The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Over the summer, high schooler math whiz Kenji Koiso plans to work part-time as a system administrator for OZ, an integrated virtual world that most of the globe uses daily. However, when his crush, Natsuki Shinohara, asks him to come to her hometown for a “job” for a few days instead, Kenji finds himself at the center of a large, eccentric family preparing for their matriarch's 90th birthday celebration. Pretending to be Natsuki's older boyfriend at her request, things get more complicated when Kenji responds to an email from OZ asking him to solve an equation—and he wakes up with his face plastered all over news media for the crime of hacking into OZ and causing real-world havoc via the virtual world. To clear his name, to stop the actual criminal, and eventually to bring a feuding family together, Kenji must work with the Shinoharas to put an end to the hacker's rampage before the real world suffers serious consequences.
Summer Wars: Complete Edition (11/6/18) is a three-volumes-in-one manga by Iqura Sugimoto based on an animated feature film with original story by Mamoru Hosoda and character designs by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. It is available from Vertical Comics in paperback for $24.95. The animated film on which is it based is available from Funimation in a Bluray, digital, and DVD combo pack for $29.99 and for digital download for $4.99-$6.99 as well as via digital streaming for Funimation Premium subscribers.
Is It Worth Reading?
Readers don't have to have viewed the Summer Wars movie to enjoy the complete story arc in this oversized volume, which adapts the story and adds small flourishes for the manga format. Kenji is an earnest and likeable protagonist who goes through character growth by volume's end, forgiving himself for making mistakes and moving forward despite his fear of failure, relying on his math skills to save the day. Natsuki also grows as a person, acknowledging that her pretenses for asking Kenji along were immature and finding her own strength to aid the family's quest to undo the damage done to the world via OZ. Otherwise, the Shinohara family is too large for most of the characters to make more than a shallow impression on the reader. However, that maybe in some sense the point. Kenji, a latchkey kid, is overwhelmed by the sheer number of Shinohara family members around him, their dynamics, their arguments, and the way they can pull together when united in a singular goal. Going in, you might expect OZ and the digital battle to take up more of the pages, but it's Kenji's real-world surroundings that drive the heart of the story, and though that may seem relatively banal compared to what OZ has to offer, it adds greater emotional depth to the story at large.
To focus more on character interaction than anything, Hosoda's art is often minimal with blank spaces and screentones behind characters. The backgrounds when they appear—usually the Shinohara family estate—are mere dressing to the character interaction. Even OZ itself doesn't impress beyond a few pages, the focus concentrated solely on the characters' avatars. The character designs based on Sadamoto's original work are simplistic but expressive, with the avatars in particular standing out because of their cartoony looks.
The appeal of Summer Wars: Complete Edition is twofold: fans of the movie can enjoy an all-in-one adaptation to add to their collection and newcomers to the story can sit down and get the complete arc from beginning to end. The visuals may be a step back from what the movie itself can offer, but the emotional core of the story is very much present on the page. This fast-paced read will draw you in from start to finish.
I've never seen Summer Wars. So full disclosure: My view of this manga adaptation is severely impacted by it being my first experience with this story. I imagine if I had seen the movie beforehand, my opinion might be a bit more lukewarm. That said, the strength of this material cannot the denied, and from the perspective of a newbie reader, I found Summer Wars immensely compelling and moving.
Summer Wars' view on family is somewhat unique. It posits that the value of family is not in being born into it by happenstance, but in the ability to care for and protect one another. This happens for people who enter into the family as much as from parents to their children. This is beautifully illustrated not just in the summer house, but also in the world of the game, where fellow family members work together to mend the mistakes of their ilk. After all, if you can't do that, are you even family to begin with?
