Before I proceed with this review–and I hope it won’t be too long–I’d just like the readers to keep in mind that my Japanese comprehension is still pretty bad, and I had to pee like crazy half-way through the film which resulted in me paying more attention to finding a good moment to slip out than actually watching the movie proper. Anyways.
I hadn’t actually heard of Summer Wars until I landed in Japan–I guess it didn’t really get much press or something, because the first time I saw anything about it was on Moetron’s season listing some months back. I was immediately taken by the Sadamoto character designs, as well news that it’d be made by the same team that brought us Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. As time went on, I noticed that the film would be using some really Murakami Takashi-esque imagery throughout, which kind of put me off, but didn’t make me hate it on sight. Upon seeing the film now, the Murakami imagery wasn’t a problem at all… but other things did hold it back from being awesome.
The thing that hurts this movie the most is the fact that Tokikake’s boots are kind of difficult to fill. Tokikake is an extremely emotionally charged film, and I don’t think Summer Wars really lives up to that. Not that it really tries to, but what it aims at just doesn’t seem to be what you should be aiming for if you’re the guys who made Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. It does aim high, and I think they hit their mark, but it seems they kind of missed what made Tokikake such a charming film.
To put it simply, the movie is far too plot centric. You can read all about that here. Where Tokikake put character interactions and the like first, Summer Wars sets up its plot as the most important part. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, but when your plot is “country hicks have to defeat the rogue AI before it takes over the internet” it does leave something to be desired. And it’s not as if these characters are bad–they’re all spunky, energetic, eccentric and fun in their own ways, but there’s just too many of them! Running at nearly two hours long, the movie still doesn’t have enough time to expand upon its cast to the point that we can really care about them. Heck, I can only remember three of character’s names. But it’s not a bad movie. It’s a fine race-against-the-clock, sci-fi sort of thing, but when you take into consideration the kinds of heights that Tokikake leapt for (pun intended), it leaves one with a profound feeling of “that’s it?”
The movie looks fine. The animation is nice, fluid, and has lots of life. The main thing that bothered me, though, was that the characters didn’t seem as solidly rendered as the characters in Tokikake. They seemed to take on more blob-like existences when we got into medium shots, and faces became less-detailed than I would have cared for. The Murakami-influenced stuff is decent. I liked it better than I thought I would, but it still stinks of Murakami. Once again, it’s not bad, it just doesn’t seem to live up its predecessor.
In the end, even though I did go in with slightly low expectations, the fact that Summer Wars met them was kind of disheartening. It isn’t a bad movie. It’s a fine movie. It’s just not as good as the other one those guys made.