UPDATED: A review for the English-friendly Taiwanese BluRay of SUMMER WARS

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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UPDATED: A review for the English-friendly Taiwanese BluRay of SUMMER WARS
(NOTE: we've been contacted by the distributor of this disc, stating that it is not their intention for this edition to be sold outside of the region of Taiwan and several surrounding Asian countries. Furthermore, the new Taiwanese prints of this title are proven not be as regionfree as the first printing was.

Therefore we can no longer state that the Taiwanese edition is an easily available early substitute for other English-friendly releases. Besides, English-friendly local editions have now been released which include an English dub which is NOT on the Taiwanese disc, and English subtitles on the extras which are also NOT on the Taiwanese disc.)

For those willing to shell out quite a bit more money than on average, a legal High-Def version of this excellent film WITH English subtitles can be obtained courtesy of Taiwan.

But how is the disc quality-wise?
And why did I call this anime "excellent" just now?
Read on...

Summer-Wars-add.jpgThe Story:

High-school student Kenji thinks he's lucky when Natsuki, the most popular girl in school, asks him to help her with a job for a few days during the summer vacation. The "job" in question concerns preparing the ninetieth birthday of her great-grandmother. How difficult can that be, even for a math nerd with low confidence?

But upon arrival at the family's estate, Kenji gets a few nasty surprises.
First, the family is HUGE, a fiercely hierarchical clan with a bloodline (proudly) traced back centuries.
Second: Kenji is to act as Natsuki's educated and rich fiancée for the duration of the festivities.
Third: less than a day after arriving, Kenji's cover is blown when the authorities are looking for him as the person responsible for hacking the world's largest social Internet-network.

Kenji has to prove his innocence by fighting a dangerous Internet-adversary. And with Natsuki's clan suspiciously examining this stranger in their midst, he gets hindrances but also help...LOTS of it.


The Movie:

Mamoru Hosoda took everyone by surprise in 2006 with "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time". At the time he was primarily known for creating part of "Digimon: The Movie", a "One-Piece" film and leaving Studio Ghibli because of creative differences with Hayao Miyazaki over "Howl's Moving Castle", which he was slated to direct.
But "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" turned out to be a huge hit both with critics and with the public. It basically made everyone sit up and think "Who IS this guy?".
So his next movie was eagerly awaited, if only to answer the question whether Hosoda was a real talent to be reckoned with or just had been very lucky with his previous movie. Well, in short: "Summer Wars" proves that Hosoda is a major talent, one of the brightest stars of Japanese animation today in fact.

On the surface this film is a business-as-usual nerd-saves-world-and-gets-girl-film, and I've heard some people describe it as "Meh" (you know who you are...). But scratch a bit deeper and you see an intelligent comment on human relations and networking in general. It amuses me to see reviewers describe this film as "warning people of the dangers of the Internet while showing the value of having a family". It's true, but the opposite case is also true: any reviewer stating that "Summer Wars" warns people against the dangers of large hierarchical families while showing the benefits of having an Internet at hand will ALSO be right.

In fact, the film makes a definite case that any network is a valuable one, no matter if it's family, friends, colleagues or a slew of faceless people on the other side of the world contacted through your computer. "Summer Wars" bluntly refuses to take a side in the argument of new networks versus old ones. The dangers, limitations and benefits of both are extensively shown, and on top of that the statement is made that the benefits of any network outweigh its dangers. As long as a combining of individual talents is made possible, there is a chance for advancement that would never be reached by an individual working alone.

For showing this, Hosoda uses exaggerated versions of both juxtaposed networks: the family and the Internet. Natsuki's clan is a widespread network in itself, capable of calling in huge resources when necessary yet as prone to shutdowns as any IT-infrastructure. The Internet is shown through a universal graphical user-interface called "Oz" which anyone in the world can access using a computer, PSP, DS, mobile, cable television, you name it. If it has a screen you can enter "Oz" with it.

How these two sprawling environments are bounced against each other forms the core of the movie, so much so in fact that the "romantic comedy" between Kenji and Natsuki is firmly shoved into the background. To keep the film contained to these two networks some huge coincidences have been worked into the script but I didn't mind them so much, as Hosoda is pretty honest about the artifice. It helps that "Summer Wars" is high-paced with especially the second half (with a typically Asian multi-tiered endfight) just whooshing by.

Animation-wise the movie is also split between the two networks. The family part uses the same breezy approach as "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time", where the animation aims for showing characterization while the backgrounds are lovingly painted Ghibli-style.
But the "Oz" environment is done as 3D-cgi and it's gorgeous. Even though it looks believable as a user-interface Mamoru Hosoda pulls out all the stops for the action when the shit hits the fan, not hesitating to throw in literally epic millions of details. And he also does the impossible by introducing a rabbit cooler than Bugs Bunny: the competitive Internet fighter King Kazma, whose fights have been so lovingly choreographed that these can compete with most of the best live-action action scenes I've seen this year.

