Review by: Eduardo Zacarias
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US; Blu-ray: $34.98 US
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Welcome to OZ … prepare for war.
If you have not seen “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” then you have really missed out on a truly ambitious and phenomenal animated feature. It pretty much made me realize what a master storyteller Director Mamoru Hosoda is so I expected a lot from his newest feature-length animated film. As it turns out, not only does he try to top himself with Summer Wars but he succeeds and gives us one of his best work to date.
Summer Wars introduces us to the virtual world of OZ that has millions of users logging into this global digital universe where your created avatar can mingle with others, play games and shop. It’s so huge that even government agencies use it so it is guaranteed to be safe and secure. The reason, of course, is that there are system administrators cleaning codes and keeping things in order. One of these “code monkeys” are Japanese high school students Kenji and Kazuki.
One day, a fellow classmate of the boys – a cute girl named Netsuke – enters their classroom with a job proposal. Without even knowing what it is or bothering to ask up front, Kenji accepts. What he does know is that he will be spending a few days in Ueda City in Nagano to accompany Natsuki to her great-grandmother’s home in time for her birthday celebration. It isn’t until they get to the huge family estate filled with over a dozen family members that Natsuki that she drops the bomb on everyone.
You see, Natsuki tells her grandmother and her entire family that Kenji is her boyfriend who has just recently asked to marry her! Being a shy, insecure and skittish young man, Kenji goes along with this for Natsuki. As family members continue to arrive, so too does the black sheep of the family … Natsuki’s favorite uncle, Wabisuke. Right away, Kenji could see that the family despises Wabisuke and the young man doesn’t seem to like them all either. Just about the only one who does like him is Natsuki and for reasons that movie gets into a bit later.
That night, Kenji receives a coded message he believes is a math puzzle. Since he nearly came first place in a local math competition, Kenji solves the numeric code. The very next morning, Kenji wakes up to a startling fact … somebody fitting his description has hacked into OZ and is quickly taking over other people’s accounts. Thankfully, somebody in the household – a boy named Kazuma – has a computer. Online, he could see that his own account has been taken over and with the help of his friend Kazuki, he sees his avatar creating chaos.
Suddenly, there is global panic as the avatar that calls itself Love Machine is messing with everything from satellites to just about anything that uses computers. Traffic lights are going haywire and there are automatic emergency calls that turn out to be fake reports. Worst yet, Love Machine is controlling more and more accounts around the world.
As it turns out, though, Kazuma’s cool rabbit-like avatar, known as King Kazma, is famous in the gaming community as an undefeated fighting champion. He challenges Love Machine in the virtual world in a duel of epic proportions only to lose for the first time. This sets off Love Machine to create more chaos that will endanger the world as it is now connecting to nuclear plants.
So begins a war to defeat Love Machine waged by not only Kenji and his friend but also all of Natsuki’s family. To top it all off, the family experiences a major loss and a member of the family reveals a secret that is connected to the current situation. Never mind the fact that a member of the family (who happens to be a cop) tried to arrest Kenji, this family member knows exactly what Love Machine is capable of so he now joins the fight.
In one of the many exciting parts of the movie, Natsuki and her family jump into the virtual world to face off against Love Machine in a final duel for the fate of Japan and the world. Working together and aided by items each family member brings to the fight, it is the most unexpected person who goes head-to-head with Love Machine. Believe me when I say that you will be on the edge of your seat for this finale.
Summer Wars is wonderfully written and even more beautifully animated with the real world driving home the feeling of hot summer days with the sounds of cicadas and a heated baseball game. Then there’s the virtual world of OZ with its crazy avatar designs and virtual landscapes. Add a great soundtrack and a stellar voice acting cast that includes an awesome English dub cast as well and you have yourself one brilliant cinematic experience.
Simply put, Summer Wars is one of the best animated features of 2011 and an achievement in anime filmmaking. This is a true rarity in that you don’t even have to love anime to fall in love with this movie and even if you are a fan of this style of animation you will remember why you made anime a big part of your life. Summer Wars really is that phenomenal and once you get caught up in its story and characters you will see why. This is Required Viewing for any fan of animation young or old.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Kenji is a skittish High school student who works as a code monkey for the world’s most popular online universe known as OZ when an attractive classmate, Natsuki, offers him a job playing the role of her boyfriend. However, when a strange puzzle appears on his cell phone, he solves it and thus sparks chaos in the cyber world of OZ where a digital intruder threatens the world.
VIDEO QUALITY: A
Like “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” Mamoru Hosoda creativity plays a hand in making this a visually dazzling animated feature. Both worlds – the real one and the digital one – are colorful and impressive so you will certainly find yourself not wanting to look away.
AUDIO QUALITY: A
There are strong performances from both the Japanese voice talent and English dub side and that’s a very good thing considering the number of characters. Then there’s the original score by Akihiko Matsumoto who punctuates the more dramatic scenes flawlessly. This is definitely one of those movies you have to see on a big screen HDTV with a great sound system hooked up.
The special two-disc set comes with a second disc packed with extras that include the original TV spots, teaser trailers and promotional material. It also contains six individual interviews with five voice actors and one reserved for Mamoru Hosoda at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. The set also includes four premium art cards featuring four of the avatars featured in the movie.
A vibrant, stunning and unforgettable piece of animated gold, Summer Wars is everything you can ask for in an animated feature film. You can count this as yet another success for Mamoru Hosoda who will, once again, make you feels as though you were watching something that’s bigger than life.
Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment