Sunday, August 26, 2012

After School Midnighters (放課後ミッドナイターズ Hōkago Midnighters)


I can't understand why After School Midnighters only managed 4 scheduled screenings here over this weekend, given that Japanese anime has its audience in Singapore. Directed by Hitoshi Takekiyo, this animated comedy film isn't quite the horror anime that the trailers may have touted it to be, but has a relatively fun action adventure setting based on three little girls in Mako (voiced by Haruka Tomatsu), Mitsuko (Minako Kotobuki) and Miko (Sakiko Uran) who spend a day, and night, at St Claire Elementary School.

During their day visit, the trio had ventured into the Science Room, and had a good time vandalizing two exhibits - an anatomical human body and a skeleton. Little do they know that like Toy Story, these two forms known as Kunstlijk (Kouichi Yamadera) and Goth (Hiromasa Taguchi) respectively, come to life when nobody's around. Angered by what the three girls had done, Kunstlijk summoned them back to the school using an After School Midnight Party pass to entice them, for the sole purpose of revenge, while Goth is dead set against vengeance, since he thinks the girls can help them save their Science Lab, and their own obsolescence.

It centers around the urban legend of three medals, which when brought together, can grant a wish. Think of it like the DragonBall. But in order to get those medals, there are, well, the usual challenges that have to be overcome from the arenas of the Pool, the Digital Room and the Music Room, each having their own "Boss" to defeat, before having the medal bestowed upon. This of course provides the set up for set action pieces, the introduction of more quirky characters such as a mer-man, to digital oracles and spirits of musical maestros, and in some cases, comedy as well. And the challenges may range from the mundane of out-swimming the mer-man, to more challenging ones like telling the oracles something new, or to compose a song to impress the composers, which is near impossible.

But leave it to the three girls to come up with solutions, and I have to admit they sort of grow on you as the film wore on. They couldn't be any more diverse in character, and bring their own strengths to the film. There's the little missy rich brat in Mako, Mu with her fringe covering most of her face, and wearing that oversized dress, coupled with a penchant of wanting to specimen almost everything in a bottle, and there's Mi as the youngest and most eager of the lot. They're infectious, and more so than the Power Puff Girls combined. Fearless too, with a mean streak running in them, that makes them the bane of some, and the hope of others in the story.

It's also pretty amazing that the narrative is rather expansive, and has plenty of elements which may seem innocuous at the point of introduction, but boy when it comes to the payload, they all delivered at the right place, and at the right time. And the plot elements can be as diverse as from gun totting rabbits to a time machine. Or how about an evil being known as Chabris manifesting itself as an awful looking fruit fly of sorts, hell bent on destroying everything, and being the chief antagonist for this big action adventure, with everything coming together for that one big closed loop.

The animation is a mix of simple designed characters, to the more intricate ones such as Kunstlijk for his many internal parts that have to be shown, to the details of his stripped down muscles. And besides the three girls, Kunstlijk himself is quite the character, being on both sides of the equation of the alpha type, to being slapstick fodder, especially when his various schemes go awry and backfire. Perhaps then it is his character that made After School Midnighters quite the engaging film it is, through his looks (or lack thereof) to being the glue in which everything revolves around.

It's a pity that After School Midnighters got an extremely limited release here, so maybe it may find its way through some of the more specialized festivals to reach out to a wider audience.

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