BATTLE LEAGUE HORUMO
It took me a long time to get into Battle League Horumo. Conceptually, it seems like a collision between a standard Japanese high school drama (of which the country produces a great many) and one of their Pokemon films about the collection of miniature creatures. The film builds up well where the introduction of Azure Dragons is played with comic amusement and we are drawn into Takayuki Yamadas adoration of the impossibly beautiful seeming Sei Ashima. There is a bizarre wackiness to the film when the creatures are unveiled, looking like cousins to The Smurfs, and we see the students going into battle with hordes of them, posing their arms and even butts to direct them in attack formation.
On the other hand, while the film sets up the premise of battle tournaments involving cute little creatures, it never does much with the creatures. Instead, it seems to spend much of its running time on a story that is told by the cliches of the high school drama Takayuki Yamada being caught in a triangle of desire between Sei Ashima and Chiaki Kuriyama; his having to stand up to a confident and cockily assured bully/rival (Takuya Ishida) or the sports film the hero taking a fall due to his hubris/failings and having to go away to learn what it takes to stand up and win; the epic all-or-die battle where in this case the fate of the world literally hangs in the balance unless the hero and his rival can overcome their pride and admit defeat. Throughout these scenes, Battle League Horumo raises the odd laugh at the quirkiness of its characters Chiaki Kuriyama, better known as Gogo Yubari in Quentin Tarantinos Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) as an unnaturally awkward and nerdy bespectacled girl; Gaku Hamada and his sudden decision to adopt a traditional samurais topknot; YosoYoso Arakawa and his constant insistence that everything in the club is perfectly normal. However, most of the show passes by unexceptionally, the direction never seems to rise above a kitchen sink approach, while the laughs produce never much more than the odd smile. There is a crucial disappointment at the lack of the Oni creatures on screen and the feeling that overly much of the running time is given over to the high school/sports team dramatics.
All of that said, Battle League Horumo finally gets itself together in the last twenty minutes. In these scenes, it lets the Oni creatures and the two teams loose against one another, first on the battlefield and then out into the streets of Kyoto. Here Katsuhide Motoki, with expert aid from several visual effects houses, has a great deal of fun showing the miniature creatures wheeling around in attack formation, bashing each other with cudgels, even forming battering rams and ganging up on human opponents, the spirits of the downed ones departing heavenwards, not to mention the two girls of the opposing teams showing down. It is here that Battle League Horumo finally reaches the height of wacky dementia that it promises to at the outset.