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Summer Wars Blu-ray Review

10 min read

A trip with a fellow student lands Kenji in a world of trouble when he’s blamed for destroying the virtual world of Oz.

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 fiance 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 virtual word of OZ to destroy the real world, literarily. As Armageddon looms on the horizon, Kenji and his new “family” set aside their differences and band together to save the worlds they inhabit.

The audio presentation for this release has the English and Japanese languages in 5.1 using Dobly TrueHD that moves easily across the bitrate range, with quiet lows below 1mbps to some really striking moments in the 3mbps range. The feature has a good soundtrack to it overall with lots of moments where the rear channels are utilized, but it primarily comes across as a forward soundstage piece. The rears are used in some of the bigger sequences, such as the ending match against the Love Machine, but for the bulk of the dialogue and a lot of the music, it’s all along the front and it gets a good sense of placement and depth to it where appropriate. There are more characters talking at the same time in this kind of feature and that has a much more natural feel to it here that lets it work well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally in theaters in 2009, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 108p using the AVC codec. The feature is an high definition natuve piece and it’s really a great looking film with a lot of detail to be had with its backgrounds. The film hits some high points with the bit rate when the action is really busy, such as the final fight sequence with the Love Machine and the look of it all is really great. The clarity of colors is very strong here, especially in Oz with all the white backgrounds and the various colors that are brought into it, but it captures things well in the real world too with a softer palette but a different kind of richness to the backgrounds. We had run into some limitations of encoding with the DVD release in some of the big action sequences with all the CG items moving around and it’s essentially a non-issue here. There’s a lot to like with this transfer as it brings out the wonderful quality of the work that was put into the film.

Summer Wars gets a good package here with its single sized Blu-ray keepcase that has a slipcover on it that thankfully avoids replicating the keepcase artwork, thereby giving you a reason to actually want to keep the slipcover. The slipcover is a light and airy piece that features a look inside Oz with the main cast of characters all standing around in front of the central image for it. Using their avatars for the look here works really nicely when taken in conjunction with the keepcase cover itself which uses the main cast as they exist in the real world as they stand out in the summer countryside with the appealing landscape around them that feels alive. Both of the fronts are laid out the same with accolades at the top and the logo along the bottom which is kept simple but effective. The back covers follow a similar approach but flips it so that slipcover has the real world image and the keepcase uses the avatar versions from the front covers through a strip. The summary is pretty good overall on both and there’s a strong listing of the films pedigree with its creative side. Add in a strip along the bottom with more shots from the show, a listing of what each disc contains and then finishing it out with production credits and a technical grid and you get a solid release overall. There is artwork on the reverse side of the cover with a two panel piece that shows the main cast as seen towards the end of the film with the boat in the background.

I had rather disliked the DVD menus for being so bland and plain with its static image, so I have to be a bit happier that the menu here is a bit more involved, but not by much. The majority of the screen is given over to the clips that are running throughout it with some upbeat music that sets the tone nicely for when there are action scenes. It’s definitely a good looking menu as it uses some choice pieces of animation for it. The bottom has the navigation menu, which also doubles as the pop-up menu. The navigation menu for the release is pretty basic though with just the strip along the bottom being used with its bright white background. The text is easy to read but it uses the strange combination of purple for the color and a bright blue for whatever item is being highlighted at the time.

The extras for this release are pretty good if you want to get into the behind the scenes material with the people involved. The extras here are largely filled with interview segments for the main people involve, such as Natsuki, Kenji, Kazuma, Wabisuke, Sakae and the films director Mamoru Hosada. They all run different lengths, with Natsuki’s running only two minutes for example while Kenji’s runs for six, and they have them talking about their roles and how they feel about the film. There’s some time spent, such as with Sakae’s voice actress who is truly impressive, showing them performing in front of the microphone that’s a lot of fun to watch. The longest of them all is the one with the director that runs for about fourteen minutes and talks about things in a larger context. In addition to these, we get the various trailers and TV spots for the feature that were used to build awareness prior to its release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Summer Wars is the latest release to arrive from the mind of Mamoru Hosada, who we last saw going through the film circuit with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Similar to that film, Hosada has a piece that manages to blend serious and silly rather well as we’re introduced to quite the expansive cast of characters and an interesting world with the virtual and how it connects to the real world. If anything, that’s the weak link in things as it shows a variant of the internet itself but it feels like one that’s severely out of touch with what it would be really like based on what’s happened here. Still, taking that out of the picture, Summer Wars presents a very connected world that’s more visual in its design and interaction.

