16 May / Summer Wars (vols. 1-2) by Mamoru Hosoda, illustrated by Iqura Sugimoto, character design by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
“2010 late July. A record of the biggest, hottest summer of my life.” High school student Kenji is 17, and mourning the fact that he “failed to become Japan’s rep in the Math Olympics.” At the suggestion of his best friend Sakuma, he’s agreed to do “system maintenance” over the summer for OZ, a virtual internet world so popular that it also serves as “the world’s largest community tool.”
Just as Kenji begrudgingly settles into his new routine, Natsuki – the school’s most popular girl – presents Kenji and Sakuma with a personal request: might one of them accompany her to the countryside where her extended family will celebrate her grandmother’s 90th birthday? Sakuma volunteers, then reneges, giving Kenji the opportunity to accompany Natsuki to her family’s vast estate. Natsuki confesses that Kenji has a part to play over the next four days: he’s to be a Tokyo University student who’s just returned from studying in the U.S. – and is Natsuki’s fiancé! Shocked and nervous, Kenji does his best to be convincing as he gets to know Natsuki’s many relatives who are descended from powerful samurai, no less; he grows especially, quickly fond of the honored Granny Sakae.
Amidst all the family hubbub, the outside world arrives as an email on Kenji’s phone in the middle of the night: “Solve me.” Kenji succeeds (by moonlight), but by the time he’s awakened by young cousins, his face is on television as the prime suspect who’s interrupted the ubiquitous world of OZ. The virtual too soon spills into the real, as the situation goes from worse to worst and the entire world is threatened.
As the seemingly unstoppable online threat called Love Machine takes global control, Kenji faces all-out war. Meanwhile, a baseball game must be played, a birthday bash is impending, and an unexpected funeral needs to be planned. A prodigal half-Uncle returns admitting his dubious involvement with the U.S. Armed Forces, King Kazma turns out to be a computer-addicted (curmudgeonly) young cousin, Kenji promises Granny Sakae he’ll take care of Natsuki, and massive amounts of ice must be found at any cost.
Based on a 2009 award-winning animated film of the same name, the two-volume Summer Wars is an exaggerated, energetic romp that showcases the too-real dangers of the virtual world. That said, the intense excitement is tempered by a not-so-subtle reminder that real-life family (dead or alive, even!) is the source of ultimate power. The heart-thumping adventure should keep younger readers undividedly attentive; wary parents can breathe easy that they still hold the ultimate trump card.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2009 and 2010 (Japan), 2013 (United States)