Summer Wars: The Meaning of Family

Summer WarsFor the most part, I really enjoyed it. Few animated movies, much less Japanese ones, focus on families, so that aspect alone of the film is awesome. Natsuki’s large, colourful family nearly carry the movie themselves, especially her great-grandmother. Also, the world of OZ is flat-out gorgeous, filled with colourful, appealing avatars and backdrops.

This is also one of the rare pieces of animation involving computers that don’t make it out to be something only computer “nerds” would enjoy. It neither glorifies online communities or makes it out to be something only creepy weirdos enjoy. In fact, nearly every character in the film has an OZ account, which is revealed fairly early into the film. One of the few who doesn’t – Natsuki’s great-grandmother – instead prides on old-fashioned, manual work when the OZ community gets out of control later on in the film. She explains this to her family in a scene that would make Hayao Miyazaki proud.

Watching this movie feels like I am watching a spin-off of the Digimon movies.  In a world where just about everyone has a virtual alter ego – lots of them with big, round eyes, fuzzy tails, and cute, pointy ears – it’s hard to keep the alternate realities from crashing into one another. Summer Wars is eye-popping anime fun, but it’s also a bit of a cautionary tale: Watch out, the movie says, or we may find ourselves lost in a digital Land of Oz, where the wizard is an artificial intelligence spinning out dangerous, and maybe deadly, computer algorithms.

It’s a sugar rush of candy-colored images, Summer Wars is distinctive in its looks, regardless of which world is on screen at the time. The settings, backgrounds and characters are very similar to those used in Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, but there are far more creativity and diversity in the design of this movie, an example of which is skin tone, with several characters being tanned to various degrees.

Summer Wars is definitely one of the best anime movies I’ve seen in years. It’s as enjoyable of a watch as it occasionally tugs on the heartstrings. It’s a good reminder that there actually IS something to feel positive about being in the Internet. For all its eye-popping, superb visual presentation, it’s also got a well-written, thematic, feel-good storyline and a fantastic cast of characters that will surely please the audiences both inside and outside of the anime realm. In short, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’re missing out on something special.

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