Critic’s Log - Earthdate: September 2, 2013.. Review #56: Summer Wars
Summer vacation is almost over for students and school is almost back in session. If you want to know how I spent my Summer. Well, playing Softball and playing video games… Oh and watching and reviewing anime. Since Summer vacation is about to come to an end for most people, I thought it would be fitting to review a specific movie because because because because because...The wonderful virtual world of OZ is what I want to talk to you about. Here’s my review of Summer Wars.
Kenji Koiso is a timid eleventh-grader but he is very knowledgeable in Math to a level of genius. He is also a part-time moderator in the computer simulated virtual world of OZ. One day, He is asked by older student Natsuki (who he secretly has a crush on) to come with her to her family’s Nagano home for a summer job, he agrees without hesitation. Natsuki’s family, the Jinnouchi clan, dates back to the Muromachi era, and they’ve all come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the matriarch of the family, Sakae. That’s when Kenji discovers his “summer job” is to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancé and dance with her at the birthday celebration. As Kenji attempts to keep up with Natsuki’s act around her family, he receives a strange text message that happens to be a strange and complex math problem on his cell phone which, being a math genius, he can’t resist solving. As it turns out, the solution to the mysterious equation causes a hijacking of the social networking site through which most of the world's social and business traffic flows.
To be technical, this is a Madhouse production and I know I may sound predictable when I say this. The animation looks damn gorgeous and even sometimes amazing. Madhouse has a pretty good resume with Anime shows as well as movies. The animation does not disappoint here. But what’s interesting about the animation in Summer Wars is that in the real world, the character designs looks like what you would expect from Mamoru Hasoda (that’s if you seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Giving it the earthly tone to the movie. But in the virtual world of OZ, the animation is vibrant and appealing. Both animation settings compliment eachother and they are pretty well balanced in screentime. The animation without a doubt is the strong suit to this movie.
The music is done by Akihiko Matsumoto, and I would not be surprised if you’ve never heard of this guy. He did not do a whole lot of musical compositions in anime. I hate to say that the music isn’t really too memorable, but it does compliment the movie greatly. If you want to listen to the soundtrack without the show, be my guest. I can say however that the music is effective. Most of the music is orchestral, but there’s even some Electronic music thrown in as well which compliments both the real word and OZ. It’s another factor that helps both worlds compliment eachother well.
As far as Voice Acting goes, The Japanese cast is excellent and also sounds natural. The cast is not full of big names in this movie and that’s pretty good. Ryunosuke Kamiki played Kenji pretty well. Nanami Sakuraba was mostly good as Natsuki. Mitsuki Tanimura was pretty good as Kazuma, Sumiko Fuji was mostly terrific as Sakae, and Ayumu Saito was great as Wabisuke. When it comes to the English Dub, there are some popular voice actors in this cast unlike the Japanese casting. Michael Sinterniklaas was an interesting choice for Kenji and he played Kenji very well. Natsuki was a real surprise in the dub, Natsuki was played by Brina Palencia. I always saw Brina Palencia as someone that has been getting some average roles even though her performances are sometimes pretty good, there are some roles where I think she could have been better or someone else could have done the role better. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great. But her performance as Natsuki is really good in this movie. She does give Natsuki the right attitude like portrayed in the movie, but the real kicker is during an emotional scene. I won’t give it away, but she makes that moment play with your heartstrings a bit. If you are used to watching Anime dubbed, Brina Palencia does not disappoint in this movie. Maxey Whitehead is mostly good as Kazuma, but I don’t have much to say about her performance. Pam Dougherty is terrific as Sakae, and J. Michael Tatum is great as Wabisuke. The voice actors that are noteworthy would be Chuck Huber, John Swasey, and Mike McFarland. As well as other voice actors and voice actresses you might be familiar with if you’ve seen enough Dubbed Anime. This movie has a good Japanese Cast, and a good English Dub Cast. You can’t go wrong with either cast.
