Anime Review: Summer Wars

Ever since Summer Wars was released in 2009, numerous high praises for the film (including some from Rym and Scott over at Geeknights) reached my ears and I was greatly intrigued. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I was finally able to see it via randomly stumbling upon it on a rack at Best Buy where my wallet immediately coughed up money to buy the film on Blu-Ray at full price. I was completely pleased with the purchase and easily watched the movie at least 20 times that semester.

In the near future, the world is completely hooked up to a virtual world called Oz. People play games on it, communicate through it, run businesses (and I’m not talking about small web stores, I’m talking Fortune 500 companies), and even control the utilities, traffic, and transportation. Kenji Koiso, a high school mathematic genius who works for Oz writing code, is hired by a girl he likes, Natsuki Shinohara, to go to the country with her for her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. What she neglects to mention is that she actually hired him to play the role of her fiancee and is introduced as such to Natsuki’s massive family and is also introduced to the family’s obsession with a card game called Koi Koi. After dinner, Natsuki’s estranged uncle Wabisuke who has come back from teaching in America. Later that night, a massive math problem is sent to Kenji that he ends up spending the entire night solving. It turns out that the problem was the security key for Oz and now a renegade AI called Love Machine is taking over Oz and everything connected to it. Kenji along with some other members of the family have to stop Love Machine from taking over the entire system and destroying the world by crippling all of the infrastructures.

Interestingly enough, the “main plot” of the film is actually rather secondary to the film. The movie is much more about the family coming together to face a number of threats and problems, not just Love Machine. It’s that focus on the family as a whole that would make this a great film to show to people who normally do not watch anime, especially parents. The film also uses a number of real-life brands that make the world feel a whole lot more real. When you see fake brands in a movie or show, it usually takes you out of the experience a little bit due to the foreignness of the brand in question, but there is also the problem of having real brands in the property becoming blatant product placement. Summer Wars manages to skirt around this by not making everything super obvious and have the movie focus on a brand logo and only the brand logo for a few seconds.

One of the aspects of the story that makes this movie so interesting is that all of the events of the main story are mirrored in a high school baseball final in which one of the family members is competing as a pitcher and also in the actual history of the family. The characters are also incredibly amusing. Most of the family are just caricatures, but they are all very fun to watch individually and while interacting/bickering with each other. The characters that really stand out are Kenji, Natsuki, Wabisuke, Kazuma, Granny, and Love Machine. Love Machine is such a fun character as he’s not doing all of this maliciously, he’s just playing. He just wants to have fun and that is exactly what he does. Granny is the best character in the entire film, though, as she is the most bad-ass character in the movie and is able to do so without actually interacting with the computer in any way. Describing what she does that makes her amazing wouldn’t really make much sense, it’s just something that you have to watch to experience.

The movie was made by a studio called Madhouse who has also made a number of anime (Cardcaptor Sakura, Chi’s Sweet Home, the Girl Who Lept Through Time, the various Marvel anime, Millenium Actress and all of the other Satoshi Kon anime, Trigun, and most recently Redline) and directed by Mamoru Hosada, who also directed the Girl Who Lept Through Time. It’s a movie that manages to be incredibly intelligent, but won’t make you feel stupid. The animation is fantastic, everything is crisp and clean, and the colours are not only bright and vibrant, but also varied and distintive. The film looks even better on Blu-Ray due to the sheer amount of colours that are able to be portrayed in an HD format. The film even has different styles depending on whether the action is taking place in Oz or in the real world. While in the real world, the movie looks like a standard anime (albeit a bit more detailed due to the animation studio actually having a budget), but when the focus shifts into the virtual world of Oz, the animation takes on a Superflat style. Superflat is a style that was developed by Takeshi Murakami and features a very distinctive graphic style that looks incredibly flat due to the lack of shading and tends to be rather sparse. This particular artistic movement works very well for representing the virtual world and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The film is artistically stunning, moving in it’s excellent story, action packed, and paced exceptionally well. Summer Wars is an amazing movie in every way and it makes me very excited to see what will come out of Mamoru Hosada in the future.

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