Battle League Horumo
aka Kamogawa Horumo
Directed by Katsuhide Motoki
Based on the novel by Manabu Makime
All of us who have been to college know the excitement of the day where all the clubs get to set up tables and try to convince people to join up. Chess Club, Young Democrats, Free Tibet, that club that build a solar car, and the club where you command armies of demons to battle other demons. What, your school didn’t have a Horumo Club? They’re the greatest thing ever if you like CGI demon sprites (called Oni) beating each other with clubs while the human controllers make weird gestures commanding the troops. I commanded a Horumo squad back in my days at Mizzou and we won all sorts of battles: the Battle of the University Bookstore, the Battle of the 7-11 near campus, the Battle of Jesse Hall, the Battle of Stop Raising Our Damn Tuition, the last one being more of a riot than a battle and demons in riot gear had to be bussed in from East Hades.
But, still, Horumo battling was the fourth best time of my life, behind only my marriage, writing for this site, and the time I found a green ring and became a lantern or something.
Battle League Horumo is from Japan, because Japan specializes in stories about humans controlling various tiny things in battle with each other. That and cartoon seizure robots. BLH (as I’ll call it from now on because laziness rules) is based on a book by Manabu Makime that I haven’t read because I can only read Japanese children’s books.
BLH suffers from one major flaw – it is totally slow. The plot drags on and on. I am not sure how they got it to drag so slowly as Japan seems to specialize in films clocking in at barely over an hour. But BLH manages to be two hours long! Looks like Korea is influencing cinema again. So if you got a movie where people control CGI demon sprites, shouldn’t you show the freaking sprites before 50 minutes into the movie? But don’t let me complaining in the intro satisfy your urge, let’s complain as the movie unfolds!
Akira Abe and his buddy Koichi Takamura are first year university students who are invited to go to the info meeting of a club that the officers seem overly eager to explain is “very normal” without saying just what the club is or does. They go because, free food, and meet some of the other recruits. We got the nerdy physics girl Fumi Kusunoki. We got the hot-headed firebrand Misuru Ashiya. We got the hot chick Kyoko Sawara who as soon as Akira sees her he is smitten. Smitten enough that he’ll probably join the club. The club gets a name – Kyoto University Azure Dragons.
After the info meeting, Akira runs into Sawara by the docks crying and gets her out of trouble with a cop. I guess in Japan there is so little crime the police have to harass crying women. Somehow he gets her into his dorm room where they talk for a while and then she falls asleep. By the next morning she is gone but leaves a note saying she is joining the club.
It turns out all the freshmen who showed up return, and more free food and bribes like a free rafting trip happen, but no one says what the club does yet. Hmmm….
Finally all the freshmen meet downtown at a festival, where the older members are all dressed in uniforms (blue traditional Japanese robes and wooden shoes) and stop in the middle of the crowd to yell at a few other groups – the three other major universities in Kyoto. The groups are:
The Black Snake – North Kyoto University and black colors.
The White Tiger – West Kyoto University and white colors.
Red Phoenix – south Kyoto University and red colors
Azure Dragon – East Kyoto University and blue colors (our group)
They all present ten members, and then that is it and they all leave. So all we know so far is that these clubs dress up and yell at each other in public. Awesome club, where do I join?
Finally, they explain to the new members that they do the Horumo battles. This is where you have a team of ten people (eight fighters, two medics) who each command 100 Oni and battle it out for the honor and glory of having oni beat each other senseless.
The freshmen demand proof, especially when told the oni are invisible to freshmen and they need to learn a special language to talk to them. The older students all do a demo in synch, but won’t bring out any proof of the Oni. All the freshmen keep up the grueling training regime regardless. You see, this is a point that could easily be done faster with a montage. But they don’t. Time passes, seasons change, all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, now it’s December. It’s the Ceremony of Succession time. After a wacky dance by the temple, suddenly everyone can see lots of CGI oni!
