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If Hayao Miyazaki made a cyberthriller, the result might be something like "Summer Wars." This colorful little anime movie spends most of its run straddling the line between a family reunion comedy and a world war entirely on the web. And the results manage to stir your heart and make you laugh at the same time.

Math nerd Kenji is shocked when popular upperclassman Natsuki asks him to come to her family's country house for the weekend. Unfortunately, he's there under false pretenses -- not only is Natsuki claiming that he's her boyfriend, but that he's a wealthy college student at Tokyo U. Yeah, that is inevitably going to backfire.

But something far worse happens when OZ (a crazy hybrid of amazon.com, Facebook, fighting video games and... well, just about everything you can find on the WWW) is hacked -- and Kenji is the main suspect.

The truth is actually much more sinister -- a horrendous program called Love Machine is devouring OZ user avatars, and is using the computer connections to cause chaos all across the world. When tragedy strikes the family, Kenji inspires them to fight back against Love Machine. But can the family's plan stop the program before it has a chance to take revenge on them?

"Summer Wars" isn't really like any other movie I've ever seen -- it's part cyberthriller, part bittersweet family story, part crazy comedy, and part colorful anime. It starts off as a simple family dramedy, with Kenji getting thrown into Natsuki's eccentric family and dealing with all the baggage they bring with them. Plus, you know he's going to get busted.

But when Love Machine appears, the stakes are suddenly the technological safety of the ENTIRE WORLD. So we get a wild, crazy guerilla cyberwarefare (involving a boat, a giant computer, an army truck and lots of ice!) as the family (plus Kenji) unites to battle Love Machine. At the same time, the writer maintains the focus on the eccentric family, their grudges, and their unique personalities.

Plus, the animation for this movie is SPELLBINDING. The "real world" stuff is rendered in traditional hand-drawn anime, but the scenes set in OZ are brilliant, surreal, colorful and dreamlike. Whole civilizations on shelves, crowned whales, floating islands, stacked sports stadia, and endless chambers filled with strange little creatures.

And all the characters are very well-fleshed-out. Kenji is a nice, rather socially inept guy with epic math skills, and Natsuki is a strong young girl who finds herself with the weight of the ENTIRE PLANET on her shoulders. The entire cast is well-developed -- from the stately grandmother to the idiot cousin who doesn't know what's going on -- but one of the best is Kazuma, a 13-year-old kung-fu expert/computer nerd.

"Summer Wars" may start small, but it quickly grows to the epic size of the World Wide Web itself. Even better: it's funny, heartwarming and all-around engrossing.
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on February 16, 2011
Or is it the other way around?

Reminiscent of American movies like "War Games," as well as anime greats like "Spirited Away," this movie blends suspense, comedy, family, and a touch of romance in an expert mixture that is fun and heartwarming.

Kenji is a math genius with no self-confidence and, in his opinion, nothing else he is good at, especially when it comes to the fairer sex. He is spending his summer break working in tech support for the mega-giant, all pervading social networking site Oz when the girl of his dreams, the popular upperclassmen Natsuki, asks if he can work for her over the summer. The job is simple, she says. He just needs to accompany her on a trip to her Grandmother's house for a family reunion and do whatever odd jobs are needed to help out her big family. When it turns out that the real job is to pretend to be her fiancé, he balks at first. After all, he has never even taken a girl on a date, let alone gotten serious enough to be engaged! (My perception is that he was thinking that he can't pretend to be in love with someone that he has loved from afar for years!) But he agrees to go along with the ruse with some gentle pleading by the pretty Natsuki. When an AI cyber-terrorist attacks Oz using Kenji's avatar, most everything hits the fan. But Natsuki's large, eccentric family mobilizes, with inspiration from the matriarch and an extra push from Kenji himself, and works to counter this threat to the world, since much of the real world's infrastructure is routed through Oz, and Oz is being eaten by the AI. Can a math geek, a middle school fighting game expert, and a beautiful, self confident young woman save the world? Watch this masterpiece by Mamoru Hosoda, the director of the stunning "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," and find the answer.

