139: Summer Wars Review

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A fun part about tackling animated films is that you get to go through the director’s entire history of work, and see when certain parts of their craftsmanship start to pop up. That’s the entertaining part to watch an artist evolve. For example, today’s review will be a film that I think truly showed the colors of the creator, Summer Wars. Yes, we are dipping back into the filmography of Mamoru Hosoda with his second film after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It was released back in 2009 in Japan, but came over to the states in 2010. While he has done film and anime projects before Summer Wars, to me, it’s the film that encapsulates a lot of the details that Hosoda would use in his future films. Let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a teen male named Kenji Koiso, dubbed by Michael Sinterniklaas. He’s a math-savvy teen, who helps moderate part of this massive online world known as Oz, where you can do anything from socialize, play games, and even use it for real business. While working alongside his friend, Kenji ends up taking an offer from a female student named Natsuki Shinohara, dubbed by Brina Palencia. She asks Kenji to come with her to this huge family summer get-together to celebrate the 90th birthday of her grandmother. The catch is that he has to be her boyfriend/soon-to-be husband to impress her grandmother. Unfortunately, while meeting the large family of rather likable individuals, a virus gets loose into Oz, and causes massive world-wide chaos, and the virus plans to launch powerful missiles on power plants to cause widespread destruction. This is on top of also having to deal with the family drama of an illegitimate grandson, who may be behind the virus. Can Kenji balance this all out?

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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room with this film. No, it’s not the fact that the script does has some choice words bashing the US, nor is it it the fact that, at first, the female lead is kind of terrible, because if a guy did what she did with forcing him to go along for a huge charade, the world would have rioted. It’s the fact that Mamoru Hosoda, in all of his infinite wisdom, basically remade an earlier work of his that was essentially the infamous Digimon Movie. Or, if we want to be more specific, one of the Digimon specials he directed. Yeah, it’s hard not to see Hosoda simply taking a bunch of the plot elements, like the virus, the nukes, and the bunny fixation in this film. The world of Oz looks like how the internet looks in the Digimon Movie, with the blank white open space and gears/Ferris wheel motif. It’s like he took a look at the reviews and ridicule the Digimon Movie got because of how Fox cut it up, and decided to give the middle finger to the US release of his work, and made it better. It’s not a major negative, but it’s a negative none the less.

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Like I said above, while she becomes more endearing as the film goes on, I found Natsuki to be annoying. Instead of just bringing Kenji to her family celebration, she forces him to lie to her family on a rather large scale, and then doesn’t get why the family doesn’t like this one illegitimate grandson. I can understand if this is how teens are, and I get not wanting to worry your grandparents about your future. I’m sure I’m missing a couple of cultural aspects of her reasons behind her actions, but it took a bit for me to warm up to her. She becomes more endearing when time goes on, but you have to stick with it. It just seems like if this was a role reversal, people would be calling this out more. While I love the family that this film focuses on, they aren’t all fully fleshed out. I don’t remember half of their names, and some of them are just annoying and don’t interact with the others to be aware of what’s going on. At two separate points, three family members cause the situation to get worse. Sure, you can write it off as two of them being obnoxious kids, but one of them is a police officer, and he doesn’t talk to the family members that are trying to take down the evil virus that could kill them? Like, it’s not a plot hole, but it seems like lazy writing.

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I know it sounds like I’m trashing this movie, but I do really love it. I have a lot of positives to say about it. As usual with Hosoda’s animation, it’s beautifully crafted, grounded, and the designs are all super appealing to look at. The online world also gives the film a good excuse to make fun avatar designs that I think fit each person in the film perfectly. This is also a major point of where we can see his amazing eye for up-close combat. The fighting in this film is gorgeous, with fluid and realistic movements. It gets a bit more absurd when you enter the online world, but it still doesn’t negate the force you feel from the punches and kicks. While you are technically watching a bunch of people sit around and look at a bunch of screens, you are still kept invested with what’s going on online and offline. It’s fairly nice to see a film that’s about technology not be an anti-internet or anti-technology message that anime unfortunately loves to do. Listen, technology has made some pretty horrible things, and made gateways for toxic and horrible people to spread their toxic roots all over the world. However, technology has also done wonders, and has connected us in many ways. It’s not just one-sided, in terms of tackling the commentary about Oz and its use by most people around the world. I also liked the dub cast. While the original Japanese version used accurately aged actors to voice their animated counterparts, and you lose that when Funimation uses a bunch of adults for everything, I still like the English dub. As usual, to play every moody male teen these days, you have Michael Sinterniklaas, and a slew of other incredible talents, like Mike McFarland, Patrick Seitz, Christopher Sabat, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Caitlin Glass, John Swasey, and many more. To me, this was the film where Hosoda started to really use his family motif in his films. While you might not remember everyone's name, the characters truly feel like a family.

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It’s not Hosoda’s best film, and it probably apes too much off of his previous work for its own good, Summer Wars is still a visually stunning, heartfelt, and entertaining movie about technology and family. While there is a normal version of this film available from Funimation, they recently made a special edition for Hosoda’s other films like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, up to The Boy and the Beast. If you haven’t picked up this wonderful film already, I recommend picking up that special version. This just makes me super excited for Hosoda’s new film, Mirai coming out this year. Now then, we are onto the next review, and we will be tackling what might be China’s most ambitious, visually pretty, and busiest animated feature. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!