You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2010.

ACCESS – “Hitomi no Tsubasa”
The opening credits theme for the final two episodes of Code Geass (first season), this song somehow seems to be forgotten by many fans of the series but completely floored me the first time I heard it. Pretty much everything that I love about J-pop in one song. Heroic guitars like these don’t get paired with beats like this one often enough. The song doesn’t really take off until the chorus, though, where male-female (?) vocals take off and push it to ecstatic heights. There’s a HI-NRG trance keyboard solo in the bridge, which I normally find corny and stupid, but every time I hear it here, it seems like nothing else in the world could take its place. All this plays over a bubbling acid baseline that gives the song a depth that’s so often missing from tunes like this. Absolutely massive. None of the Youtube versions really do it justice, so grab a good-quality, full-length mp3 of it if you can.

Kouji Wada – “Butter-Fly”
“Heroic guitars,” huh. Well, this is what I’m talking about. So much positive energy in this song, which never really lets up and sets the stage for this series so much better than the embarrassingly lame English dub theme. Killer riffs, unforgettable melody, this song has got to be a classic by now, right? It’s been almost a decade since I first heard this and I still can’t fade it.

ROUND TABLE feat. Nino – “Let Me Be With You”
I bought a used Chobits DVD many years ago, enjoyed the series, but perhaps not enough to track down any more of it. I was really struck by the opening theme, though. Maybe I’d never heard vocal effects like these before, at least not in a pop song like this one, but it was one of those instances where I was really struck by the sheer “foreign-ness” of the music. No, this was not something that anyone would even think of recording in America. Could we imagine songs like this if we even wanted to? Today, I’m not sure if this really stands out as particularly “weird” or even unique anymore; either our cultural exchange is on the rise or I’ve just heard a lot more music since then. But I still hold a special place in my heart for this song.

Akino Arai – “Kirei na Kanjo”
Ending theme to the 2001 series Noir, a very mellow and chilled out coda to each episode, which helped cast a sweet but dark aura of cool over the show. I love all the space in this song, but the borderline trip-hop feel it takes on at the halfway point of the abridged Noir version is really cool. There’s a feeling in this song that I rarely experience from western pop music, or rather, one that I have to reach back to another era to even find a comparison to. (Um… Sarah McLachlan? Before “Adia” became an overplayed hit for grocery stores, I mean.)

Asian Kung-Fu Generation – Rewrite
Pretty much every song I’ve heard from Asian Kung-Fu Generation has been good or even great. They first caught my attention with their song “Haruka Kanata,” which was used in one of the earliest opening sequences for Naruto, but their appearance in the opening credits of Fullmetal Alchemist could be their finest moment, IMHO.

Supercell – “Utakata Hanabi”
I know this sounds just like Celine Dion singing “The Power of Love” but I still like it. I guess I just enjoy listening to vocals in Japanese (in the same way that I don’t enjoy, say, the sound of Italian), so unlike a lot of sentimental ballads that sound like this one, I’m more willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Probably doesn’t hurt that its accompanying ending credits animation is so nicely done, either. I don’t have time to revisit every Naruto theme right now, but I can say that this is one of the most enjoyable ones for me.

Yoko Takahashi – “Zankoku na Tenshi no Te-ze (Thesis of a Cruel Angel)”
Would I love this song so much if it didn’t soundtrack my favorite series of all time? Or if it was forever paired in my mind with Evangelion‘s fantastic opening credit collage? So inseparable at this point, it’s probably impossible to tell just what it is that I’m responding to when I hear it. Do I like the song, or does it just conjure up my favorite images from the show? I guess this question could be posed to any fan re: their favorite anime themes. Are they good songs, or simply effective in channeling the “spirit” of the series? I’m sure this has extensively been covered elsewhere, though.

Megumi Hayashibara – “Give a Reason”
Wow, this takes me back. The funny thing is, I didn’t hear this song until sometime around 2003 or 2004, and I didn’t see any season of Slayers until about three or four years ago, so there’s no first-hand nostalgia at work here. But there’s something about “Give a Reason” (and a lot of Megumi Hayashibara’s other songs from the same era) that simply “work” on me, reminding me of a simpler and more innocent time — okay, does anyone reading this not want to go back to the 90’s? — that predate both our real-life global problems (terrorism, unemployment, the death of futurism in our post-millennial world) as well as the cynical sense of entitlement that’s set in on anime fandom. In short, when I hear this song, it reminds me of when the future (as represented by music so “new” and exotic-sounding) seemed boundless and full of potential. And hey, I guess that’s a good theme to shoot for when you’re writing a song to help set the mood for a “quest” story like Slayers. In my (still-limited) experience, nothing tops this when I’m looking for HI-NRG j-pop bliss.

