Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Maquia - When the Promised Flower Blooms
Maquia is from a clan where all the members stop aging in their mid teens. She has no parents and, although her days are peaceful, she feels lonely. Their peace is shattered when an army invades, seeking the secret to her people's immortality. Leilia, the most beautiful girl in her clan, is taken away, and the boy Maquia has secret feelings for disappears. Maquia is able to escape, but she loses her friends and her home. Wandering alone in the forest, she finds Erial, a baby boy who has lost his parents. The story follows the changing relationship between the two as Erial grows up and Maquia does not.
I cried multiple times watching this film.
I was expecting Maquia to be a tearjerker—it's a story about an immortal girl who forms an attachment to a mortal boy. It's an inherently touching premise; the idea that she will outlive the boy and be alone once more is woven into the core of the narrative. The film is also written and directed by Mari Okada, who is famous for penning emotional dramas like anohana and The Anthem of the Heart. And yet even with all the forewarning I received, I was still not prepared for the onslaught of emotions I experienced.
This film is about motherhood. You could consider that information a little spoilery because the key visual makes the characters look as if they're a similar age, perhaps a deliberate move to play with the audience's expectations. Maquia is not a romance; it's about mothers and the trials they endure for the sake of their children. This theme actually makes the plot somewhat unusual among anime, and by setting the story in a medieval fantasy world with dragons and elf-like people, Maquia becomes a distinctive work in general. I've never seen anything quite like it before.
What makes Maquia so memorable is how intimate its story feels regardless of the epic scale of events. One scene of all-out war is juxtaposed with the agony of a mother giving birth. Most of the film's runtime is dedicated to the titular heroine Maquia and her relationship with Elias, the boy she adopts as her son. The film is full of moments of quiet nostalgia and joy, even through all the hardships Maquia bears as she struggles to provide for her son.
This part of the film had extra significance for me after reading Mari Okada's autobiography, where she talks about her troubled relationship with her mother, who raised her child as a young single mother, much like this movie's heroine. Maquia's eternal youth and doll-like appearance reinforce the idea that she seems “too young” for her role, like Okada's mother had once been. Okada has tackled mother-child relationships before, most notably in Hana-Saku Iroha, but this is her first screenplay where she dives deeply into the mother's perspective. In a way, Maquia is an ideal mother figure, whose mental resilience belies her frail exterior. I feel that this is the kind of work that Okada could only have written at this stage of her career, with the age and hindsight that would enable her to capture why a mother's efforts are worth celebrating for all her individual faults.
For many viewers, Mari Okada's name will probably be the biggest draw of this film. Maquia is her directorial debut, touted as the first “100% Okada anime” in reference to the level of creative influence she had over the way the story was told and directed. But the film wouldn't be what it is without the rest of the key staff, all big names in their own right. From Akihiko Yoshida (the famous Final Fantasy character designer) to Kenji Kawai (the composer of Ghost in the Shell) and Tadashi Hiramatsu (the chief animation director of Yuri!!! on Ice) this project has managed to attract some remarkable talent. Maquia also has some of the best artists attached to P.A. Works, most notably the series director, anime character designer, and background art director of A Lull in the Sea. Toshiyuki Inoue, one of the most renowned Japanese animators ever, is even credited as the “main animator” on this film, and he's no doubt the main reason why those war scenes are so striking and hyper-detailed.
With this fantastic team behind her, it's no wonder that Okada's first movie has managed to achieve a level of visual and musical spectacle that few anime films can boast. I was particularly impressed by Kenji Kawai's score, which captured the medieval feel of the film's setting. Some of the tracks even have hurdy-gurdies and bouzoukis! But it's during the sentimental scenes that Kawai's score shines most, thanks to his ability to make each track sound distinctive, even with similar instruments. There were a lot of emotional scenes in this film, and I was impressed at how every one of them was able to stand out thanks to the musical choices.
I was also impressed with the background art, which was beautiful and lush at all times. The story jumps from locale to locale without spending nearly enough time in any single place, but the background art makes all the different locations feel like places where people could actually live. I do wish the narrative had spent more time in Iorf, the place where Maquia and her clan come from, but the background art offers a tantalizing glimpse of their lifestyle—the tranquil waters and antiquated stone buildings depict a land frozen in time. The other settings aren't quite as distinctive as Iorf, but there's more than enough detail in the backgrounds to make the world stand out among other medieval fantasy anime.
For a first-time director's work, Maquia is simply phenomenal. In terms of sheer impact, I'd put it above any anime film I saw last year. It's a wonder how Okada managed to achieve such a feat from her first time in the director's chair, but if the word of her colleagues is anything to go by, she's shown the potential to be a director for a long time. According to Lull in the Sea director Toshiya Shinohara, who assisted Okada through his role as chief director on Maquia, Okada has been offering ideas and suggestions for the visual side of anime for a while, even when she was just working as a screenwriter. For Maquia, she even made decisions about the lighting and shadows in each scene. This was truly a “100% Okada anime,” and I'm blown away by how tight and cohesive the end result was. Mari Okada deserves to feel proud of what she's accomplished, and if she ever makes another film, I'll be first in line to watch it.
Overall : A+
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Touching story about a mother and son, beautifully detailed background art and animation, superb soundtrack, a real tearjerker
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