifies the good old beauty of linear storytelling, intertwining two parallel narratives into a durable, multi-colored piece of fabric. The substance of one adventure strengthens the other.
You will be hard-pressed to encounter a more relentless enemy than the one found online. Cyber-villainy is bad enough, but once the helpless outside world gets sucked in here, the sense of urgency skyrockets (or in the case of Summer Wars, it plummets down to earth). The conflicts broiling within a virtual space appeal to all senses of the viewer’s imagination; the battleground suddenly loses its limits. It’s equally epic to witness a high-octane fistfight, a high-stakes card game, or a high-IQ mathematical problem. When the virtual begins mixing with the real, the suspense becomes a veritable psychological melee; during the last third of the film, I was a mess of frayed nerves. Even when scenes cut back to the tranquility of rural Japan, the movie never loses its intensity. The motor underneath everything never seems to slow down.
What sticks with you in the end, however, are images from the film that flank the credits, drifting in and out of the black as if one were shuffling through photographs. Not one of them features the sterile white abyss of a technological utopia. The song “Summer Dream” strums out serenely and bittersweetly, and the photos could almost recall an altogether different era. It’s as if the Internet had never existed. All that remains are the tenderness of a loving family, a hearty meal, and the crooked-tooth smile of your grandma.
Like its older sister The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars boasts incredibly rich background art that render dusty bookshelves or kitchen pots and pans as the most beautiful things in the world. The level of detail is extraordinary, and the color choices perfectly embody the blooming sumptuousness and solidity of summer. Character designs have slightly improved, and while the nuance is still lacking, Summer Wars takes on a decidedly more slapstick approach to their characters’ expressions, keeping the tone lively and heightening comedic effect. The film’s handling of its characters transcends mere facial expressions, however; the animators fiddle with every scene to the deepest detail. In general anime works somewhat like a portrait, where a central figure dominates and minimal effort is applied to other items. Summer Wars, on the other hand, more closely resembles Renoir’s Le dejeuner des canotiers. Each item in the painting is a microcosm of its own. Especially in Summer Wars’ huge-family scenes, ten conversations are firing off at once; twenty people – scratching their heads, rummaging through their plate of food, rubbing their pregnant bellies, spitting over the table – they all move at once, but never at the same time.
As with the plot, the soundtrack holds in its hands two different kinds of fruit -- one being the sweet, lyrical summer strawberry and the other being the tangy, clean-cut lime. Summer Wars switches between the broad sweeps of a symphony to the mercurial compression of electronic music with the ease of biting out of the right hand or the left.
The voice acting gains its strength from its numbers; it reaches its most complex harmonies when multiple voices blend and clash. However, the renowned film seiyu Ryunosuke Kamiki gives a standout performance with his endearing, tempered rendition of Kenji. Sumiko Fuji’s interpretation of the grandmother also shines with its subtle mixture of strength and heart. I’ll admit that for Natsuki the rookie voice actress Nanami Sakuraba sounds like a rookie, but I cannot deny her integrity; the performance is not creative, but it fits the character well.
A film, as opposed to a series, is forced to craft its characters with the utmost efficiency, like the sushi chef who cannot cook his creation but garnishes it instead. Summer Wars, then, presents a palatable dish. It is important to remember that this anime is not a tone poem or character piece. There’s a reason the movie’s promotional posters feature not just two or three of its protagonists, but a motley crew of men, women, and children alike whose sheer body mass covers up most of the mountains in the back. Each family member serves his or her part with the utmost conviction; cast prevails over character. While none of us get to know Kenji, Natsuki, or the rest of the family particularly well, we are treated to delicious samples of their personalities, which combine to form the overall flavor.
If there does exist one ingredient that defines the plate, it takes the form of Grandmother Sakae, the family matriarch and a fearsome creature to behold. She serves as the flour in the bread, the thematic material that makes coherent the heap of relatives assaulting our senses. Rarely have I seen a character sculpted so excellently in so short a time.
Summer Wars revels in its paradoxical glory. I didn’t know it was possible for me, as I was watching, to be wringing my hands in nervous curiosity yet at the same time feel such a sense of warmth. If I could choose any anime work that could be more appropriate for the twenty-first century, it would be this one: The film is at once both pertinent to the times and resplendently nostalgic.
Recipe: Take one half standard slice of life comedy, and one half Digimon formula. Stir them in a bawl for ninety minutes and add a rather high budget for flavour. The result is Summer Wars.
- Animated by Madhouse, the king of animated series. Ok, it’s not a series but they still did a great job with the material they had.
- Directed by Hosoda Mamoru, who also did the first Digimon movies; so no wonder they feel so similar.
We have a stereotypical spineless geek boy (blushes even by touching a girl), with a bad future career yet with a good heart.
Duh, now what does that remind me of? Could this be some sort of wish-fulfiment romantic comedy?
