Summer Wars: anime review – a family-driven masterpiece

Review: I must admit that upon hearing the synopsis of this movie, I felt that it sounded strange, if not downright lame. A summer vacation that leads to a cyber battle, virtual terrorism and apparently the world is at stake? That sounds like an amateur trying to do something revolutionary, daring, thinking big but would eventually learn a hard lesson. In most occasions, this would be the case but to my delight, Summer Wars proves to be a rare exception.

Summer Wars clearly displays fear of the advancement of information technology which gradually becomes essential part of daily lives. When OZ system fails, everything shuts down and the world is in chaos. Kenji is on a summer vacation with Natsuki’s family of over twenty people. The cyber catastrophe throws the entire family into extremely hard time and they all are forced to stand up to the culprit behind the incident and ultimate save the world.

The show may present the down side of technology like most of other science fiction but, as I’ve mentioned before, Summer Wars is no ordinary show. It also provides the viewers with a counter measure, one that does not mean denying science and technology but one that makes people and science coexist smoothly. I’m talking about something unbelievably primitive and something that is mostly forgotten in society plagued with individualism. That thing is family or more precisely, each other.

Even someone who sleeps through half the show will still be able to recognize the main theme of this anime which is family. Everyone needs a backup which help gets a person through obstacles and suffering. Nowadays, people share less and less physical contacts and families get smaller or utterly disappear. Considering this problem, it is amazing that two contrasting subjects are harmoniously presented in one show; family and cyber technology. It is like the past and the future holding hands. The family units which are breaking apart finally find the place in the new high-tech society and their importance reminded to the audience once again.

Though some might say that the characters in this anime are quite one dimensional, I think Summer Wars is family driven, rather than character driven. Not much detail is put into any single character but instead, the family is presented as a single unit, like one leading person. To my surprise, I feel like I know this family so well even though I can’t remember every member’s name.

Though the creators obviously try their hardest to make all the technical details as believable as possible, the cyber battles and other intriguing technical stuffs still seem quite over the top. I have too little knowledge about the technology to pick up flaws or discuss the credibility of the technical details but it is unfair to discredit the anime because of these matters. The most important thing is the context and drama of the fights, not the credibility of the stage and the weapons.

Summer Wars’ animation is wonderfully crafted. Different style of animation is used during the online portion of the show to distinguish it from the real life part. The musical score effectively enhances and empowers several critical moments of the anime making it not only extremely intelligent but also very emotional to the viewers.

Summer Wars is simply exceptional. It’s solid in terms of storytelling and production. It manages to gather so many great ideas together and miraculously makes everything works. And above all else, it is so entertaining and heartwarming. This is anime making in its finest.

Rating: A+


Title: Summer Wars
Genre: sci-fi, drama, action
Release date: August 1, 2009
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Animated by: Madhouse

33 responses to “Summer Wars: anime review – a family-driven masterpiece

  1. For some reason this is always related in my mind to Cencoroll. I found Cencoroll, back in January(!) and still did not get to watch it (!!).

    I looked for Summer Wars, but could not find it. This will remind me to look once more with redoubled efforts!

    Yeah, it seemed a bit whacky, but it’s anime, what do you expect? Ok, it seemed really whacky. The trailer I watched also had a lot of tears and funky shit. Will search post-haste.

  2. The only annoying aspect of Summer Wars was the final battle and only because I had difficulty suspending disbelief. Other than that, the movie was pretty charming all around because watching the family go about its business and interact with one another was really well done. You really got to know the characters well through that.

    • I have to admit that the events in Summer Wars are quite surreal. One could categorize it as fantasy and I wouldn’t have any objections :)

  3. Seems the same animation style as Kurenai, with the movements, the almost cel-shade feel at places..

  4. shit. I really need to start watching this!

  5. That’s an interesting point you make about the difference between a character driven series and a family driven series. I think that can be a very powerful way to flesh out the characters without necessarily giving each individual a lot of attention.

    Now you’ve got me curious about the series.

    • Several shows also portray groups of people or a bunch of characters with minimal individual details but rich in overall context such as…Baccano.

  6. One really subtle thing they did: in the “real world”, all the character art outlines are black lines. In Oz, all the character art outlines are red lines. That’s one of the things that makes Oz a bit unreal.

  7. “Summer Wars” also supports a relatively good score, though I didn’t much care for the ending theme. Vocals shine with a wide variety of unique and interesting performances from many seiyuu that don’t often work in anime. Their fresh takes on cliche characterization in anime gives the movie a strong ensemble performance on the whole.

    • I thought the ending theme was pretty nice but a little weird. The overall ost was good especially the big-scale themes…those were epic.

  8. Yeah, I’m in the boat with the ones who haven’t watched this too… How many times have I said that? I think I may actually have it on my pc somewhere, I better get to it. After railgun and Persona 3.
    Maybe in between, since Persona will clock a hundred hours >.>

  9. This movie left me feeling really good! It felt like the first 2 digimon movies i watched, really epic. XD!

    • I felt extremely good as well, though I didn’t see Digimon movies -_-

    • aquabluesweater

      The director of Summer Wars, Hosoda Mamoru, did direct a few Digimon movies before he did The Girls Who Leapt Through Time and then this. So there may be a lot of truth in your comparison than just your gut feel:)

  10. I found it kind of bland aside from the family bits and visuals, but I find it interesting how I scuffed at the thought of a worldwide networking thing like that one in the movie. It wasn’t until Facebook started doing this shitty connection to your interests thing, did I really give the events of Summer Wars a second thought.

    I can see an OZ kind of thing in the future.

  11. aquabluesweater

    I got to see Summer Wars in the cinema. It was actually part of my movie marathon I had with a friend who visited me. We also saw Crazy Heart, Alice in Wonderland and Green Zone on the same day and Summer Wars came out on top as the film I enjoy the most, by quite a distant actually. I just love the art style (very clean, bright and pretty to look at) and the storytelling is just done so well. The middle part with the granma is just so touching. I can see that some people might find the plot mudane and cliche or the technology aspect done so wrong but when the story goes this entertainingly, I am willing to overlook quite a lot:) Like you said on top, this is why i love anime!

    Imagine if Ghibli managed to retain his talent. He would definitely make a pretty worthy successor to that studio. I really am so looking forward to the next thing me puts out.

  12. Entirely agree about how Summer Wars is all about the family, and not so much the characters. All of the one-dimensional characters converge their one dimensions to form a many dimensioned family :P

    And I loved it. It reminded me incredibly of past memories of my own family reunions long in the past.

  13. Pingback: Top Animation Directors – Movies « Blue Sweater Story

  14. personally i think this movie could have been a whole lot better, just get rid of the whole online world of oz, it made no sense at all i think the movie would have been tons better if it was just about the troubles the family went through on this particular weekend (coz it sure didn’t feel like a whole summer holiday) and this kid stuck in the middle of it.

    • Oz technology and imagery did look a bit too fantastic compared to the more realistic reality. But I think Oz added lots of fun and color to the movie as a whole. That aside, the heart of Summer Wars remains with the family matters.

  15. So…I finally went to try and watch this movie, but I can’t figure out how to find a working torrent. The one I downloaded seemed to be the highest seeded but it won’t work for me. Maybe it’s because I use VLC Player we’ll see…I wish this was officially released on blu-ray over here.

  16. Ok watched it! It was beautiful and I really liked a lot of aspects of it, but I wasn’t head over heels for it. I think this is a movie I need to think about before I come to a decision on how much I liked it. Weird of me huh? Sometimes that happens when I watch/read something. I need a cool down period before I can come to a personal decision.

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