In the future, all facets of society are tied into OZ, a virtual world inhabited by millions of users. Kenji, one of OZ’s moderators, was set to begin another typical summer when the lovely Natsuki asked him to accompany her to her hometown as a job. However, little did Kenji know that the 'job' entailed pretending to be Natsuki’s fiancé in front of her eccentric family! Now on display and feeling like a fish out of water, Kenji tries his best to fit in with Natsuki and her relatives, until one day he receives a mysterious math problem through a text message. As an avid math fanatic Kenji can’t help but try to solve it, unaware that his actions may jeopardize not only OZ, but also the entire world...
StoryAh, 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.AnimationLike 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.SoundAs 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.CharactersA 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.OverallSummer 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.
THE STAFF 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. SCRIPT 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. CAST 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. PRODUCTION VALUES 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. LEGACY 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.
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.
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