Anime. It’s the one medium that I know that can flawlessly integrate genres to create some of the most original and entertaining films and shows I’ve ever seen. “Cowboy Bebop” and “Trigun” can be called sci-fi or space westerns, “Samurai 7” is a steampunk Samurai series, and the list goes on. Sci-fi romance is one of the newest to show up and heading the charge is Mamoru Hosoda. Hosoda burst on the scene with “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” which got rave reviews, unfortunately I haven’t seen it. But after reading up on it and the director I was intrigued. Hosoda is currently being hailed as the successor to Hayao Miyazaki, he of “Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away,” and “Ponyo” fame. That’s a lot of pressure to stand up to and after seeing Hosoda’s latest release I can say wholeheartedly he does so with vigor and flair.
I won’t lie, I took this film to review cause I’m always looking for some good anime movies. I love the series, but sometimes I want something self-contained. When I looked “Summer Wars” up after Nix asked if I wanted to review it I was a bit hesitant to get into it. The story breaks down like this: Kenji is your average nerd, a genius at Math, but bad with people. He has a part time job after school running maintenance on “Oz,” the fully interactive virtual reality world that has all but unified the world (imagine if the internet itself was like Playstation Home/Facebook/Amazon/etc all rolled up into one and you’ll get the idea) and is about to go through another boring summer when Natsuki Jinnouchi, most likely Kenji’s only female friend asks if he’ll do a job for her. Turns out the job is pretending to be her fiancé to impress her grandmother for her 90th birthday.
See why I was hesitant at first? But it gets better. As Kenji meets Natsuki’s large and influential family, he thinks he has his biggest challenge ahead of him, until a late night phone message with a Math problem sets the stage for disaster on a global scale. Kenji inadvertently releases an AI named “Love Machine” that takes over “Oz” and leaves Japan and to a lesser degree the world in chaos, as most of the world’s computers are hooked into “Oz.” Ah what a summer it will be. This insane plot is just the beginning of a very imaginative film that is heartwarming, funny, and just plain entertaining. I was really shocked at how quickly the story and the characters drew me in, and how well fleshed out they were even though we only got the briefest introductions. It was their personalities and actions that really made them likeable and just believable as people. Anyone with a large family can relate to the Jinnouchi Clan.
Produced by Madhouse and released by Warner Bros, Funimation’s “Summer Wars” starts a bit slow but ramps up with a touching story about close knit family intertwined with a cyber-thriller. See there’s that genre mixing again. And I don’t think if this had been done in the states that the amalgamation would be so complete. It’d be half family dramedy, half cyber-thriller, but not knowing which it truly wanted to be. Whereas with “Summer Wars” the family aspect clearly takes precedent but the cyber thriller aspect is woven in so well it isn’t the least bit jarring.
With a ridiculous cast of characters that just endears you to their struggle, some very good action, and astute social commentary about humanity’s dependence on technology “Summer Wars” was a welcomed surprise after I popped it in my DVD player. I’ve already watched it twice and it is definitely one of my favorites now. Hosoda had some large shoes to fill, but he strapped the boots on tight and has started what looks to be a long successful journey. I hope to be there with him because he’s definitely made a fan out of me.
Mamoru Hosoda (director) / Mamoru Hosoda (story), Satoko Okudera (screenplay)
CAST: Maeghan Albach
Tia Lynn Ballard … Kana Jinnouchi
John Burgmeier … Tasuke Jinnouchi
Shelley Calene-Black … Mariko Jinnouchi