Summer Wars anime movie review

I thought I’d watch something more recent for a change, though I have been enjoyed the older anime movies I’ve been watching. Summer Wars is from the same director as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which I thought was a rather meh movie with a spectacularly dumb twist near the end. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting much from this one, which is just as well. But first the summary:

Kenji is your typical teenage misfit. He’s good at math, bad with girls, and spends most of his time hanging out in the all-powerful, online community known as OZ. His second life is the only life he has – until the girl of his dreams, Natsuki, hijacks him for a starring role as a fake fiance‚ at her family reunion. Things only get stranger from there. A late-night email containing a cryptic math riddle leads to the unleashing of a rogue AI intent on using the virtual word of OZ to destroy the real world, literally. As Armageddon looms on the horizon, Kenji and his new “family” set aside their differences and band together to save the worlds they inhabit.

The summary goes on to call this a “near-perfect blend of social satire and science fiction” but it’s nothing of the sort, so we can leave that part out. Certainly an attempt is made to blend the two, but it is very poorly done and instead ends up diluting the effects of either one. If I praised Leda – The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko for its small cast and focused story, I’m going to have to go the opposite direction and criticize Summer Wars for an overlarge cast and story that can’t decide what it wants to be. Sci-fi save-the-world thriller or a lengthy rambling treatise about the joy of having a big family and how anybody who doesn’t is a cringing loser? Pick one.

Don't be fooled. Natsuki does diddly squat for most of the movie. But having girls on your cover makes it sell more, so...

Don’t be fooled. Natsuki does diddly squat for most of the movie. But having girls on your cover makes it sell more, so…

Part of the problem is the setting. A malicious A.I. on the “internet” is causing all kinds of havoc in real life, but almost all the cast are based in some small town called Ueda, and not even in the town proper but some distance away, so they’re not feeling the direct effects of the traffic chaos and bursting water pipes and fake ambulance calls and that sort of thing. They’re just chilling in their big fancy house eating delicious food and bickering among themselves. It’s not until their grandma dies – maybe because of the A.I. but more likely because of just plain being 90 years old – that they sober up and decide to save the world, but even then not all of them.

Which is another thing I have against the movie – how useless the women are for most of the show. The grandma/great-grandma is portrayed as a smart and resourceful cookie, but every other female in the show is dumb, selfish and self-absorbed to a fault. That includes the lead female Natsuki, who spends most of the show lying to her family and then fawning over her uncle Wabisuke. The rest of her aunts and female cousins just bicker, eat food, watch TV and don’t know the first thing about the serious business that’s going on because they’re just focused on domestic tasks.

Sure in the end the task of taking on the A.I. in an incomprehensible game of Hanafuda falls to Natsuki, but it’s obvious that this was just because someone on the staff woke up and said “Hey, the women in this show are really dumb and useless, aren’t they?” And so even though it hadn’t been established at all that Natsuki was some Hanafuda prodigy or anything – in other words anyone could have done what she did, but the writers just wanted to make her less hateable – she gets a few minutes to shine before the men take over again. Back to the kitchen with you, girl.

summer_wars_love_machine-1522233Third thing I didn’t like about Summer Wars was that the enemy was an A.I. Not that it was a bad enemy or anything, but it’s hard to feel anything against a non-sentient program that is just doing what it’s programmed to do. Especially when the A.I. spends a lot of time in the show not doing anything in particular while the cast eats, sleeps and squabbles. It would be easy and highly profitable for a terrorist group or even a gang of script kiddies to take over this poorly-secured Oz ‘internet’ system which world army generals have been stupid enough to link their nuclear missile accounts to, but that would ruin the peaceful family-movie vibe Summer Wars is clearly going for, so we have to settle for a mutated Micky Mouse enemy instead. Lame.

That’s not to say I totally hated the movie or anything. If I did I wouldn’t have finished it and I probably wouldn’t review it. Summer Wars had its moments. It looked great, for one thing. Bright, vivid colors, fluid animations. Everyday  noises and sound effects like the TV in the background and the sound of footsteps on wood give an extra sense of realism to the regular family life scenes they’re trying to portray. The scenes in Oz were colorful and sometimes exciting. I got excited despite myself during the scene where they tried to trap the AI in the central tower, then it was like URGGHHH when their stupid cousin messed it all up. There’s always a screw up in any large family, I know it well.

summer-wars-got-new-monitor-and-just-saw-this-movie-hd-364987751But overall the effect of the family portions was diluted by the large cast (who should we care about) and the sci-fi stuff going on in the background (shouldn’t we be worrying about more than old family skeletons?) while the save-the-world story is watered down by the fact that the characters don’t seem to care that much, that they aren’t very competent or focused and that the enemy isn’t much to be afraid of. There’s a romance teased between Natsuki and Kenji at the end, but it comes totally out of nowhere and doesn’t fool anybody. I predict she’ll graduate in a year or two and date an older man who reminds her of her uncle and never give Kenji another thought at all in the near future.

tl;dr Summer Wars looks nice, but lacks focus. Still it does have a clearly told story and a clear beginning, middle and ending, unlike some of the twaddle I’ve watched recently, so you won’t go wrong giving it a watch.

 

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