Summer Wars, Vol. 2

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.

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.