The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Summer Wars

Title: Summer Wars
Genre: Action
Company: Madhouse
Format: Movie, 114 minutes.
Dates: 1 Aug 2009

Synopsis: Kenji Koiso, a high school mathematical genius, is asked by Shinohara Natsuki, an older girl at his school, to help her celebrate her great-grandmother’s birthday. He accepts, not knowing that Natsuki had told her entire extended family that he was her boyfriend. At her house, he receives a strange mathematical text message, which he solves. Waking up the next morning, Kenji is astonished to find himself the prime suspect in a serious hacking incident involving a massive virtual reality known as OZ. With Japan grinding to a standstill as a result of massive manipulation of navigation and logistical systems, Kenji must use his mathematical genius to clear his name and save the country from absolute chaos.

The Highlights:
Animation: Incredibly fluid.
Story: Compelling and fun.
Characters: Memorable and entertaining ensemble cast.
The world of OZ: Visually stunning.

Summer Wars is an incredibly fun movie. The characters are larger than life, the story is more than ridiculous, and the extravagant animation is flamboyantly over-the-top. All the better, for if the artistic execution of the script were just a bit more muted, this movie could have turned out into your generic, trashy sci-fi anime movie. Instead, it stands out both stylistically and substantively, and is one of the better anime movies in recent years.

The movie starts out with a standard Japanese rom-com set up: boy has crush on girl, girl asks boy to do ridiculous task with her, boy accepts. Thankfully, the movie quickly breaks out of its romantic comedy mold; the romance between the two main characters, Kenji and Natsuki, is thrown to the wayside as Japan plunges into absolute chaos. Kenji, finding himself falsely accused for engineering a massive breach of security in the virtual reality world known as OZ. Matters become worse as Kenji learns that the rogue AI behind the malicious attacks, “Love Machine”, has sent a satellite on a crash course for Earth. He scrambles to save the country from anarchy and chaos while attempting to clear his own name.

While the plot is indeed rather ridiculous, it benefits fully from the artistic choices made by the director, Hosada Mamoru (of Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo fame). Similarities can be found in both works; Hosada shuns the conventional moe-style animation standard in today’s anime and goes with a slightly more cartoonish and simple look. A key highlight of the movie, both artistically and substantively, is the virtual reality world OZ, where most of the action of the movie occurs. OZ is depicted as distinctly digital, with a very modernist feel to all of its inhabitants and structures. The smart use of computer effects and CGI helps paint OZ as a distinctly different place from the real world.

In addition, the characters are incredibly interesting. The sense of camaraderie felt by the members of Natsuki’s extended family is certainly something special, and I give the voice actors full credit for bringing out and highlighting the special filial ties that bind the supporting cast together. The larger-than-life characters and their larger-than-life actions only serve to make the movie even more enjoyable to watch, as none of their actions are constrained by realism.

Corny lines are the hallmark of disaster movies, but Hosada manages to avoid melodrama very well. Instead of the tearful goodbyes and sinister end-of-the-world predictions of a run-of-the-mill disaster movie, the director opts to show the determination of the protagonists. Everyone in the movie works to a solution with absolute optimism and infinite motivation; the result is a movie that keeps viewers on their feet and never loses momentum.

Regrettably, Summer Wars ends rather predictably. This is hardly relevant, as the movie itself was enjoyable enough to make the ending not a drag at all. I fully enjoyed watching the protagonists fight their way through a mountain of adversities while attempting to save the world, and that is all, ultimately, the only thing that matters.

With an incredibly genuine cast of characters supported by smart, crisp and upbeat scriptwriting, Summer Wars proves very difficult to dislike. For those willing to suspend their disbelief and indulge in the vibrant, imaginative world of the film, Summer Wars will deliver a solid two hours of fun and entertainment, transporting the viewer into a beautiful, larger-than-life virtual reality.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Akira

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