Ten years after Summer Wars, we're closer to that network landscape than you might think!
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the critically-acclaimed anime film Summer Wars. The 2009 feature won several awards and further solidified the reputation of director Mamoru Hosoda as an up-and-coming anime creator who previously directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and would go on to direct films such as Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, and the Oscar-nominated Mirai. To this day, Summer Wars represents a milestone in his illustrious career as a visually-stunning and emotional story about a family whose heart-wrenching drama is at the center of an internet crisis that threatens the world.
One of the more notable aspects of the film is the glamourous and fantastical world of OZ, a VR platform integrated into the very infrastructure of modern society. In the film, OZ functions as an entertainment hub but also allowed people to conduct businesses on every level. The plot even focused on how an evolving virus wreaking havoc on OZ had disastrous effects on the real world! For its time, it was certainly a far more advanced reality than anything we might have seen in real life.
But that was 10 years ago. Now in 2019, our lives have become far more virtual. Much of our daily routines rely on the internet or are otherwise made far more efficient by using the right app. It’s no stretch to say our society operates in the same way as the OZ-reliant world of Summer Wars. But how similar are they? Does real life imitate art? Is OZ still more advanced than our society, or have we taken steps in our computer-consolidated world that Hosoda hadn’t thought of? Let’s see how our modern world stacks up to OZ.
In order to properly examine how advanced our world has become compared to Summer Wars, we should dive into what OZ really does. At its core, it gathered a user’s entire life—from business to entertainment—in one overarching social network. It could be accessed from computers, televisions, flip phones, and even portable game consoles. Using highly-customizable avatars, users could explore a vast online world for both leisure and professional work. Users were able to buy anything from movies to fashion to food to real estate on OZ in its wide selection of online stores.
As a global network, OZ users could communicate in chat rooms with anyone in the world using real-time translations, removing language as a barrier for socializing. People could also participate in online sporting events from soccer to martial arts fighting and beyond.
Surprisingly, large corporations also had branches on OZ, where workers would “cyber-commute” to virtual cubicles and conduct business there. Even local governments around the world had a stake in OZ, opening up service kiosks for users to visit. Traffic managment and emergency services could be accessed through OZ, and you could even use it to pay your taxes. There was truly no limit to how connected the world could be to OZ’s vast online platform. Your entire life was collected on a singular network, and then expanded exponentially. From top to bottom, it functioned as a part of the entire world. As a whole entity, it was certainly much more innovative than anything in our reality at the time.
Speaking of which, let's take a look at where technology was during Summer Wars' initial release. The year is 2009. Flip phones were still in use throughout society, but smartphones were on a meteoric rise in popularity. The iPhone 3GS was the latest iPhone model on the market at the time, with the Samsung Galaxy making its debut on June 29 of that year, mere days before Summer Wars’ theatrical release on August 1.
At the same time, smartphone applications started sharing in the spotlight. CNN reported that the iTunes App Store alone saw over 2 billion downloads across various apps. Some of the most popular apps downloaded that year included document viewers, GPS navigation, games, messengers, radio stations, and more. Other smart devices would start catching up with the trend as well, with Android and Blackberry products launching their own app stores. Google, which launched its Play Store before Apple in 2008, only began supporting priced apps in 2009.
Social networking saw a similar growth in popularity. Facebook would go from its humble beginnings as a site for college students to reach users across all countries and demographics. By the end of 2009, the social networking site gained over 350 million users, with the average user spending an hour a day online. Twitter also became a platform for real-time news updates. People from all over the world contributed to the “micro-blogging” trend with tweets and concise updates on developing news stories almost exactly as they happened. Online messaging was also a developing craze. Apps like AIM and Skype allowed people to connect with each other with video calls and messages, but Facebook Chat was slowly becoming more popular as a means of communication.
Already, we can draw some interesting parallels in the comparison between Summer Wars and real life. By and large, the cast of Summer Wars were often using flip phones, reflecting Japan’s overall reliance on said devices that persists well into recent years. While something could certainly said about the processing capabilities of flip phones being able to run something as advanced as OZ, instances of smartphone usage were few and far between, with only a handful of tech-savvy characters using them. By then in our world, smartphones were already the new standard of devices essential to your daily life.
As for news and entertainment, users could receive vast amounts of televised news updates on the dot. As soon as a news broadcast began or you wanted to check out a movie, it could be fed right into your OZ interface.
Of course, OZ had its share of fantastical achievements for its time. Millions of OZ’s chatrooms allowed users to converse with several people across different languages. Real time translations almost instantly converted a user's speech and text to other people’s native languages. As an open platform, OZ users could also jump right onto other people’s chatrooms seamlessly to talk with other people. Barring any region-specific message apps or language preferences on your computer, nothing in 2009 could come close to matching the translation efficiency that OZ offered.
For instance, real-time translations on mobile devices was first developed and utilized in Japan in 1999 and featured direct speech translation. Between 2004 and 2006, it was released and implemented for SMS, emails, and instant messaging. Though even then, it would just support conversations between two people in two different languages.