The BluRay is well presented, with easy to use menus and stunning graphics. The background art, both in and out of Oz, is breathtaking art in it own right. The character designs in the real world are natural and effective. The Oz avatars are cute, but have amazing capacity for creepiness and emotional expression. The English dub cast, comprised of veteran voice actors like Brina Palencia, Michael Sinternicklaas, Todd Haberkorn, and J. Michael Tatum, do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. Many big name anime films use big name actors instead of professional voice actors, and the dubs frequently suffer because of it. "Summer Wars" does not fall into that trap. The dub script is well wrought, with extremely natural turns of phrase and an excellent "lip flap" match, so much so that it is hard to tell that it isn't the original language of the film. There were a few spots were on-screen kanji were not translated that would have been helpful, but other than that, the localization is extremely well done.

In short, I highly recommend this film to young and old, anime fans or not! It is more than an anime film, it is a great story!
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on February 12, 2011
I received my preorder of this DVD the other day, and I'm thoroughly delighted with it. Having seen the original Japanese version, I was pleased to see that the localization to English was well done. The dubbing is good, the translation natural, and the voices match to the originals quite well. There are subtitles in a few places where necessary. You get art cards showing the Oz avatars of the main characters, which are quite nice. And the extras (interviews with voice artists and original commercials for the movie) are good too. Besides being a great story in its own right, this'll be the perfect DVD for me to share with family and friends to help them understand what this crazy anime hobby of mine is all about.
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on May 10, 2015
Love this movie to death.
Came in perfect condition ahead of time and the fact the Paper Cover is different from the actual Blu-Ray case itself is worth the investment alone.
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on February 16, 2011
While some reviewers have compared Summer Wars to a Miyazaki type of work, Summer Wars really fills a space between Isao Takahata (Pom Poko, Only Yesterday, My Neighbors the Yamadas) and Satoshi Kon. Summer Wars has the pace and intrigue of Satoshi Kon but melds in a human side similar to Isao Takahata's more slice-of-life type works. The characters are warm and believable, the action fast paced, and you will fret and cheer along with a fantastic crew of characters in a fun to experience world.

The story follows math nerd Kenji into the vibrant and chaotic family life of his classmate Natsuki just as the world goes crazy. A virtual program, OZ (think Facebook + Second Life and raised to the 5th power) which links much of life together, goes haywire because a hacker trying to ruin the world. Kenji and Natusuki's whole clan rush into action to save the day.

Two intriguing themes in the film are (1) how digital life is both blessing and curse and (2) how something as old fashioned as family can never be done without. Both themes are played off each other as in a mix of the old, the new and the enduring in the face of the possibilities we create for ourselves, both good and bad.
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on February 10, 2014
I watched this movie recently with my anime club, and absolutely loved it from the start! It's so beautifully drawn and directed. The plot is amazing and the story idea very creative. After watching it, I knew that I had to own it. The price of the version I bought was the best option, and I'm very pleased with it.
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on February 23, 2011
Summer Wars isn't exactly a new theme for anime, or movies in general. It's the sometimes trite and mostly overused boy meets girl meets problem = awww <3. That out of the way it is an original it is beautiful and it is a fantastically well done take on a tired theme. I'm not going to delve into the actual plot, as there are plenty of other reviews that do so...as such please consider this a spoiler free review.

The DVD comes with some small cards of characters you will meet in the anime, a beautiful box, and a second disk of extras, previews, and other bits of information on Summer Wars. It's a nice way to handle the issue of adding extra content, a separate disc is far preferable to wading through the menus. The subtitling is done very well and is never obtrusive nor does it move so quickly that you're distracted from actually watching the anime. That in and of itself is often a difficult task to achieve with subtitles and they should be lauded just for that fact.

