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.
The second volume of Summer Wars is, by virtue of its plot, a lot more action-oriented than the first one was. All our guns have been set up, and we see them fired off. But this volume continues to give us the best parts of the first volume as well, showing the importance of family, maturing and growing up, taking responsibility for your own actions, and even throwing in a bit of a love story to boot.
I was especially pleased to see the development of Natsuki, who not only grows as a character but almost takes on a messianic role in the final showdown with the AI. She’s been fairly indecisive and uncertain so far – using Kenji as an excuse to avoid questions and conflict – well, the wrong sort of conflict – and the death of her grandmother puts her at a mental standstill for the first half of this book. Luckily, finding her grandmother’s late words galvanizes her, and she is able to do what her young cousin could not. (I actually liked that fakeout – we assumed, since King Kazma had lost once, that he would come back and defeat the AI once and for all. But no, in the end, our heroine needs an action equivalent to our hero, so instead of punching the problem to death we get a giant game of hanafuda.
I absolutely loved seeing the hanafuda game – or its variant used here, Koi Koi – in the final battle. It’s been a favorite of mine for a few years (it was included on an early Nintendo DS cartridge, Clubhouse Games) and is a good choice here as it relies on both luck AND skill in equal measure. Skill can’t always save a bad hand – but knowledge of strategy and what your opponent has discarded are a must, and we see that here. The virtual reality environment helps to dramatize what is still a card game, and we also get to have that comeback from when all is lost, as Natsuki loses all her accounts and then gains even more thanks to the trust of everyone watching her.
The 20 Minutes Into The Future aspect of this world works quite well – we do have this huge virtual reality thing that can, if taken over by a rogue AI, destroy the world. But mostly we see, things haven’t changed much, which feels right. It helps that Natsuki’s family lives out in the sticks. The rest of the family doesn’t get quite as much attention, but like Natsuki they also have to deal with the death of the family head, and we see how badly it affects the group – which splinters off into different groups before coming together. Then at the end everyone is there for the final battle of Kenji vs. the AI, even if it may mean certain death (the computer has decided to drop a satellite on everyone’s head), and they all hug each other as it descends (it gets diverted, in case you were worried).
In the end, Summer Wars is a sweet and heartwarming manga about the ties of family, becoming confident in your own abilities, and math. Definitely recommended for romance fans – or even those who like techno-thrillers.