Summer Wars was on my list of things to look out for. The first promo pictures were intriguing, with Natsuki standing in front of her family. And then the first trailers came out and that shot my anticipation up by about 2000%. In hit theatres in August and sadly, there still hasn’t been any news of a DVD/BRD release. Luckily enough, a terrible Korean-hardsubbed raw showed up on the Internets. I debated for a while whether or not to wait it out, but impatience and people going crazy over this movie won me over.
Let’s start out with the first and coolest thing we’re introduced to: OZ. OZ is essentially a much, much cooler Second Life that is actually useful beyond flying around. Every possible thing that you could think of is tied to OZ: GPS systems, utilities, emergency services, commerce, entertainment, everything. As someone who understands software design, this super-centralized system is frightening.
Now, Natsuki mentions that she’s born in 1992 and she’s 18, which sets Summer Wars in next year. I guess that’s why we’re seeing Windows 7 and DSes connect to OZ. Again, I find it frightening that someone imagined that every aspect of our lives would be intricately tied to Second Life by next year. The movie’s main plot thread starts when OZ’s security (which is apparently a 2056 digit number) is broken and an AI starts taking over. Obviously, because everything is tied to OZ, the real world is essentially thrown into chaos.
So who do we have to save the day? Mild-mannered math nerd Koiso Kenji. How does he get roped into saving the world? By getting conned by his crush, Shinohara Natsuki. Basically, she wants him to pretend to be her fiancee at her grandmother’s ninetieth birthday, where her entire extended family will be gathered.
Being the unconfident guy that he is, Kenji doesn’t really do much saving at first. Much of that glory falls to Grandma, who might be the most awesome character in the movie. She demonstrates her power and her sense of responsibility, using her vast connections in the midst of the OZ crisis and by not taking any crap from one of her kids. At the same time, she’s not crazy like the head of the Sonozaki family. Her priority is her family and she’s the central figure to that family.
That family is pleasantly diverse. Unlike your standard powerful anime families, this family has members everywhere. They’re civil servants or rescue workers or businessmen or fishermen. They’ve got housewives, kids, and young adults. And what’s great about the movie is that the interactions between the family and with Kenji feel very real. Yeah, those are those annoying aunts and those cousins that you meet up with every year.
Now, honestly, Kenji doesn’t really do that much saving. I mean, he’s good at math, but the only useful thing that seems to come out of that is only factoring 2056 digit numbers on paper. He really doesn’t even do much in OZ. What he is able to do indirectly is move the rest of the family into action. He starts off very unconfident of himself, but grows through his time with this rambunctious family to the point where he’s able to take a stand for fighting this thing and by the end, does end up saving the day through math.
There’s a ton of good stuff that’s explored here. We’ve got the whole technology angle with OZ. We’ve got all of the family stuff going on. We’ve got a bunch of characters that are unsure of themselves who grow throughout the movie. And of course, there’s a budding romance that needs some growing.
One of the things that I really liked from this movie was the fact that it had so much stuff that happened in it. Usually, I prefer TV series because I find they have more time to develop their characters and carry out more elaborate plots. Summer Wars was able to have a lot of discrete events and still have it paced really naturally. I’m surprisingly satisfied with how much the movie covered.
And the visuals! Madhouse is a pretty amazing studio. Most of the movie looks like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time stuff, which is to be expected. And those parts look great. But the real eye candy is in the OZ scenes. That stuff is worth watching in Blu-ray. OZ is ridiculously detailed. There are a ridiculous number of objects in OZ and they all look great.
I’m pretty sure there’s a ton of stuff I missed out while throwing this post together, but basically, tl;dr: Summer Wars is probably the best animated work of this year.