summer wars review

Categories: anime, cinema


Koi koi!

Go watch Summer Wars.

You will enjoy it.

Some people have been calling director Mamoru Hosoda (also of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) the new Miyazaki. (They also refer to Young Miyazaki, which I consider a backhanded compliment for Miyazaki.) I didn’t really see it with Hosoda’s previous movie, but with Summer Wars, I can believe it. The thing that really set Miyazaki apart was just his ability to tell simple stories around simple themes, yet made them grander than what they were. And there was also a whimsy to Miyazaki’s storytelling that made his tales stand out. Hosoda isn’t far off– Summer Wars has that same simpleness to it, yet it holds tremendous emotional complexity. And like how Miyazaki manages to personify his whimsy with mystical elements like cat buses, spirits, or witches, Hosoda does the same with sci-fi. Yes, Madhouse might be the new Ghibli. (And Shaft is the new Kyoto. I feel so weird.)

The movie begins with a rapid fire introduction of various characters. Some seem… unimportant… but no character goes unused in this story. It’s like Baccano, with fewer scenes ripped off from Highlander. Two of the first characters introduced are Natsuki, the hawtest girl in school, and Kenji, a math nerd whose claim to fame is that he almost made it to Japan’s Math Olympiad. I joked that when Natsuki introduces Kenji to her family, the look on her “You will remember their names!” face was actually directed at us, the audience, and not at him. And… if you don’t know where the movie is heading by now, shame on you.


Yes, Kenji has a crush on Natsuki, who doesn’t have a crush on him, and, by chance and plot, they are headed to celebrate Natsuki’s great-grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. Ninetieth. 9-0. Don’t forget that number. And Obasan (I’ll refer to her as this in this review) steals the show. She reminds me of the prototypical head of household. She’s soft-spoken, but deadly to the point. She’s wise beyond her years. She’s capable to a fault. She makes every other ninety year old great-grand mother seem like And, definitely, whatever you do, don’t get her angry.

And the story goes from there. It’s about family, both the internal and external pressures on the family as the world around them literally goes to hell. It’s like 2012 or if Sarah Palin gets elected president. The premise of the movie is basic: what if Second Life became uber-popular (instead of the cesspool that it is today) and the whole world ran on it? The world of Summer Wars has everyone represented in a Second Life-ish environment called “OZ.” Only the people of the world are dumb enough to put all civic controls on such side environment.


(Reminds me of the Idiot Plot of Battlestar Galactica… where the whole premise is based on the collective idiocy of the world… oh really, let’s have a master code that can turn off the defense grid to every human planet! And let’s give it to a mentally unstable scientist! There’s absolutely no way the bad robots can convince him to cough up the code by using a fembot with a plunging neckline red dress!)

This world gets compromised by a hacker who manages to crowd source to break a 2048-bit encryption key. (Again, why would the world put all civic and military function to be controlled by a single root password that is accessible to everyone in the world? And how do you break a 2048-bit encryption key using pen and paper? Not even Yuki Nagato is that good. She would circumvent the code, but she wouldn’t bother trying to crack it. Anyway…) The hackers starts by causing mischief, thus interrupting Obasan’s ninetieth birthday party. This doesn’t please Obasan, who, being of a proud noble Japanese heritage manages to fight the online hacker with her offline wits and wiles, and thus drags everyone into the fight. And then it’s up to the family to band together to save themselves, Japan, and the world.

(I loved Obasan foiling the hacker. She was excellent. I’m positive that if she were around, Britannia would never have conquered Area 11. She would have beaten them back.)

(And Kenji manages to join the fight in his own special way. It’s good to be young. And gullible. And easily swayed by breasts. Okay, not all of those pertain to this plot, but I’m sure a fembot with a plunging neckline red dress is a highly effective tool against boys… except maybe this one.)