He is sort of forced to pretend being the lover and future husband of the prettiest girl of his school.
Yup; it is.
The reason she wants that is because she promised her one step before the grave grandmother to let her see the next heir of their proud, old fashioned house.
And if that is not forced drama, I don’t know what it.
Some misunderstandings, some ecchi, some erotic teasing and lots of secondary characters in the form of relatives doing their eccentric stuff. And then the story switches to the internet, where the dork’s virtual avatar is hijacked by an A.I. which plans to absorb cyberspace and bring a nuclear apocalypse.
WOAH where did that come from?
But worry not, since there seems to be a way to defeat it by playing videogames.
You can start facepalming now.
Ok, it’s a very far-fetched scenario full of plot conveniences and a cop-out solutions to everything but it’s not like the movie pretends to be serious. It’s silly fun and does it well. Doesn’t excel at script for the same reason of course.
The characters are all very lively but because of their large number and the short duration of the film, they don’t escape their stereotypes. There is a bit of character development for the major ones but if you happen to have seen a couple of school comedies, you know how it will turn out right away. And don’t do the mistake of thinking about their goals and motivation because they will only appear to be retards this way. Hell, what does nuking the whole world has to do with with an A.I. learning? Or how can you call legit a victory that is based on pure luck? Hm, whatever, the cast is colourful but nothing special or memorable.
The animation is of rather high budget as the characters have a wonderful lively body language and the 3D visuals used to represent the virtual world are indeed geeky detailed and very reminiscent of videogames. Each block of arena or message board is represented in an interesting way and Love Machine’s Hindu God appearance and battle style are plain awesome. Even the real world is presented fine in all its typical glory, with characters being drawn in plain outfits fitting their persona and a house mixing the traditional with the modern in decoration… inside a land-bound ship, in the green outskirts. You still can’t consider the whole thing to be Ghibli-level, as the animation is not that smooth in motion or rich in textures but the aesthetics are in the right place and can easily win the average viewer. Voice acting felt rather dry as although the actors tried to breathe life into their characters, they still don’t sound very professional. Maybe this applies just to the Japanese dub since it is basically a Korean production. Anyway, besides this minor glitch, the characters feel alive and interesting and the background music is somewhat epic in style with all that happens while the sound effects during the battles are pretty damn good.
A fine movie to spend n a joyful evening, without making you think of gasp too much. It is not a masterpiece in any way as the plot is far fetched and flows too convenient, while the characters are just colourful stereotypes without much room for development. Fun but eventually forgettable.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks nice)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (very detailed)
Animation 2/2 (generally good)
Visual Effects 1/2 (lots of fancy internet gismos)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 3/3 (very good)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 1/2 (typical)
Pacing 2/2 (fast)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 2/4 (nice ideas but nothing much to bother remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
Art 1/1 (looks nice)
Sound 1/2 (sounds ok)
Story 1/3 (feels generic)
Characters 0/4 (they are stereotypes)
There are many reviews of Summer Wars, but as I don't agree with most of them, I thought I might just as well chip in and give my two cents - but I'll try to make it short.
In my opinion, Summer Wars is fun to watch. And that's it. So I really don't understand all those overly enthusiastic reviews it got.
Animation and sound are really good. But if you look at the story and characters, it's nothing special. I admit it's very well executed, with a good pacing, good visuals and bucketfuls of good feelings. So it does make a good watch. But that doesn't compensate for the lack of a captivating story or character development. Maybe my point is that I value highly character development, emotional involvement and thought-provoking themes. Summer Wars has none of that. It's just pure entertainment.
The story is about our high school student Kenji who is asked by his senpai Natsuki (the most popular girl in school) to help her during summer vacation. The "job" consists in Kenji pretending to be Natuski's fianceè in front of all her family during her grandmother's 90th birthday party. This storyline is then intertwined with the virtual reality one: Oz is a virtual social network (very much like Second Life) with a global expansion and very closely connected to the real world (it integrates the GPS systems, the bank systems, government and military authorities, businesses, trade, etc). So when a monster shows up on Oz and starts stealing people's accounts thanks to the cracking of the security code, chaos happens also in the real world. The storylines come together because Kenji and Natuski, helped by some other members of Natsuki's large family, take it upon them to fight this virtual monster and get things back under control. There's obviously more to it, but that's basically what the plot is about. Plot which isn't particularly original, nor are the implications of this excessive interweaving between virtual and real life explored in much detail. It's actually quite naive. MINOR SPOILER: in the end you'll see that the American military has a role in the unleashing of this virtual monster in Oz, but this isn't analysed at all - so why even mention it?
As for the characters, the cast is large and for the most part likeable, most of it is made up of Natsuki's extended family. No one receives any in depth development. They all remain caricatures. Which isn't bad, I mean the portayal of the family relationships is very well managed, it's fun to watch them interact and listen to them squabble. They really do sound and feel like an authentic family, warm and loving. But they are all just cameos. Maybe the grandmother is the only one with a smidget more development and backstory.