The only real problem is one that I suspect is a fundamental issue with this script; this story is just pulled in a few too many directions. Mostly the intermingling of the family story and the sci-fi digital drama works extremely well, but the fact that the story's attention is divided between two different realms means some of the narrative balls-in-the-air get dropped. Trying to make this an ensemble about an extremely large family means only a few characters who aren't the leads get any kind of substantial page tine, and even then, the fast-pace and sharp focus on everything that's not them means their arcs get short-shrift. The character Kazma I think is supposed to have some kind of rivalry with the protagonist, but that kind of gets forgotten the moment the plot gets going. It's not bad, it just seems like a very strange choice to try to give a family this large any kind of development in a story this already stuffed.
I don't know if this adaptation has much use unless you're a Summer Wars obsessive trying to consume every version you can. But as an entry-point I found it to be fantastic. I suspect the movie is better, but the utilization of the new medium's strengths is surprisingly strong, and this is just a great story about the value of family and selflessness. Perhaps it's the best possible thing for Summer Wars that it doesn't change all that much from screen to page.
Like Mamoru Hosoda's more recent Mirai, Summer Wars is, at its core, a story about family. In this case, that's the family math whiz (though not as much of a whiz as he wishes) Kenji finds himself staying with when his crush invites him home for her grandmother's 90th birthday celebration. That Kenji can't tell that she's going to ask him to pose as her boyfriend perhaps indicates that he doesn't read much manga, because that's the most tropey aspect of this omnibus manga collection.
Fortunately, beyond that, this is a nice enough story. It does feel like it never quite lives up to its ambitions for itself, however. The grand adventure happens online, where a giant social media network has been hacked by an AI created by the heroine's favorite ne'er-do-well uncle. Ostensibly the lesson learned here is that the ties created offline are just as, if not more, important as those made online, something that Kenji and cousin Kazuma had trouble truly understanding. That's the apparent theory behind the inclusion of Granny, who when things go bad reaches out to her extensive land-line based network of acquaintances. Her ultimate end, however, doesn't quite work with that theory, nor does the fact that the assembled family must work in the virtual world to end the problem. Yes, they're stronger than if they never considered themselves family, and yes, Granny's a large part of their family identity, but something about it just doesn't quite come together.
That doesn't mean that this isn't a good read, however. The clarity of the art and the use of gray outlines for images taking place online are factors there, but the story itself is just a good old-fashioned family drama of the sort that's been selling books since the Victorians made them heartwarming. There are a few too many characters to truly get to know anyone beyond Kenji, but he's the one who most needs to learn the lessons on offer. For a kid who has found his niche online (which can also be said of Kazuma), and who has been basically abandoned by his parents, in his mind at least, getting to fully experience family life is important. That feels like the primary message the story wants to get across, and if it throws in a few extraneous bits and pieces along the way, it still works out in the end.
After Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars had its theatrical release, a manga version quickly followed after. This complete manga has been compiled and finally will be released in the United States as a complete set after individual volumes were released in 2013.
Kenji, a math prodigy, gets rejected from being the Japanese representative for the Math Olympics. Taking on the job of pretending to be his crush Natsuki's pretend boyfriend, Kenji spends four days in the countryside celebrating Natsuki's great-grandmother's birthday. On the first night, Kenji gets a mysterious email requesting that he cracks a number sequence. The next morning, Kenji is wanted for breaking into the mainframe of the virtual world, Oz. Now, Kenji must stop the AI terrorizing Oz and clear his name.
If you are familiar with the movie, very little is different in the manga. The story is 100% the same, however, the narrative surrounds Natsuki and Kenji's relationship more than the movie did, with a few extra bonus scenes were added into the manga. (These scenes were intended in the movie as well but were later cut.) Since it has been a while since I saw the original movie, I felt like I was visiting an old friend.
Though I knew the plot to Summer Wars, I still got chills at every rise and fall of the story. The translation from screen to page was masterfully done, and I enjoyed it as much as the movie. The small details, from how each family member looked different from each other, to the detail into creating each avatar, Iqura Sugimoto did an awesome job keeping the spirit of the original Summer Wars.
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