As promised the second Madhouse review for today. Summer Wars in the most recent directorial offering of Mamoru Hosoda who is known for his The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which I loved to death so I was really excited to see this.
Final Series Score: 12/12 Perfect
Rewatchablity: 5/5 – Very High; Everything about this movie makes one want to watch it over and over and over again
Ending: 4.5/5 – High; Very satisfying from the character standpoint and the plot standpoint and leaves the viewer feeling that happy buzz that good endings give
Animation: 4.5/5 – Sublime; Madhouse just doesn’t get enough credit for their animation and Summer Wars is another brilliant example of how beautiful and fluid Madhouse can animate
Pros: Excellent balance and integration between the slice-of-life family reunion story and the cutting-edge SF save-the-world story; the large cast of characters were nicely differentiated, very likeable, and felt like real people; gorgeous animation; director displays the acumen in storytelling akin to the greats like Miyuzaki and Satoshi Kon
Cons: A couple very small things that are so small they couldn’t even be considered nit-picks
Kenji is your typical brilliant, but unlucky, high school student. He readily admits being only good at math which is the truth – he’s brilliant and would have earned as a spot representing Japan in a Math Olympiad competition except for a screw-up during the prelims. His luck changes when his sempai, Natsuki, known as the most beautiful girl in school offers him a part-time job that requires him to go with her to her family reunion.
Thoughts and impressions
Between watching Summer Wars 3 times over the course of 5 days and writing this review, I’ve read several reviews written by other people because I wanted to see if others thought the same way as I and to figure out what they say to fill up space other than repeating – “It’s a perfect movie that cements Mamoru Hosoda as the next great anime film-maker” – over and over again. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that a couple thoughts seem to getting a lot of air-play and so I thought I’d first give my thoughts about these.
The first idea that I keep seeing is that Summer Wars is Studio Ghibli-esque. I do think there’s some truth to that but also I think that comparison sells this movie short by making it sound like it’s some sort of knock-off. It’s entirely able to stand on it’s own merits. The way that it does reminds me of a Miyazaki movie is how Summer Wars seeks to provide a bit of balance. For example, in Princess Mononoke the leader of iron town could have been portrayed as a fully evil villain who wanted to destroy nature to further her plans, instead we also see her taking in lepers and buying the freedom of women from brothels and giving all these people a nice place to live and work. This balancing is a consistent feature of Miyazaki movies.
In the case of Summer Wars, at one point it started to feel like the movie would have an anti-technology message but by the end of the movie we saw how the horrors that technology could bring is balanced with it’s ability to weave people together from across the globe in a unifying way that’s impossible without technology. Another example is shown in the bad guy character that left for America and has returned; it would have been easy to make him evil but that’s not what was done, he was shown to be human. So that’s how I think the show was Ghibli-esque but this aspect is really small compared to the all the other things Summer Wars gets right and that’s why I think making it sound like Mamoru Hosoda can make a Ghibli-esque movie sells it short.
The other idea that I keep seeing is how Summer Wars is a summer blockbuster type movie. Once again I think there’s some truth to that comparison but it also sells the movie short. At least in America, a summer blockbuster movie has the connotation of being a dumb but entertaining movie, something that goes done easy without much thinking on the part of the audience. People love these movies, I’m no exception, but these movies are never taken seriously and to cover up how much we love these movies we call them guilty pleasures. One can’t say, for example, “Armageddon is one of greatest movies ever made” and be taken seriously. Transferring that over to Summer Wars, if it’s a summer blockbuster anime movie, it could never be taken as seriously as say a Miyazaki movie or a Satoshi Kon movie. Therefore, I think it’s more apt to call it a summer movie. Meaning, Summer Wars, displays some of the exuberance that is reminiscent of summer but it’s not just a dumb, brainless movie.
Moving on, one of the things that I really liked about this movie was it’s attention to detail. This isn’t a make-it or break-it item for movies or anime series but definitely helps make a show more enjoyable and it makes apparent how much effort went into making a show. One of my favorite little things was when a character stayed up from the middle-of-the-night to early morning and we see the potted morning-glory flower buds going from being unopened to opened. It’s a very small thing but it’s such a simple way to communicate to the viewer that many hours have passed. This helps push it’s rewatchiblity up because even watching it three times, I’m sure there are things that I’ve missed.
And now, I’ve pretty much run out of things I want to mention about the show that will not spoil the plot. I could repeat again how Summer Wars is a fun movie, told expertly by Mamoru Hosoda that balances a touching slice-of-life family story with an exciting SF cutting-edge story about the potential dangers of over reliance on technology without sufficient safeguards a few times but I think that’s overkill. Or I could say that this is the type of anime movie that can bring new fans into the anime fold or at least is the type of movie that one can show non-anime fans to prove that anime isn’t just for kids and/or overly violent cartoons. Instead, I’ll close by saying that this is a movie not to be missed by anyone, regardless of age or normal interest in anime.
- genre: Slice-of-life, Sci-fi, Action
- animation studio: Madhouse
- director: Mamoru Hosoda
- Seiyuus of note: Ryounosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba