Funimation comes out swinging with a big film release, arguably the biggest film they’ve released since the first Evangelion Rebuild film (and based on who you ask, possibly bigger.)
A big push is being given to Summer Wars: theatrical screenings, larger than normal advertising, even an attempt to get it nominated for an Academy Award. Is all the extra push worth it?
As a fun little experiment, Alex and I are reviewing this film together, since we both had things we wanted to say about it.
(Small Note- While the review is spoiler free, the embedded trailer from Funimation’s Youtube does have some spoilers from the film. Out of context they may not spoil much, but be warned.)
The packaging starts with a slipcover that uses the OZ avatars of various characters from the film. All the various characters on the front are textured very nicely. On the top of the front cover you see 7 awards Summer Wars won (along with another right above the film title near the bottom.) A sticker is even included with a quote from the Los Angeles Times. On the back we see a thin slice of the ‘real world’ counterpoint to the front cover, along with a few screenshots. We get a short blurb about Hosoda and a well written paragraph with a basic overview of the film from AnimeNewsNetwork. Everything about the slipcase is relevant and lists what is on the disk in a font that is relatively easy to read, if a bit ‘puffy’.
The case insert itself is done identically to the slipcover with a few fun changes. The most obvious is the main cover is now the ‘real world’ image and the thin strip on the back is now the OZ image. It’s a nice little touch. Colors have also been changed, but the layout is exactly the same. The case itself is clear, so we get a nice reverse image. It’s done width wide on the case and is a beautifully drawn image of the real world characters. While no spoilers are given, if you’ve seen the film you will notice some nice touches in this image to the end of the film. The movie disk is kept on a page style tray. It holds the disk stiffly and while it isn’t difficult to remove it requires a bit more pressure than you expect. The extras disk takes roughly the same amount of pressure to remove. The packaging for this release is quite honestly gorgeous.
The menu for Summer Wars is very clean and usable. The only complaint I have is that for the scene selection they only show a few scenes at a time, so there are over half a dozen pages. Other than that everything is amazingly clean. A great menu.
I know I can’t talk about this film without mentioning it, so let’s get this out the way right from the start: this film has many, many similarities to another of Mamoru Hosoda’s films, Digimon Adventure: Our War Game. Both films are about a digital threat—in Summer Wars’ case, an artificial intelligence that acts more like a virus—that hacks into and takes over a virtual world, resulting in chaos in the real world that depends on its functions. And it isn’t just a basic level of similarity that stops there. There are scenes in Summer Wars that are practically identical to scenes in Our War Game, and the film’s conflict builds to an incredibly similar climax. However, both of us are in agreement that the fact Mamoru Hosoda has basically created this same film twice (or even three times if you include the short film, Superflat Monogram) doesn’t stop it from being a very good movie.
The story follows Kenji Koiso, a 17-year-old high-school student who’s extremely gifted in mathematics. He works as a “code monkey” for a massive online virtual reality called OZ, which all of the real world’s technology is now networked into. His rather mundane life is interrupted—as is common in anime—when his classmate Natsuki hijacks him for a job in Ueda; Kenji doesn’t find out until he gets there that his “job” is to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancé in order to please her grandmother, who will soon be celebrating her 90th birthday. Natsuki has an enormous family, all of whom are present to join in the celebration, and a good chunk of the film is made up of the interactions between the family members themselves and Kenji.
Not long after arriving at the Jinnouchi family’s rural home, Kenji receives a strange message on his phone—a complex math problem with the instruction, “Solve me.” He solves it just to see if he can, mails it back, and the very next morning, OZ is in chaos. It turns out the supposedly innocent math problem was actually the key to breaking through OZ’s security, and now a mischievous artificially intelligent program named Love Machine is causing trouble for everyone. And worst of all, Kenji himself has been identified as the criminal!
At first it almost feels like the film has two separate stories going at once. The first is the story of the grandmother and her coming birthday, and most of the family is tied up in this story to begin with. Kenji’s story, where he’s implicated as some sort of cyber terrorist and has to stop Love Machine, feels kind of separate at first, and a lot of the family isn’t interested in it until it becomes really apparent that the things going on in the virtual world also affect all of them after all. Before this, it’s only really the fact that Kenji is pretending to be Natsuki’s boyfriend that ties the two plots together. When the two plots finally do converge completely, it all comes to a pretty epic conclusion.
There are a lot of characters in the film, but only a few really stand out, while the rest I think of as just “the Jinnouchi family.” There’s Kenji, of course, who’s sort of the stereotypical main anime guy; he’s nerdy and a bit of an outcast, but an all around nice guy who develops into the hero-guy over the course of the story. Natsuki, on the other hand, could very easily have become a Naru-esque cliché anime girl, but instead feels realistic and relatable. I wouldn’t go as far as to call her a tomboy, but she’s outgoing and strong willed, and you get the impression that she’s like a younger version of her grandmother with how all around together she is. Her reactions to what’s going on around her strike me as fitting for a girl her age. Her young cousin, Kazuma, is quick to believe that Kenji isn’t the criminal everyone starts making him out to be, and is the one who does the most “physical” fighting against Love Machine. There’s also Natsuki’s uncle (whom she apparently had a crush on when she was younger), Wabisuke, who by pure (contrived?) coincidence, also turns out to have something to do with Love Machine; he’s portrayed as a bit of a jerk, but it becomes clear that, in his own way, everything he did was for the grandmother, Sakae.
