John Loves Summer Wars

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Rating: A+

Summary: A young math prodigy gets suckered into being his classmate’s pretend boyfriend at a family gathering That is until they go to war with a killer AI.

Summer Wars is the second film by director Mamoru Hosoda and I rank it as his best. The film works as a cautionary tale on society’s growing dependence on the internet and technology, an action adventure with ever-growing stakes, and a tale on the importance of family and community. It does all this while working with a large cast of loveable characters.

The film’s design is top notch and holds your attention throughout. The scenes outside of Oz go for simple character designs and gorgeous painted backgrounds of the Japanese landscapes. I am normally not a fan of the simplistic designs prevalent in anime, but the animators and voice cast know how to bring the most out of the simple designs. Some of the standard anime tropes make their way in (ie nosebleeds and exaggerated facial expressions) but for the most part, they don’t take away from what’s happening on screen. As for the design of Oz itself, the team goes for a sort of fantastical video game look to keep the audience engaged. Even using a different color linework to differentiate reality from online. The designs of the in-game avatars are especially fun to watch, each of them having their own personality and aesthetic. As much as the film goes fantastically with the Oz concept, it does still feel grounded. Outside of the game, it looks just like any other internet service or OS. The visual language really does help illustrate how technology may be utilized and appear in the near future.  

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The animation itself is incredibly expressive and fluid. The scenes in Oz utilize incredible cinematography and fight choreography. The camera moves in a dynamic fashion, giving the action and flying scenes an epic scope. The film also plays around a lot around with the characters’ scale, leading to an especially epic third act. Martial Arts play a vital role in Oz’s and the character animation replicates the fight moves effectively. The characters even feel like they have weight and impact while fighting. As for the character animation in the real world, simple designs aside from the characters movement and emoting feel exaggerated but also grounded. It’s hard to explain but there are moments that just feel genuinely human, especially when watching the children running around. The animators took special care to capture subtle nuances in human movement. The cinematography in the real world is much more subtle, mostly still shots, some subtle pans and zooms when emotionally appropriate. The film handles both the scenes in Oz and reality with a lot of skill and passion.  

On top of outstanding animation, is a cautionary story about humanity’s dependence on technology. In the world of Summer Wars, Oz is so integrated with society, that the entire country is in a full state of emergency when it is sabotaged by the malevolent AI, Love Machine. Infrastructure, traffic, and especially emergency services are all affected by the ensuing chaos. While the film offers up a critique of our dependence on technology, it also illustrates how technology brings us together. Without spoilers, the film’s climax excellently illustrates the power of human connectivity and can be a real tear-jerker. Good sci-fi offers up a mirror to technology and its effect on humanity as a whole, and I think Summer Wars is an excellent example of this.  

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For me, the real reason I keep coming back to this film is the lovable characters and how they react to the conniving antagonist and the high stakes. Kenji works as your standard protagonist, learning to be confident in his abilities and take charge. However, the real stars are the Jin’nôchi family as a whole. Their interplay with each other feels genuinely like family interactions, especially the family drama at the dinner table. On top of that, their family has a storied history of being a small samurai clan fighting against all odds, which is mirrored in their conflict with Love Machine. It’s especially fun to see how the family each contributes to the fight online. Love Machine itself is basically chaos incarnate with a competitive personality. It doesn’t feel 100% human, but it does seem to relish in the havoc it is causing. At first, it is just playfully messing around, but as the film goes on it becomes murderously determined against the family we have grown to love. This makes you as the viewer really feel the tension happening on screen. The end of the second act is especially when the film blows an emotional gut punch at you and the characters on screen. With such an emotional blow, you can’t help but give into the drama and the stakes of the final battle. While the film relishes in the action spectacle, The drama with the family is what really makes this film worth watching.  

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Summer Wars is a film that I can’t help but be completely invested in every time it’s on. It’s a treat for the eyes, but it’s also an incredibly engaging family story. The stakes are high, the themes are incredibly relevant, and the characters are so lovable. I would highly recommend this film to those who don’t usually watch Anime films and are looking for a good intro to the genre.            

 

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