I watched this movie with high expectations. Summer Wars was created by the same director who did The Girl Who Leapt Through Time 2006 anime movie, and I was hoping to be as captivated with this movie as the latter. Although SW doesn’t reach the intense emotional level that TGWLTT did, this is a solid film with good balances of comedy, action and drama.
Summer Wars is a great example of a plot that mixes fantasy with reality. On one side, viewers get to see Kenji, Natsuki and the Jinnouchi family living their lives in Japan. Product placement is present throughout the film by appearances of Dr. Pepper, Nintendo DS, and Apple’s iPhone (the most noticeable). But its done in a manner that makes you think, “Oh, these people are supposed to live in the same world as me” rather than BUY THIS PRODUCT. The only reason I wish that there was less product placement is because all those products are available right now, whereas the World of OZ (think of an evolved better form of Second Life) is not. The only logical explanation is that Summer Wars is happening in some parallel dimension of Earth where OZ has already been developed. Or Mamoru Hosoda doesn’t give a fuck about continuity and I’m overanalyzing this (probably this).
The story takes place mostly at the Jinnouchi household in Ueda, Nagano, which introduces us to a very large character list. Everyone is gathering for Natsuki’s grandmother’s birthday and Natsuki invites Kenji (a fellow classmate) under the premise that he is her fiancee. Granny Jinnouchi probably has more fire in her than most male anime lead characters. She proves to be the backbone of not just her family, but Japan’s infrastructure as well. When an artificial intelligence program called Love Machine takes over OZ and completely screws up the country’s traffic, sewer and emergency systems, Granny steps in to call all the higher-ups of Japanese society to get their heads together and fix the problems. Her death was very sad to witness, but at the same time, it was necessary for the rest of the Jinnouchi family to realize their own strengths.
Kenji is probably the coolest mathlete ever. He’s so good with algorithms that he can translate code in his head, but he’s still grounded enough to rally the Jinnouchis when things get tough. Natsuki annoyed me for a lot of the movie with her selfish behavior, but really came through during the Hanafuda game. Things got so intense that I thought we fell into the middle of a Yu-Gi-Oh battle. Kazuma (and his avatar King Kazma) were pretty cool, but I’m a little confused how he can be so tan when he obviously has to spend most of his time indoors defending his OZ martial arts champion title. I thought he was naturally dark-skinned until I saw his parents. No way he could get that tan from sporadic Kung Fu practice sessions with his Grandpa.
Wabisuke’s background (or at least Hosoda’s explanation of Wabisuke) was such a hot mess. He’s the illegitimate son of Natsuki’s great-grandfather and was adopted into the Jinnouchi family by Granny. He wanted to revive the Jinnouchi family’s wealth so he developed Love Machine and sold it off to the U.S. government. And somewhere along the way he turned into a gigantic asshole? They never really explained why he has such a piss-ass attitude. I guess this is just what happens when you don’t talk about your plans before implementing them. Oh and I did a double-take when I heard that he created Love Machine in Pittsburgh. Nothing wrong with Carnegie Mellon, but I never imagined that I’d hear about Pittsburgh in an anime film. That’s right folks, the potential end of the world will begin in Pennsylvania!
Of course, you can’t have something called OZ without trying to draw up the cross-references with the original Wizard of Oz background story. If I had to loosely line up characters, it’d probably be like this. Love Machine is the Wicked Witch that’s terrorizing OZ with its stolen users (winged monkeys). Grandma Jinnouchi is like Glinda as she motivates the others to take down the oppressive force taking over OZ. Kenji is Dorothy (lol) in that he’s arguably the central character. While he doesn’t kill Love Machine directly like Dorothy does to the Wicked Witch, he does deal the final blow on Love Machine’s plan by diverting the probe from hitting the Jinnouchi house. The Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man would be Kazuma, Natsuki and Wabisuke. Takashi, Kenji’s friend back in Tokyo, would be Toto since they both fit into the faithful companion type (lol). The rest of the family can be Munchkins and Emerald City Citizens. /end BS ramble
In the end, the fallen probe misses the Jinnouchi house by a couple hundred yards and the impact unearths a new hot spring. I’m guessing that the Jinnouchis will take that over and can now restart the family wealth by building a resort. Wabisuke admitted his involvement with Love Machine to the authorities, hundreds of people come to Granny’s funeral to pay their respects and Kenji & Natsuki become a couple. Hopefully the family isn’t completely abandoning Wabisuke again since he wasn’t the actual one who unleashed Love Machine on the world. I wonder how Americans will take the anti-U.S. government sentiment in the film. Then again, I don’t think too many Tea Partiers watch anime, so it should be fine.
Oh and props to Funimation. I watched this on TV via Comcast On Demand because I wasn’t sure at the time if I wanted to shell out for the DVD. It’s a nice substitute if we can’t get it on iTunes or see it in theaters. I’m also happy with the way dubbing companies treat source material now. Back in the 90’s, the Hanafuda card battle would have turned into Go Fish or something.