Sarasa Ifu – Curriculum
I’ve yet to see Moyashimon — Funimation seems to have licensed the live action version, but not the animated version with this particular opening — but I adore this opening. One of the happiest things I’ve ever watched, and a pretty great song in its own right, too.


I was taking a break from Christmas shopping and browsing the anime section. You walked past with some girl and commented “Oh, here’s the ‘no taste’ section.” Less than a minute later you started talking to her about video games and Internet memes.

Pretty sure I’ll always have better taste than you (whatever you think that means) and that there’s nothing you’ll ever be able to do about it. But keep acting like a smug dick and dressing like Kevin Smith if it makes you feel better.

Inio Asano
Weekly Young Sunday 2005-2006
Viz 2008

I’ve found the phrase “slice of life” creeping into my entries here a little more often than I’d like. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I just feel like relying on it so much kind of suggests that stories about everyday people and their everyday lives are somehow a strange kind of niche, one that readers may need to be “warned” about in advance or something. I’ve always enjoyed comics that tell stories about average people and the trials and tribulations they face in figuring out who they are and what to do with their lives. Two of my favorite graphic novels are Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World. These books honestly and artfully deal with what it’s like to be young and struggling with real-life issues: coming to peace with yourself and trying to find one’s place in the world. Solanin tackles some of the same themes, which affect young adults just as much as adolescents, and takes its place next to those titles as one of the best illustrated books that I’ve ever read.

Meiko Inoue, the “heroine” of the story, is disillusioned with her dead-end office job, which was hardly the future she envisioned for herself after she graduated college. At 24, she wonders if she’ll ever discover a greater calling for herself than the soul-crushing world of nine-to-five work. Early in the story, she quits her job in the hope that it will force her hand and lead her to a more meaningful calling in her life. I know how she felt because, at almost the same age, I did the exact same thing. I expect that plenty of readers will relate to her situation or perhaps even be reminded of when they finally reached that breaking point themselves.

This, perhaps, isn’t the most responsible decision that Meiko makes in the story, particularly because her longtime boyfriend Taneda is only able to find part-time work as an illustrator. Taneda deals with his own professional dissatisfaction by continually pursuing his dream: to play in a successful band with his friends from college. Throughout the story, we follow not only Meiko and Taneda, but their friends and bandmates Rip and Kato. They weather trials of chronic boredom, self-doubt, indecision and impatience, both in their individual lives and in their relationships. This is the kind of stuff that may have many shonen readers crying “emo!”, but will instantly hook anyone who’s craving a thoughtful story about well-developed and empathic characters.

The art in this book is wonderful. Asano’s characters are drawn with personality and flair, and with lots of attention to their individual sense of style. Set in Tokyo, the backgrounds are richly detailed and boldly flushed out, drawing the reader into the world of the characters. Even the interiors, from Meiko’s apartment and office to the band’s practice space, are meaningfully designed and rendered, often feeling tiny and claustrophobic. This is difficult to achieve in the space of a few panels on a page, but Asano makes the characters’ spaces highly involved in the story.

As the story progresses, we learn more about Taneda and his music, which takes a more prominent role in the second half of the (rather lengthy, at 426 pages) book. Asano captures the raw energy of the band’s performance in a way that I’ve never seen in comics before. In contrast, there’s nothing glamorous about the way he shows the struggles of a young band trying to succeed and simply be heard. There are plenty of opportunities to glorify the rock and roll lifestyle in this story, but Solanin‘s portrayal of playing in a band is much more true to life than most fiction. Just convincing others that it is (or could be) more than a mere “hobby” is a hurdle that many fail to clear. Asano understands this, as well as the conflicts that young artists face in slowly growing up and facing the eternal question: how long should one continue to push on with your dreams? When is it time to give them up?