"Summer Wars" turns out to be a total love-letter to nearly all themes covered by Information Management, the very subject I chose to graduate from college with. I've spent a significant part of my working life explaining to managers that a good secretary with a Filofax can be a more awesome information system than a mainframe, and a significant part of my non-working life explaining to non-managers that competitive computergaming need not be a bad thing. This movie just clicked for me in soo many ways...


Conclusion:

Mamoru Hosoda's newest is a very strong anime and rightful winner of many prizes including the audience award for best animated feature in Fantasia.
The whole film combines into a collection of things I liked, only executed better than I hoped. When I wasn't nodding in agreement to the screen I was watching it intently with sweaty palms.

For me, "Summer Wars" has turned out to be the movie-of-the-year so far, a shared first place with Matsumoto's "Symbol" (and where is THAT BluRay, huh?).
Very highly recommended!


On to the BluRay:

When I saw this in a cinema at the Imagine 2010 Festival in Amsterdam I just knew I had to get me a high-def version of this film. While DVD would have sufficed for the real-world animation (as my current Studio Ghibli collection will attest), the shenanigans in the "Oz" environment were going to need the maximum amount of available pixels. And the good news is: the Taiwanese disc delivers the goods both in the audio and video department. The image is strongly colorful and sharp enough to even read the tiny, tiny English opening credits underneath the big Japanese ones. A selection of Japanese soundtracks can be found including a big fat lossless one. The English subtitles are good, but there is no English dub (people wanting one will need to wait till February...).

And that covers the main movie, which frankly is the big draw here. There is a separate DVD with extras included, showing the film as storyboards, a slew of cinema and television trailers (a dozen in all), some shots of premiere events and short interviews with Hosoda and the major voice-actors. Unfortunately, all of these extras are only subtitled in Chinese.

Packaging is a simple Bluray-case housing both discs and a film cell, and there is an attractive stylishly embossed slipcase showing Kenji on one side and Natsuki on the other. Disconcertingly, the BluRay disc is thin enough to be very translucent but I haven't encountered any problems playing it yet.

Quick buyers were enticed with a goody-bag containing marketing materials like an "Oz" Mouse-mat, but I wasn't quick enough so be warned: many vendors don't ship the goody-bag anymore.

Bottom-line: this is a very acceptable copy of the Japanese edition which had an equally high quality transfer, only this one actually has English subs on the main film. Those that want to dive deep into extras or need a dub, wait a few months: your time will come...

And now I'm going to rewatch a King Kazma fight. Go King Kazma!

Summer Wars

Director(s)
  • Mamoru Hosoda
Writer(s)
  • Mamoru Hosoda (story)
  • Satoko Okudera (screenplay)
  • John Burgmeier (head writer)
  • Patrick Seitz (script writer)
Cast
  • Ryûnosuke Kamiki
  • Nanami Sakuraba
  • Mitsuki Tanimura
  • Takahiro Yokokawa
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Mamoru HosodaSatoko OkuderaJohn BurgmeierPatrick SeitzRyûnosuke KamikiNanami SakurabaMitsuki TanimuraTakahiro YokokawaAnimationActionComedy

More about Summer Wars

BrettOctober 20, 2010 2:18 PM

Where did you buy it at? Also, how much did you pay if you don't mind me asking? I saw YesAsia has a Taiwan version, but it doesn't look like the one in your picture and it is a bit pricey. I was hoping buyoyo would have it, but no dice.

Ard VijnOctober 20, 2010 3:38 PM

I bought it at YesAsia. That's what the BluRay looks like when you remove the slipcase. For some reason I couldn't get our affiliate link attached properly this afternoon, but it's there now.

Although I have to confess that this sucker just went up in price. I paid something like 55 USD but I bit because I fully expected to get that goody-bag. Without it it's indeed quite expensive.

So... I don't blame anyone for waiting another few months, or waiting even a few months more until it's available for like 15 USD...


Having said that, I'm having a blast with it and will re-watch it tonight!

SjeksterOctober 20, 2010 3:49 PM

good to read it's region free. I checked asianblurayguide every now and then, but they couldn't confirm the region.

This version is a bit too pricey for my taste, so I will wait for the Dutch version to be released next month, and see how that one is.

BtoFuOctober 20, 2010 6:59 PM

Pretty typical they couldn't drop a regular DVD release alongside the bluray. Japan standard prices in Taiwan? Tsk tsk.