So, while I don't care for all the virtual reality part of it (been there, done that) I do think the family part is well done. And the mixing of the two does create a nice contrast. It's basically a kids movie, fun and naive, but lacking the ability to emotionally involve you which makes kids movies lovely and touching also for adults.
What happens when the world we live in can be hacked? But more importantly how do I deal with my friend pretending I'm her boyfriend (obviously by fainting)
For a close to two hour movie we get more stories than many 13 episode series.
The first is that of young Kenji, a High School student and game tester for the OZ, an Internet game that also mimics real life, where all your needs from shopping and gaming to going to work, can be done. Kenji accepts a summer job with his classmate Natsuki, which he thinks will just be helping her with some chores, but turns into a week of real life RPG at her Great Grandmothers house, all in preparation for her 90th birthday.
Kenji is thrust into this new setting where he has to finally learn to interact with people all while playing his new role.
While in the middle of Kenji's new dilemma we're introduced to the second story line, the world of OZ itself, or rather its destruction. In the middle of the night, after dealing with Natsuki's family, and accidentally seeing her coming out of the shower, Kenji replies to a message from OZ, a complex multi-thousand number code, which he promptly solves (He was runner up in the competition to represent his school in the math Olympics you know) and opens up OZ to a hacker known as Love Machine.
Now Kenji and Natsuki's family must use all their grit and the everlasting Jinnouchi spirit to defeat the hacker and save OZ, which soon becomes a battle to save the entire world.
Interweaved in all the action is the life of the Jinnouchi's, a story of forgiveness and one of loss, also a baseball game.
This really is a spectacular film that can be good for new anime fans and old, it covers many constants in anime, a nerd saving the day, japanese culture and family bonding, but it does it in a way that seems fresh.
Animation - 10/10
The animation of Summer Wars really shown bright in a movie that was nothing but bright spots. From the start of the film we're shown OZ and it's thousands of brilliant colors and intricate details. Every time we return to the internet world we're given a new to impress us, be it the decaying world ravaged by Love Machine, the world covered by Japanese temples or the casino filled with bright lights and hundreds of different little characters.
The main innovation I noticed was that in OZ everything was outlined not in your standard black, but with an almost neon Red, which really made everything pop on screen.
Outside of OZ the animation was more subdued, but still amazing. The clouds in the sky as well as much of the shrubbery look as if they were painted on a canvas, but with your typical animation coloring. They also made sure to distinguish Natsuki's uncle Wabisuke (a black sheep of the family and illegitimate son of Great Grandpa) by drawing him in a darker style, more along the lines of what you would see in Cowboy Bebop or another anime with a grittier story.
Sound - 7/10
The sound was nothing to rave about, but also nothing to complain about. All the voices were well done, including the use of Todd Haberkon one of my favorite character voices. The music supported the story and action instead of taking it over, and it was all nicely edited together.
Characters - 7/10
Being that this was a movie, one with many characters, the is very little character building. You really get to learn about each character by their personality and interactions. You get a basic run through of each member and what they do, but they make you feel like you would if you were tossed into a situation where you're required to learn an entirely new family over dinner, as happened to Kenji.
In the short time you do learn about the past of the family that gives you a good reference for why everyone is the way they are and why eventually Kenji does look like a great fit for the family.
Overall - 9/10
I'm always a but shy on giving anything a 10, especially before it has a chance to grow on me. Having watched Summer Wars for the second time for this review I can see it eventually getting there. But a 10 for a movie, as to reach it for a series you have to hit the likes of GTO, Cowboy Bebop or Trigun, shows with such deep characters and stories, action and comedy. For a movie its tough because you can only build so much before having to move to a conclusion, but SW does as much as I can see possible in the short time it has.
Right off the bat I realized that this looked a lot like the Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I quickly realized that this was much better IMO. This movie was more action, while the other was more slice of life. It definitely made this new movie more exciting to watch. Parts were pretty cliche, but it did not matter as much, because I thought it's good points made the bad parts forgivable.
If I had to compare this movie to another, I might compare it to War Games. Instead Summer Wars is crazier, has more interesting visuals. This world of OZ is pretty interesting, but makes no friggin sense. They do things later on that make no sense at all. It's like the Matrix, but you are just sitting in front of a computer screen. You don't actually go in this world. It's hard to describe, because it seemed like they were just making things up without trying to use any logic in it. It was fun though. You just have to not think much about it, and just have fun.
The acting was great in the movie. One things that elevates it, is the actual dialogue. In many animes they just talk differently from how people really talk. This is one of a small group of animes that did a great job at this.
Overall, it was a great movie. My top movie list still consist of only live action movies (I prefer anime series over live action series, and I prefer live action movies over anime movies), but this mvoie still did a good job.