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Summer Wars Blu-ray Review

12 min read

The future may bring new ways to socialize with the world at large but family is still king.

What They Say:
Kenji is your typical teenage misfit. He’s good at math, bad with girls, and spends most of his time hanging out in the all-powerful, online community known as OZ. His second life is the only life he has – until the girl of his dreams, Natsuki, hijacks him for a starring role as a fake fiancé at her family reunion. Things only get stranger from there. A late-night email containing a cryptic mathematic riddle leads to the unleashing of a rogue AI intent on using the world of OZ to destroy the real world, literally. As Armageddon looms on the horizon, Kenji and his new “family” set aside their differences and band together to save the worlds they inhabit in this “near-perfect blend of social satire and science fiction”

The Review:
Audio:
The audio tracks present on the Blu-Ray release are both 5.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks whether one watches in English or Japanese. For the primary viewing the Japanese track was used but a re-watch was conducted using the English track. Both tracks are given a good deal of space on the disc and show off the effort made in mixing the various separate music, dialogue and effects present in any given shot. This pays off well in both languages as the mix provides a very good balance with no one part being lost or covered up at an inopportune time.

Since many R1 fan’s questions turn toward the English dub on big releases the feature was re-watched with goal of seeing if the dub is one that will reach out to many fans. Given that many people have raved about the review (including this site’s voters) it also seemed like a rather safe venture to make. Mike McFarland (director) and the producers did a wonderful job assembling a cast that could play well with the characters presented and show off their humanity as well as their quirks. Perhaps the biggest and most important task was in finding and directing the actor who would play Kenji Koiso. Kenji really is the key character to the work as he gives the audience an anchor into this family which he is as confused by as the audience is. To achieve this goal Michael Sinterniklaas was chosen for the character and it turned out brilliantly. Kenji has a huge range of emotions and many of the scenes are dependent on his character to set the tone. That isn’t to say that he is so far above and beyond the rest of the cast, just that so much of any given scene’s focal point is his character and so much rides on the performance setting its tone.

Nobody involved seems to have decided that a great lead meant that they could slack off however and many of the rest of the cast that fill out the roster are names that appear quite often in English dubs and for good reason. Each member of the cast turns in a really enjoyable performance and it is clear that there was time given to set things up for the actors so they could have a chance to really come to terms with the characters they played and make them their own. It is a strong performance not just from the leads but also from the supporting cast that helps the English dub weave its magic as a major flaw in any given character would really stand out in the overall effort of the work but thanks to the work put in there are no such worries. Any fan of English dubs needs to add this title to their library as both the story and dub are particularly strong here.

Video:
The video is also a really impressive focal point for this release. Originally created in 2009 the film is presented in its 16:9 ratio and is just a wonder on Blu-Ray. There are some fantastic depths to the colors and blacks that the format really helps to show off and it is a gorgeous visual spectacular. It isn’t perfect however as some minor noise and aliasing can be seen in certain shots and the film doesn’t handle motion shots nearly as well as the static ones. The motion shots aren’t bad but they lend themselves to a bit of motion blur and some minor after images though these are minor as the whole is just spectacular by and large.

Packaging:
Any question as to whether or not FUNimation was going all out to create a product that would stand out as a jewel in their catalog is dispelled with the effort put into the packaging. The first thing to catch the eye on opening the shipping envelope was the stunning slip cover for the BD. The slip cover has a very slick looking with the primary color being white for the background and the avatars from the computer network OZ of all the main characters gathered in the center. To top it off FUNimation went with a slipcover that has raised portions for the characters as well as some metal ink/embossing in a number of places so that the light catches these and further draws the eye in. The front and back of the sleeve both have the Blu-Ray banner at the top while the right spine uses a stand out green and the left a blue color both with the OZ network logo. The back has a red banner under the BD banner with a small horizontal image of the BD cover followed by the copy, six stills and a purple banner at the bottom with the film credits.

The BD itself comes packaged in the standard BD blue case and features an image of Natsuki holding a traditional Japanese banner bearing her families crest standing in front of an image that has Kenji as well as the rest of her family behind her. It is set against what is a common type of image for the Japanese country side with her on the front part of a “T” path which branches out where her family stands surrounded by a lush green setting with mountains behind them and a deep blue, cloud filled sky above. The back features a green banner at the top and a banner of the avatar representations from the slip cover just under that. The copy is set against a white backdrop below them with one of the family avatar characters standing next to five stills from the feature and above a sky blue banner that again has the film credits. The spine is a mild yellow and the reverse side of the cover has a picture of Kenji and Natsuki standing back to back like in a photo with the family present and given all the little (and not so little) visual elements it looks like it would have been taken (if an actual photo) after the events in the feature. The BD label is a light green color with a white grid with an image of one of the family member’s avatar and it has the Summer Wars title written in white.

To add additional value to the release FUNimation created a number of extras to promote the film/entice buyers and the ones received will be listed here. First of all in the DVD case itself are four double sided art cards featuring some of the more prominent avatars from the feature (note they looked a bit beat up like the system of putting them in was a bit on the rough side) and are a decently heavy stock card. The next extra is a set of Japanese Hanafuda cards (a game of some importance in the film) that come in a very nice black box with a number of series avatars printed on it which given the text it looks to be an import straight from Japan.

