Screen & Page: An Actual War On Social Media In ‘Summer Wars’
Most anime is adapted from manga, often produced by the manga publisher to raise awareness and selling it overseas. But what about the anime shows or film that go the other way, adapted from the screen to the page? How do those works hold up, and what changes or stays the same? That's what Screen & Page aims to explore.
This week, we're looking at Mamoru Hosoda's 2009 science fiction film Summer Wars, and the Iqura Sugimoto manga that followed it!
Summer Wars, directed by Hosoda, written by Satoko Okudera, and animated by the legendary Madhouse, follows the luckless Kenji Koiso, high school student, first runner-up in Japan's Math Olympics, and part-time code monkey in the virtual world OZ.
Enlisted to do a part-time job by his upperclassman crush Natsuki, Kenji accompanies her to Ueda and the giant family reunion to celebrate her great-grandma's 90th birthday. Said job turns out to be posing as Natsuki's fiance. To make things crazier, Kenji winds up accidentally allowing a malevolent AI, Love Machine, access to OZ's inner workings. Considering OZ is so omnipresent that it runs the globe, this is very, very bad.
If "evil AI runs amuck thanks to hapless kid" reminds you of a certain world where digital monsters are the champions, well, there's a reason for that. Like a lot of anime filmmakers, Hosoda did a lot of work-for-hire at the start of his career, including directing two short films that make up the bulk of what's known in the West as Digimon: The Movie.
That experience is obviously called upon here, though with the benefit of much better CGI technology. Until very recently, CGI and 2-D animation were an awkward, clunky mix, but Summer Wars is living proof that the two can exist side by side. While the real world segments are animated with crisp style, the bits in OZ blend incredibly well-made CGI and 2-D figures that add up to an aesthetic that's part Nintendo, part Takeshi Murakami. It's an eye-popping mix that boggles the mind to look at it, and the visuals look equally spectacular on Blu-Ray.
While the plot is fairly predictable, Okudera's screenplay is still incredibly well-structured. It sweeps you along effortlessly and manages to make you feel for everyone in its large cast. And I do mean large; there are about eighty characters in this --- most of them Natsuki's extended family --- and while I still don't know who all of them are after watching this movie over 10 times, they all have fun, stand out moments and mesh well together to create a great ensemble. There's also some pretty sharp insights on the importance of connectivity, no matter what way you do it, whether it's through the internet or calling people up on a rotary phone (ask your parents, kids).
In the end, this is the best kind of blockbuster filmmaking. With a fine cast of characters, spectacular effects, a nail-biting plot, and inventive, dazzling direction, it's a great movie to put on for friends and a fun way to show people what anime is capable of.
Like many tie-in materials, Summer Wars was serialized to promote the original work at the time of its release. But while Funimation scooped up the film and released it relatively quickly in 2010, it took until 2013 before Iqura Sugimoto's manga made it Stateside in two volumes courtesy of Vertical Inc.
Delayed publication aside, the manga holds up very much on its own. Even if you're not familiar with the film and just come across these books in a store or at a library, they tell the same story just as well as the movie.
Working off of an early draft of the script and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's original character designs, Sugimoto sticks remarkably close to the finished film and its visuals, even managing to replicate OZ faithfully in her pages.
But Sugimoto also takes care to add little flourishes that make this manga all her own. For instance, she adds a prologue and epilogue that give a better sense of who Kenji and Natsuki are outside of their relationship to one another, and compresses some storytelling beats for expediency's sake.
But most crucially, she gives Kenji and Natsuki internal monologues. While doing that on screen would mean distracting voiceover, here, it works perfectly in concert with the visuals. We get a better sense of how these two kids feel about both the madness around them and one another.
That Sugimoto does all that while sticking to the story's tight structure is an impressive achievement. Equally impressive is how her artwork has all the flourishes and thrills of the film but still works very well on the comics page. While I think she must have used pre-built assets for stuff like the digital avatars and the more in-depth backgrounds of OZ, I really don't know. If she didn't, that makes her already stellar draftsmanship all the more remarkable.
Now, obviously some things are lost in transposition. For example, a great comedy bit where two of Natsuki's relatives yell at Kenji after finding out about his invented backstory is stellar on screen but not so much on the page. Why? Well, it's because there's no camera sweeping back and forth between the two. Small detail but it makes all the difference.
But this is an excellent manga in its own right, and a damn good adaptation of an already good movie. Summer Wars the manga is more than just retelling you the story you already like; it's about showing you how a new medium can tell you that story in a different way, and make you appreciate it even more.
Summer Wars is widely available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digitally. The Summer Wars manga is available in print from retailers and your local library.