Released in Japan in 2009 and brought to America courtesy of Funimation, “Summer Wars” tells the story of high school student Kenji Koiso, who excels at math, and is working for Oz during the Summer. Imagine if the social and gaming aspects of Facebook combined with banks, stores, and every other facet of life from hospitals to electricity, and there you have Oz. Natsuki, the girl of his dreams, invites Kenji to join her for a week at her family’s home to celebrate her grandmother’s 90th birthday, but little does he know he must pretend to be her boyfriend while he is there. On his first night over, Kenji’s Oz account is hacked by someone called “Love Machine,” and things quickly go awry for not just Kenji, but the entire planet as every human being is connected to Oz. The family soon comes together and overcomes various adversities to take on Love Machine and save the planet, even if they are just one family against a powerful hacker… and that is as much as I can say without spoiling things.
The first time I saw “Summer Wars” was on the Funimation Channel, and while I missed the beginning and just started towards the middle of the second act, I was completely enamored and hooked. The animation is gorgeous and smooth, with vibrant colors that take you from the quiet nature of the Japanese countryside, to the hustle and bustle of the cyber world of Oz. Watching it on TV, I saw the dubbed version, which I still loved due to some great voice-over acting from an experienced cast.
The film was directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who also directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Digimon movie, and several others, as well as animating other prolific series through his career. Hosoda helmed the ship at Madhouse for this film, and has produced a great work of art. If the name “Madhouse” sounds familiar to you, it may be because they are also the creative team behind many other great titles, including Redline, Paranoia Agent, Rideback, Sakura Wars, Wicked City, and many of the Marvel Comics anime titles just to name a few of the dozens of animes they have made.
Breaking up the real-life scenes is that world of Oz, which is where the creativity of Madhouse truly shines. Thousands of unique creatures habituate in this online universe, each one with their own animated character. Most of the action happens in this place as well, including the fight scenes with Love Machine and the family, which are spectacular, exciting, and dramatic. There is a real sense of tension and urgency in these scenes, translated with what is happening back in the real world, on a level that few animes can capture without going over the top.
Funimation put out a two-disc DVD (or Blu-Ray) set of Summer Wars, and both are filled with goodies. The first disc features the full-length film with your choice of dubbing or subtitled film, as well as the option to hear a commentary with the english voice-acting team. Disc two features all of the special features, which include trailers and TV spots, and interviews with the original Japanese voice-over actors, as well an enlightening interview with Hosoda himself. While the trailers are no big deals, the interviews are interesting and shed some info on how the actors approached their characters, and discuss the depth of the film, while the director talks about filmmaking and how Summer Wars went from a concept into a masterpiece.
The DVD set also comes with four art cards inside, that feature the avatars of some of the characters in the film. The cards are double-sided, so you are technically getting eight cards, depending on how you want to look at it.
Summer Wars won several awards including the 2010 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, the 2010 Japan Media Arts Festival’s Animation Division Grand Prize, and the Anaheim International Film Festival’s Audience Award for Best Animated Feature. Is it any wonder they won so many with this piece of work? Summer Wars is a great film on multiple levels, and while the satire of social networks is at the forefront, at the end of the day is about family ties, and just how strong one family can be. Amazing animation, great voice acting, and an original script combine for one masterpiece of a film that I could not give a higher recommendation to.