Love’em or hate’em, your family plays a vital role in your upbringing. They are there for your most transformative moments of your life and will, hopefully, guide you down the best path when you can’t find a way forward. When I use the phrase family, I don’t mean just those by whom you’re related to by blood, but by a lifetime bond as well. In my opinion, everyone needs some sort of family to keep them going. If you are looking for any example of the importance familial dynamics through the human experience, just look towards the medium of film for projects like Remember the Titans or Finding Nemo or The Fast and the Furious with many others to boot. But one that sticks out in my mind is of the animated variety from Japan. I am, of course ,talking about the multi award winning film: Summer Wars.
Created by the famous studio Madhouse, the same one that brought you One Punch Man and Trigun among many other classic anime, Summer Wars takes place in the very real but animated world of Japan. We follow an introverted math nerd named Kenji whilst he hangs out with his friend Takashi during a summer job where they maintain servers of the massive online platform Oz during the Summer. Without any warning, he is whisked away by his crush, Natsuki, to the beautiful city of Ueda for her great grandmother’s 90th birthday with her entire extended family. And why does Natsuki need Kenji to attend this celebration with her? Easy: She needs him to pretend to be her fiance because…well, can’t spoil everything (I could, but some things are better left as surprises. Like birthdays or puppies.). But what I can describe to you is how the world of Oz is attacked during the weekend long celebration and that it is up to Kenji along with the Ueda family, maybe even the world, to stop the maniacal digital threat.
There are too many characters in this family to count, so I’ll just quickly go over the individuals in a broader sense and link a family tree if you want to really study them more. The young children were as accurate to real life as they were hilarious. Natsuki’s grandparents were memorable as well, though it was creepy that she had a crush on one of them (like, seriously? that’s a plot point? I love this movie, but come on. None of that. Nada.). Her aunts and uncles were charming and unique, with each one feeling like you could have met them at a friend’s birthday party as a kid. The grandchildren nearer to Natsuki’s age, Kazuma and Shoto, were interesting in their own right, with Kazuma having the clearer character arc. My favorite character of the bunch, and the one I haven’t mentioned yet, is the great grandmother. She is pure awesomeness with a whole lifetime of achievements to boot. I hope to be a fraction as bad ass as her one day. As for the main three characters, they first come off as stereotypical nerds or bad girls but show a much appreciated depth when the doo doo hits the fan. Said depth isn’t seen in the villain, though he is perfectly menacing and nefarious enough to feel like a legitimate threat to the world.
Maybe I’m just too big a fan of Megaman NT Warrior, but I LOVE the concept of people having online avatars that perfectly represent the type of person they are deep down. King Kazuma has a particularly sweet design, but his grandfather’s squid ninja is a close second. The animation is pitch perfect as well, capturing the thematic battles along with the simplistic beauties of the world. There are also many little things that the animators did that made this two dimensional world really pop out. Look at this gif for example and you’ll see each character acting differently. It would have been the easiest task in the world to have them just hug or perform the exact same action, but the extra effort allows the characters to have more unique characteristics.
The theme of the movie is the power of family in all forms. At the beginning, Kenji is sad sap that doesn’t have the confidence to apply himself, especially after he experiences failure. But throughout the story, we see him come to grow attached to Natsuki and her family. He even goes as far as to tell them that this is the closest he has ever had to being part of one. Sad as that may sound, this new connection helps push him forward into a person that he never dreamed that he could become. For the other main character, Natsuki, we see the other power of family in her life. No spoilers here, but pay attention to all that her family teaches her. Everyone plays an important part in not only her life but in the story in general. In the end, she becomes what the world needs thanks to the life experiences with those she loves.
To talk about this movie’s greatest flaw, I need to bring up the elephant in the room that is the Digimon Movie, specifically the Our War Game! short film that was made years before Summer Wars. For those who don’t know, the previously discussed short follows a group of kids on the internet utilizing digital monsters to save the world from an evil online presence. Now, I LOVE everything Digimon, but it is hard to argue that they have the superior film since most of the ideas were perfected in Summer Wars years later. However, there is one area that the Digimon Movie succeeds where Summer Wars fails: its in the release of all of the built up tension. The Digimon Movie was a shorter film that had intense action with a final battle that blew my God damn mind as a kid. The Summer Wars’ final confrontation, on the other hand, is more about the emotional impact rather than the intensity of a final show down. This is by no means a bad thing, but after waiting so long, you kinda wish there was more of an explosive-fiery-mega-hyperactive punch at the end.
For those on the edge to see this, I highly recommend it. I know that anime can be stereotyped as weird or off putting, but I do believe that this movie has a big heart that outshines all preconceived notions of the medium. If you have the chance, try to see it with those closest to you. You’ll have a fuzzy feeling in the end and the desire give everyone a nice hug. Trust me when I say that the world could use some more loving. Thank you for your time, if you have any opinions on the film please express them down below. Also give your own recommendations if you know films similar to this. I’ve been Superguy, and you’ve been prodigious.