The story resembled a great heavyweight match– Obasan and her family trading blows with the hacker. It reminded me of the best parts of Death Note where L and Kira were trying to one-up each other. Oh look, the hacker just disabled all the traffic lights! Oh look, Obasan is calling all the retirees to help direct traffic! It’s fantastic, and the ebb and flow of the fight between the family and the hacker takes makes the two hours fly by.

There’s a lot of great little touches… I liked how for one particular counterattack, the family manages to find an uncle who owns an electronics store… an uncle who works in the JDSF… and an uncle who fishes. And they brought over a supercomputer, a high speed satellite communication link, and a boat with a shitload of generators to run the damn equipment respectively. But that’s not the great part… the great part is how over-the-top each one is in trying to bring in their gear.


(There’s also a grandson who is pitching for his high school baseball team, and his team’s baseball playoffs is the conscious of the battle between the family and the hacker. This part I thought was a bit over the top… come on, thirty hits and the pitcher doesn’t get yanked?! Was Grady Little managing this game?)

The story is doesn’t break any new ground. You can guess all the plot twists that come along, but it doesn’t stop the movie from being entertaining or solidly written. All the characters stay in character, and the reason you can guess the plot twists is that nothing really comes from left field *cough* Code Geass *cough* and everything has a purpose; nothing is thrown away. Just remember that.

But most of all, the story is driven by the characters. Even though the family is ginormous, everyone has a role to play, and they actually seem like a real family. Unfortunately, because of the large cast, a few of them tend to seem like stereotypical caricatures, much like how Densha Otoko portrayed its online denizens. And, in the end, none more important than Natsuki and Kenji. They start off unsure of themselves, but as the movie grows, with some prodding from Obasan, they both become stronger characters. Kenji especially grows up, and I was rooting for him like how I rooted for Simon.

You will follow the characters on their highs and their lows. You’ll feel sadness for them. You’ll feel happiness for them. And your empathy for them will be rewarded. That’s a mark of a great movie.


The animation quality… top notch job by Madhouse. The CGI has that cutesy Japanese edge that in no way shape or form would be adopted by one billion people worldwide… the animation is fluid… the backgrounds are detailed… the visuals inside OZ are spectacular sometimes… they did a bang up job. I really liked their use of actual brand name electronics, like “Hey, it does look like a Dell!” or “Hey, it is an iPhone, but not the lock screen… OTL”. I don’t know if Madhouse got reimbursed for so much tech product placement, but they didn’t create anything other than OZ. There’s no tricked out cell phone. Everything is accessible. Even the kids hop on OZ using their Nintendo DSi. This democratization of technology and communication is more believable to me than Second Life surpassing World of Warcaft in subscribers.

(Another tech hole… the Great Kazuma complains that the refresh of the LCD display was causing him too much lag… he’s on a satellite connection! There’s going to be more lag from that than from an LCD display! I’m surprised they didn’t get a huge fiber trunk installed to the family’s compound– and really, it’s one hell of a compound– but they probably could have if somehow Misato Katsuragi was a distant cousin or something. There’s a lot of tech holes, but still significantly less than a Michael Bay movie.)

And that’s another theme of this movie… how communication in the offline world is just as important in an online-dominated world as it always has been. They hammer this point home in how Obasan can do so much, even if she never hopes online. How simple human interaction managed to overcome obstacles. It’s not as done as preachy as the environmental issues Princess Mononoke, but that’s definitely a moral the story is trying to get across.


Finally, there’s a lot of hanafuda. And, somehow, it’s more riveting than the mahjong in Saki. Probably helps that I have no clue what the rules are for hanafuda. But it ends up playing a major part of the plot, and it connects the various generations of Natsuki’s family. You’ll enjoy it. Go watch Summer Wars. Andohbytheway… koi koi!

18 Responses to “summer wars review”

  1. Koi koi! Andohbytheway, I agree: excellent movie in all aspects. If you’re going to see only one this year (bit late but eh), it should be Summer Wars.

  2. no traps, meidio or aliens?

    Jason didn’t review this. where is the real Jason Miao?

