It is an age old story about love and heartbreak in the college years- and the use of hundreds of little summoned creatures to fight each other for the gods amusement.
What They Say
As a college freshman, Akira Abe is invited to a welcome party hosted by the club "Azure Dragon" and joins to get closer to his dream girl. At first, the club appears to be an ordinary social club but the new members soon find out about the 1000 year-old tradition upheld by the four universities of Kyoto and the Horumo battle. Members must go through rigorous training to achieve the fluency of the Oni language and learn to manipulate an army of Oni spirits. Let the battles begin!
The feature only contains a Japanese 5.1 and 2.0 track. For the purposes of this review the 5.1 track was used. It is an average 5.1 track that has no distortions or dropouts but doesn't really use the back speakers very much other than for some background noise but the subwoofer is used nicely to add depth to scenes.
Originally created in 2009 the Horumo is presented anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. The feature contains a good deal of mosquito noise which the grain can't cover up. While no large areas stand out with the colors or blacks a close examination can often find a level of dot crawl that isn't quite in your face but can be distracting at times.
The cover features the main character of Akira Abe in a pose that looks like he is screaming with his friend Koichi Takamura behind him also yelling. Fumi Kusunoki is seen in a small spot of the bottom left of the cover while some of the traditional Kyoto landmarks can be seen in the back. The cover also features the Azure Dragons symbol, some traditional Japans lanterns with some of the command poses being acted out and one of the spirits from the movie in the bottom right corner. It is a very busy cover that manages to capture some of the frenetic energy found within. The back cover features the main cast in costume and poses from their battles and three stills from the movie. This is all set against a bright yellow background. The biggest drawback is the case is one of the 'eco-friendly' ones and so feels a bit flimsy.
The main menu uses a scene combining the main characters in an almost SD fashion with the backdrop of the city of Kyoto and a bunch of the Oni from the film looking ready to fight. The menus are quick to respond to both moving to make selections and implementing those selections.
This feature contains a theatrical trailer and TV commercial for the feature however both are presented with the Japanese track only and no translations are available.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The film opens with shots of Kyoto and then of the main character Akira Abe taking part in Kyoto's Aoi Festival. After the excitement of getting into Kyoto University he finds that he is suffering a bit from spring doldrums. As he and his classmate Takamura are leaving the festival they are approached by members of the Order of the Azure Dragon who are having a freshman welcoming party.
The two attend with no idea what they are about to get themselves into. The fact that the group president keeps insisting that that are a normal club raises some flags but the appearance of a girl (Sawara) who he instantly falls for (or at least finds himself taken by the bridge of her nose) captivates him and causes him to be less than astute about the event. On his way home he encounters her crying and invites her back to his room, initially to borrow his bike so she can go home but she falls asleep on his bed. When he awakes in the morning he find she left a note thanking him and her asking him to join the Azure Dragon club with her and is something he can't ignore.
With the hope in his heart of finding romance he ropes his friend Takumura into joining the club with him so he doesn't appear desperate. The freshman initiates then are dined and taken on trips in order to secure their participation. They then attend a ceremony in the middle of town where their seniors in the town meet up with representatives from 3 other schools (each from one of the four key points on the compass) and each group presents the ten members who will be participating that year. With that the meeting dissolves and the new members are baffled as to what they just witnessed.
The groups then all meet at a local restaurant owned by a former member of the Azure Dragons and discuss what it is they really do. It turns out to give praise to all the local deities the groups summon little Oni to perform battles and entertain the gods. And of course the leaders can't produce any Oni to prove it but show that there is a language and odd physical movements that go with it. The event is odd enough that everyone sticks around and trains anyway.
Time passes and Abe has been trying steadily to make progress with Sawara but when he is invited to a ceremony to please the gods he finds that the Oni are real. He also discovers that he is now in a club where spectacular failure carries a penalty from the gods and that when his hopes are crushed quitting is no longer an option. He also discovers that his attempts to stay involved in the event but separate himself from his broken heart may in fact cause great harm as the gates of Hell are set to be opened and a dark clouds starts to build over the city. Now Abe and his friends must muster all their skills and put on a show that will astound the gods so they will grant their forgiveness. So just a normal club indeed.
Battle League Horumo is a fun little comedy that clearly owes a lot to Japans other battling monsters series. It is crafty on its bringing the audience in as the protagonist clearly has the same doubts as the audience would but the slow immersion into the club makes it easier to get past the suspension of disbelief needed. Also the Oni are rather cute in their way and their battles are fantastic little choreographed little acts of action and violence (though mostly of a more comedic nature). The film sadly doesn't do a great job of developing some of the characters other than Abe and feels like it needs a few more minutes to flesh out a few ideas. The lack of an English track will likely also hurt it as this is a movie that younger children would be able to enjoy in this bizarre little fest.
Battle League Horumo is a fun little feature that works by subtly building up to some of the serious events later in the film but disguises itself at first as a film about a guy who can be talked into ridiculous things because of a girl. As the movie goes forward the absurdities build and the main character has to come to grips with things not only not being as he wanted but that he has managed to get himself into a situation where he has agreed to entertain the gods themselves-and while he may not have taken it seriously at the time the gods did and they want their contract upheld or else their wrath will be on display. And to entertain them, Abe will be forced to master command of an army of little spirits to wage war on his opponents.
Japanese 5.1 Language, Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.