Maquia – When The Promised Flower Blooms (Cert 15)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray/2 discs Limited Edition (Distributor: Anime Ltd.) Running time: 115 minutes approx.
Mari Okada is a prolific writer with a number of poignant and gut wrenching series to her name of which at least one will be a favourite of every anime fan, be it the fantasy fish world saga A Lull In The Sea, or teen domestic drama Hanasaku Iroha. Maquia is a first for Okada as it sees her take the director’s chair to bring one of her stories to life in this feature film outing.
In a mystical land, the Iorph are a race of fair-haired females with the unusual trait of aging incredibly slowly. Their chief, Racine, forbids the Iorph from interaction with men or humans in general for this very reason since Iorph’s will outlive a human partner and any family they sire. Meanwhile, neighbouring kingdom Mezarte wants the secret of immortality and plans to kidnap Iorph’s, breed with them, and introduce their immortal DNA into Mezarte bloodlines.
Soldiers on dragons called Renato attack the Iorph village but many contract and die from a condition called Red Eye. An Iorph named Leilia is kidnapped whilst another, Maquia, is dragged away by a Renato before it dies, leaving her stranded in the woods where she hears the cry of a newborn baby. With the help of a nearby family, young Maquia raises the boy as her own, naming his Ariel, but true to Racine’s warnings, problems arise when Ariel ages faster than his adopted mother does.
Parents looking younger than their offspring only really happens in Hollywood via plastic surgery but Okada’s take on this is far more interesting though not always in a way we’d like to see. One of the darker scenes sees Ariel, now a young adult, taller and older looking than the evergreen Maquia, referring to her as his sister rather than his mother. After his adult co-workers ply him with drinks one night, Ariel returns home and sees his Maquia in a different light.
This teasing of an Oedipal conflict between Ariel and Maquia feels almost inevitable in lieu of them not being blood relations, but morally it is quite alarming to consider as a valid development for a teenage lad’s hormonal journey into adulthood. Thankfully, it doesn’t go anywhere but the risk is it could have – what if later on when Ariel is in his 30’s and Maquia still looks 15?
Okada only touches on this by way of keeping the Iorph’s enforced isolation a vital plot element, allowing Maquia and other Iorphs outside of the village to understand why Racine made such a decree. The other concern of the story is one of Okada’s favourites – the family unit. In many of her titles, family is about shared DNA it is about the bonds formed and Maquia doesn’t deviate from this despite being set in a world of dragons and immortal beings.
However estranged they are from the other realms around them, Iorphs are content with their lot, though curiosity is always going to be strong in some. Maquia wasn’t one of them, being shy and uncomfortable around people as an orphan but was never unloved. Once whisked away and deserted by the sickly Renato, Maquia is forced to grow up fast after discovering baby Ariel firmly in the grip of her dead mother’s hands and left for dead.
Not wanting the baby to suffer as she once did, Maquia has to break the fingers on the rigid hand in order to free him, one at a time. When you consider the amount of blood, graphic violence, and prurience in anime, this visceral scene is harder to watch but never feels gratuitous. What it does achieve is establish the earnestness and compassion of Maquia’s character, selflessly taken on a humungous role at an age where she is barely equipped to look after herself.
Unfortunately, of all the characters in this film, Maquia is the only one afforded a genuine arc of growth as a person, with Ariel a slight second. Too many of the supporting cast or incidental figures are poorly introduced, like the antagonists of Mezarte or other Iorphs seeking to rescue Leilia. Some appear briefly, like a girl named Dita from the village Ariel grows up in, who then disappears for the bulk of the film only to return later on as his now pregnant wife!
Similarly, little is shared about the Mezarte kingdom, its history as a ruling kingdom, its history with the Renato, and a brief note on what red eye is and why it affects them so. Equally confusing is the way the story sometimes leaping forward by as much as five to ten years without a hint of warning or notification, with Maquia never aging being a handicap as the main point of reference for each scene.
One might infer from this that Okada had planned for Maquia to be a TV series and not a two hour film, thus excised much of the world building and political intrigue in favour of driving the narrative with the main bonding plot. On that front, there are no complaints and Okada fans should find this as emotionally cutting as her other works, especially a cinematic scene involving Dita giving birth intercut with Ariel simultaneously fighting for his life on the battle field.
For her first time in the director’s seat, Okada does a good job with making the worlds feel magical, the characters real, and the action scenes burst with energy and drama. But with acclaimed studio PA Works handling the animation, half the work is done for her and as ever, they present us with a gorgeous looking work to immerse ourselves in that glistens with vitality in HD.
As much as Okada can be proud of her directing debut, Maquia is just missing something to make it as extra special as it could have been. It’s strong and enchanting enough not to be written off and a solid foundation for Okada can build on for the future.
Japanese Language DTS HD-MA
English Language DTS HD-MA
French Language DTS HD-MA
Limited Collector’s Edition
Rigid Digi Pack Case
Rating – *** ½
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