Solanin is a handsomely-bound book that you wouldn’t feel ashamed to leave on your coffee table, even in sight of your non-otaku friends. I hope that fans of thoughtful graphic novels like Blankets or Ghost World will give it a chance, as it’s not only a wonderful story, but stands to bridge the gap between manga and those kind of books, so much more commonly accepted as worthy reading for adults than ever, even here in America. And like so many graphic novels of that caliber, Solanin carries with it an air of “cool” that’s impossible to deny. It not only makes the case for manga as vital modern literature, but as a genuinely hip cultural item to possess. Heh, if only.

So it’s funny how, in the afterward of the story, Asano blatantly states that, “there’s nothing cool about these characters,” perhaps understanding the temptation of readers to ascribe such a tempting quality to them. (And the fact that we may see ourselves mirrored in them? What a coincidence!) “They’re just average 20-somethings who blend into the backdrop of the city. But the most important messages in our lives don’t come from musicians on stage or stars on television. They come from the average people all around you, the ones who are just feet from where you stand.” In its thoughtful focus on the pervasive aimlessness and quiet desperation that’s so common in our world today, Solanin might make you take a second look at the people around you. Maybe their stories are worth telling, too.

I haven’t done one of these in a long time. Consider this an odds and sods wrap up for what I listened to in 2010. Maybe.

The Chemical Brothers – Further
I’ve stayed loyal to these guys pretty much from the start, despite the relative unevenness of their past few albums. That said, I recently went back to We Are The Night, and… yikes. What a mess. Further isn’t a landmark release like Dig Your Own Hole (um, have any albums been this year?) but it’s pretty much exactly the album that the group needed to make at this point in their career. I’ve spent a few months with this, and while I’m less enthused by it now than I was initially, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll still enjoy listening to it a few years from now, which really hasn’t been the case for any of their albums since Come With Us. Further reaffirms their psychedelic indulgences, but cuts their longheld ties with the Britrock community (no NME-approved guest vocalists here, in other words). What results is a more focused work with better ideas, the album-length trip that they’ve always hinted at making and a sign that they’ve got a lot more more (good) music left in them than we would’ve thought.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Another winner from Kanye West. A hilarious, poignant, hugely entertaining work. Pretty much everything that it was built up to be and more. Where to begin? Awe-inspiring opening track, fantastic guest appearances (even from rappers I thought I didn’t like), no toss-off songs or any tracks that I’d want to skip, masterful production throughout, really on an entirely different level from anyone else in hip-hop today that I’ve heard. You love him, you hate him, etc. But if you’re one of those people who’s just got to have an opinion about him, make sure you hear this first.

Underworld – Barking
I’ve been back and forth on this one from the start. After hearing “Scribble” and “Always Loved a Film,” (easily my favorite track of the year), I was looking forward to this album with a sense of anticipation that I hadn’t experienced in years. The good: Barking is a great rebound from the rather dull Oblivion With Bells. The two singles are, quite possibly, the two best songs the band has written since anything on Dubnobasswithmyheadman. “Between Stars” is their most realized stab at pop, but channels it through their slick, dark sound in a way that’s undeniably satisfying. The bad: the album sort of runs out of gas toward the end, with a strange spoken word piece and a quiet, sad ballad drenched in vocal effects, both of which I’ve tried to warm up to but still haven’t come around to yet. Maybe this album needed a multitrack suite or an extended piece like “Pizza For Eggs” in its middle for the shorter tracks to bookend? Just an idea. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this album. I just get a sense that, for all its ambition and positive energy, that it’s still settling for less in the end.

Oval – O
After almost a decade of silence, Markus Popp reboots Oval with a double-length album containing 70 tracks. The signature “skipping” CD sounds of his earliest recordings are nowhere to be found, nor are the dense waves of digital noise that comprised much of Ovalcommers back in 2001. What does O sound like? The album artwork of the lead single is a good place to start. Was Popp inspired by this piece (to say nothing of the possibility of him actually using it)? The more time I spend watching it, the more of a plausible possibility that seems. So yeah, the new Oval relies heavily, if not exclusively, on actual instruments as a sound source. But how these tracks were composed and recorded is anyone’s guess. I enjoy studying while listening to this. I’m sure many artists would cringe at the suggestion that their work is “study music,” but to be honest, I don’t think most normal people would agree with me.

various artists – Donkey Kong Country 2: Serious Monkey Business
Remixes, covers and reimaginings of pieces from Rare’s 1995 masterpiece (which just turned 15 two days ago!), all by members of the website. If you’re rolling your eyes and wondering why anyone cares about music from a 16-bit video game… then go take a long walk off a short plank! Not every song here improves on the original but most every one is imbued by a real aura of reverence and loving nostalgia. Donkey Kong Country 2, which I was able to play though once again this year, is one of my favorite video games of the era, and this tribute is more than fitting to both its music and its spirit of adventure and imagination.