As far as characters go, Kenji and Natsuki are pretty underdeveloped compared to the family characters. The family gets a good chunk of screentime and they are reasonably developed. Kenji may be a school student and that’s not a bad thing when it comes to main characters, he’s not written terrifically and that’s a hard feat to pull off, so he doesn’t have to be a superbly written character. I may get a little flaming for this but I’ll say it anyway. Kenji is bland most of the time throughout the movie. He decodes some math problem, OZ gets messed up and the whole entire plot revolves on saving OZ and the world. Kenji isn’t the only character that is bland, Natsuki is too. It seems she was there for Kenji to meet her family. She truly shines near the end of the movie but she could’ve shined early on in the film. The family is not as bland though and I will say that Sakae is probably the best written character in the movie, she had a reasonable amount of screentime and she is my favorite character in the movie. In the end, I still had an issue with Kenji and Natsuki at times. I guess the romantic tension is okay but I have seen better romances than what Summer Wars resulted in the end. The characters is probably the weakest factor in Summer Wars.
Here’s a little trivia for you. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (The character designer for the Evangelion franchise) is the character designer in this movie as well as Hasoda-san’s other works such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children.
The characters are not the only issue, but the story has some problems as well. I know I am going to be a bit critical about this and I know this is just a movie, so maybe I should lighten up a bit. Please don’t get the wrong impression when I am about to say the following. The characters do contribute to the problem with this movie. I will give Mamoru Hasoda some credit that he balanced out the two art styles rather than overuse one of the styles and neglect the other. Some of the blandness of the characters does hurt the story to some degree. What also is hard to connect is the real world and the virtual world of OZ. OZ looks fantastic and as far as virtual reality goes, it’s portrayed well enough. It’s pretty cool and I kinda wish it existed. But of course, it is fictional, so I’m not going to get too excited about this. What is a little far-fetched is how the users of OZ operate their Avatars. I know this is a work of fiction and I will give the movie props for having a Nintendo DS (or something close to it) as a device to control an Avatar, but the use of a cell phone and a complex combination of buttons on a computer keyboard to control an Avatar as well as an Avatar having the same emotions as the player. That is pretty far-fetched. This is not the biggest problem I have with the movie, it’s just hard to believe that aspect of the movie at times because of the fact that the real world is vastly connected to this social and global phenomenon that is OZ. I wish the integration of the two worlds would be fully fleshed out and not have a loose end left to the viewer’s imagination because of lack of detail. But I digress, The virtual world of OZ is still pretty fantastic. Also, like most people. There is one movie that needs to be mentioned while Summer Wars is discussed. Mamoru Hasoda also directed a movie called Digimon: Our War Game!. This was also the movie spliced with two other Digimon movies that an American like me knows as Digimon: The Movie...which was really not worth seeing at all. That Digimon movie and Summer Wars are identical in visuals and similarity. This may be uninspired for some viewers, but Hasoda-san himself was inspired by that movie and decided to make a movie like the Digimon movie he was involved in, but attempt to make it better. Digimon: Our War Game was 40 minutes long while Summer Wars was almost 2 hours long. Did Hasoda-san succeed in making Summer Wars better than Digimon: Our War Game? In a way, yes. It got quite a number of nominations in a few film festivals (probably because of the movie’s animation), However, it didn’t really win any awards. Even though it’s not heavily acclaimed, what does work for the most part is the theme of family. It may not appear to be portrayed superbly, but it is still effective once it all comes down to it. Despite my nitpicking and some slight harsh words towards some parts of the movie. I did enjoy this movie. It kept me entertained, it was nice to look at. It was also fun as well as light-hearted
I can say that I will be keeping my eye on Mamoru Hasoda from now on thanks to this movie as well as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which I will go over eventually. Also, as wonderful as the Virtual World of OZ can be, there is no place like home.
Summer Wars is available from Funimation.
With all that said, Summer Wars is a visual feast with appealing animation and a fitting soundtrack. The character development does have some issues and the story is kind of a re-hash of a previous work of Mamoru Hasoda. Despite all of that, it has a decent portayal of family ties. If you are simply watching it for the animation, you will most likely enjoy this movie. This movie is a must-see for anime fans. I’ll let you make your judgment on whether you think Summer Wars is good or not. Now I’ll give you my verdict.
I give Summer Wars a 8.3 out of 10, it is VERY GOOD!
Feel free to leave a comment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I got a trip to the Emerald City.