Today’s selection: Battle League Horumo (2009, dir. Katsuhide Motoki)
Available from: Viz
The Azure Dragon club at Kyoto University is a very normal college club, a fact that they mention repeatedly and without any prompting. You could find another club like it anywhere, they say, and in fact, Kyoto’s other three universities have their own equivalents: the White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Black Snake. So, what do these societies do? Normal things, you know… go on field trips, get together for dinner, sing karaoke, summon armies of oni to battle each other.
Such is the plot of Battle League Horumo, a delightful movie about a college onmyoudou club, in which members appease the gods by commanding legions of ankle-high demons in combat. There’s less variety of yokai than the same director’s work on the Gegege no Kitaro movies, but the oni themselves are more of an extension of the characters commanding them (which I call the “avatar battler” genre, series such as Pokemon, Medabots, YugiOh, and Ultra Galaxy). The emphasis of the story is the characters’ interpersonal relationships, friendships and love triangles of their college lives, though the handful of oni battles are impressive, especially the finale in the streets of Kyoto (the creatures are thankfully invisible to common folk). As she’s wont to do, actress Chiaki Kuriyama steals the show, this time as a bowl-cut bespectacled tsundere, awkward and bossy, but a step away from her usual flat-out villain roles. Overall, the film is fun and charming, and would make a good pick for someone looking for a light-hearted, but not cartoonish, movie to watch.