Darkstar – North
Pigeonholed as dubstep for their appearance on Hyperdub, their debut album is about as far as you can get from what the genre has come to represent in 2010. “Aidy’s Girl is a Computer” is here, but the rest sounds a lot like Telefon Tel Aviv, but a little less eager to please. If you thought that Junior Boys’ Last Exit was a great “winter album,” just wait until you hear this! A slow burner of an album that really creeps up on you. That might sound like a pair of meaningless cliches, but I really mean it. Highlights: “Gold,” “Deadness,” “Two Chords.”

Shackleton – Fabric 55
Last year’s Three EPs was a noble attempt to turn a series of short releases into a longer listening experience. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t work, but it sure didn’t suck me in like this mix does. Does any artist in music “do” ominous paranoia like Shackleton does? Maybe no one since Photek in the late 90s, and this is a long way from his “music that makes you feel like you’re being followed.” Gut-twisting basslines, African drums, ominous chants and truly strange spoken word samples, all Shackleton trademarks, come together to pull the listener into some truly dark territory. I probably made this sound like a hardcore album, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Creepy in a Cronenberg sort of way, I think.

The Flashbulb – Arboreal
One of breakcore’s most talented artists, Benn Jordan’s latest is his most musical effort yet. If you love your beats fast and heavy, you might be disappointed by this pleasant-sounding album, composed of real songs and recorded with chamber ensembles and an orchestra. Still, the beat-rushes are as intricately programmed as ever, and even the most mellow pieces on Arboreal are textured and interesting enough to be both relaxing and engaging. This will probably still clear the room if your friends aren’t into electronic music, but not as fast as you’d expect.

Actress – Splazsh
There was a glut of debut albums released in 2010 by artists I’d been into for much of the last year or two — Guido, Ikonika, Scuba, Shed — that ultimately left me cold or disappointed. Splazsh, on the other hand, has actually gotten better with repeated listens, and is one of my favorite albums of the year. So it’s frustrating that I find it so difficult to describe. Yeah, it’s “techno,” but what does that really tell you? Anyway, it’s really good. Essential late-night listening.

(f0rmerly the eɪ ɛm vi chronicles, but enough of that nonsense)

About four months ago I published an entry about Digimon, in which I recalled how I first got into the series and attempted to articulate precisely what it was that I liked so much about it. This was an entry I was especially eager to get around to, as I’ve always enjoyed the “personal essay” approach of writing about art and media, and I felt that my experiences with this series in particular had effected me enough to build an interesting entry around.

What I wanted to do was talk about what was going on in my life when I first started watching the series, how that effected my experience with it and what it meant to me in my slow development as an anime fan. I wanted to write something very personal, something that would finally sum up everything that I wanted to say about the series and what it ultimately meant to me, but I think I stopped short. Was I afraid of revealing too much? Too embarrassed? And besides, who would possibly want to read all this, anyway? This was before I discovered the ongoing Diary of an Anime Lived project, in which bloggers write, in honest, vivid, and sometimes less-than-flattering detail about how some of their favorite titles have touched their lives. If I’d known about it at the time, my entry might have taken a much different shape.

I actually thought about writing my own DoaAL entry, but I’ll spare myself the grief and post two of my favorite AMVs instead. Despite being a relatively popular series, it’s difficult to find good-quality Digimon AMVs. This is due in part to the series never being released on DVD outside of Japan, meaning that editors have had to search the Internet for footage and make due with whatever they could. And visual quality aside, there’s just been a lack of creativity in general when it’s come to Digimon AMVs. I tried to write more about this but it came out reading like an angry rant. That’s not really my intent here.

One editor, however, has made a name for himself cutting excellent Digimon AMVs, two of which I’ll post here. Going by the name Hagaren Viper on both and Youtube, he’s the mind behind what’s probably recognized as the Digimon AMV, the high-energy collage titled “Digital Phenomenon.” The video blends five seasons of the series together into one unified whole, focusing on the characters but avoiding anything resembling a narrative in favor of an abstract, effects-driven approach. The video pulls off a difficult trick: somehow making the series appear cooler than it actually is.

