DM Haight

To start off, the best way to tackle a problem is to admit you have a problem. This is a safe place, so admit it–you like anime. It’s okay, we like it too. If you ever sat down and enjoyed an animated film that wasn’t made by Disney, then you are definitely in good company here. Anime isn’t something to be ashamed about. It’s often a visually striking style, doing some outstanding work by combining computer animation with traditional animation. They usually work within areas and worlds that we just couldn’t achieve without mountains of cash for traditional live-action. I mean, who in the world wants to create a different universe and spend the cash to make that universe immersive? Who wants to create alien races who yell a lot and have gold hair? Who wants to create cyborgs who hunt ghostly beings? Why would you want to spend the cash to create these characters in real life, when you could easily animate them for a fraction of the cost. Anime is not only an economical medium for a weaker film industry, mainly in Japan, but it is also a way to experiment with narratives and concepts that would otherwise be cost prohibitive in heavy duty cash cows, simply because it’s a risk that may not be worth taking for a producer.

It’s a special genre that utilizes science fiction, horror, drama, romance, comedy, and any other genre, and does so with a certain touch of abstraction that can carry with it a very interesting take that otherwise would have been impossible to achieve. Would you have The Matrix without Ghost in the Shell? No, because the Wachowski brothers will be the first to admit that Ghost in the Shell was the inspiration for their scifi flick about the life that can take root in computer systems. Do you think Inception was original? Or was it Paprika that made Nolan’s dreamscape thriller a success? Anime is the life force of modern blockbusters, and Hollywood isn’t afraid to admit it. Hell, the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and his production company Studio Ghibli have revolutionized the face of anime, bringing it down from the ultra-violent to loveable and sentimental. But both continue to persist. Even now we can watch shows like Durarara! or Dragonball Z, and even shows like Future Diaries, where narrative and style are achieved through determined minds looking to be different. So for the first installment of “Anime Anonymous”, let’s look at a film that incorporates all those elements–Summer Wars.

It’s about the internet, or what the internet becomes in the very near future. Kenji is a mathematical genius who happens to choke when the spotlight is put on him. He’s an admin for OZ, the virtual world where business is transacted, games are played, and people meet in cyberspace. It’s summer, and he and his friend are just working away, talking about what they should do over their break. That’s when Natsuki comes in. She’s a pretty girl, but she’s in a pickle. She needs a fake boyfriend for a few days to impress her family at her great grandmother, Sakae’s, 90th birthday party. What makes this more distinct from other films with similar plots is that Natsuki’s great grandmother is tough as nails, and isn’t afraid to throw her political weight around. But somehow Kenji manages to win her over. She can see a great deal of strength in him, even though he can’t see it in himself. She can see that Kenji likes Natsuki, and that there might be something on Natsuki’s end as well, but that all changes when Wabisuke, the adopted son of Sakae. He’s handsome, sarcastic, and incredibly smart. When OZ is taken over by Love Machine, we find out that it’s no mistake that the A.I. was unleashed when and where it was.

Next to the engrossing narrative, the animation style comes in at a close second as most interesting aspect. It’s wildly colorful, deep in colors, and clean. It presents the contrast between the ultra clean world of OZ and the natural elements of the real world. We go from the command station, using avatars as our means of connecting to the main characters, all the way to the countryside of Japan, where the trees are dense and the clouds are puffy and tall, and the sky and mountains kiss sweetly. It’s two measures of serene that we don’t often see compared in such unbiased lights. We see food in copious amounts, and we wonder just how great it must be to sit back and enjoy a huge home with tons of family. And these feelings are delivered through imagery. It shows us just how incredible animation can be, especially traditional animation. To convey a feeling, a sentiment through simple drawings is a remarkable talent, and one we usually neglect. Summer Wars blends  traditional animation with computer animation, creating this unusual effect where we get organic shapes and bodies, giving strength to the natural world, mixed with the geometric and vector based art in OZ, developing this fantastic dynamic where we see both worlds juxtaposed. Through this method we receive a new look for animation, one that is impossible to achieve without the use of traditional animation. It’s an old technology complimenting a new one, or vice versa.

And this is actually a question the film poses to the audience. It’s about old and new technologies, and how reliant we seem to be on new ones. But if Summer Wars tells us anything, it’s that we should never rely too heavily on one technology. It’s dangerous, and can ultimately cost lives, careers, and relationships. But it can also make lives, careers, and relationships as well. It’s a commentary on our society, and even a reflection on the current state of animation. Too often we rely on our computer animators, and we forget the feel of our hand drawn friends, the ones we grew up with, the ones we identified with early on. Summer Wars reminds us that technology is only as good as we allow it to be, and through its combinations of narrative and style, we have a film that those of “Anime Anonymous” can be proud to talk about in civilized conversation.

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