TL;DR – While it can be frustrating at times, it is a beautifully created animated film with an emotionally resonate heart that will punch you right in the feels at times.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a final frame after the credits
‘Animation’ is a genre that does not get the credit it deserves, for many it is just the purview of children and as such it is not something of quality. However, this is a real shame because we have seen with films like Coco (see review), Moana (see review) and Studio Ghibli that even when aimed at children, they can still be works of art. As well as this, there are more and more fascinating animated films that are targeted at adults and today we are looking at one such with Maquia.
So to set the scene, in a distant land a long time ago there is a world in flux. It used to be a land of legends, of mystical races, great leviathans that roamed the seas, and more. However, all things must come to pass and the age of legends is slipping into the history of the world bar two holdouts, the great bests of the sky called Renato that have now been captured and put into service as war machines, but are now dying one by one. Finally, there is also the Iorph, a race of almost immortals all with pale skin and blonde hair that for all intents and purposes stop aging after they reach adolescence. The Iorph spend their days working on their large tapestries called Hibiol in which they weave their history so that it will be preserved for all time. It is a simple but fulfilling life in a town made of stones and waterfalls and it is here where we meet the titular Maquia (Manaka Iwami) who is an orphan in a world of close families. Unlike the rest of her people, she looks fifteen because she is only fifteen, being one of the youngest of the Iorph, and like all teenagers, she has a crush on Krim (Yūki Kaji) who in turn has a crush on Leilia (Ai Kayano). It is carefree life until one day the Mezarte army attacks the peaceful village, looking for the legend to help boost their political position in the world. In the attack, Leilia is captured and Maquia is whisked away crashing all alone in an unknown forest in an unknown land far from her home. Her world has been turned upside-down, and she does not even know if she has a home to go back too, but in that moment of confusion, she is pressed with a choice as she stumbles across a merchant camp that had been attacked leaving only a single survivor a baby. She has never been a mother, it would be better for her to just walk away but as she looks into Ariel’s (Miyu Irino) eyes, she knows in an instant that she can’t.
This first thing I really want to talk about is the animation because this is where Maquia really shines. There are a number of location shots that just take your breath away like the Iorph village with this feeling of a very old place that has gone to ruin in places but still lived in. Since it is a village of people out of time, it makes sense that the two features that are used the most in its creation are water and rock, water flows and the rock stand unmovable over the eons. There are the quint rural villages, the monolith capital city, the industrial heartland, and everything in-between. As well as this, you have all the character animation which for the most part is fluid and feels like they have weight and substance to them. This is important because as the film progresses the film needs the characters to have substance, or else you feel no threat. Now much like other films Maquia uses a combination of traditional drawn animation or at least in that style, computer assessed animation, and completely computer-generated animation. For the most part, this blend of animation works, but there were moments, and this may have been from the cinema that I was in, where the animation got a bit janky and the transition between these styles didn’t always work.
Now while this might be Mari Okada’s first feature film with regards to directing, she has been working in the industry for a long time and you can see that experience in the story that she weaves. Just a quick warning that because we will be discussing the story a little bit there may be a couple of [SPOILERS] ahead. There are a number of themes going on in this film, the notion of political legitimacy and what people do to stay ahead, what does it mean to have a home, but most importantly the core theme is that of motherhood. When I first saw that these were eternal being that stops aging at adolescence a red flag warning started going off. Because in some media this is used to get around certain laws about the depiction of characters. However, in Maquia it is used in a way that without going into details really hits home emotionally that gives the phrase ‘You will be truly alone’ much more weight. It also really helps that Maquia is not Ariel’s biological mother because at the core the story is does that actually matter? and at times it does. While the story is deeply moving, there is a point in the film where everyone kind of gets quickly moved into position for the big third act battle that does feel a bit forced for time. At the core where the story works is when it is dealing with the relationship between Maquia and Ariel, but it does not always work when it moved beyond that. I think part of it for me is that some of the voice performances were in a style that I don’t really gel with, like the King that they make look like a buffoon right from the start and who spends the whole film overacting as sort of shorthand for the fact that he is a bit unhinged but it just does not work. That being said when the emotion hits, it hits hard, and I will openly admit that the ending had me in tears in the cinemas.
In the end, do we recommend Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms? Yes, yes we do. Does the film work all the time, no, but it completely makes up for that in some stunning visuals, fluid animation, fascinating battles, and a story that just hits you in the feels with no mercy.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Maquia
Directed by – Mari Okada
Written by – Mari Okada
Music by – Kenji Kawai
Cinematography by – Satoshi Namiki
Edited by – Ayumu Takahashi
Starring – Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Ai Kayano, Yūki Kaji, Miyuki Sawashiro, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Rina Satō, Yōko Hikasa, Misaki Kuno, Tomokazu Sugita & Hiroaki Hirata
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: na