Sunday, May 18, 2014

Anime Review No. 81 (Summer Wars)

“You Gotta Work for an Answer”
Summer Wars
2009 movie
Studio-Madhouse, Director-Mamoru Hosoda, Writer-Satoko Okudera

Well, time for another movie review and this time I figured it’d be something popular. If you watched Toonami last December, they air a few movies, including Akira (which I saw fully for the first time) and Trigun: Badlands Rumble. Of course, the one that caught my attention was, well, Summer Wars.

The story is focused on our main character, Kenji Kosio, a typical nerdy high school guy who works for Oz as a part-time coder. Oz is well like a VR cyberspace hub where communications, government He gets roped in by a older female student Natsuki to come with her to a family reunion event (her grandmother’s birthday) as her pretend boyfriend. So, basically, the initial premise reeks of a plot from a family rom-com. He meets several family members, including the tenacious grandmother Sakae Jinnouchi, jealous cousin Shota, the shut-in cousin Kazuma and various others mostly fitting typical Japanese family types.

Sakae is best granny 
However, trouble comes round in the form of Wabisuke, the black sheep of the family. Natsuki is a little too friendly with her uncle, which is irksome a bit, but doesn’t detract from the movie that much. However, Kenji gets a code that he works out but that ends up causing havoc to erupt in the Oz system with him framed as the mastermind. But the actual culprit is the Love Machine, very much a rogue computer program. So, now Kenji is facing a double dilemma as he must try to clear his name along with saving Oz and avoid getting outed as a fake by Natsuki’s family.

Now, there is quite a lot to like about this movie, starting with the characters. Very standard for anime, but given enough dimension to make us care about them. Kenji and Natsuki are the typical young protagonists and a lot of the family seems like the kind of people one would find in family dramas. Though I will note a few here. Wabisuke might at first be the black sheep who shows up unexpected but he ends up playing quite a larger part in the story. But, the one character I got to admire is the grandmother Sakae. She’s a tenacious but strong-willed older lady and perhaps one of my favorite elderly characters in anime. She’s the one who brings everyone to deal with the problems faced and strive to succeed. But what happens to the grandmother (not spoiling it) is perhaps the emotional high moment for the movie. It unites the family to the common cause. I watched Summer Wars with a friend of mine one time, who had lost his dad recently and got to say he was nearly in tears at that as I was. I too have lost some relatives as well and so it does get to me on a personal level.  
And so the dominoes fall...
Now, I won’t harp on the story too much since well its basically what happened if you took the internet battle sequence from the Digimon movie, and combine into a animated family J-drama. No surprise on the similarities since the Digimon Movie and this one are directed by the same guy, Mamoru Hosoda. Except its more substantive and integral to the movie. It has also some neat commentary on how the interconnectivity of the world via web and internet is a double edged sword, in that it can bring us together quicker in times of crisis or relaxation but also can be used to inflict misery to a lot of people as the movie attests. It also touches on the importance of family in the modern era  I wish that they did more with that, but considering the time length I am glad that these ideas were brought in and used. That, and the finale is pure spectacle which while pretty to look at however its rather inexplicable at points even 'deus ex machinia'.

Excellently executed fight scenes I must say
Now then the animation, which is stellar across the board. It’s fluid, dynamic and full of life and energy. Being a movie its got naturally high production values as expected. Not as high as Ghibli film, but close enough in terms of overall quality. If the character designs might seem a bit 90s Gainax, that due to Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (character design work for Nadia, Evangelion, FLCL, Gunbuster/Diebuster, etc) handled that.There is also a wide range and variety of facial expressions; in fact, the movie is worth watching just for that. Music is utterly fantastic, again very Ghibli-esque. Almost like this movie’s trying to ape Ghibli….. oh wait, heh, that’s for another time….moving on then.

DAT FACE haha >.<
Now, the original japanese language track has been best described by a colleague of mine as ‘a bunch of J-drama actors doing J-drama acting’ so I whole-heartily recommend the dub That’s not hard, since its a Funimation dub, so its top-notch effort here as usual. Mike McFarland and Patrick Seitz handled the direction and writing for the dub and they are a great team. They help to bring out strong and well-acted performances from just everybody involved. Summer Wars boast a veritable list of who-whos of Funi dub actors with a few Houston actors thrown in for the bit parts. Special mention goes to Michael Sinterniklaas as Kenji, Brina Palencia as Natsuki who are very good in the main roles. J Michael Tatum is at his best arguably with Wabisuke, pouring in his own snideness and charm into the part. But Pam Dougherty as Grandma Sakae is overall best and just about steals the entire movie well while her character is in the movie.

Overall, Summer Wars is a good ‘popcorn movie’; great for a watch with friends and a bunch of good fun. There are some flashes of brilliance with a few of the ideas it plays around with, but still a good time to be had.

1 comment:

Overlord-G said...

A visually stunning show with great scenes in the digital world and...okay scenes in the real world. Granny is totally the best character.