The graphics are beautiful and the color palette is massive. The change between the real world and OZ is a phenomenal example of this as things become brighter, the colors less natural and more deeply hued, and yet it all seems natural as if you could login to OZ today and create your own avatar. In the real world the saturation and blending is most apparent with the backgrounds, sunsets, sunrises, fields, and cities are richly animated and nothing feels like an afterthought. It is no wonder that this series won so many awards, just based on the art alone it is an epic achievement.

The story of Summer Wars has more to do with family, cooperation, and faith in your fellow human being than the actual goings on of OZ. Each character is well developed, though some are more distinct than others. You can tell that the creators took each individual character very seriously and tackled subjects that may otherwise be difficult to handle.

Your main characters are a painfully shy high school student who has never kissed a girl and is focused on math, a young lady unsure of where she is in the world and desperate to please her grandmother, uncle, and other relatives even if that means lying. The grandmother is a proud matriarch of a respected but now (comparatively) penniless family who has lived a life of conviction, clearly holding her clan together. Others include bombastic uncles, snotty aunts, overly inquisitive young children, a quiet loner of a child with a secret revealed halfway through the anime, and an uncle who fills the role of being the titular black sheep.

It's a big cast that would be easy to lose track of if you weren't introduced to them so thoroughly and if they weren't all distinct. It's a feat that Summer Wars manages to keep everything together so well throughout the entire show.

Summer Wars is a very family oriented anime in that it is based around a family, and the "family" of a world connected all the time through OZ (a much evolved Internet). It reflects that while we may want to solve our problems alone, hide our pain and worries from the world, and share only what makes us seem the best - we can't solve anything that way and we must learn to communicate. This is a timeless message that still comes across fresh in Summer Wars and is endearing if just for the way it is presented to us.
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VINE VOICEon May 30, 2016
Though precisely that problem confronts our protagonists, nor is this a screwball comedy romance though our nerdy everyman of a hero gets conned by the most popular girl in school (whom he has a secret crush on) into pretending to be her fiance at a family gathering (Yeah, THAT'S gonna work!). Instead this is a movie about families, about what holds them together, about what tears them apart, and in particular families with a tradition of service. In an English subtitled interview in the Extras section the director seems genuinely puzzled that this movie would strike such a chord with audiences around the world, but while a family that still takes pride in once having been vassals to a shogun era feudal clan might SEEM utterly alien to non-Japanese, it really isn't if you just stop to think about it because we all know (or know of) similar sorts of families in our own countries: cop families, fire fighter families, military families, etc., and members of such families would have no trouble grasping the idea that if one of your own messes up, you have a family obligation to make it right.

Being too nice (or too lovesick) to bail on Natsuki when she reveals her plot, Kenji stays, experiencing the tortures of the damned in fear of his eventual, inevitable exposure and enduring treatment from Natsuki's huge extended family that varies from overwhelming to nerve wracking to downright cruel, but along the way something happens. As the sole child of an absent, working overseas father and a long hours working mother, he begins to appreciate the benefits of a large family and finds himself wistfully envying what Natsuki has and what he can never have once the family gathering is over and Natsuki wraps up the lie by telling everyone that they've broken up.

Then the long telegraphed disaster strikes, Kenji is exposed and, worse, falsely accused of causing it. At first it seems to be just a series of nasty computer pranks,... until somebody very close to them dies as a result. Then while the women of the Jinnouchi clan mobilize to manage the family through the crisis, it falls to the men of the Jinnouchi clan along with Natsuki and Kenji to mobilize and wage and win a cyber war. As per their history, the odds are hopeless but that never stopped the Jinnouchis before, and it doesn't stop them now. Does everyone manage to put aside the past and rise to the challenge to save the world? You might as well ask the outcome of the simultaneously occurring baseball match in which a Jinnouchi family member puts his team on his back and tries to pitch them into the nationals with ups and downs that eerily parallel those of the ongoing cyber war. It is corny and predictable and absolutely wonderful!