I’m usually not a fan of music like this, but when it’s combined with great clip selection and excellent editing like this, it’s hard not to be sucked into the feel of the whole thing.

The entire concept of the video was borrowed from another AMV, the much more famous (as far as these things actually go) Naruto AMV, “Phenomenon,” which has inspired countless other homages and imitations over the years. I have yet to watch any others besides “Digital Phenomenon,” although I’d be surprised if they were half as good. As much as I say I value creativity and originality over simple favoritism in audio and video sources, I think I prefer the Digimon remake to the original.

A band like Thousand Foot Krutch isn’t that far removed from most of the heavy, aggressive rock music that editors love to use in videos like this. Like I said, even though I’ll admit that I can enjoy it in the hands of the right editor, I’ve never been much of a fan of this kind of music. I tend to gravitate towards electronic or beat-oriented music. Unfortunately, in the scheme of things, this isn’t the music of choice for most AMV editors. But even here, Hagaren Viper comes through for me again with an AMV set to a Chromeo song. Well, almost.

Part of an unfinished multi-editor project, in which song samples were randomly assigned to different editors, HV didn’t choose this track so much as reach into a virtual hat and pull it out by chance. And, for at least 45 seconds, he really makes the most of it. This video reimagines Digimon not as a strictly-for-kids anime, or as fodder for a thousand monster-battle AMVs, but as something genuinely… cool. And I think that’s how I’ve always felt about the series. Behind the fact that it was, in fact, an anime originally made for kids in Japan, and a capably-dubbed but nonetheless culturally-whitewashed import, I was always in love with the entire look of the show, namely the character design and the potential behind those characters. There was an appeal in it for me that was distinctly youthful, but not childish. Obviously, my personal interpretation of it was shared by few fans, if any at all. But in this AMV, you can get a glimpse of what I always sort of wanted the series to be. If that makes any sense.

I’m not sure if HR really stands behind this video, or just regards it as a lesser scrap among his AMVs. But I love the visual sync, the choice of micro-length clips employed (which could have been just about anything, but are really well selected here), and the clean, crisp edits and subtle effects. But is there something inherently corny about the entire concept? A love triangle between three kids, with a hipster-approved electrofunk soundtrack? And on top of all of that, lip-syncing? I don’t know. If it’s wrong to enjoy this, then maybe I don’t want to be right.

It isn’t every day that an anime feature film lands in American theaters, let alone in its original language with English subtitles, so I try to go the extra mile to see them whenever it happens. When I read that Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars would be screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, I knew that a trip downtown was in my near future. However, a quick look at the GSFC’s website gave me second thoughts, as photos of the theaters themselves looked suspiciously small. And the words “video projection” made me wonder if I might just be better off waiting for the DVD to come out in another two months. But what’s life without a little adventure? We drove into the city, tracked down the theater (located within a five minute walk of both Macy’s and the Daley Plaza Christmas market), and ascended the stairs to its second-level location.

Fortunately, the theater itself was much larger than I had expected, being only slightly smaller than one of the “small” theaters you might find at your local multiplex. And the screen was more than large enough to provide the kind of immersive, widescreen moviegoing experience that we all crave (in short, this was definitely a real theater). I’m assuming that our “video projection” meant we were viewing a DVD instead of a film reel, but the movie was still bright, bold, colorful, and beautiful to watch. I can’t imagine any film or animation enthusiast coming away disappointed in its presentation. Subtitles were easy to read, and the sound was everything you’d expect from a theater presentation. In short, if you’re in Chicago, you have but one more evening to catch this before it’s gone, and I’d definitely recommend making the effort to do so.

I have yet to see Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, but I know it’s one of the more successful and acclaimed anime films of the last few years, and I hope that Summer Wars will be held in the same regard. I have to wonder if most Americans would be able to comprehend this movie — let alone truly enjoy or love it — with its blend of realistic (“slice of life,” I hesitate to invoke), considerate drama and science fiction. That is, science fiction not as a collection of genre tropes, but as a heightened exaggeration of the world we live in today. The cyberpunk worlds envisioned by authors in the 1980s never quite came into being (not to say that William Gibson or Neal Stephenson necessarily thought they would). But it could be argued that life in the 21st century has turned out to be even stranger than fiction, with our increasing reliance on the Internet in our day-to-day lives slowly changing how we view and define “reality.”

