Otaku Film Buffery 101: Summer Wars
By otakuman5000 On 21 Nov, 2012 At 04:36 AM | Categorized As Animation, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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The wonderful land of OZ.

 

Summer Wars is a mere three years old, but its sheer anime geek value warrants a fond look back. For those who never got around to seeking it out on Bluray, DVD, or a special screening at the local arthouse theater, now is as good a time as any to get the crystal clear Bluray (take note of the string of accolades across the top of the disc case, including the 2010 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year). Have faith in such a purchase—it has substantial reviewability.

Mamoru Hosoda, who is responsible for Summer Wars’ storyline and directing, is probably (hopefully) more well-known to ROG readers for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), than for his early work on the Digimon Adventure series and the sixth One Piece movie. He brings to this film a kinetic stylishness that excels in the action sequences, propels the abundant scenes depicting large Japanese family dynamics, and knows just how much to quail itself for some truly dramatic flourishes.

King Kazuma and Love Machine do epic battle. (It’s cooler than it sounds.)

The film’s protagonist is Kenji Koiso—a likeable, but ultimately generic anime high schooler (scrawny, insecure, prone to arousal-induced nose bleeds, but a whiz when it comes to generating computer code). Plucked from his comfort zone in the school’s computer lab, Kenji is recruited by area hottie, Natsuki Shinohara, to accompany her on a trip to Ueda to celebrate her grandma’s 90th birthday with her whole litany of family members. Kenji, of course, abides, but is horrified to soon discover that he’s being used. Natsuki pretends he’s her fiancé when introducing him to her grandmother, Sakae.

Kenji can’t help but forgive such a ruse, given that Sakae proves to be what is likely the most easily loveable old lady ever dropped into an anime, and Natsuki only wanted to make her proud by bringing home a would-be husband. Equal parts cantankerous senior citizen and wistful sage with a fun-loving, youthful spirit, it soon becomes clear that Sakae is practically the family’s demigod. She’s universally revered for her wisdom, compassion, know-how, and flexible ability to fill-in for all the missing supportive figures in each family member’s life. All but one, that is. Adopted son, Wabisuke, had a falling out with the beloved old lady, and he still holds a grudge. We’ll get to him later.

You’ll wish Sakae was your grandmother as soon as you hear her talk.

With all this calibrated sentimentality in place, Summer Wars is just as much an action movie. Seemingly the entire population is caught up in the happenings of a virtual world called OZ. Kenji happens to be a moderator and major player in the inner workings of OZ. These virtual reality scenes are where the film really hits its aesthetic stride. OZ is a sort of netherworld consisting of a white expanse of empty space in which a complex network construct floats. Each OZ member has a cartoonish avatar that resides in the construct and interacts with other members, sort of like The Sims meets Facebook. Multiple battles take place in this space, borrowing the spirit of Pokémon or World of Warcraft as concentrated nerds pound out commands on their keyboards to animate their avatar warriors.

When an anonymous person texts Kenji a long string of code, he intuitively cracks it and sends a response. In doing so, he unknowingly unleashes mass chaos within OZ, threatening the accounts of millions. In this middle act, the film’s stakes start to mount in both the virtual and material realms. The malicious hacker, Love Machine, has an evil avatar, reminiscent of Deadmau5 in appearance. As he starts to wreak havoc in OZ, killing off avatars and deconstructing code, tension builds amongst the family gathering when Wabisuke shows up for a late birthday wish. An argument breaks out and we start to see what it is like when someone challenges Sakae.

The climax won’t be spoiled here, but it manages be mostly suspenseful, unexpected, visually engaging, and an inventive merging of the real and virtual plot threads. Most importantly of all, it is inclusive of the entire cast and each of its members’ personal strengths. It thrives on the film’s persistent appreciation of familial importance, but never really dips into sappy territory. Due to a heartbreaking event midway through the film, the ending also has an emotional resonance that couples nicely with its final showdown in OZ.

Kenji, caught in the grasp of his usual facial expression.

All in all, Summer Wars achieves a multi-layered showmanship that encompasses the drama, action, artistry, and humor of a well-rounded anime. In making its virtual/material split both dichotomous and codependent, it explores the nature of modern human interaction in a world where people can create artificial identities and relationships with international strangers just as easily as they can have lasting bonds with the friends and family around them. It also questions the wisdom of investing so much faith and reliance in the effectiveness of technology and social networking. The real world hangs in the balance just as much as the world of OZ, and it becomes apparent how far removed the characters are from their reality. At the same time, the film counters the cold sheen of OZ with the comforting traditional Japanese estate the family lives in. Can the two realms coexist? We can only hope.

About - I am a 44 year old Gamer/Geek/Otaku who has been gaming and watching anime since the late 1970's. I am a passionate otaku who loves all types of games, anime and comics. I have been writing about games since I was a young man. I am an entertainment retail expert and an avid game collector. You can always find me playing or watching something geek related.

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