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Summer Wars

Summer Wars
There was absolutely nothing in the universe that could prepare me for the impact of Summer Wars, not the official trailers, not the nerds going back and forth on the internet fan-gushing till they were dizzy-headed; and certainly not the fact that it was made by some of my personal favorite anime creators in the industry right now. Nope, I was a complete noob wondering into my first BD viewing of this show, and now I am kicking myself hard in the back-side for not watching it sooner, and instead letting it sit on my shelf.

What started out as a purchase of whimsy has escalated into one of the best, if not the most enjoyable experiences of my fandom. Of course that is obviously saying a lot, since I hold dear to me most of the anime films of the past ten years; and few films have been able to topple one another save for the bitter rival of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and King of Thorn.

What I knew about Summer Wars was only what I had seen on the preview of another anime, or heck, it could have been on the FUNimation site for all I know. What I can tell you, is that I saw in the animation something that rose above the norm, and made it genuinely feel epic. Not epic as in "Epic" that the fans throw around everyday on the web, I'm talking about epic in the sense that it transcended itself into a film with a double genre.

That's right, from a certain angle, one may look at Summer Wars as a family feel good anime, reminiscent of early Miyazaki films, and that would be somewhat correct, since the art direction for the film was handled by former Studio Ghibli resident Youji Takeshige. On the other hand, there is a second type of anime here as well; the action sci-fi adventure that so seamlessly blends itself together with the whole of the narrative that it gives itself a life and a style all its own.

In 2006 when filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda complete work on his picture The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, he set his sights on an all new original work that would be an adventure film custom tailored for the Summer theaters, and would appeal to viewers of all ages. Teaming up with writer Satoko Okudera, Hosoda and Madhouse studios announced what was to become the film Summer Wars.

Summer Wars is based around two pivotal plot-points that crisscross one another; it focuses on the Jinnouchi family's birthday party for their 89 year old matron grandmother, and on the events going awry in the world's most popular virtual reality social network, OZ.

While there are literally dozens of characters appearing in the film, it does manage to single out a select few, and so in our story, we have the key protagonist Kenji Koiso accompanying his senior student Natsuki Shinohara to their country home under the pretense to work there for the next four days to assist with the festivities.

Koiso and his fellow school companion Takashi Sakuma are part time moderators for the OZ network, and since Kenji is an only child who spends his days in math competitions and coding for OZ he accepts Natsuki's invitation for work. The trip is complicated by the fact that Natsuki had deliberately misinformed her family that she would be bringing her fiancee to the family party, and convinces Koiso to play along for her grandmother's sake.

While there, Koiso receives a mysterious text message with a sequence of numbers, and as a near mathimatical genius, he solves the code and returns it to its sender, only to find his face and name plastered all over the TV the next morning, and that he is suspected of hacking the social site, and wrecking havoc.

While Koiso maintains his innocence to the concerned Shinohara family, a rogue account within OZ begins assimilating user accounts, and soon the entire network infrastructure is crippled; since nearly every person on the planet with an online account uses OZ as a secure manager for their private and valuable information, within a matter of hours the situation turns grim as chaos ensues on multiple levels around the globe.

I have sat through many anime films in my time, and few have had such a strong hook. In fact few of them have appealed so generally to my fandom, and not just my being a fan of anime, my love of film in general. It's easy for me to say that Summer Wars could have very easily been made as a live action film, and there may be some critics out there that would probably think it would be better as such, but I think the fact that it is animated delivers a much more lighthearted and enjoyable experience.

I fell in love with this film within the first 10 minutes, and the marriage of internet technology, the wholesome environment and setting, the close look at Kenji as he is embraced by a centuries old family, is quite a literal treasure trove for the viewer.

I think as far as anime goes, and especially animated film at that, this is probably the most perfect that I have seen. It actually does have something in it that most anyone could like, and it can appeal to all audiences. Something that really cannot be said of most of our favorite shows.

I know I have in my collection titles and shows that I wouldn't feel very cool sitting down and viewing with my parents, or my kid nieces and nephews; but Summer Wars is a remedy for that. It bridges so many gaps in not just style, story elements, but age as well.

I was fascinated by the visuals of OZ, I was enthralled by the massive Junoichi family, I was moved to tears by the dramatic moments between the family members, and I was riveted to my seat as I watched King Kazma battle the virtual rogue Love Machine for control of the millions of avatars he had corrupted in the virtual world.

I cheered, I cried, and I thrust my fist into the air more times in this films that I can remember in all my time being a fan of anime. It touches that part of us that loves a good thrill, a good drama, and a smart and level-headed casual look at real life. And yet smashing all sorts of walls with the social network disaster, blending that reality with the real world and pulling it off so magnificently that I didn't know where to put my eyes from time to time.

As for the release of Summer Wars, I have only had the luxury of seeing the Blu-ray release, and that hasn't hurt my feelings in the least. In fact, my only problem is the size of my HDTV, as this is one of those movies that must be experienced on as large of a scale as possible.

Also for the first time in a long time, I wasn't distracted by the multitude of voice actors, sure almost every name in FUNimation Entertainment's roster were used, but the performances were so well integrated into the picture that I wasn't bogged down with trying to place a voice to a name; which get's old rather quickly. I was most impressed with Michael Sinterniklaas as Kenji, and was glad that I wasn't pummeled by either Vic Mignogna or Justin Cook as the character since that would have been a typical FUNi big name plug, and I would need to slap some fools.

Aside from Sinterniklaas, I wasn't surprised to find Brina Palencia's name as Natsuki's voice over. Even though the performance was great, I was disappointed that it wasn't Caitlin Glass in the role, as my ears definitely heard Brina as Caitlin; a fact that Brina sucks a major loaf of crap when it comes to finding her own voices, and instead sounds like everyone else.

All in all, despite the fact that this film will suffer from second viewing syndrome, and I know that that first time excitement won't be captured again, I can honestly recommend this film to any and everyone. It is without a doubt, the best damn anime movie I've ever seen, Period!