Mamoru Hosoda Month-Summer Wars

For those who are unfamiliar, here’s my intro and review of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Everyone else can continue with this piece.

Right after finishing The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I was enthralled. I had to see more from this director! Fortunately, the opportunity was waiting with that g1 review that led me here via another Mamoru Hosoda film: Summer Wars. The movie seemed to be well-loved, although not to the same extent, so why not? A good movie is still a good movie, and if people were singing its praises it was worth checking out.

So I did. The method of watching wasn’t ideal, I didn’t know what constituted as illegal streaming in 2011, but I was desperate. As expected, the results paid off. Mamoru Hosoda had proven he wasn’t a one-trick pony if he could make a follow-up almost on-par with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I didn’t like it quite as much, but how could I? Every director has to have a lower-tier film, this happened to be Hosoda’s.

Summer Wars centres around 17 year-old code monkey named Kenji Koiso. Originally slated to go to the Math Olympics in Tokyo, he’s relegated to spending his Summer working as an admin for OZ. OZ is a virtual world where people across the globe store personal information, do business interactions, chat with strangers and compete in a variety of sports and games. In other words, it’s the internet and virtual reality in one. His job keeps him busy, until he’s one day requested by the most popular in school, 18 year-old Natsuki Shinohara, to visit her family’s cottage in the north to celebrate her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. Once there, Kanji’s tricked into playing the role of Natsuki’s fiancé, much to his and her Granny’s shock.

Kenji, being a shy introvert, decides to go along with it, figuring it’d make Natsuki happy, but still feels guilty about lying. The situation gets more complicated when he receives a text that night with a mysterious algorithm, which he solves without thinking twice. It’s only the next day that he wakes to find OZ has been hacked, his avatar stolen and that he’s being blamed for the mess. Kenji tries to prove his innocence, but it isn’t long before he and everyone else realize there’s something bigger at stake. OZ has become the petri dish for a global catastrophe, and if Kenji and company don’t do something, the entire world might end.

Like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars is beautiful aesthetically scale. The backgrounds are richly detailed, the character models soft and subdued and the animation wiry and fluid. No two characters behave the same, and no one is completely solitary when stationary. This is complimented by an increase in budget from Hosoda’s previous film, as everything looks and feels cleaner and smoother. This further proves that Mamoru Hosoda knows how to make a good-looking movie.

Musically, Summer Wars is quite lively. Unlike The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, however, there are memorable tracks outside of the film proper, thanks to composer Akihiko Matsumoto. Tracks like 150 Million Miracles and Overture of the Summer Wars are on-par with any Hollywood Blockbuster, really cementing Matsumoto’s mastery, while some of the quieter beats, like Letter, drive home the somber moments in the second-half. Not to mention, the film’s theme song, “Bokura No Natsu No Yume”, once again plays in the credits and drives home what the film’s all about. It’s a great OST all-around, arguably the best in a Hosoda film.

The voice acting in the movie is, again, top notch. Like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I can’t say much about the Japanese, but the dub is one of FUNimation Entertainment’s best. Helmed by ADR director Mike McFarland, it features some of the best in the studio’s stable, including veterans like Maxey Whitehead, Caitlin Glass, Brina Palencia, John Swasey, J. Michael Tatum and a slew of others. Even the children, who are voiced by adults, sound appropriate for their ages, which isn’t easy considering the trap women VAs tend to fall into. But the big surprise is Michael Sinterniklaas as Kenji. As some who was quite fond of TMNT, it was great hearing Leonardo’s voice coming from a shy nerd.

I love the characters in this film. Natsuki’s family, i.e. the Jinnouchi clan, is massive, and it’s easy to lose focus on characters with such a big cast (that’s what the X-Men movies are often criticized for). But Summer Wars uses its cast the way it should, with each character getting as much screen time as necessary. Personal favourites include Kenji, Natsuki, Kazuma, Sakuma, Wabisuke, Granny and Mansuke, although the rest are also great. Like any good ensemble cast, it’s easy to pick favourites and get attached to them. True, most of them never really transcend basic trope characterizations, but given how they’re not the focus I can forgive that.

Last-but-not-least, the themes of community and family are a big driving point behind Summer Wars, digging deep into the strengths of both. Are they new and fresh? Not really. Does that matter? Again, not really. Besides, it’s nice to see a film discuss the dangers of virtual security without condemning technology.

Unfortunately, like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the film has glaring issues that hold it back from being a masterpiece. Unlike The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, however, they’re pretty severe:

For one, the Manga Iconography is back. As previously stated, Manga Iconography is comic-like animation designed for cheap laughs, and it’s jarring to look at. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time had it in small doses, while Summer Wars has it by the truckload. It keeps popping up in awkward places, such that the intended comedy is completely ruined. This’d be the last time Manga Iconography would be used in a Hosoda film, but for now…it’s hard to sit through when it pops up.

The film’s premise isn’t terribly original. I didn’t know this at first, but Summer Wars is a direct remake of the Digimon movie Our War Games. I have no real problem with this, especially since I have no love for Our War Games but the movie doesn’t try to hide its similarities. Everything about its OZ portions, right down to its double-climax, is an aesthetic rip from it, save some differences. Add in that it doesn’t accurately portray how the internet works, and I’d almost call it lazy.

I also don’t like Shota. At all. He’s useless, whiney and overly-protective of Natsuki. Even during that one scene where he tries being useful, which I won’t ruin, he actually makes the situation worse. Shota actively ruins the scenes that he’s in and he’d kill the film had everyone else not been so well-written.

Finally, the ending. I’ve already ranted about it, even on Infinite Rainy Day, so I’ll keep it brief: I hate the final scene of Summer Wars. Everything I don’t like about the movie culminates in that one moment, and it’s terrible. Plus, it ends on a tonally-inappropriate joke, and not even a funny one. It baffles me why Hosoda included it, as the movie would’ve been better without it.

In the end, it’s not enough to kill the experience. Summer Wars is a fun action film, containing universal themes of love, family and community in ways I rarely see in anime. Is it the most original, or the greatest from Mamoru Hosoda? The answer to both is “no”, but I don’t care. I give it an…

Join me next time as I delve into motherhood and animals with The Wolf Children. I’ll see you then!


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