Agent WaxOctober 20, 2010 10:34 PM

There is a DVD release. YesAsia is very overpriced, and I don't usually shop there. I bought mine from books.com.tw for a much reasonable price. Even got the mousepad and film cell.

Agent WaxOctober 20, 2010 10:39 PM

I didn't find the goody bag to be worthwhile at all, to be honest. It's just a mousepad. US$55 is really overpriced, IMO. But so long as you enjoy it, I guess that's ok. I haven't even watched mine yet, though. It's been sitting on my shelf for almost a month now.

Ard VijnOctober 21, 2010 5:28 AM

The film cell is actually included inside the BluRay holder so it's not part of the goody-bag. The fact that I have it is proof.
And yes, there is a Taiwanese two-disc DVD release as well but I can't say anything about the quality.

As for the higher pricetag: actually I don't mind paying Japanese prices for Taiwanese versions if they are straight copies WITH English subs. I mean, I would prefer to pay Hong Kong prices but at least I appreciate having a choice. So often Japanese releases have no subs at all which leaves me fuming, having to wait for years sometimes until a decent release turns up elsewhere.

While I am indeed very content with my version (and have been for a month already, I'm a slow-ass writer at times) I do think it's overpriced, especially with other versions soon to be released. As long as there aren't any other releases available the high price is bearable (logical even maybe) but this will soon change.

But this disc was bought straight from the gut. The moment I read on AsianBlurayguide (Hi Ulric!) that the disc was regionfree I practically yelled DIBS! So when it arrived as just a regular BluRay-holder with slipcase I was like hmmm... I might have held off till the German release at the end of November, which doesn't have English subs but does include Dutch ones (which happens to be my mother language).

MangaUKOctober 26, 2010 8:24 AM

Thanks for sharing this review with everyone. It's nice to see you supporting your local anime distributor.
Like yourself, I too sincerely wish Summer Wars was already available on DVD and Blu-ray in English speaking countries like the UK. Unfortunately the earliest Manga can release Sumemr Wars is 28th March. This is because the English dubbing was delayed earlier this year.
We, as a business, can't help feeling frustrated when journalists and fans feel it is necessary to encourage people to go out and buy a pricey import from Taiwan. Parallel imports do hurt domestic distributors. Some fans think we are the enemy and have nefarious reasons for holding back release dates from Asia. However, the reasons we have delays is because A.) The Licensors and Producers usually demand that we wait up to 6 months after the Japanese home video release to put out our own domestic editions, and B.) The late supply of Japanese masters = late turn around of English dubs.
Contrary to what a hardcore of anime fans believe, an English dub is integral to a domestic English speaking territory release. The sub versus dub argument is dominated by a vocal minority. Dubs are incredibly valuable to us as a business and they protect our investment in the license. Don't punish us because we are trying to ensure the best quality release for as many fans as possible.
I'd really appreciate it if fans like yourself, who obviously care passionately about anime thought a little bit longer about the implications of your actions on these public forums.
I know the Taiwanese box set is expensive and is probably only going to apepal to the hardest or hardcore anime collectors, but I still feel the issue needs to be addressed. Thanks for hearing me out.

Ard VijnOctober 26, 2010 9:22 AM

Hi MangaUK, I heard you out and to be honest I'm a bit puzzled by your comment.

What do you expect me to do?
Cover up the fact that this edition is available?

Besides, who are you calling local? I'm Dutch. My DOMESTIC distributor will no doubt be pleased, as the German and Dutch versions (both with Dutch subs, not English ones I hasten to add) launch within a month for less than half the price of the Taiwanese edition.
Twitch is an international website, not a UK one. If you're going for semantics, it's based both in Canada and the USA. We write articles for Asian, African, European, Australian and American audiences alike.

Judging by your comment you'd think I was pointing people towards a Torrent instead of raising awareness about a film you're about to publish.

Fact is:
This edition is out now, and on sale through a direct affiliate of ours. Should we tell that BUSINESS we won't be reviewing their discs any longer because there is this country in Europe called the United Kingdom and a DOMESTIC distributor over there objects to it?

Of course not.

Ard VijnOctober 26, 2010 9:47 AM

Incidentally, me being Dutch and living in The Netherlands also means that all of the Manga UK discs I own I got through parallel importing. I hope you don't object...

MangaUKOctober 26, 2010 10:44 AM

I know it sucks being a Dutch anime fan and yes, I'm aware that often the only way to get new anime DVD and BR releases in the Netherlands is via import. Your point is valid and fair enough. Send us your contact details and we'll make sure you get to see a finished copy of the UK edition of the Sumemr Wars Blu-ray. I hope it is as good as the Taiwanese version.

Ard VijnOctober 26, 2010 11:10 AM

For the record, I'll state again that I have yet to see a bad BluRay by Manga UK, and your release of Mamoru Oshii's "Ghost i/t Shell 2.0" and "Innocence" was marvellous (people near the UK, you can get either or both nicely priced which I wholeheartedly recommend).

