An apocalyptic take on the social network comes from, of all places, Mamoru Hosoda’s childlike, yay-go-team japanime about a hijacked Second Life–esque world. Shy math whiz Kenji joins pretty, older schoolmate Natsuki on a trip to her family’s rural ancestral home, where he’s supposed to pose as her boyfriend so that her appealingly fierce great-grandmother isn’t disappointed on her birthday. But Kenji is all nerves, and—oh, yeah—he also inadvertently compromises the security of a worldwide online community called Oz, allowing its takeover by a sinister AI being. Hosoda toggles between airborne clenched-teeth cage matches in Oz’s avatar cutesplosion, and bickering among Natsuki’s samurai-descended clan as they work to overcome the real-world chaos caused by Oz. As Kenji’s brave-nerd maturation chugs along, interesting comparisons are set up between the societal structures of the family and of the virtual sphere. But corn is corn, and when everyone starts pulling together—which ultimately means Natsuki’s favorite card game of hanafuda will prove to hold life-or-death importance—it’s hard to appreciate things like the character detail amid the insufferably squealy voicing and arbitrary suspense.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 29, 2010