Grandmother Sakae is really the heart of the story. She’s the reason everyone’s where they are to begin with, and she’s also the thing that finally unites the two sides of the story into one. She’s a strong woman who holds the whole Jinnouchi family together in more ways than one. In fact, once you’ve seen the whole film, you might sit back and realize that everything—from both story threads—is sort of set into motion by this one character. That’s pretty interesting if you ask me.
Summer Wars is nearly two hours long, but apart from the first few minutes, it never felt slow to me. Mamoru Hosoda seems to be good at creating a constant pace, and there was never a point in the story where I felt bored or disinterested. It uses very different approaches to keep your interest, of course: on the one hand you have the Digimon-esque virtual battles and fate of mankind sort of thing, but on the other you have very interesting and realistic characters interacting with each other, and the sense of family between them all is unmistakable. Like I already mentioned, it’s sort of like there are two stories that circle each other before finally converging, and both are very good in really different ways.
Summer Wars is encoded at 480p. Overall the encode feels very soft. There is almost a blurry haze over the vast majority of the film. I’m not sure if it was an artistic choice or not. From what few screencaps I could track down from the R2, the Japanese DVD appears relatively similiar, so we aren’t getting the short end of the stick. Colors still look quite good. The DVD doesn’t look great, but it doesn’t look horrible. It’s just a shame that the DVD doesn’t look as fantastic as it could.
The film has great visuals overall. The real world and OZ both have distinctive looks that in both cases have been pulled directly from Our War Game. There is a wide range of character designs and you won’t ever really confuse anyone for another character in the film (although I can definitely imagine Kenji as Tai after a haircut.) While the design work arguably did start back with Our War Game, it matches and adds to the evolution of the designs seen in other Hosoda films (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time being the large target.) It’s very interesting to see things Hosoda has carried from film to film starting back with Digimon, be it the general art look or OZ having red outlines with an almost stark white ‘space’ to float in. The DVD doesn’t harm the great visuals, but it could have shown them so much more justice.
The audio is more like it. Both English and Japanese get 448k 5.1 Dolby tracks. Both tracks sound very good. Dialogue is louder on the English track, but otherwise the levels are largely the same. There isn’t much to say here; it sounds good.
The two things that will inevitably bother me the most when it comes to a dub are when the voices themselves sound unnatural and/or forced, and when the script is awkward and doesn’t feel like something a real person would say out loud. Thankfully, Summer Wars suffers from neither of these problems. Both the voices and the script seem entirely natural, and there’s nothing about them that will distract you or pull you out of the film. None of the cast really stands out above the rest, but there’s no one who seems like a weak link, either; they’re all just consistently good.
FUNimation fans may recognize many members of the English cast. Kenji is voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, who semi-recently voiced Xellos in FUNimation’s dub of Slayers Revolution and Slayers Evolution-R; Natsuki is voiced by Brina Palencia, who voices both Puar and Chaozu in the dubs of Dragon Ball Z Kai and other newly dubbed Dragon Ball properties, as well as Chopper from FUNimation’s dub of One Piece; Maxey Whitehead voices Kazuma, and has also recently portrayed Dende in Z Kai; and J. Michael Tatum, who’s Zarbon in Z Kai and Scar in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, plays Wabisuke.
Extras are above and beyond what is expected for an anime disk. We start off with a little over 23 minutes of interviews with primary cast members. After you hear them talk about their characters and their thoughts, you get a full 13 minutes from Hosoda himself. After those we get lighter fare: 2 short teaser trailers, a TV teaser, a full commercial, and a couple minutes of TV commercials. The interviews are presented in 16:9 but the commercials are letterboxed 4:3. It’s a nice set of interviews overall with a few commercials and trailers tossed in. First printings of the DVD also include four art cards. Each art card has two pictures on it for a total of eight shots. The extras are quite nice, but I imagine there could have been much more (the art cards are a first press bonus, and there are people who preordered who aren’t getting them, so they aren’t included in the final grade.)
Summer Wars is a fantastic film. It’s one of the best anime films either of us have seen in quite awhile, and it should be on the shelf of nearly any anime fan. The two disk set is nearly perfect. The only real flaw is video that should have been so much more, especially with the great art direction in the film.
Movie: A+ (An utterly enjoyable film that uses past knowledge and films of the director to polish past work into a near perfect piece of entertainment. It even throws in a few social messages about the human condition and perhaps where we are going as people.)
Video Quality: C- (It isn’t that bad, but more was expected based on it being a brand new film.)
Audio Quality: A (Audio quality on both tracks was quite good.)
English Dub: A+ (Arguably a perfect dub. The greatest compliment that could be paid to it is something Alex said during a chat: “There was never a moment where I felt like…I was watching a dub.”)
Extras: B (A solid collection of extras. There could be more, but what we got isn’t bad.)
Overall (not an average): A (A great film got a good disk. If the video was better we would likely have given this an A+.)
Let us know what you think of this little experiment having two of us review something together. We quite enjoyed doing it and are considering doing it again.
Gallery and copyright information under ad. All caps are lossless PNGs taken in MPC-HC, feel free to request more. (Caps are sized 853×480 so as to display properly on computer monitors, they were modified to this resolution via Photoshop CS4 as MPC-HC takes screen captures at 720×480 on the disc. Having the caps be 853×480 makes them appear at the properly intended aspect ratio.)
This show was reviewed using a screener in retail packaging for one of us. The other used a retail bought copy.