So I'll gladly contact you for a copy of your version of "Summer Wars". Thanks and rest assured it will get a review as well, especially the extras which I'm already looking forward to.

Rhythm-XOctober 26, 2010 11:51 AM

And to think I almost imported your INNOCENCE release back when that DVD came out because the US version was a bare-bones POS. Thank God I never got around to that.

Ard VijnOctober 26, 2010 12:02 PM

Ugh, I remember.
The Go-Fish disc was a truly classic screw-up (the US first printing had only very large yellow HoH-subs because of a misprint, which is sloppy on a disc with NO ENGLISH DUB), and they refused to replace my disc with a fixed version because I lived outside of Region 1 and was an evil parallel importer.

It wasn't totally barebones though as it DID have Oshii's commentary track and a few other bits and bobs.

Rhythm-XOctober 26, 2010 12:16 PM

When DreamWorks released their V2 disc, they fixed the subs on the feature, but at the same time they also took extra time to go in to the not-broken subtitles for the commentary and strip out the text identifying who said what - it was a two-man commentary with Oshii and animation director Toshihiko Nishikubo. It was at this point that the UK version started looking pretty good. But I never got around to it - thank God. That would have been wrong because DreamWorks is morally entitled to my money even if their product is shit. Reminds me, I need to dump my HKLs in a box, ship them back to Britain, and start grabbing Miramax DVDs.

MangaUKOctober 27, 2010 7:03 AM

HI Ard,

Following on from yesterday's posts. Apparently the Taiwanese distributor was not authorised to create Region 0 Blu-rays of Summer Wars. As I suspected. I would expect the copies now available will be recalled and destroyed by the Distributor.
Thanks for your kind words on GITS2.0, Innocence Blu-rays. You should also check out our Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Origins, Afro Samurai, Ichi, Kamui Gaiden Blu-ray releases. They are very nice.

Jerome
Manga Entertainment LTD UK

Ard VijnOctober 27, 2010 7:22 AM

Well, Manga UK might be right in their assertion that this Taiwanese BluRay was released without proper authorisation for being regionfree and/or having English subs on it, as YesAsia now shows it as "temporarily unavailable".

(If true, this means I now own a collector's item! Yee-ha!!!)

Rest assured we'll investigate and follow up on this.

Tuan JimOctober 27, 2010 8:03 AM

Anyone know if this one is english-friendly (at least on the feature)?

http://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/B0041ENVHA/ref=pe_4231_22311671_snp_dp

Looks like a really nice set (kinda like the Paprika one I got from amazon.fr) - but no reviews posted at all.

J HurtadoOctober 27, 2010 8:10 AM

Hey, I wanna see The Girl Who Leapt Through Time!

Ard VijnOctober 27, 2010 9:29 AM

If that one had English, Dutch or even German subs on it I'd be all over it like you wouldn't believe. What truly sucks about being a Dutch anime fan is being so close to France yet being so far culturally removed from it.

The French had all Studio Ghibli features released on DVD far before it became popular in English-speaking countries to do so. They often have the first non-Japanese versions of any anime. They don't censor erotic content. And French special editions are often gobsmackingly beautiful...
Unfortunately they are almost always without English subs, or even sabotaged to disallow the turning-off of French subs during an English dub.

Grrrrrr...

ikari.gendoOctober 27, 2010 10:48 AM

Hey, that release likely has German subs at least. At least judging by the german release (also Kaze):

Subtitles........: German, Polish, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch

So I'm guessing they authored the same disc for all regions.

Ard VijnOctober 27, 2010 11:11 AM

Interesting... Dutch ones even you say? I'll go check!

Ard VijnNovember 13, 2010 8:20 PM

Note that you can actually pre-order "Summer Wars" and "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" on BluRay at Amazon.co.uk, and amazingly you can buy both together as a bundled edition for less that 18 GBP.

Seeing as how this is a high-profile title, I have no doubts that Funimation, Manga UK and Madman are going to hit this one out of the ballpark quality-wise, so prices like these are a steal!

Ard VijnMarch 29, 2011 11:11 AM

OK, just for completion's sake: the French Limited Edition is gorgeous.
Far more so than the Taiwanese to be honest, just look here:

http://ee.twitchfilm.net/site/forums/viewthread/10/P510/

And while it doesn't have either an English sub or dub, it does contain French, Polish, German, Italian, Spanish and (YES!!!) Dutch subs, and dubs in Japanese, German, French, Italian and Spanish. Several languages have multiple dubs for 2.0, 5.1 and 5.1-DTS with the Japanese being DTS-HD.