I had enjoyed Mamoru Hosada's anime film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and had eagerly anticipated his latest effort Summer Wars to hit our shores since last year. I'm glad it did, and it busted my expectations, proving that he's no one hit wonder, and together with writer Satoko Okudera, have again come up with a worthy tale animated under the Madhouse banner.
Which is beautiful to look at, and an assault of the visual senses from the first frame, with so many simultaneous action happening in the same frame that just begs for a rewatch in order to try and get everything, with its highly detailed digital world reminiscent of an equivalent psychological one in Satoshi Kon's Paprika. Here, we're introduced into the online world of OZ, where everyone is highly reliant on to get day to day transactions done, from making phone calls to complex monitoring of distress signals be it personal health, or critical infrastructures. Think of it as Facebook on steroids, with the provision of interactive avatars that can be accessed from virtually any connected device big or small, and containing profiles of just about everything that's online.
It is this over-reliance of technology for communications and interaction, that Summer Wars aims itself at with a cautionary tale that we should not forget the ties that matters, the real world ones, and especially that of the family. These are real bonds forged, which an online one can be susceptible to crackers and exploitation, in the name of fun and without evaluation of consequences. It's the real, old-school styled world versus the convenience that technology has brought, and our continued evolution along the digital lines, missing out on the old fashioned way of communication that we get to see put to good use here, from dated filofaxes, to thumbing through of address books, postcards, and letters.
The tale centers around the "almost-math-olympiad" representative of Japan, high-schooler Kenji Koiso (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki), who volunteers his time and service to his crush, the most beautiful girl in the school Natsuki Shinohara (Nanami Sakuraba) to spend the summer at her ancestral home in Ueda. Little does he know that Natsuki wants him to pose as her boyfriend, since she had promised the matriarch of her family, Sakae Jinnouchi (Sumiko Fuji), a powerful, well connected woman, to do so when she goes back for the holidays. And what an extended family it proved to be, giving opportune to the introduction of quirky, lovable characters, each with their own traits which may prove stereotypical, but I highly enjoyed their presence.
As with any large family, there is bound to be someone who had outcast himself and not very well liked, said to be the black sheep and isn't on cordial terms with everyone. The threat faced to the family and the world at large somehow got intertwined together, and makes for an incredibly engaging time witnessing how events unravel themselves, with new discoveries made and alliances forged as the family stands together to do battle and wrestle control over what was essentially dropped on their laps to address. Pleasant surprises get thrown up along the way to keep the adrenaline pumping, and of course to keep you guessing, which is a very nice touch from the usual formula. And Hosada seems to have a knack for making films with strong female characters once again, even having the males in the family conceding so.
Summer Wars is an extremely rich story take takes place on two different planes, the real and the virtual, with good themes and some very beautiful, detailed animation to make you cry out for more. A love story also managed to get snuck in with the littlest of scenes, but always packing powerful emotions throughout. If anyone's not convinced on the power of Japanese animation of late, then give this film a go. I'd bet you won't get disappointed, and I highly rate this early in the year into my shortlist of the best I've seen this year, thus far. Don't miss this on the big screen!