Now my blog returns to it’s origins- Squeeing over stuff that I love! With that in mind- Summer Wars! Very fitting since it’s scorching hot outside as I’m writing this.

This film is sort of the spiritual successor of another Japanese anime film, The Girl who Leapt Through Time. It’s one of my favourite films ever and my review of it was the very first thing I ever got published (didn’t get paid for it, but I was only a second year student). It was such a hit that director Mamoru Hosoda was immediately asked by animation studio Madhouse to produce another gem. He worked with the same scriptwriter, Sakoto Okudera, and many of the same stuff from The Girl who Leapt Through Time. And lucky for them, they weren’t a one hit wonder.

Summer Wars opens with a voiceover from what sounds like a creepily nice saleswomen introducing us to Oz, a computer programme which drives the plot of the film. It’s kind of like a super mix between Facebook and Second Life with a bit of WoW thrown in.

No flash photography please, this is the internet!

If you’re thinking this opening sequence looks familiar, you’d be right. Back in 2000 Hosoda directed the Digimon film ‘Our War Game,’ dubbed, with varying levels of quality, in English as part of ‘The Digimon Movie.’ It also features an incredibly stylish visualised version of the internet, filled with weird but cool things floating about everywhere. It’s clear that Summer Wars is either an expansion or improvement of Our War Game, with both films even sharing very similar plot elements, and even several ‘evolution’ scenes.

It’s not a bad thing, it’s normal for artists to look back on something they did earlier in their career and say ‘that could be so much better.’ I look at stuff I wrote just 6 months ago and say ‘what was I thinking?!‘ They are still two different films with very different themes and characters. We’re just taking another journey to trippy internet world.

See this article for a more in depth comparison of the two films:

I recommend watching the film twice – Once to take in the storyline and a second time to look at all the things in the background that you didn’t see first time around. There is just so much to look at and make you go ‘oh, I didn’t notice that before!’

I particularly like the Panda-Dolphin.

Back in the real world (what was that again?) we meet our hero Kenji Koiso, a socially awkward math genius and the type of person who can’t spend more than 2 minutes away from a computer. He and his friend Takashi are working as part time moderators for Oz when their classmate Natsuki Shinohara ‘hires’ Kenji to go with her to a family reunion to celebrate her great grandmother’s 90th birthday. But on arriving at the impressively big home of the Jinnouchi clan, it turns out that Natsuki has roped Kenji into pretending to be her fiancée!

And then he breaks the internet.

I’m not kidding, he crashes the whole internet! He is sent a mysterious text message containing a complex code, and as a math wiz he has a compulsion to solve it. Unfortunately for him, the code he cracked was the security code for Oz and now a hacker is gradually taking control of every account in the world. And Kenji’s reaction at suddenly becoming a criminal is hilarious!

It’s at this point that I start to wander why they thought it was a good idea to base all of the world’s services, businesses and even global security systems on one single inter connected programme. That would be like the Pentagon becoming accessible from Facebook! Or the President logging onto Runescape to launch nuclear missiles. Did no one think to put their hand up and say ‘Uh actually, I think this might not be such a good idea after all. I know we have the best security system in the world, but I can potentially see it going completely tits up.’

The world is quickly going to pot, and the super hacker has sent a satellite crashing to Earth on a collision course towards a nuclear reactor. Now Kenji and his new ‘family’ must save the world from their old wooden house in the Japanese countryside. How hard can that be?

I’ve probably made it sound like a rom-com ‘save the world’ story. However, the film isn’t about either of these. Well it is, but the main theme is family, something which seems to be rather neglected in anime in place of fluffy romance and mecha battles. But as this film shows us, it is such an important part of life. The romance is very sweet and the action incredibly gripping, but it is the family storyline which ties them all together.

Summer Wars is probably one of the most accurate portrayals of family that you could hope to find – annoying bastards that you can’t help but love because they’re yours. Hosoda supposedly based Kenji’s experiences on when he met his wife’s family for the first time. It’s a strange feeling when a huge bunch of people you’ve never met before automatically become your own family.

Let the Mario Kart battle begin!!

I imagine many other viewers felt the same way I did when watching this film – It was just like when I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time. It was even worse for me since I’m British and my boyfriend is Finnish and many of his relatives didn’t even speak the same language as me! Just like Kenji, I’m incredibly shy and socially backward and like the Jinnouchi’s, Finns have two settings – Loud and louder. They also love fishing, excessively large boats and barbequing anything they can get their hands on. It was eerily similar to my own life!

Japan is still somewhat of a traditional society, from what I’ve heard, and yet it is 89 year old Grandma Sakae who takes charge of the family, and perhaps her whole local community. In a medium which is all about attractive youths, she is probably the best character in the whole film. Because of her, many of the men in the family have important, high ranking jobs and the women, even if they are just mothers and housewives, are even more strong willed than the men. Despite her highly respected position and tough exterior, Sakae also has a huge capacity for love. How many women do you know who would adopt their husband’s illegitimate son and love him like their own?

The entire film is a giant mix of the old and the new, perhaps symbolising the contrast between Kenji and the Jinnouchi’s. We get a good eyeful of both the beautiful natural surroundings and the equally beautiful world of Oz. An ancient battle plan is updated to be used against a cyber hacker. While the kids are busy using their online network to save Oz, Grandma Sakae uses her old style phone to contact her own network and prevent a potential real world crisis.

This time, I’m not going to prattle on about how wonderfully perfect this film is, because it isn’t perfect. The cyber babble is laid on very heavily and sometimes seems like it needs a PHD to understand. You may have picked up from my vague synopsis that even I have barely any idea what’s going on during the computery parts.

Just as confusing is the huge cast of the Jinnouchi clan. Good luck trying to remember all the names and connections. The director originally insisted that there should be 80 family members as main characters! I think we’re all thankful that fell through.

The plot fits together wonderfully, but like all films from an unfamiliar culture, may require repeat viewings to understand fully. I still cannot figure out what was with the boat. Why did they need to wreck part of the house for a boat? My boyfriend’s family could probably tell me. And Natsuki’s power up from the space whale things seems rather random. Probably just an excuse for more prettiness and to see her avatar naked. Speaking of Natsuki, she’s supposed to be an important character and takes centre stage in the promotional poster, yet she disappears for a large portion of the film while the boys are doing their thing.

The voice acting in the English dub is great, especially considering there are often 10 or more characters all talking at once (just like a real family)! Funimation have pulled out all of their best talent for the massive cast. Expect to hear voices from many of your favourite anime shows.

The animation, as you’d expect, is gorgeous and amazing. You know you’re doing good when you can make bunny ears look terrifying! My particular favourite moment is when the Oz mainframe is transformed into a bunch of traditional Japanese houses. Something about it just looks so cool.

For the Alliance!

I spend a lot of time online, but certain things like Second Life make me wonder what the point is when you can just do all the same stuff for real. Warcraft I can understand, because where in the real world can you fight orcs and dragons? But why spend so much time getting money and possessions in a game when you could use the time to work, earn money and get nice things for yourself in the real world? (Wait a minute Cloud, didn’t you used to play The Sims? Ok, I’ll shut up now…).

Most films about the online or digital world seem to either glorify or shame it. Summer Wars does neither. It shows the positive sides of both tradition and modernisation, which usually split our society right down the middle. Somehow it makes me want to go outside and play World of Warcraft at the same time!!

I hear that Hosoda and his crew are working on their next project, and I for one have faith that it’ll be another good one.

So remember, the next time the world is heading towards an inescapable apocalypse, the most important thing is to make sure you are armed with plenty of squid for the victory barbeque!

Cloud verdict – 8/10