Summer Wars is an anime film directed by Hosoda Mamoru. It pulls a lot both in terms of visual style and plot elements from Digimon Adventure: Bokura no War Game, another film that he directed, which was already pulling a lot from the Hollywood 1983 film WarGames. The core of both of those films was essentially the dangers of technology, a theme that this film also looks at somewhat, though it differs quite a bit from the other two in that it spends just as much time emphasizing the importance of family. The plot involves the protagonist Kenji going to help out at his classmate Natsuki’s grandmother’s 90th birthday. This birthday is a pretty major affair with the whole extended family coming over. However, upon arriving he gets pulled into a scheme by a rogue AI called Love Machine to basically take over the digital platform that was pretty much running the entire world, Oz.
In terms of it’s exploration of the dangers of technology, I thought it was somewhat interesting in that it seemed to be more specific in highlighting the dangers of letting a single digital platform be at the center of everything, as when it goes down everything goes down. It also had hints about how digital games can be more than just fun, just as sports are, with one of the characters, Kazuma, being a really dedicated and competitive gamer. How it handles both of these is really simple, but at the minimum it did definitely feel like it was sayings something and that the themes weren’t just thrown in there solely for the point of supporting the narrative.
I would also like to note the this film does despite showing a virtual world with an extreme level of interactivity, is not actually virtual reality. The human characters are just controlling avatars through regular interfaces, which looked kind of strange when it involved characters using keyboards, and even stranger when characters were using flip phones as it felt like a technological culture clash between high and low levels of technology. Though this film is from 2009 from right when the virtual reality boom was only beginning and major projects like this I suppose are likely to be a bit behind the times thematically, so I suppose it couldn’t be helped.
I would also like to note that just in general, while it seemed to be trying to be specifically technical at times, I think it bit off a lot more than it could chew and was usually wrong. No one is going to be cracking modern encryption keys on pen and paper. MMWave is terrible for long range communication. And Koi-Koi is a game that an AI should absolutely unquestionably be able to dominate humans in regardless of their skill level. Still, that is also par for the course with such media so it’s not something I judge too harshly.
The themes relating to family were centered around how different the members of a family can be and how lots of different bonds can exist between them but they still need to stick together. The core of this is centered around Natsuki’s grandmother Sakae, the matriarch of the family essentially, who very strongly believes in these principles and conveys them pretty explicitly. Conflict arises in the family for various reasons and they’re all shown to have their own interests and personalities, such as with a man named Wabisuke essentially being the black sheep of the family, but in the end that they’re able to put that aside and cooperate is what truly makes them family. This more so than the technology related themes felt like the core of the message it wanted to convey and it felt like it was much more at the core of the narrative with the majority of important emotional beats centered around it, and largely it did do a good job at instilling a feeling of appreciation for familial bonds and large families. There was also some light romance, but it’s really weak to the point of kind of just feeling tacked on, though it ends on a positive enough note that I’m fine with it.
Ultimately, the film manages to combine those themes to create a story that’s pretty well paced and enjoyable to watch all the way through. It’s a single stand alone film so it’s not like there’s much in terms of character development or relationship development and it’s a family film so it’s not like it ever gets too heavy in anything it’s trying to tackle and tries to stay simple without getting too bogged down in the substance of things. Still, it’s a pretty fun ride that flows well from beginning to end which is what matters most for films like this.
The art and animation were solid enough, wherein they’re pretty high quality but style wise they definitely feel kind of dated. The visual style to Oz worked well at seeming futuristic and heavily integrated into all aspects of life. The contrast between that and the visual style to the rural area that the story takes place in in real life also came through pretty well. Character designs outside of the central two, Love Machine and King Kazuma, were pretty lacking though, which is to be expected with the real life designs as those were trying to stay kind of grounded, but the other Oz designs were pretty weak too. The soundtrack was decent enough and helped hit certain emotional beats though overall it didn’t really pop out. The credit ED was similarly decent enough but not particularly memorable, and I appreciated that it went a bit beyond the norm in film EDs to have static images going by with the credit roll.
A simple but well made family film about the increasing importance of digital technology and the everlasting importance of family.