Directed By: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay By: Satoko Okudera
Story By: Mamoru Hosoda
Production Company: Madhouse
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Admittedly, when it came to my choice of a favorite animated film from Japan, the choices were somewhat limited insomuch that a majority of such films are either (unofficial) stories created from popular manga or anime series, or are direct-to-video films. Ironically, it was one of those very films that heavily inspired this one in particular.
The film Summer Wars, despite many promotional materials, mainly follows the story of one Kenji Koiso, an eleventh grade mathematical genius who works part-time as a moderator of an advanced virtual world known as OZ. OZ is, essentially, a virtualized embodiment of the Internet and is connected to literally everything and anything to do with computers and the like with more than a billion people being registered users from the common child with a Nintendo DS to the President of the United States.
Anyway, our young Kenji is, as expected of having his skills, quite the timid fellow and is all but swept up in the arms of a slightly older student, Natsuki Shinohara as she takes him to Ueda to celebrate her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. That and so she can declare that he is her fiancé for reasons that I shan’t spoil in this review though I will say that the romance is excellently well done.
Unfortunately for Kenji, he is, initially, falsely implicated for the hacking of OZ as he, and several others, had their accounts stolen and their avatars taken over, his specifically, by an artificial intelligence named Love Machine who was released into OZ as a “test-run” but goes completely and utterly out of control.
The story as a whole is… both original and not. Though there is far more to it than I stated above, as Natsuki’s family is a great chunk of the overall plot with a few of the members having their own stories to tell throughout the film, the crux of the film is… Well, it’s almost a picture perfect copy of director Mamoru Hosoda’s earlier film, Digimon: Our War Game.
Of course, there are many differing elements throughout but the essential plot of an artificial intelligent gaining control of the world through the Internet and creating chaos with its antics and eventual mayhem via a Pyrrhic victory aerial strike from space via probe or nuclear missile remains the same.
If I had never seen Digimon: Our War Game, I wouldn’t have made that connection and even those who have seen it would likely have assumed the same as I immediately did, that the film Summer Wars was a plagiarized attempt at an earlier film. However, as was made obvious by the Screen Junkies and their Honest Trailers, this is not something new or otherwise unprecedented in film. The original Spider-Man trilogy for example rehashes Peter coming to term with his powers, breaking up with Mary Jane, and facing a villain that, ultimately, ends up killing themselves.
The music in the film, contrary to what one would expect from an animated Japanese film, does not contain any songs inserted appropriately or inappropriately into the background. If anything, the music of the film is surprisingly well synced with the actions occurring in the film, especially during the fight sequences between Love Machine and the avatar known as King Kazma, which is in turn the avatar of Natsuki’s cousin Kazuma Ikezawa. There is also something of a tongue-in-cheek prod at the age-old Disney versus Warner Bros. rivalry insomuch that Kenji’s original avatar bears a resemblance to Mickey Mouse with a pair of perpetually circular “ears” and King Kazma a bipedal rabbit but that’s neither here nor there.
With these being a film from Japan, the questions regarding dubbing in English are of course attributed. These questions, I’ve found, are commonly narrowed down to two main points. The accuracy of the English translation into dub versus the subtitles and whether the English voice actors fit the respected characters. In the case of character voices fitting in correctly, I honestly say a resounding yes. There is no mistaking a character for another because of similarities in their voices nor can one mistake a child for an adult and vice versa. Before anyone asks, yes, this has happened before wherein one kid character had a deeper and more masculine voice than the actual muscular guy did.
As to the accuracy of the dub versus the original Japanese… I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t follow true to it even in moments where a character is narrating and words aren’t needed to fit into their moving mouths. Normally, I would be offended by this as, oftentimes, some key information or important and heartfelt lines are changed drastically because of it but having watched the film in English with the subtitles on many a time… Honestly, I say that I prefer the English dub versus the original Japanese but perhaps that’s more a matter of personal preference for me.
Speaking of Japanese versus English… There is, unfortunately, a moment in the film that is unfortunately lost in translation in the form of a game called Koi-Koi that is played with Hanafuda cards. It is apparently quite the popular game and is, unfortunately, one that I cannot properly explain as I’ve never played it myself nor have I ever heard of it prior to this film. I bring up this game as it is an important part of the film’s climax and is, unfortunately, one where I cannot begin to comprehend just what is happening with the cards as they fly by. While not strictly necessary to know the game in order to enjoy the movie, I feel that it would help knowing whether or not the heroes are winning or losing with the cards they draw and use.
The animation quality is amazing both for the virtual world of OZ and the real world itself. There are moments where the occasional anime tropes occur for some of the more comedic characters or moments but they are few and far between. Overall, the real world appears exactly as that, a real world with real people and real consequences for their actions and none of the atypical anime antics to be seen. Even OZ appears as a virtual world ought to look like, alien enough that a human being couldn’t truly comprehend it and yet its denizens, the avatars of the users, react and interact inside it as one would expect them to if it were a real and actual place for them.
On the note of OZ avatars, I personally love the idea of everyone and anyone not only being interconnected into this massive virtual world but having their own personal avatars that can’t possibly be mistaken for anyone else. The avatars of OZ users are each unique to the individual and, especially in the case of Natsuki’s family, are a reflection of who and what they are in the real world. Such as one member resembling a mechanical firefighter dog while another appears like an anthropomorphic pill for the resident doctor in the family.
With all that being said, do I think that Summer Wars is a film worth watching? Definitely. Is it one that could be watched again and again? Eh… that’s more a matter of personal preference than anything else and really, though I do recommend doing so and paying particular attention to only one member of Natsuki’s family each time. If there’s one thing that I can commend the people who worked on this film for it’s their attention to detail with each and every person in the scene rather than those who were are “focused” on. Everyone and anyone is acting and reacting in their own ways and it was a delight to watch them.