Summer Wars is an award-winning 2009 science fiction anime directed by Mamoru Hosoda. At the same time as the film’s release, a serialized version of Summer Wars came out in the manga magazine, Young Ace. Now, Vertical has released an English translation of the manga compilation, and you can read on for the review of Volume 1.
Back Cover Blurb
Kenji Koiso is a high school student with a crush on a kendo club beauty, Natsuki Shinohara, and a knack for mathematics. His aptitude with numbers earns him a part-time working maintenance on the global virtual reality world, OZ.
One day, right before summer vacation, Natsuki asks Kenji to do her a favor -accompany her to her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration deep in the Japanese countryside. As Kenji tries to find his footing amongst the boisterous and tightly-knit Jinnouchi clan, receives a mysterious email with a long code and the message: “Solve me.” Little does Kenji know what solving that code could lead to…
This manga is based off the 2009 Summer Wars animated film. Though I have yet to see the anime, I was able to follow and enjoy the manga version without any problems.
The story is a blend of cyber battle, romance, and coming of age. Seventeen-year-old Kenji Koiso, after failing to make the Math Olympics, gets an unexpected chance to accompany his secret crush, Natsuki Shinohara, to her great-grandmother’s ninetieth birthday celebration in the country. But when he receives a mysterious email with a long code attached, he finds himself plunged into an international crisis involving the world’s largest social media site and members of Natsuki’s family.
According to the anime director Mamoru Hosoda, the manga adaption includes scenes and footage that were cut from the film due to time constraints. He also states that the manga, in contrast to the film, focuses more on Kenji and Natsuki’s relationship, and indeed, it’s the relationships that drive the manga. While OZ, a combination of souped-up Facebook and MMORPG, is interesting with its Pokémon-like avatars, it’s really the character interactions that draw you in. Granted, the premise for Kenji being with Natsuki is utterly contrived shonen fantasy, but once you make that leap, Kenji’s awkwardness among the Jinnouchi clan and the family drama that erupts are completely absorbing.
Sugimoto-sensei does an excellent job of portraying Natsuki’s relatives, from the bratty younger cousins to the boisterous great uncles to the bossy eldest aunt. I came from a large extended family, and the complex family dynamics along with Kenji’s bewildered efforts to keep track of everyone hits very close to home. That, however, is one difficulty with reading this manga. With so many Jinnouchi folk, it’s difficult to keep track of them. When Natsuki introduces them to Kenji, she uses a handwritten family tree, and I had to keep flipping back to that page as I read.
The pacing is excellent. Sugimoto-sensei keeps up a nice stream of new challenges, characters, and bits of information to keep readers hooked throughout the chapters. There are times, though, that character reactions are a bit extreme. Unlike Sword Art Online, OZ is not an immersive environment but experienced through a keyboard and screen. So when Love Machine goes on his rampage, no one’s physically affected, but the way Kenji and his friends react, people might as well have been actually “eaten.”
We also get engaging character development with Natsuki and Kenji. Although Kenji does have actual talent in math, he has no confidence and starts off as your run-of-the-mill introvert geek. Meanwhile, Natsuki’s the super-popular, confident, athletic and beautiful upperclassman. As the story progresses, Natsuki’s issues come to light, and we get to see Kenji man up to support her in her weak moments.
Regarding the artwork, real-world events are drawn using a sketch-type style while the illustrations for the happenings within OZ are very clean and look digitally rendered.
Extras include the first page, title spread, and table of contents printed in color, four pages of Chapter 5 printed in color, special messages from both the Summer Wars director and character designer, and a Summer Wars Character Rough Sketch Collection. Its $14.95 retail price makes it more expensive than most manga, but the extras, slightly larger pages, and length (280+ pages) justify the additional cost.
Although some of the opening plot details are weak, Summer Wars delivers a captivating story. The online crisis of OZ lends it a sci-fi flavor, but it’s ultimately a tale of family bonds and the struggle to belong. Its engaging artwork and well-paced plot makes for a fun read, and I’m looking forward to the next volume.
First published at the Fandom Post.