Directed by Hitoshi Takekiyo
This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival has definitely been highlighting some interesting and off-the-wall animation from the country that practically invented interesting and off-the-wall animation (Legend of the Overfiend anyone?). The Japanese are capable of some truly bizarre manifestations of sexual repression that are decidedly adult; yet, they are also well-equipped to produce a fun, imaginative, adventurous movie for kids – and that’s exactly what these exquisite animators have done with After School Midnighters.
Taking place over the course of one night at St. Claire Elementary School, three little girls – Miko, Mako, and Matsuko – are tasked with acquiring three medallions located in three different rooms on the vast school grounds. The Pool Room is guarded by a jovial merman, the Digital Room is protected by two entities equipped with all knowledge, and finally the Music Room is guarded by… Mozart. Their orders are handed down from a Human Anatomy mannequin from the now neglected science lab, who promises them one wish if they succeed in the task now standing before them. However, the real reason the girls are sent on their mission is to actually save the devious mannequin (named Louis Thomas Jerome Kunstlikj) and his skeletal sidekick, Goth, from becoming fake again forever. There’s a little more to it than that, but you get the idea.
There are also a few sliced up mafioso bunnies with machine guns determined to stop the proceedings altogether and an evil ancient fly out to avenge his forty-year imprisonment in a toilet.
What’s really fun and effective about After School Midnighters (besides the outlandish plot, of course) is how each girl’s personality helps them clear each room and win the medals by working together and learning new things along the way. Having the young girls find and enter the forgotten science lab and using classical music in the Music Room sequence reflect the story’s subtle push to get kids back into the fundamentals of education and culture. It also has a time machine that goes to Hell and I’m not really sure what that means at all but it definitely adds to the overall weirdness and wonder.
The animation seems almost too two-dimensional at times, but it’s so colorful and dynamic that by the halfway point I was too wrapped up in the unfolding storyline to care. The action also takes place well outside the doors of the elementary school, literally taking flight for some highly rewarding adventure beats that are staged beautifully and paramount to the film’s overall resolution that proves to be very satisfying. I’m not sure how many kids (or adults, for that matter) will end up seeing After School Midnighters, but they’ll probably love all of the characters and creatures if they do. It’s a funhouse lock-in adventure movie that has a great message about education tucked underneath its cloak. This is an excellent gateway for kids into the horror genre because it shows the imaginative and exciting elements of the unknown through characters that look a lot scarier than they actually are. That’s something that animation has a far easier time accomplishing in the genre than any live action horror movie because animation has more freedom to become a completely whacked out fantasy. It’s just plain spooky as opposed to being frightening.
3 1/2 out of 5