Summer Wars pushes our present, “always-on” world to an extreme, imagining an online world called OZ. OZ combines gaming, social media, commerce, and even civic and governmental applications all into one online world, one so user-friendly, convenient, and engaging that it attracts over a billion users worldwide. Imagine if everyone from your friends, grandparents, employer, and physician, to your local public works department and the Pentagon, were plugged into a Second Life-like world populated by millions of Takashi Murakami-esque avatars, and you’re about halfway to understanding just what OZ might look like.

Kenji and his friend Takashi, both high school students, work as low-level OZ administrators, proficient at their part-time work but less-adapt when it comes to socializing in the real world. Kenji possess one unique talent: an uncanny knack for mathematics, a skill good enough to nearly land him on Japan’s national team in the global math Olympics. However, his spectacular abilities don’t endow him with self-confidence. So he’s shocked when his popular classmate and secret crush Natsuki asks him to accompany her to her family’s home in Udea. “Play along,” she tells Kenji, upon bringing him to meet her extended family, including her 90 year-old grandmother Sakae. I’d rather not rehash the entire plot, suffice it to say that Natsuki’s “job” for Kenji turns out to be much more than he bargained for.

Oh, and a malevolent artificial intelligence program is set loose in OZ, stealing user accounts and abusing user permissions to cause chaos throughout Japan and across the world. It’s here that the sweet and touching family drama of Summer Wars makes way for colorful, fantastic forays into the world of OZ, where Kenji, along with Natsuki’s cousin Kazuma — whose avatar, the fearsome white rabbit known across the system as King Kazuma, is grand champion of the OZ fighting arena — take on the AI known as Love Machine. These battles, which comprise the most visually stunning parts of the film, are rather straightforward, but as the plan to defeat Love Machine grows increasingly complex, viewers unseasoned in the concept of virtual worlds might find themselves a bit confused down the stretch. Nothing a weekend spent with Wargames and The Matrix won’t fix, but inevitably I feel that the “rules” of this film (which most anime fans will grasp with little trouble) will be completely incomprehensible to some. I suppose it does help to approach Summer Wars with a little experience in this genre.

One possible source: the Digimon film Our War Game, originally released in 2000. The film was included in Digimon: the Movie, a hatchet job of a film released later that year for English dub audiences in here in America and beyond. In my opinion, it was the best segment of that film, and watching it again this year I was pleased to find that it was better than I remembered. Summer Wars shares many similar themes and plot elements with Our War Game, albeit giving them a much fuller and more interesting treatment. I figured this was all a coincidence, until I was reading Mamoru Hosoda’s filmography on MAL this afternoon. I’m certain I’m not the first, or perhaps even the thousandth fan to point out that he directed both. Does it matter? If a director revisits one of their previous films for inspiration, or just remakes one altogether, does it take anything away from the “greatness” of either film? I certainly never considered Our War Game to be “great,” but in Summer Wars Hosoda abandons everything irksome about his earlier film and goes all-in with a smarter, more heartfelt script and greater visual ambitions than before. It’s not a masterpiece, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it a great film.

Trying to describe this film has been surprisingly difficult. The plot surrounding Kenji, Natsuki, and the gathering at her relatives’ home is easy enough to sum up. As is the concept of OZ and the AI-derived chaos it’s thrown into. These two disparate ideas should not be able to coexist in the same movie, but somehow they do and actually make for a compelling story that I felt involved in from beginning to end. I’ve always been a fan of these kind of science fiction elements, and found Summer Wars‘ commentary on online life to be one of the cooler and more relevant takes on the subject in quite some time.

But for all the creativity that was poured into the scenes taking place in OZ, I was surprisingly sucked into the domestic drama that took place back in the “real world” as Natsuki’s family begins preparing for her grandmother’s birthday celebration. We’re quickly introduced to nearly two-dozen supporting characters: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a parade of cousins, until we’re nearly as overwhelmed as Kenji. I come from a small family that’s rarely taken part in extended family gatherings of this magnitude, much less put much any stock in its heritage or much emphasis on tradition. So to suddenly find myself in such a setting would likely be a somewhat unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience. No, scratch that. In recent years, getting comfortable with a new family in such situations has been a very strange (but ultimately very positive) experience, indeed, one that I’ve only recently felt open enough to really embrace. But that’s one of Summer Wars‘ most poignant messages. It’s easy to take family for granted, but having a group of people you can count on, even through the worst of times, is a special privilege. One that’s worth holding onto no matter what.