a review by Daniel Haynes
Cover: ©2009 Summerwars Film Partners
I’ll come out and say this first: Summer Wars is an enjoyable anime with a lot of wasted potential. The easiest way to describe this anime would be ‘Studio Ghibli meets Pokemon’. Summer Wars has a great setting, occupying a world completely reliant on an exaggerated future vision of the internet, where everyone has a virtual ‘avatar’ and navigates a virtual reality. The network, known as OZ, is populated by billions and is connected to all major infrastructure (nuclear power stations, roads, traffic lights, essential services etc) and was considered completely safe behind unhackable security. Kenji Koiso, a part-time OZ programmer and maths prodigy is implicated for hacking OZ’s ‘unhackable’ encryption, while at Natsuki’s (a high-school friend who forces him to pretend they are in a relationship to her great-grandmother) house to celebrate her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. A virtual intelligence, nicknamed ‘Love Machine’ hacks OZ and wreaks havoc on earth’s infrastructure and services. The climax revolves around Kenji needing to destroy Love Machine in OZ in order to deter a catastrophe.
While I was really impressed with a lot of the world setting and the creativity surrounding OZ, Summer Wars failed to meet its full potential with a mature and engaging storyline. The plot is rather juvenile, the first act akin to a typical high-school romance anime, while the later stages feel like pokemon/one-piece on steroids. The avatar battles feel forced and often out of place.
The animation is of a very high standard. While the ‘real world’ animation isn’t the greatest, it fits the story and setting quite well. OZ’s animation is spectacular.
The english dub/voice-acting was absolutely terrible, so I recommend watching with subtitles and the Japanese audio track.
While Summer Wars had a great premise and failed to deliver, that’s not to say its a bad anime. I still enjoyed it, but was ultimately disappointed at the conclusion, and felt it wasted so much of its enormous potential. 6/10
Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011.