So, any defects? Only a minor one and that could possibly be a translation error. It is revealed at the end that the disaster was caused by the US Army that contracted to purchase the Love Machine virus DELIBERATELY releasing it as some sort of test.... Nope. Sorry. Never going to happen. The US Army would never do this; hell, the Japanese army would never do this; nobody in their right mind would ever do this! An accidental release, as contrarily reported earlier in the film? Yes, I can see that. For comparison over the years the US and the Russians have managed to lose at least six nuclear weapons that were never recovered, but all were due to accidents, and while nuclear tests have occasionally gone wrong and resulted in fallout in unexpected places, no one has ever deliberately tested one in range of a populated area in order to see what might happen, and no sane person ever would.

That minor criticism aside this film is highly recommended!

Note: A two volume manga series has been published that closely parallels the movie it was based on in plot and artwork so if you love one, you will no doubt love the other: Summer Wars, Part 1 and Summer Wars, Part 2.
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on January 10, 2014
I ordered this on sale last year (2013). I'd never seen any trailers for it, it just looked like a decent action anime. Well, last year my grandmother died. After the memorial service I was sitting in my apartment looking for something to keep my mind off the obvious when I remembered this. So I put it in the player, wrapped up in the blanket that my granny had given me when I was five years old, and started watching. Then I started crying for pretty much the entire movie (those who know the plot know why).

By the title and the front cover, I was expecting an action focused movie of some sort I could use to escape. It wasn't. This movie is very much character and dialogue driven. A major part of the "Summer Wars" story is a granny, who is very much like how my granny was (strong and independent, yet faithful and loving), and the effect her life has on those around her and on, by extension, a major international disaster. It is a story about the strength derived from family and love. I highly recommend it to anyone who had a granny that they loved very much.

The movie itself is extremely well made. The quality of voice acting is excellent, including the dub (I know this is an ancient debate, but for me, dubs are still marginally inferior to subs, most of the time). I watched it once in English and once in Japanese (because I felt like crying more, apparently) and I think I actually preferred the English version.

The animation is amazing, along with the music. This is a Studio Ghibli-class release. Whoever the writers and directors are for this, I hope they make tons more movies, because with Miyazaki retiring, we need this type of high quality, highly imaginative, yet human, work.
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on September 21, 2014
*BREIF WARNING: I don't really dive into spoiler territory, but I do touch on some. In order to fairly judge the movie, I do feel some of the story concepts need to be brought to light. I promise I try to avoid it when possible, but you have been warned.*

I had high hopes for Summer Wars. I truly did. Although I don't consider myself much of an anime fan these days (with a list of some exceptions, of course), I was all but exclusively a fan of Japanese animation in high school and college and I'm always open to giving things a try. So combined with my own interest, the high praise the movie received and a personal recommendation from a close friend, I was very excited to give this a try. Especially given that I was a huge fan of Digimon the movie and its animation.

In case it wasn't terribly obvious by now, no, I wasn't very impressed.

However, let's give credit where credit is due. First and foremost, again, the animation is spectacular. There's no denying that Summer Wars is a feast for the eyes, whether we're talking about the goings-on in the real world or the events taking place in Oz. It's all gorgeously and painstakingly animated. This much met my expectations.

And to be fair, there are some charming ideas and stories in Summer Wars. To be honest, if this had been two or three separate movies (a cyber-thriller, a slice-of-life and a romantic comedy (or just a slice-of-life rom/com, I suppose)), there's a much better chance I would have loved this movie.

But as it is, it's a bunch of good ideas that materialize into a mishmash or oddity that aside from being a treat for the eyes, is just a mess.

Firstly, we're introduced to a massive, massive family of characters. And while they're fine, most of them don't really expand beyond being one or two dimensions. Which, as any writer will tell you, is part of the problem with having such a massive cast of characters vying for screen time. Not that it can't be done, but it is difficult to do effectively.