  3. Based on trailers, the world of OZ reminds me a lot of the LV world in Takashi Murakami’s “superflat” short.

  4. That WAS a good movie, the whole party reminded me of my last family reunion, except we’re Spanish and have more people.

  5. From what you’ve said as well as some of the screencaps, it looks a lot like the basis of the first digimon movie minus the monster battles. Coolness :D

  6. no traps, meidio or aliens?

    Jason didn’t review this. where is the real Jason Miao?

    Not to mention, if Jason really did review this, Summer Wars would’ve failed his own Minami Meter test. Unless a GILF option is added.

    GILF = Granny I’d Listen Frequently to. …What?

  7. @DaemonCorps
    That idea never crossed my mind, but now that you mention it, you’re right.

    I loved Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (don’t mistake with Sora wo kakeru Shoujo, another SUNRISE train wreck), so I had to see this film. I totally agree with you Jason, the setting was so simple, yet it take us to a higher level when a simple mischief of one person (Wabisuke, great name BTW) goes berserk and tries to destroy… well, you’ve to see it. It reminds me a lot of an old anime series, almost the same concept about OZ.

    My favorite part definitively was when Keiji releases he was the idiot who cracked down the so almighty security of OZ with his math ability. Good for you boy.

    This movie will run for sure in our next anime festival.


    IT WAS AMAZING! I liked how he did “amsan” which is calculation by head, and he was nosebleeding.. Poor Keiji :(

  9. Finally got to seeing the movie and boy howdy, was it awesome :D. Hope ya don’t mind if I review it for myself on my own blog.

    @Syaoran Li Looking the movie up, it looks like Hosoda was behind “Our War Game,” so it makes total sense that there’s a resemblance between the two works. Though while “Our War Game” had some limits on it since it was taking place with pre-conceived characters, “Summer War” didn’t. Either way, both movies are awesome. I’m looking into buying a Summer War movie poster on eBay right now.

  10. Oh I’m about to lose a few hours of my life :). Thanks for the review sounds awesome.

  11. I read this blog for many reasons, from the funny side commentary to the obscure sports references (seriously, you are like the Crow T. Robot of anime).

    One of the big reasons I read is to discover new series that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. This definitely fits the bill, and I loved it.

    I just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work.

    P.S.: If anybody is having trouble with the subs and/or the audio, I posted my fix here (YMMV):
    (I’m also retarded and can’t remember how to properly linkify the above…)

  12. 30 hits and they still manage to win… either the opposing pitcher really sucked or they had awesome batters.

    Koshien is a nice theme; it’s nice they manage to fit it in.

    I loved both movies, the Time one a little more because I enjoy shoujo more. This was really cool because of the technological sides (I kept thinking beta version of GiTS) and for some odd reason I kept thinking there’d be a huge twist somewhere along the line.

    There wasn’t, to my slight disappointment.

    And I also know of the game they played, although the rules are slightly different to what I know.

    So, all in all, I enjoyed it immensely.

  13. Jason… Stop the Area 11 jokes already.. Or someday Suzaku will r*pe you ! Who knows :))

  14. @Alice: Based on trailers, the world of OZ reminds me a lot of the LV world in Takashi Murakami’s “superflat” short.

    Same director.

    Thanks for the heads up about this, Jason (and a review enthusiastic enough to make me go look for it). I’ve been looking forward to this film since I first heard about it — Tokikake was a great film, and this is a great follow-on.

    Your review is spot on, and very well done.

  15. Where did you download the version you took these grabs from? The one I got was smaller and had hardsub English on top of hardsub Korean.

  16. For kicks, I rewatched the second Digimon Adventure movie… and wow, the two plots are just about identical.

    Looks like Hosoda has been wanting to make this for a long, long time.

  17. Jason, spambot!

  18. my friends have been bugging me to watch this and im gald i finaly did it is awsome.The bits of romance are sweet then theres some action and fighting.I mean your never bored one moment when you watch this.

    P.s. I sware oz should be real

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