You certainly couldn’t have live conversations with a native Japanese speaker, a native Hindi speaker, a native French speaker, a native Tagalog speaker, and a native English speaker as fluidly as you could on OZ. Technically, OZ chatrooms eschewed the need for translating apps and features in the first place, allowing people to speak freely in their own languages with virtually no lag time. At the time, nothing could connect people on the internet quite like the global phenomenon of OZ. It was the lifeline of Summer Wars’ society. Even world leaders conducted their business on the networking platform. For better or worse, society was largely reliant on OZ to function.
Now, let's fast-forward 10 years, where we begin to see just how much of of our online lives reflects that of OZ. Today’s social media and technological capabilities have become so hard-wired into our everyday lives that our devices are identical to an entire livelihood fitting in the palm of your hand. Flip phones are practically extinct as smartphones became the new standard. Apps have evolved from cute, mindless add-ons that kill time on a commute to essential lifelines that streamline many of our daily responsibilities into a few screen swipes each. Our connectivity is broader than ever with several messaging apps and programs that allow us to communicate with anyone in the world with a semi-decent internet connection. And yes, even our governments and businesses are unabashedly reliant on their smart devices and internet in order to function.
But of course, we need to bring it back to Summer Wars. How much did the movie get right? Have we exceeded Hosoda’s expectations for society? Is OZ still more advanced than our world? Let’s break it down.
As previously mentioned, OZ was a one-stop shop for literally any of your needs. From news to fashion to running a nuclear reactor, there wasn’t much you couldn’t do on OZ. Many of the apps and sites we use now include various functions that do indeed match up with Summer Wars' infamous social network.
Facebook, for one, is possibly the closest example we have to a true-to-life OZ. Aside from keeping in touch with friends, the main page alone allows you to create and visit fundraisers, buy and sell anything from phones to houses in a marketplace, conduct job searches, and even send letters government officials and representatives on various issues. You can even keep track of news updates, emergencies, and ongoing crises around the world depending on who you’re following. Through the Messenger app, people can even request and send money to their friends at their leisure. Many of Facebook’s current functions are well within OZ’s capabilities.
Of course, Facebook can’t do everything OZ can. It certainly doesn’t have a customizable avatar that you can decorate with the hottest fashion, nor can you pay your taxes on it. Not many people exclusively use Facebook for work either (one might argue that it’s still used for the exact opposite). And in terms of 1:1 translations across several different languages, you’re better off downloading different keyboard layouts for your typing purposes. Instead, we have individual apps and sites that serve several different functions from news updates to financial transactions, and most of them can be accessed from our smartphones alone.
For tax-paying purposes, you have plenty of options. PC Magazine keeps an annual list of their preferred apps for keeping up with your bills such as TurboTax and H&R Block. They even boast that the H&R Block app works just as well as its browser version.
Plenty of today’s new and upcoming games have character creators that let you play expressively. Though you certainly can’t explore the entire internet with them or outfit them in the latest Gucci styles, games like the upcoming Code Vein feature several options from which you can choose your appearance. People can also use platforms like VR Chat with custom avatars to interact with online users.
There are also plenty of apps and sites that, instead of using them explicitly for your job, help you organize your business ventures better. Trello and Slack are common sites for employees to keep their assignments organized and stay in touch conveniently. Dropbox is a cloud service that allows you to upload and store your important documents securely. There are even plenty of note-taking apps that you can download or are even pre-loaded in your phone to begin with that can help keep your work thoughts in check.
Translation apps have come a long way since the early days of Google Translate, though even that has seen some considerable upgrades. Apps like iTranslate Voice 3 allow you to speak into your phone and translate your phrases automatically into your language of choice. Other apps like TextGrabber can even help you read signs and menus in foreign languages by taking pictures of the text. There are also plenty of successful and ongoing Kickstarter projects for sleek and portable translation devices that strive to help us get closer to real-time translated conversations between several different languages at once. Even if it’s not common practice yet, the idea has started to take shape in recent years.
The same can be said about anything that OZ came up with back in 2009. In many ways, we’ve gotten closer and closer to the vision that Hosoda had for an internet-reliant society. Though we certainly don’t have nuclear codes or hospital health monitoring available on a whim, our current internet capabilities allow us to streamline both our professional and social lives in many different ways.
OZ in and of itself was integrated into every facet of society, making it essential to a fault to making sure the world still goes round. In reality, a decent internet connection grants you the same kind of accessibility to just about anything you might need. In the 10 years since Summer Wars’ release, our society has become nearly identical that of Kenji Koiso and the Jinnouchi clan's. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how we as a network civilization will advance in another 10 years! As of now, all we can say is that Summer Wars certainly wasn’t far off in predicting where we’d be now.
Do you think our society is anything like Summer Wars? What OZ innovation would you like to see in real life? Leave a comment and let us know!
Carlos is a freelance features writer for Crunchyroll. Their favorite genres range from magical girls to over-the-top robot action, yet their favorite characters are always the obscure ones. Check out some of their satirical work on The Hard Times.