Any 5-Year-Old Can Tell You Why Summer Wars is Great

As of late, it seems like podcast after podcast is discussing Summer Wars. Speakeasy podcasters Hisui and Narutaki use the movie as an impetus to talk about how getting taken out of a movie causes you to more readily notice its faults. Andrew on the Veef Show talks about how the hype for Summer Wars is met by backlash, while also stating that he finds the movie to be good but not great. Anime World Order’s Daryl and Gerald also disagree on the merits of the movie. Overall, the two big questions seem to be 1) Why do the people who love Summer Wars love it and 2) Why do the people who hate it do so?

Now I am on the side of thinking the movie was fantastic, so the best I can tell you about why critics deride it is hearsay and conjecture, but I can tell you about why I think Summer Wars is a very strong movie on par with Hosoda’s previous work, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Summer Wars‘ greatest strength comes from its overarching theme, centering around the idea of closing gaps, be they generational, technological, or even familial. A super advanced online world is contrasted with old-fashioned ways, the celebration of family is contrasted with the desire to move beyond the home, and young is contrasted with old. But in every case, Summer Wars doesn’t say that one is better than the other, instead giving a message that each is equally useful and that everyone can work together for the common good. It’s a very optimistic view of where we’re going as a society and as a planet, and I think that optimism is what keeps people cheering and praising the movie.

A lot of reviewers seem to neglect mentioning these themes, and I find that to be quite odd. It’s pretty much the heart of Summer Wars and for all of the praise and the criticism, how is it not mentioned more often? And it’s not like the themes are particularly subtle to the point of invisibility either. When I went to the New York Children’s International Film Festival showing of Summer Wars, there was a Q&A session with director Hosoda. In every case, it was the kids who nailed the most important theme of the movie, as well as a lot of the lesser themes. Now, these kids had to be fairly smart, being able to keep up with the subtitles on-screen, but they were still about eight years old on average. Surely the great minds of the anime internet can’t be outdone by a bunch of elementary school kids, right?

Re-reading my glowing review of the film, I am forced to realize that I too forgot to mention the overarching theme of Summer Wars and so am just as guilty of obfuscating the discussion as anyone else. Looking at my own words, I get the feeling that I was so caught up in trying to describe the enormous amounts of effort clearly put into the film and its potential for wide appeal through juggling many different elements that I simply forgot to actually say why I think the film is great. Perhaps everyone else experienced the same problem, like a collective mind fart from thinking too much about anime without actually thinking about it.

And so in the end, we were bested by third graders.

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9 thoughts on “Any 5-Year-Old Can Tell You Why Summer Wars is Great

  1. Yes, not many reviews mention the main themes of the movie, but being on the side that doesn’t find it particularly good, I can tell you why the ones that don’t like the movie don’t mention its themes.

    Any work can be broken into at least four components: characters, plot, themes/motifs and presentation. Different media formats will have more elements like movies having acting and anime having animation.

    Now, out of these components the only ones that directly affect my enjoyment of a work are presentation, characters, plot and some other components specific to the medium. Yes, that’s right, themes and motifs have no role in my enjoyment of something, they only contribute to the greatness of the work and to the analysis of it. That’s why I can say that I hate The Great Gatsby and yet I think that it’s a great book with a lot of ground to be covered in analysis, and that’s exactly what happens with “Summer Wars”. The characters are bland and stereotypical, the plot is one that has been used countless times before, and the only aspects that make it good are the presentation and the animation, and that’s not enough to make it a masterpiece.

    “Summer Wars” relies heavily on getting an emotional response from the viewer and getting him to analyze the movie, but when the viewer picks up on the themes quickly like I did, and doesn’t look for emotional but logical entertainment, the movie doesn’t seem very good, and why would you want to analyze something and mention its main themes in a review when you picked up on those so quickly that even a baby should be able to understand them?

    That’s what I think and I’m sorry for the long comment.

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    • Well I’d say the counterargument if you can call it that is that it doesn’t matter how quickly you pick up on the themes, that they’re not supposed to be some kind of hidden nugget you’re supposed to dig through with a sharp mind and a logical outlook, that once you find it you start looking for something else.

      It’s something you see and enjoy, which then carries through the rest of the movie.

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  2. I also wrote a review for Summer Wars, and I agree. If globalization is supposed to flatten and democratize modern life (a la Tom Friedman), the OZ super internet system is a perfect example of it. Regardless of hierarchy, sex, or generational class, everyone had some contribution to the positive outcome of the movie’s crisis.

    Beyond the plot, I liked it immensely because it appealed to a wide audience like some of Miyazaki’s masterpieces (Spirited Away). It wasn’t just otaku bait or some well defined pigeon-holed anime that only appeals to a very niche audience. In its layered storytelling, the film managed to grab and entertain the general audience which seems like an increasingly difficult thing to accomplish.

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  3. Gosh, I bet you don’t even care, but my main criticism of the movie seems to be much different that what THE NERDS are complaining about. I haven’t actually read what THE NERDS have to say, but based on the RT’s podcast, the criticisms seem to stem from the story not being realistic. Which is absolutely silly.

    My criticism–which may be equally silly–stems from my expectations for Summer Wars to be as emotionally compelling as Tokikake was, and how it wasn’t. Tokikake is a beautiful, moving work that ends on a wonderfully bittersweet note. I didn’t get that with Summer Wars! Or something to the same effect. I know it’s stupid to compare them, but this has horribly affected my view of Summer Wars. I will concede that it’s a great movie, and the themes you’ve outlined here certainly are relevant and important.

    But it doesn’t really hit my weird kinks.

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    • Personally speaking, I do like Tokikake more than I do Summer Wars due to how much more personal its story is, but I consider them to be roughly equally good even if they are quite different.

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  4. Pingback: Traveling the World One Story at a Time: Ashita no Nadja | OGIUE MANIAX

  5. Pingback: Sosok Kreatif: Inspirasi Hidup dalam Karya Mamoru Hosoda - KAORI Nusantara

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