Not long ago I reviewed the most recent films by one of the greatest of the current generation of anime directors, Mamoru Hosada, Belle. Hosada first came to my attention with the incredible The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and then directed what is perhaps my favorite anime film of all time, Summer Wars.
Most of Summer Wars takes place in a fantastic virtual world called “Oz”: this seems to be one of Hosada’s favorite settings: he returns to Oz in Belle, even if it is now called “U” and differs in a few details (notably the introduction of the automatic biometric generation of your personal avatar).
And even before Summer Wars, you can find a virtual world which, at least visually, has a lot in common with Oz playing a major part in the film which first put Mamoru Hosada on the map as a director.
Our War Game! was in fact his second directing job, his first being this film’s immediate predecessor, Digimon Adventure, which was basically the pilot film for the Digimon Adventures TV series.
Ironically, Digimon started out not as an Anime, or a manga, or even a videogame, but as an electronic toy. Bandai created them as a more or less copy of the popular Tamagotchi virtual pet, only aimed at the masculine audience. You would raise your Digi monster, and then battle with the digital monsters raised by other children.
In the films, the Digi realm somehow was brought into existence spontaneously by all our communications networks, and the Digimon start out as Digi eggs, although where they come from exactly is a little harder to say. In this second Digimon Adventure, two young boys — two of the “digidestined” — find a Digi egg on the internet, which was somehow born from a computer virus.
And, before they can stop it, it hatches and starts replicating itself on the internet. What’s worse, it Digivolves into a more powerful form faster than any other Digimon they’ve ever encountered.
But their attempts to fight it with the help of their pet Digimon fail, so the new Digimon invades the Pentagon’s computers and decides to launch a nuclear missile at Japan to stop them…
Now the first and most obvious thing to note about Our War Game! is that the plot has a lot in common with that of Summer Wars, even if it isn’t as complex: a group of people with computer skills tries to stop a dangerous entity on the internet, and ultimately defeat it just in time to prevent a nuclear disaster, with the help of supporters from around the world.
Admittedly, the Digi realm is nowhere near as straightforward a concept as OZ (which is basically the internet on steroids) and the digital realm our heroes enter to fight the new Digimon, is apparently an alternate reality rather than a straightforward representation of the computer world. Admittedly, it can only be accessed with the help of their computers and some sort of Digivice which allows them to control their personal Digimon, but at the same time the kids can somehow enter this virtual realm physically.
Well, one of them does.
And I’ll note that the help they get from all the others out there on the internet is more accidental than anything else — although it is quite a good gag.
We do get a few very colorful representations of the Digi realm, although it is nowhere near as beautiful or distinct as Oz, and the computer animation is very obvious.
I’ll confess that I’m not particularly enthralled by this film, even though I know it impressed so many people that Hosada eventually got a chance to direct The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It is short, and very dependent on the events of the anime series. There are quite a few characters and little is done to establish their personalities or relationships.
But it is colorful and amusing.
Although I suspect that it helps if you watch the original Japanese version as opposed to the English dub available in what is called The Digimon Movie, which compiles heavily edited versions of the first three Digimon movies.
But, unless you are a big fan of all the Diginonsense of the Digiverse, or nostalgic for the cartoon shows of your childhood, Our War Game! is perhaps most interesting as a footnote in the career of a young creator who was about to become one of the greatest anime directors of his generation…