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.