Friday, December 11, 2009

In Review: Summer Wars

I'm not going to post about the latest fansubbed episode of Aoi Bungaku because I want to wait until the other half of the two-episode arc (titled Run, Melos!) is released. So instead, I'll post a review of an anime movie that I've been meaning to watch (and did) and review.

TITLE: Summer Wars
DIRECTOR: Hosada Mamoru
SCREENPLAY: Okudera Satoko
STUDIO: Madhouse
VOICE CAST: Sakuraba Nanami, Kamiki Ryounosuke, Saitou Ayumu, Tanimura Mitsuki, Fuji Sumiko

Summer again and 17-year-old math nerd and computer geek Kenji is in for a long, hot one working part-time as a maintenance assistant, along with best buddy (also another geek), for OZ World, the newest innovation in computer technology which combines social networking, Internet, e-commerce and practically everything else into a single platform. So when campus crush Natsuki offers a part-time job that consists in spending a weekend with her and her family in the province, Kenji volunteers for the job. However, Kenji soon finds that he's virtually a fish out of the water when Natsuki proceeds to introduce him to her grandmother as her fiance.

After that hairy scene, Kenji soon receives a mysterious text message containing a math equation and, like a true nerd, spends the whole night solving it. Imagine his horror when the next day he discovers that what he supposed was just a math problem turns out to be the password to the high-level security for OZ World. As the media picks up the story of the OZ hacking, Kenji's face is plastered all over the news as the culprit and as a consequence, his cover as Natsuki's fiance is blown. Now, he must work hard to redeem himself in front of Natsuki's family and at the same time save OZ, and possibly the whole world, from its devastating effects.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time DVD @
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time DVD @ Rightstuf
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time DVD (Limited Edition) @ Rightstuf
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time DVD @ Play-Asia
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (product list) @ Yes Asia
Summer Wars Graphic Novel 1 @ Yes Asia
The movie plays out in typical summer fanfare formula: geek boy who, by some accident of the universe, spends time with school hottie to help her out of a scrape but ends up entangled in the whole mess himself. Then geek boy puts his geekiness to awesome use, wins the admiration of school hottie and eventually her heart and save the world in the process. It's a summer movie. What else can you expect? But I certainly wasn't expecting something quite like Summer Wars.

I'm familiar with director Hosada's past work, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which was essentially a romance anime set against the scifi plot device of time travel. The beauty of that film was its ability to maintain a certain level of realism despite the scifi fantasy elements. One concrete example of that is the way Makoto kept using time travel to do petty things, like eat her pudding or get to class in time. When you think about it, that's what a kid would realistically do given that kind of ability, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does not shy away from depicting that brand of minimalistic realism. It doesn't need grandiosity or any other sort of treatment. It just is.

But while The Girl Who Leapt Through Time capitalized on its concept of minimalism, Summer Wars is all about the grand things, the big stuff, the whole saving-the-world schtick but in a refreshing, thoroughly imaginative way.
More Screencaps from Summer Wars movie
Summer Wars Trailer (YouTube)
Summer Wars PV (YouTube)
Unlike most anime features which either focus on the folkloric past or the distant future, the setting for Summer Wars is the present with all its wonderful and familiar innovations. There's OZ World which is Facebook, iPhone and Playstation in one and the catchfire idea of using the Internet to provide basic services. The implication is that Summer Wars is a story that could be about you or someone you know. And with such a large cast of individual characters, it's not hard to identify yourself with any one of them.

Speaking of which, Summer Wars has probably one of the most interesting and charming cast of characters I've ever seen in an anime. They are at the same time ordinary and at the same time special. The best thing about the cast is that, despite their numbers, they manage to be unique and memorable in their own little way. Sure, the anime is not above recycling hackneyed characters. There's the blacksheep of the family with the usual devil-may-care attitude and insolent manners, the teenaged recluse who wants as little to do with the family as possible, the overprotective, often violent older brother-type, the loud and boisterous family historian, the stiff, tradition-bound aunt, the laidback cousin with the mysterious job, the athlete and his no. 1 fan, and then there are the kids. They're stereotypes of family members but they have their own funny little quirks that make them more than just carbon copies of characters you might have seen in other family films.

The movie has some social criticism to offer to boot. But rather than get all preachy and intense about the effect of technology on family ties and society in general, Hosada gracefully sidesteps the academic debate trap and instead offers this fantastic counter-argument. Summer Wars does not demand that you accept the role of technology in modern society to the exclusion of everything else. Neither does it posit about the glories of analogue and tradition. What it does is to simply ask if some middleground can be achieved where connections can be made and family bonds strengthened through digital -- or analog -- means.IN SUM --

The movie begins with all the familiar elements of anime feature films -- a reluctant unlikely hero, his secret crush, a world disaster in the making -- but combines them in such a way that everything comes out as fresh, unique and highly imaginative. Summer Wars is one movie you do not want to miss.

Summer Wars @ Wikipedia
Summer Wars @ ANN