While Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, also known as Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō, literally “Let’s Decorate the Promised Flowers in the Morning of Farewells”, has a mouthful of a title, just about everything else in acclaimed screenwriter Mari Okada‘s feature directorial debut is perfect. Its story is one that’s perfectly suited for the medium of anime, and its beautiful settings, charismatic characters, and perilous action sequences are brought to life exceptionally well by animation studio P.A. Works. And because Maquia‘s gorgeous animation and sweeping musical score are inseparable from the powerful story itself, it’s one of the most rewarding theatrical experiences you’re likely to have this year.
Maquia has a lot going for it. It’s a tale of a world in which legends still exist but are fading, a world that’s based on a feudal system that is moving into medieval industry and weapons of war, a world that, much like our own, exists in a tenuous state of peace that threatens to break out into all-out conflict. All of that plot provides the action of Maquia, but the unique narrative power of the piece lies within the title character herself, a legendary being known as an Iorph. These long-lived, childlike people live far from the lands of mortal men and are tasked with weaving tapestries chronicling the day’s events, known as Hibiol. The Iorph live a long and peaceful life until the ambitious military forces of the nation of Mezarte invade in a plot to secure the Iorph’s near immortality for themselves. In the conflict, Maquia is flung into the mortal world where a chance encounter will change her life forever. Her immortality complicates her existence alongside mortals, and it’s this contrast that drives the drama, emotion, and unique storytelling power of Maquia, making it a must-watch experience.
If you’re already interested in seeing Maquia in the theater, head to Eleven Arts’ page for ticketing information. But if you need a little more encouragement, check out the film’s trailer and read on for my review:
The story of Maquia comes from Mari Okada’s own memoir and is inspired by her relationship with her mother. This is the core of Maquia; the rest is but a frame story, some well-told window dressing in which to set the rich, complicated relationships between the nearly immortal Iorph and the humans she encounters. Outside of vampire mythology, which comes with its own sexualized and supernatural baggage, I’ve never seen anything like Maquia. It explores the mother-child relationship in unique angles, from all directions, and across vast swaths of time. And it does so in both heart-breaking and emotionally restorative fashion. You’ll want to give your mom a call after watching this, or better yet, go see it together in the theaters this weekend.
Maquia begins with an introduction to the title character herself, an orphaned Iorph who feels the cold isolation of loneliness despite being surrounded by friends and mentors. Young even by human standards, Maquia learns about relationships–friendships, familial bonds, romance–from a distance, watching as others experience things she knows nothing about. That changes when she’s thrust out of her idyllic home by the invading Mezarte forces. She becomes truly alone and abandoned when she crash-lands on the back of a rogue, legendary dragon in a forest. It’s there she happens upon an orphaned infant, his dead mother still clutching him to her breast with stiff fingers, which Maquia has to break one by one in order to free the baby and care for it.
Maquia‘s storytelling may be tender, innocent, and whimsical at times, but it balances that out with realistic violence, trauma, and moments like this that make you feel the mortality that’s woven throughout the film. The themes of weaving and tapestries is strong throughout, not only because everyone’s story is connected to others’ in some way, but because Maquia’s own presence is a constant thread in the lives of others over the years. Though she does not age, she raises the baby, whom she names Arial, from infancy, to boyhood, to manhood, and Maquia honestly deals with all the complications that arise from this otherworldly relationship. Every possible beautiful moment, frustration, and conflict inherent in the spectrum of parent-child relationships is earnestly explored here.
While the Mauquia/Arial relationship is the core of Maquia, other pairings are also explored. There’s the tragic arc of Leilia, a fellow Iorph who’s kidnapped by the Mezarte soldiers and imprisoned in their castle as a means to their end to extend the royal bloodline’s longevity. Separated from her Iorph love Krim/Clear, this sub-plot has a strong flavor of the tragic consequences of Helen of Troy, or Tristan and Isolde. It’s not the main focus of Maquia, but the ultimate resolution nicely ties together the idea that legends are passing from this increasingly mortal and mundane world, whether they be the Iorph, or the rare dragons known as the Renato.
The pacing of Maquia never drags, though it requires the viewer to pay close attention thanks to jumps through time. Maquia never ages, but those around her do, and it’s to them you’ll have to look for clues as to just how far ahead the narrative has shifted. The world changes around the Iorph even if they do not, and this provides a clever technique for commenting on how humans have a tendency to move onto the next great thing without consideration of the natural world or nature itself.
Maquia has a lot to say, from the broad strokes ideas about warfare and how it sows needless conflict, to more personal relationships between people, and it’s best experienced rather than read about. Do yourself a favor and book a ticket for you, your mom, and maybe even the kiddos this weekend.