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After School Midnighters
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by Jay Seaver

"Sugar serial"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Go to Fantasia (or any large festival) enough times, and you start to notice little quirks in the scheduling. One which has emerged in recent years is that the animated features from Japan tend to run at or before noon on weekend mornings, probably because they attract an extremely dedicated fanbase that will fill the theater when many other festival-goers are hungover. This one, though, slotted in there as Saturday Morning cartoons, which is totally appropriate - just like it's more fun to watch horror movies when it's dark outside, kids' cartoons in general and this one in particular are more fun when you're alert and maybe feeling a bit of a sugar rush from breakfast.

Certainly, that's the state of one of its five-year-old characters - Mako (voice of Haruka Tomatsu) is highly excitable, always running at full speed. During a visit to the strangely spooky elementary school she'll be attending in the fall, she get separated from the main group along with snobby rich girl Miko (voice of Sakiko Uran) and insect-loving spooky girl Mutsuko (voice of Minako Kotobuki). They cheerfully vandalize the anatomical model in the science room, not knowing that after the kids come home, he comes to life, and Sir Louis Thomas Jerome Kunstlijik (voice of Koichi Yamadera) is not pleased with being used as a coloring book! He sends an invitation out to get the girls back to the school, dreaming of revenge, but his skeleton friend Mr. Goth (voice of Hiromasa Taguchi) suggests that maybe, instead, Mako, Mi, and Mu might be able to help prevent their home from being demolished.

For all that this movie clothes itself in spookiness, a self-contained loop of a time-travel subplot, and some weirdly adult references (although if Animaniacs could have a regular bit based on GoodFellas twenty years ago, why shouldn't a Japanese CGI cartoon give gun-toting bunnies names from The Godfather?), After School Midnighters is unabashedly for kids. It leaps past explanations or much in the way of logic the same way a kid's brain does, propelling things forward with raw energy, cuteness, and just plain being silly. The pace and loose narrative may leave grown-ups dizzy, but seldom bored. Director Hitoshi Takekiyo and co-writer Yoichi Komori do go for a level of gross-out humor that I suspect would get the film slapped with at least a PG-13 in America at times, but never as anything truly malicious or humiliating.

Kids and adults alike should get a bit of a kick out of the visuals, though; the environment is often kind of dark, but filled with poppy colors. Everything on-screen is kind of smooth and rubbery, lending itself to slapstick and exaggeration, although it's interesting that Kunstlijik sometimes seems to be a more flexible model than the girls - his proportions and movement are much more human than their highly stylized ones. It's an enjoyably cartoony look, although a bit odd in a CGI feature like this one, and matched by the voice acting where, even if you don't understand the language, the point comes across very clearly.

The rubbery look might remind some of video games more than theatrical features, and in a way, it's sort of fitting; the structure with individual quests, rewards, and a final boss is similar to games. That's not necessarily a bad set-up for a movie targeted to a younger audience; even as things get complicated, there's never too much in play at any given moment to keep track of, and even as things are fast-paced, it's always just on the right side of exhausting. There are songs, too, which are enjoyably on the silly side.

It's a fun and fast-paced movie for the kids, although speedy enough that it would almost have to be dubbed for the younger ones to keep up. For everyone else, well, if you're in the mood for a Saturday morning sugar rush, it's not a bad time.

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originally posted: 10/02/13 15:09:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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