Additionally, and to be perfectly honest, these two story threads do not synch well. I was honestly much more interested and invested in the events going on outside of Oz and cyberspace. There was a stronger story here (albeit not be by much), with themes of family and romance that I was really digging. Not that the Oz stuff couldn't have been great too, but it wasn't nearly as fleshed out. But everything goes wrong when the story attempts to tie both ideas together, and as such neither the events in Oz nor the family dynamics and drama get built-up enough for either to be that strong. What's worse, the story attempts to bring it all together is just a mess, which comes together in a finale that is so over-the-top, cliched and hokey that I simply couldn't take it seriously, and honestly found it to be kind of painful to watch. This COULD just be because I had previously seen the Digimon movie (which, as another reviewer points out, the Oz stuff is strikingly similar too), but I KNEW that the AI was going to try to do SOMETHING involving a nuclear strike.

None of the characters besides Kenji, the grandmother, her "prodigal son" (who's name escapes me) and Natsuki have much depth, and even that's a bit of a stretch. Which isn't to say that the other characters aren't charming or enjoyable, but Heaven help me if I could tell you any of their names or describe them in any way other than an exaggerated anime/manga trope or a profession.

And now, here's some of the nitpicks:

1. The romance: Wow, this felt forced. Besides the fact that the crush Natsuki had on her uncle (...ick) is all but quickly dismissed as a side point, we have little explanation on how Kenji and she know each other. So unless we're just expected to believe that at the end of a four day trip they just decided to be an item, this is a stretch.

And yes, I'm aware that this is common in fairy tales and no, I don't mind the idea overall. But even most fairy tales give our protagonists like...a week or two to get to know each other.

2. The US Military is the bad guy. Like another reviewer, I found that kinda offensive and a bit of a cop-out, but that's okay. That's not my biggest concern with it. And I although I don't agree personally, it's arguable that it's about as fair as always making the Russians or Chinese or middle east the bad guys.

My BIGGEST concern with the idea is that it simply doesn't make sense. I could buy that the US Military would purchase an AI program with the intent of weaponizing it. I would even buy them testing it out in a civilian setting as opposed to a closed setting. It's a stretch, but sure, stranger things have happened in real life.

But here's the thing.

WHY would they test it out in the most powerful, important, global community that apparently everything from online shopping to traffic programs and hospital equipment is tied to? The US Military would NOT want something to backfire in there face so largely and publicly, because that's massively stupid and the last thing they would want when testing a secret military program is to draw attention to it.

3. Speaking of Oz, can we just be honest here? It makes no sense. None. Whatsoever.

So, it's an online community that connects you to major retailers, has a global presence, and you can even tele-commute using it. It's also like WoW or similar programs, as it has a fighting game and customizable avatars built in.

Okay, sure. That mostly makes sense.

But...why would any government body willing put more than its contact info in there (or maybe a lobby with basic info, I suppose) into such a program, especially in light of the movie's plot? Did the world governments seriously not suspect someone might try to hack into this thing and take control of everything? And, for that matter, why would a city tie its controls into it? Or a GPS manufacturer? Or a hospital?

Think about it. That's like saying your local hospital is 100% dependent upon Facebook being up and running.

THAT. DOESN'T. WORK. And I can't suspend my disbelief enough to think anyone else besides private companies and general public would subscribe to that.

So let's sum everything up here. Is Summer Wars the worst anime I've ever seen? Of course not. As I said, in fact, there are some great ideas buried in there that could be used to make some really strong (but separate) animes. And again, in terms of pure visual appeal, it's dynamite. The dub cast was pretty great too, and the music, though not particularly memorable, is serviceable.

But the problem is is that the whole thing doesn't function well as a singular movie. It's also riddled with cliches, flaws in logic and one-dimensional characters that we as the audience are simply supposed to ignore in order to enjoy the movie. And generally speaking, no, I don't subscribe to that idea.

Apparently, I'm in an unpopular minority, and I suspect this review will be treated as such, lambasted by the movie's fans simply because "I didn't get it" or some similar argument. And that's fine. I'm not saying that those of you who enjoyed it should feel ashamed for doing so.

But for those of you who are on the fence or curious, I suspect a rental is best, but otherwise it's not really worth the time.
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