Monday, January 6, 2014

Summer Wars Anime Movie Review

Summer Wars
Sama Wozu
Warner Home Video
Movie - 114 mins. - 2 disc
$29.98 (2013) Blu-Ray/DVD
$34.98 (2011) Blu-Ray
$29.98 (2011) 2-disc
ISBN 704400094811
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Mamoru Hosoda
Studio - Madhouse

Synopsis: Kenji Koiso is a hopeless high school nerd - when he's not spending endless hours as one in a million moderators of the online world of OZ then he's studying mathematics.  See, he's kind of a math genius, actually.  It makes having a social life next to impossible, but somehow he gets invited on a trip by his beautiful and outspoken classmate, Natsuki Shinohara.
Kenji and his buddy Takashi spend all their free time moderating for OZ
Natsuki's heading back home to see her family and celebrate the upcoming 90th birthday of her great-grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi.  Great-grandma Sakae is one tough old bird and the matriarch of the Jinnouchi clan who can trace their ancestry back almost four centuries to feudal times.  The clan has a rich and defiant history as warriors, but has recently fallen into financial hard times due to fiscal mismanagement many years ago by the clan's patriarch.  The family has been trying to regain their former social and wealth status.
Kenji meets Natsuki's great-grandmother Sakae
When Natsuki introduces Kenji as her fiancee he absolutely loses it!  She talks him up as coming from a prestigious family, living in America for a year, and attending a quality university - none of which is true!  Poor Kenji is trapped in the Jinnouchi compound with Natsuki's whole family and trying to pretend he's her fiancee.  He's hopelessly fallen for Natsuki and will do anything she says at this point, but the pressure is almost too much to handle as he sits through family dinner.
Kenji meets the rest of Natsuki's her fake fiancee!
Kenji is barely surviving his visit when he receives a mysterious text in the middle of the night.  It's a series of numbers and appears to be a math problem requiring the solution to the code.  He wakes up in the morning with only a faint recollection of working out the problem, but apparently all hell has broken loose in the online world of OZ.
The black sheep of the family - Uncle Wabisuke
OZ is a virtual reality world where users create avatars to navigate the world on their behalf.  OZ has become so popular that it's integrated into both social and governmental systems.  People can have entire lives within OZ including virtual careers, sporting events, relationships, and anything else you can think of.  Someone has cracked OZ's security barrier and is appropriately user accounts and tampering with the infrastructure of the world.  Things become serious when the hacker starts playing with utility services and traffic signals.
Kenji solves a mysterious numerical code sent to him during the night
Did Kenji accidentally hand someone the keys to OZ?  His account seems to have been hijacked and will the Feds come breaking down the door to find him?  If he was uncomfortable at the Jinnouchi's residence before then things have hit a whole new level of bad.  Natsuki's disowned uncle, Wabisuke, shows up and causes a big stink with the family.  What's his connection to all the strange happenings?  When the Jinnouchi's learn what's going on they kick into overdrive to try and solve the problem, but what can one real family do to save the unreal world of OZ?
Kenji's avatar gets hacked in the virtual world of OZ by 'Love Machine'
Pros: Great story with family as a central theme, Madhouse puts out some great animation and the virtual world of OZ is really detailed (the sheer number of the little avatars for people is staggering), excellent animation and lush backgrounds, nice combination of realism with fictional virtual reality
Fortunately Kenji's buddy Takashi gets him a new avatar to use
Cons: A lot of characters to keep track of, story jumps around a bit, can be corny at times (although meant to counter-balance the serious moments in the movie), plenty of suspension of disbelief with this one, slightly mature (there is a death)
King Kazma is a virtual fighter in OZ who takes on the hacker
Mike Tells It Straight: Summer Wars is an entertaining film with a lot of different elements - part near-future science-fiction with the virtual reality world of OZ, part slice-of-life family drama with the Jinnouchi clan, part boy-meets-girl romantic comedy with Kenji and Natsuki, and part thriller as both aspects collide in a countdown to save the real world from the virtual world.  It starts out slow as we're introduced to OZ and then Kenji heads to Natsuki's family home.
The hacker becomes a much tougher oppenent to rival even King Kazma
I found the characters to be likable and varied.  Each represents a specific age category - Kazuma is the teenage loner, Natsuki is the naive high school girl, Kenji is the bumbling high school boy, Wabisuke is the exiled rogue returning home, great grandma Sakae is the spunky oldster who still has some fight left in her, and the group goes on.  I think everyone could identify with at least one family member which gives this anime a broad appeal.  The little kids were out-of-control and manage to wreck everything with their wanton enthusiasm.
The Jinnouchi clan watches as Kazuma takes on Love Machine
The story is pure dramedy with Kenji being the main focus until the family organizes to take on Love Machine.  I liked a lot of the scenes and themes of the movie, but felt a lot of gags were thrown in to make if funnier.  I guess it's more comedy than serious drama.  The battles between Kazuma (as King Kazma) and Love Machine were really exciting and epic.  Madhouse brings great visuals and lots of detail to this film.  It was a lot different than I expected - somehow I was thinking another dimension filled with weird little creatures (the avatars pictured on the cover) were invading the real world and a group of people had to stop them.
Love Machine gets deeper into OZ and starts wreaking havoc on the real world
Overall I would recommend this film as a lighthearted comedy with a nice family theme.  The ending is well done and director Mamoru Hosoda follows up The Girl Who Leapt Through Time with another successful movie.  I think it has broad appeal to almost all ages (recommended for viewers 8+ due to 'a death' and old people probably don't know what a virtual reality world is) and is a heartwarming story.  It particularly reminded me of Eden of the East which was an interesting show.  Check it out!
The Jinnouchi clan (plus Kenji)

TO BUY and Recommendations: