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.
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.
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.
Summer Wars is a kids' film. The story is simplistic and so full of mumbo jumbo that no one who understands anything about encryption, mathematics, or computer networks would believe. The characters are simplistic and overly positive. There is not a single theme to the movie which is original in any way. The writing sticks to the most standard structure there is. There, that's everything bad that can be said about the film. Now we can start with the rest.
This movie kicks some serious butt. Summer Wars is fun, clean, and just magnificently executed. The artwork is downright spectacular and the writing is tight and well paced. Most of all, this movie is heartwarming and universal. Favoring eanestness over cynicism, smoothness over grit, and emotion over logic is something that rarely works, but when it does you get something truly wonderful. And wonderful as in "giving a sense of wonder", not as in "very nice" (which it is as well).
Perhaps the biggest fault of Summer Wars is how popular it actually is. Not that it is without justification, but part of me was excited while another was getting ready for breaking it down to pieces and mocking those who like it relentlessly. It is hard to come with an open mind to something that is so highly touted. I suppose I can nitpick, pointing out why the faults I mentioned are such a big deal. But the part of me that is still a child just doesn't want to... and after watching this movie, I am inclined to go with that.
For every issue with Summer Wars there are multiple things it does right. Sure, the adult cynic in me didn't allow me to feel suspense at the ending. Yeah, it also didn't make me really care about the protagonist too much. It also tries to stop me from getting all emotional to some success. But the non-cynical part looks at these faults and says "so what?", and smiles fondly at the well executed cliches with a touch of understanding and a sense of nostalgia.
Writing (Story and Characters):
As I mentioned at the start, the writing of Summer Wars is one huge cliche, and within it there are other smaller cliches. Everything is done in the most standard, clean-cut, tried and true way. It is easy to say that this is cheap manipulation to drag the viewer along the ride. It is harder to admit that not only does it work, but nearly every viewer will feel gratitude for it.
The story of Summer Wars is very simple, and it is structured with the classic fomula seen in everything from Akira to James Bond movies. It starts with a hook, moves to character introduction, sets the premise, then we have a first victory, a bigger challenge, then we reach the point where all seems lost, only for everything to be saved at the last moment, and finally the happy ever after. There is a reason why over 90% of hits in story form have this structure; when it is cleanly executed, it is extremely satisfying. This is perhaps the most standard way to tell a story, but it is still well told.
Where Summer Wars starts to differentiate itself is with the characters. Yes, they all ultimately mean well. Except perhaps for the "big bad evil guy", every character has some depth to them. Nearly all the cast has moments where their personality is brought to the forefront, and some even manage character development. The fact that they lean towards too ideallic overall is what ultimately makes this cast a little over the top and removes some of the drama, but even with this fault, this is a strong cast that is very easy to love.
So the writing is standard. So what? The characters work very well within the story, and the story shines through their perspectives. This is a very well executed bit of writing from a technical standpoint, and this ensures that it is extremely easy to enjoy. But is the writing truly exceptional? Not quite. It is just really good. But that is more than enough.
Art (Animation and Sound):
Here is where Summer Wars shines. And sometimes, this is quite literal. The thought that went into the artwork and designs shows in every tiny detail. The use of artistic themes is very classically done, yet the movie doesn't lean too heavily on them; this allows them to just add rather than replace meaning. The way the video and audio work together is spectacular. It is an engrossing experience all the way through, and there are nearly no technical issues at all.
OK, fine, there is one issue with the animation and that is that rarely, you may notice that the characters are too still. And yes, some of the visual tricks are of the overused kind (thermometer blush, huge tears, crowd moving their upper body forward in unison, etc). This does not take away from the fact that by any standard, the backgrounds are gorgeous and detailed, the movement fluid, the character designs varried and distinct, the palette is both refreshing and has a "classic" feel to it, and most of all, you get a lot of moments that will just wow you. This "wow factor" is what really makes the animation of Summer Wars top tier stuff, and not just great.
Now about the sound... Summer Wars is not particularly original. But! The voice acting is wonderful, the score dramatic yet not overstated, and the effects fit like a glove. There are, and it really surprises me that I can say it, absolutely no technical faults anywhere. Not one. Even the balance between use of surround and clarity is perfect. The only reason I don't rate it higher is because the audio doesn't try to do anything particularly original and has little that makes me say "oooh".
What the art of Summer Wars does is bring life to the writing. The artwork makes the story seem larger and more powerful than it has any right to be, and makes the characters both lovable yet distinct. Many people make the mistake of overrating the writing and underrating the art when it comes to this film, but that is because the art does great work making the writing seem better instead of showing off in Disney fashion.
I understand why people love Summer Wars so much. I think it is a great movie, and definitely enjoyable and something I really wish I would have seen as a kid. Perhaps it is somewhat overrated, but that does not take away from the fact that it is not greatly overrated because it is just hard to overrate something this good by too much. Recommended to anyone who wants to watch a good children's movie.
This movie is really cute! At first, you may question what a videogame has to do with meeting the girl's family... But the story is actually really great! The romance aspect is leveled out by the videogame aspect which is good so its not too mushy, and not too violent (or however that would go) again, I definately reccomend watching this movie especially when your bored all the time like me :P