It’s like the Wee Folk exploded all over a Japanese Temple!
Women can’t fight, they can only be medics, so now Fumi and Sawara are forced to be nurses, which involves having their oni feed the damaged oni raisins to turn them back to good health.
HORUMO BATTLE TIME! The first battle is an affair where announcers even show up to give commentary to all the BLH veterans watching on the internet. Remember – normal people can’t see the Oni, and instead just see people in costumes yelling and making weird gestures.
So for the battle, the Oni pull out clubs from thin air, then the humans order them to beat the crap out of each other. By yelling in their languages the most accurately and doing the gestures in the best movement, your troops fight harder. So just think Pokemon times 1000 with no Team Rocket to make the stories interesting. Things look good until Takamura chokes and his Oni all die, he pees his pants, and he looks possessed and yells “Horumo!” So basically what happens any normal Friday night at a college bar. Akira fails to help his friend because he’s too busy trying to impress Kyoko. This leads to a fight later with team bad boy Ashiya.
Takamura ends up being forced by the gods to cut his hair into a traditional Japanese topknot with bald top. Like in those old samurai movies. And Akira finds out that Kyoko Sawara is dating Ashiya, crushing Akira’s little heart into more pieces than there are Oni CGI. Akira stays in his room for days from depression, slowing the film’s flow to a grinding halt and missing the next match which the team wins thanks largely due to Ashiya.
Akira refuses to be on team with Ashiya but unable to quit because the Oni will follow him around and harass him until he returns. There is a part of the rules that allows the team of 10 to split into two teams of five, Akira and Takamura manage to get the Miyoshi brothers – two guys who looks alike but had no names until this far into the movie, and Fumi Kusonoki. But…invoking the rule has caused a giant dark cloud to appear over the city – an evil demon that appears when Kyoto’s streets run red with blood. Eventually, the gates of hell open up and demon power pours into the butt of the cloud creature until it explodes in evil.
Hey, that’s what the film said!
So they gotta win the 5 on 5 battle on splitting the teams or else, and weird demon things are following the team around.
HORUMO TEAM DIVORCE BATTLE TIME! The battle begins, and though Takamura starts out strong he’s crushed by Ashiya, who will destroy Akira next. Until… Fumi Kusonoki quits being a medic to have her squad attack Kyoko Sawara’s! It’s total girl power which we all saw coming but welcome it finally happening. The battle moves outside the arena as Kyoko flees with Fumi in hot pursuit. Soon, everyone is chasing each other through the streets of Kyoto. Takamura is wiped out taking down three other teams.
Fumi beats down Kyoko’s troops enough she surrenders and Fumi let’s her be. Meanwhile, it is Akira vs Ashiya, who chases then corners him, with Akira’s troops faltering. But Fumi appears and give raisins to Ashiya! Traitor! But it is a trap worthy of one to fool Admiral Akbar and soon Ashiya’s troops are getting slaughtered by Fumii’s and Akira’s!
Ashiya refuses to quit the game, angering the big black cloud god, who is getting bigger, darker, and angrier. He’s about to explode when Akira knocks Ashiya to his senses and Ashiya screams “Horumo!” The cloud god explodes anyway, but nothing happens except Kusonoki breaking her glasses. And Akira loses the match because he touched Ashiya, which is against the rules. Refs ruin games in every country, it seems!
Soon, everyone patches up and it is two years later and everything is fine, Akira is with Kusonoki and Ashiya and Kyoko keep breaking up and getting back together.
Now, the basic premise of the film was fine, it was just too damn long. I even chopped out large portions of the film that went nowhere and did nothing for this review, but it is still crazy long. It would have been 1000 pages long had I not chopped all that crap out. The film is the same way, two hours where maybe thirty minutes of things happen is not very fun.
Rated 6/10 (Giant bowtie, giant tongue, Licking Lady, shock, horror, children’s oni)