Summer Wars, Vol. 1

By Mamoru Hosoda, Iqura Sugimoto, and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Young Ace. Released in North America by Vertical.

Adaptations of something into another form, be it a manga, anime, novel series, or movie always carries an inherent risk that it won’t recapture the moments you loved from the original material, or that people will say it’s dumbed down or exaggerated. And yet the appeal is there as well – I really loved this in one form, so why not take a look at it from a different angle? Certainly companies hope you’ll spend your money to check something out that you liked before. Luckily, with Summer Wars, I seem to be one of the few people who never saw the original movie this is based on, so I came at this adaptation fresh. And now I really want to see the movie, and worry the original won’t match up. As this first volume was just terrific.


Things start off looking like a very typical shonen romantic comedy. Kenji is a high schooler, somewhat shy, good at math but not good enough to be in a national competition. He has a crush on Natsuki, who takes kendo and is the pure awesome Japanese high school student. One day she asks for a favor, though is cagey about the details. Those with experience in such stories won’t be surprised by what happens next: he’s pretending to be her boyfriend, so that she can get through a huge family reunion without a lot of hassle. And a lot of the beats that follow are familiar as well, though they’re all handled deftly. Some of the family like the kid, some don’t. There’s an older cousin that Natsuki has a crush on, which makes Kenji feel awkward. And her awesome old grandma sees right through both of them, realizing that Natsuki made this up, but also that Kenji is a good kid.

But that’s only half the story, and this is also a techno-thriller. Much of the world works in the manga via a virtual reality network. One day the network is hacked, and it’s put out on TV that it was Kenji who did it. (This turns out to be false, and there are many culprits who were conned into doing this, which I think is a shame. I loved the joy on Kenji’s face as he solved the math problem that ended up being a hack, and wish he had been more culpable later on.) And now the world is slowly spiraling into chaos by an AI that turns out to be far smarter than it was previously thought. Natsuki’s family, who are huge, positioned in just the right places, and can work together awesomely, try to stop the AI… so the AI kills off Natsuki’s grandmother, in a way that reads “this could be a coincidence, but really probably isn’t.) Now things are at a crisis point.

This is a two-volume manga in the Vertical edition (originally 3 in Japan), and it’s paced almost perfectly, with every scene having meaning. Even the Summer Wars title works well – the Summer and the Wars balancing each other out – romantic comedy with heartwarming family, and computers destroying everything we must now stop them. I didn’t mention Kazuma, another of Natsuki’s cousins who’s a young (and androgynous -I thought he was a she for a while) prodigy who will no doubt have a larger part to play in Vol. 2, which also suggests that Kenji will find his inner General. This manga really makes me want to see the original, one of the best things you can say about an adaptation, but also works great as its own story. And the couple’s cute, too. Highly recommended.

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  1. I highly recommend checking out the movie; it’s great. I particularly liked that *spoiler* defeats the AI through playing *spoiler*, which is awesome. The one thing I did not like was the gender dynamic of the adult family members’ efforts; the men do almost everything active while the women (except grandma) mostly cook and take care of the kids. Would it have been so hard to have even one female police officer / firefighter / emergency response person in the cast?

  2. I saw the movie a few months ago and saw recently that they’re doing a manga as well. I might give it a read. Great review!

  3. I highly recommend checking out the movie :) The animation is fantastic and the family dynamic is just beautiful. The movie is worth watching for the way they depict Oz and its avatars alone—gorgeous.

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