Review for Maquia - When the Promised Flower Blooms
Mari Okada has made quite the name for herself when it comes to anime screenplays. She’s scripted shows like A Lull in the Sea, Hanasaku Iroha, Anohana, Kiznaiver, and films like Anthem of the Heart, as well as contributing to dozens of other productions. When it’s her name on the screenplay, you can be sure of character development with emotional depth, a production with heart, and quite frankly, several of my favourite anime shows have her fingerprints on. Maquia – When the Promised Flower Blooms not only gets a Mari Okada screenplay, it’s also her debut directorial feature, and an award winning one at that.
Maquia is one of the Iorph clan, a legendary group of near immortals who live isolated from the rest of the world, spending the centuries weaving special cloth called Hibiol. But in a world where civilisation is rapidly modernising, fairy tales and legends are few and far between. For the prince of Mezarte, whose rule depends on one particular legend, the Renato dragons, when the dragons start to die out, he needs another legend to maintain his rule. He decides that his son will have an Iorph bride, and sire a royal immortal lineage. And so it is that Mezarte soldiers attack Maquia’s clan.
Maquia alone manages to escape, and makes it into the forest. She’s about to succumb to her despair when she hears a cry. A nearby human village has been attacked by bandits, and the sole survivor is a newborn baby boy. She has been warned by the elders that forming emotional connections with short-lived humans will only result in despair and loneliness unlike anything she has felt before, but taking care of the boy she names Ariel might be the only thing that retains meaning in her life now.
Maquia gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer which is a thing to behold on this disc. It’s not just the transfer, which is sweet and free of any artefacts, compression or the usual banding, it’s that Studio P.A. Works do the honours when it comes to the animation, and they are a studio with a track record of eye-candy visuals and high quality animation. The world design here is fabulous, and the characters are wonderfully animated. The only downside is that the Iorph have a uniformity to their character designs that makes telling them apart a little difficult. Also some of the CGI doesn’t quite blend in at times.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, French, and Japanese with translated English and French subtitles and signs only tracks, locked during playback. It’s a nice expressive surround track, immersing the viewer in the action, and making the film’s music come to life. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the subtitles are accurately timed. There is the odd typo though, and All the Anime opt for a thin white font that is easy to lose against bright backgrounds, evident in the earliest scenes in the film.
Maquia is being released across both BD and DVD formats and with a Collector’s Edition too, although I only have the check discs to look at. Incidentally, there was a problem with the US DVD release, which only had the one audio language option. That’s not a problem here as the DVD is a clone of the BD in every respect except the resolution and audio formats, and the fact it’s native PAL with speed-up.
The Blu-ray boots to an animated menu, and the only on disc extras are the film’s English, French, and Japanese trailers.
I enjoyed Maquia – When the Promised Flower Blooms. It’s a nice piece of fantasy, with a rich narrative world and engaging characters. It’s not great though, feels half an hour too long, with one too many subplots. And when I think about it, Highlander managed to deliver the same message in a five minute montage with a much better, Queen soundtrack. Connor MacLeod’s life with Heather aside, Maquia’s main thrust really is the same, the joy and pain that results from an immortal forming a relationship with a human with a fleeting existence. What makes it a little different is that Maquia is little more than a child herself, a teen in her people’s eyes, a little spoiled, whimsical and timid at the start of the film.
She has a rude awakening when her clan is attacked and apparently destroyed, leaving her the sole survivor. Finding the baby Ariel gives her reason to keep on living, and she finds help from a kindly family, as she decides to raise Ariel as her own son. The problem is that as Ariel grows, she doesn’t age. At one point, this makes a teenage mother explaining a teenage son a little awkward, so they move around a lot. There’s plenty of joy and angst to be had as Ariel grows up, and Maquia balances her survivor’s guilt with her ambivalence about calling herself a mother; and emotionally this is the core, the strongest aspect of the film.
But there are the other plot arcs, as it turns out that Maquia isn’t the sole Iorph survivor. Her friends, Leilia and Krim also survived, with Leilia the girl who was taken by the Mezarte prince as the potential mother to a new royal bloodline. This has the potential for an interesting balance between the two storylines, with Maquia the mother by choice, and Leilia a mother through duress. But not enough is shown of Leilia’s storyline to really make an impact. This might be due to the Krim storyline, a boy who was in love with Leilia at the start of the film, and who wants Maquia’s help in fighting back against the Mezarte kingdom to rescue her. His is the most tragic of the story arcs, but it also feels the most superfluous.
Maquia – When the Promised Flower Blooms thus feels overlong and bloated. It’s not too bad, as the emotional connection with the film always remains engaged, no doubt helped because Mari Okada is a genius at manipulating audience emotions to engender empathy for the characters. But the emotional manipulation feels obvious in Maquia, making it something that only works well if the viewer consents to be manipulated. It also means that logical inconsistencies with the film stand out, making the film’s conclusion feel unearned. Maquia is a good, entertaining film, but it could have been much better.