Mums don’t cry! But I do! Pass me the tissues.
What’s the Story?
Secluded away from the eyes of the world, the Iorph live out their long lives in peace and tranquillity, weaving the history of the ages into magnificent tapestries that only they can read. All that changes though when humans arrive, hoping to take the Iorph’s longevity for themselves. For Maquia, a young Iorph, it means the end of one life and the beginning of another. She escapes the attack and finds herself in the outside world for the first time ever, and when she discovers a crying baby, clasped in the arms of his dead mother, she can’t help but feel a connection. Deciding to raise the child herself, Maquia is going to learn what it means to be a mother, and that there can be joy even amidst the sorrow of parting ways.
This film is the directional debut of scriptwriter Mari Okada, and it should tell you something that I’m actually paying attention to the creative team behind this film. Mari Okada has written a lot of series that I’ve heard very good things about, even if I haven’t gotten around to watching them myself. From Anohana to Anthem of the Heart and O Maiden in Your Savage Season, she has quite the portfolio of work (she also wrote scripts for Hanasaku Iroha, a series that I actually own, but haven’t watched yet and is it me or are those blu rays glaring at me from their place on the shelf? I’ll watch you I swear!). I knew all of this going into this film so I was ready to be impressed, but I also tempered that with the knowledge hype often kills films for me. So, does this film meet expectations? Well…YEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!
From a visual standpoint alone this film is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The colours are so crisp and clear, whether its rustling fields or the mirror-like shine of lakes and rivers, I just want to take each frame of this film and hang them up on my wall. Add on to that the gorgeous landscapes and intricate cities that we visit throughout the story and this film is a feast for the eyes. I want to shake the hands of the designers and background artists, everything from the creatures to the costumes and the characters are beautiful, that’s really the best word for this film, beautiful, in so many meanings of the word. Of course just being pretty doesn’t make a great film and since I brought up the director, let’s talk about direction.
Honestly it does astound me that this is Mari Okada’s first directorial role because she makes it look so effortless. For a film that has to cover several years, taking us from Maquia finding and naming Ariel, her raising him until their eventual separation and then reunion in his adult years. That is a lot of time to cover and in a film that’s under two hours it could easily feel like you’ve skipped over important chunks of the story. Fortunately that isn’t the case here and while there are time skips and things we don’t see, we see everything we need to and all the characters have a logical and natural progression throughout the film. You can tell how each character arrives at where they do and that is down to the skill of the writing and directing (both credits belonging to Mari Okada).
That brings me to the action, and for a film whose focus is on the quieter, more emotional moments, when the action does kick in it does it with gusto. The two scenes that stick in my mind are the dragon’s rampage at the start of the film and the big invasion at the end, both of which are put forward with confidence and style. It did have me question if this really is Mari Okada’s debut, maybe she did a few sly directing jobs under another name before, because these scenes are pretty much flawless. The action is fast and fluid, worthy of any big budget fantasy epic. It makes me want to see how Miss Okada would handle an action series, as well as wanting plenty more fantasy works from her. One of my favourite things about this film is its world, it feels so fully realised, every aspect of it has a reason behind it or some effect on the rest of the world that just makes the place feel whole. I want to spend more time in this world exploring it, and while a sequel probably isn’t on the cards I can’t help hoping for one, or at least for this to be made into a twenty-plus episode series.
That brings me to the story itself and, all told, its fairly simple story, which is for the best really. It’s hard to do a super complex story in a world that we have no prior experience with, introducing so many concepts and characters, and bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion all in under two hours. If you tried you’d be walking a fine line between it being complex and being complicated, which is best avoided. Plus this story is very much about the feels. You feel the bond between Maquia and Ariel from the moment they meet and through all their ups and downs and, yeah, I cried by the end I’m not ashamed to admit that. I think what I love most though is that all the major characters get their own little arcs, even what appears to be a throwaway character from the beginning returns later to pay off her story before the end credits role. We spend just enough time with each character to get to know them and care about where they end up, and that’s talent.
In the end, Maquia – When the Promised Flower Blooms is a wonderful film. It’s beautiful in so many meanings of the word, from the gorgeous visuals to some superb writing and directing. Every character feels like their own person, in a world that feels fully thought-through, I just want to spend more time here with these people, but if this film teaches anything it’s that nothing lasts forever and that’s not entirely sad. I wholeheartedly recommend this film, if you haven’t seen it already, heck, even if you have it’s worth more than one rewatch.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.