With the latest Digimon movie about to drop for home release, one can't help but think about how far the franchise has come, and the movie that started it all -- Digimon: The Movie. Originally cobbled together from three different Japanese movies into one coherent narrative, The Movie gave many Digimon fans the extra content they had been clamoring for, from an origin story for the DigiDestined, to a harrowing missile crisis, to a more personal tale of trying to uncorrupt a friend. With action and heart, many fans no doubt will be wanting more of the same, but are probably looking for something a little less... dated. Something new. Something exciting. Something like... Summer Wars.
Directed by Digimon: The Movie's original co-director Mamoru Hosoda, Summer Wars tells the story of a Kenji, a math genius who's been asked to accompany his female classmate Natsuki to her grandmother's 90th birthday. When a mysterious math problem shows up on his phone, he can't help but solve it -- accidentally releasing the A.I. Love Machine into the internet world of Oz, and creating mass chaos as Love Machine begins stealing accounts and garnering power.
Due to the fact that Oz accounts give the person in charge of the account the same power as the person whose account it is, it doesn't take long for Love Machine to obtain the permissions needed to throw a satellite off course and plummeting towards a nuclear power plant -- at which point, most Digimon fans may be starting to say, "Hey! This sounds familiar..." and they'd be right. The middle section of The Movie, taken from the Japanese standalone film Our War Game has an eerily similar plot, with virus-typed Digimon Diaboromon hacking the Pentagon to send a missile straight for Tokyo. Many have speculated that Summer Wars was either intended as a spiritual successor to Digimon: The Movie or that it's what Hosoda had wanted to do with Digimon, just without Toei's interference.
The similarities make the movie easy to understand and follow, but don't think that everything is the same. Summer Wars has its own unique themes, non-digital story and consequences that really set it apart, making it come off as a more mature version of Digimon: The Movie -- or conversely, that The Movie was a prototype version of Summer Wars.
Firstly, there are different stakes. In The Movie, the main human characters are solely concerned with the imminent digital threat, whereas in Summer Wars, there's a lot more going on. Not only has Natsuki introduced Kenji to her grandmother has her fiancé, but Kenji also has to deal with the inter-personal family drama no sooner than learning their names, as well as the guilt that he, unintentionally or not, started this whole debacle. Things are different on the digital side as well: while like Diaboromon, Love Machine causes mass chaos with all electronic systems he comes into contact with (messing up GPSs for example), people are losing more than just an account when it steals their avatar. They're losing access to their jobs, personal and social lives!
Another reason you'll love Summer Wars is the nuanced characters. Despite having as many or more than Digimon: The Movie, Summer Wars has the added burden of introducing them, establishing, conveying and solidifying their personalities in just a short time. In addition, due to the fact that there's no attached show, Summer Wars isn't afraid to change the status quo by the end. While Tai, Izzy and the rest of the cast can't change out of their previously established characters, Kenji and Natsuki are free to grow and change as a result of the events of the movie, and it's a satisfying arc.
Finally, you'll want to watch Summar Wars for the spectacular visuals. Unlike Our War Game, the human digital space is much more concrete and less abstract. While both take place in mostly white areas with gear-like designs in the backgrounds, the "world" of Oz feels like a place where people spend time and "live" virtually, compared to the sterile voids of Digimon that are entirely uninhabited save for Diaboromon and our protagonists. In contrast, Oz has a ridiculous number of avatars, all completely customized to represent the wide variety of users, personality types and interests of basically everyone on Earth. The massive user-base and variety of things to do (like play in the casino stage, or join a martial arts tournament) attest to Oz's popularity, not only making the world literally more colorful but also providing a foundation for the believability of the story.
In short, if you liked Digimon: The Movie, you're going to love Summer Wars. With unique visuals, a familiar feel and a higher concept, it's Digimon for a more modern era.