The film introduces us to a couple of high school kids where one of them, Kenji, finds himself chosen by the attractive Natsuki to go with her for a summer job off to the countryside. What he isn’t aware of though is that the job is going to be meeting with her entire extended family that’s there to celebrate her grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. And that she’s going to introduce Kenji as her fiancee, as she promised her that she’d do that before she dies and there’s a good chance it could happen soon. It’s something that Kenji doesn’t even realize until the introductions begin with her and he finds out that’s what she has in store for him. It’s all just a short term thing that she hopes to get past in order to make her grandmother happy.

Kenji’s a good guy though, very nice and surprisingly smart as he was almost in the Math Olypmics as the Japanese representative. Since then he’s just been continuing on with school and working as a small time maintenance person for Oz. Oz itself is of significant focus throughout this as it opens with an introduction of how connected the world is with it as it has some one billion users that do everything with it, from towns and companies setting up shop in it to general commerce, work and other activities. Unlike the Internet as we know it, it’s done through a lot of avatars that are custom design and generally kind of silly. It’s described as an almost magical world where everything is possible and it’s a very friendly and inviting place.

Where things go wrong is when a program called Love Machine gets introduced into it and it begins stealing peoples accounts as that was its original programming of sorts. It can’t do anything in Oz though because of the high security and encryptions that it has. At least until the program sends out the code itself to select individuals worldwide to see who can crack it. It’s a great scene watching Kenji working on it throughout the night and then sending the answer off only to discover that he may have unlocked Oz for complete ravishment. The avatar for the Love Machine is one that takes over his avatar at first before it begins to acquire others and as it does so, it closes off key functions of those who had the accounts prior, which in turn causes quite a lot of commotion and stoppages. When you control transit, water and more, you realize just how much power someone can steal and utilize.

While we see the worldwide issue play out, with Kenji being labeled as a wanted criminal no less, the family drama also plays out at the large old style home that Natsuki’s grandmother lives. There’s a sizable number of people here and they all have their quirks which leads to all sorts of familiar family issues you get. The black sheep returns, Natsuki’s lie becomes revealed and all sorts of little nattering and gossiping goes on when they all gather in different configurations. It’s fun watching Kenji trying to acclimate to it all as there’s so many people there and such familiarity amongst them all. Their view of him changes often through it as events progress and the larger storyline unfolds with what the Love Machine is up to and what Kenji’s role in it will be. That also lets our view of the family change as well as we see the dynamic grow and reveal itself in a very fun and interesting way.

Summer Wars has a very good look about it, though I find the Oz material to be a little too safe and friendly. The character designs are solid with a lot of variety to them which is important considering the size of the cast and the settings for the real world segments is pretty strong. The home in the country is very appealing with its little details and the layouts. The animation has a very smooth and fluid feel to it that flows well and has a lot of rich colors. The Oz segments are very busy, too busy at times, and it uses the CG aspect really well to give it a very active and alive feeling. It doesn’t do anything that’s truly unique, but it takes the familiar and gives it a new life that has a solid and consistent feel to it.

In Summary:
Summer Wars is a vastly entertaining film that has a great sense of style about it. There’s a large scale story here about how civilization is going to take a huge hit because of accounts being stolen and how it impacts it, but largely it’s about family and discovering more about them and those that you never paid much mind to. Kenji’s story here is a lot of fun as he’s dragged into two very different story lines. He gets to stand tall in both of them and everyone views him differently as it progresses. There’s a lot to like here and it’s definitely one that has a great sense of fun about it. It does get serious at times but I found myself really liking the family here, though I’d only spend a weekend with them, and the world of Oz is certainly interesting. Summer Wars proved to be a very entertaining and fun evening viewing that’s definitely worth checking out.

Japanense Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Special Features: 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: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: February 15th, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 120
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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