Menu:
The main menu uses the majority of the screen to show off images from the feature as an upbeat techno song from the film plays and a small white banner at the bottom contains the choices. Scene select increases the banner size as little images that represent chapter stops appear in place of the selection options and the currently highlighted chapter stop’s picture is given a prominent place above the line of choices. The selection is highlighted by a blue tear under the image or the pink “X” lighting up if you select leaving this screen. The audio selection screen increases slightly with the two options for audio listed horizontally and the subtitle option just to the right of them. The selection highlight here is shown by a red light up hexagon and when selecting the option being chosen highlights the selection in the same color red rather than the sky-blue it normally is. The extra screen loads the same and uses the same idea of highlighting choices made in a reddish color. The menu is incredibly fast when changing based on selections though there is a slight lag when selecting an option it has to load off the disc.

Extras:
There are about 40 minutes worth of extras on this release featuring Japanese cast interviews, Japanese director interview, original trailers, teasers and TV Spot. While this is a rather strong lineup given the amount of work that was clearly put into the English dub it does feel odd that there are no extras for that language track’s work on the release however.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The future of social media has arrived and while it bears a resemblance to the ones that exist today with the ability to create avatars and do shopping online the online world OZ has taken things to the next level. With OZ’s breakthrough ability to have real time automatic translations the network is able to allow people from around the globe communicate instantly. This ability has helped cement the importance of OZ in the day to day function of society to the point where a large number of businesses and governmental agencies have adapted to having a sizable presence on the network and people have a good deal of their personal and professional information stored there. With so much sensitive data the network uses a 2056 encryption algorithm to keep the data safe. Life hasn’t advanced to the system being completely automatic however and OZ still requires human administrators and support staff to keep it functioning-one member of which will be the focus of this feature.

With summer approaching Kenji Koiso and his best friend Takashi Sakuma are working their part time jobs as OZ moderators from their high school club room and talking at cross purposes. Takashi wants to talk about the fun of summer and girls but Kenji is currently lost in a funk because he had just blown a chance to represent Japan in a math competition. Suddenly their upperclassman Natsuki Shinohara bursts in on them and offers a part time job to Kenji. Natsuki’s grandmother Sakae Jinnouchi is going to be celebrating her 90th birthday and relatives will be coming from all over Japan to celebrate. As for Kenji’s role in the proceedings…he is about to get a shock when Natsuki reveals the very specific role she needs him to play in regard to the upcoming festivities.

If this introduction didn’t cause his head to spin enough the Jinnouchi family will cause the speed of the revolutions his brain is going through to be upped considerably. The Jinnouchi family is an old family that has ties that date back hundreds of years in Japan’s history and involve their family being having been part of many famous battles, though not always on the winning side. Until rather recently they were a wealthy family as well and though the money had been squandered the political prestige of the family remains intact as New Year’s cards bring greetings from some of the highest stations of society in Japan. With the families age it has grown to have a large extended family who have many levels of talent and various jobs throughout Japan’s infrastructure, though many of the members are eclectic in nature and the large group causes Kenji to be overwhelmed as he heads for bed with his head in a bit of a fog.

In the middle of the night as he is dealing with his feelings of being lost an E-mail arrives with a couple thousand long number string puzzle which he solves before getting an odd thank you message. His life turns upside down come the morning as he is now a wanted criminal as the OZ system has been cracked and vandalized and he is believed to be accountable. Now the panic will rise for him and Japan as the OZ system is heavily integrated in all aspects of Japan’s society and the hacker responsible is causing a great deal of interruption in all manner of things connected to OZ from communication to traffic lights and Kenji will be placed in a position to try to undo the harm he inadvertently helped create. Luckily he could be in no greater place to do so as out of all the families in Japan-if not the world- the Jinnouchi family may be uniquely suited be able to provide the assistance he needs from material to the strongest fighter known in OZ- King Kazma. Even with all these assets it still may take a family tradition of the Jinnouchi family to prevent disaster-but does a family member have a role in the creation of the disaster in the first place?

Summer Wars is a spectacular achievement on a number of levels. The animation is stunning and a ton of work clearly went into making sure that all aspects of the audio from effect to music to voices are held to a similar standard. The film is far from just visual or audio however as the story is one that reaches into the heart of what it means to be family both for those born into it and those who may be lucky enough to be invited in as well as how that dynamic expands out into the communities that people form as a whole. Early in the film the word “Communication” is stressed and it is a central theme to this feature as characters bounce of each other and events as they try to convey their feelings and emotions across to someone else. From that standpoint there is a lot to love.

It isn’t all praise however as the films ambitious scope actually works against it in some ways as a number of characters are not given much chance to expand and events are hurtled so fast that the time to pause and asses the depth of events just isn’t present. It is sad that the 2 hour (almost) runtime doesn’t allow for enough room for this as some of the impressive virtual battles while spectacular take away from time that the characters could have. The blending together of all the different ideas feels like a work where some parts just had to be left on the cutting table and while they may not be missed as much during an initial watching with some time spent thinking about it or a re-watching the absence is felt keenly.

In Summary:
Summer Wars is a feature that brings a lot to the table in terms of relationships with an eclectic cast and the comedy and drama that such a situation carries with it. It also brings a very high production value and a mix of action worked in with its not so subtle social and technological commentary that there is something here for a broad spectrum of people to enjoy that extends beyond just the usual anime fandom circle. It isn’t a perfect feature but sometimes minor imperfections are what show off the real heart behind a particular work and its humanity. Highly Recommended.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interview with Ryunosuke Kamiki (Kenji Koiso), Interview with Nanami Sakuraba (Natsuki Shinohara), Interview with Mitsuki Tanimura (Kazuma Ikezawa), Interview with Ayumi Saito (Wabisuke Jinnouchi), Interview with Sumiko Fuji (Sakae Jinnouchi), Interview with Mamoru Hosoda (Director), Teaser Trailers, Teaser TV Spot, Original Trailer, TV Spots.

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-

Released By: FUNimation
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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