Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms
"An impressive score and imaginative visuals."

Is it me? Is it anime? Or at least, is it something about the conventions and style of anime, insofar as they influence narrative, that guarantees the about turn moment? That is, the moment, somewhere around half an hour to an hour in, when I decide that the film is not pants: has, in fact, got its teeth into something rather interesting and is making not a bad fist of it.

That has been my experience with several anime films of late – and Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms is no exception.

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This is the story of Maquia (voiced by Manaka Iwami) who is an Iolph. Young, beautiful, blonde: the catch is that the people of Iolph stop ageing in their mid-teens and can live for hundreds of years. This arouses both fear and hatred amongst ordinary humans, who regard these young oldies as monsters and freaks neither to be trusted, nor allowed within ordinary decent human society.

No problem, as the Iolph spend their days weaving hibbiol, a form of cloth famed far and wide for its quality which here also acts as medium for short messages and delivery mechanism for obscure prophesy.

Despite the peace and tranquillity, Maquia is lonely. Then one day – be careful what you wish for! - the peace is shattered. An army from Mesarte invades to kidnap Iolph's women. The reason? Mesarte's power depends on maintaining a flock of mythical, dragon-like creatures, known as renato – and the renato are dying. So – obvious solution – grab a bunch of immortals in the hope that their blood will stave off a final eclipse of Mesarte power.

Maquia escapes and, in the process, stumbles across a baby, Ariel (voiced by Miyu Irino) who she adopts and brings up as her own. What follows is the working out of multiple strands. Maquia's gradual progression from child to adult, all the while maintaining the aspect of barely pubescent teen. Her relationship with Ariel twists and turns every which way as Ariel first resents her when he realises she is not his real mum, then returns as he grows older, wiser.

It is about the fate of the Iolph, who Mesarte's corrupt ruler has deemed fit only to be force married and – let's not beat about the bush - raped for their blood. It is about the place for mythical creatures – not just the Iolph, but the renato too – in the cold harsh world of humans: and it is very much about a “let my people go” resistance to Mesartan cruelty.

What did I not like? In the first half hour or so, the character of Maquia is presented as shrill, annoying: a self-absorbed child. And of course, that is what she is, being but 15 at the beginning of the film. Still, everything about her – her voice, her naivety, her bad decision-making – irritated until I wondered if I could take two hours of her. It was at this point that she began to grow up, became a tad more reflective and morphed from victim of events to increasingly mature actor. Go, Maquia!

There were also moments – above all the moment when the Mesartans arrive to take the Iolph people – when the playing with age and form felt unbearably dodgy. An observation from one of the characters that they look like children, followed closely by a sexual reference. There is an edginess here that does not sit well with Western sensibilities regarding under-age abuse. Discussing this with another reviewer afterward, they, too, confessed to finding that aspect more than a little disturbing but “that's anime for you.” I am not so sure. At least, I am not so sure that when something so at odds with our own values appears on our filmic horizon we should just shrug and let it by.

Maquia went on release in Japan with a G (General) certificate: given the strong sexual undercurrent, it will be interesting to see what it is awarded in the UK.

There is also something very odd here about what it means to be a “real” mother.

The other irritation is a seeming obsession that the Iolph have about outliving humans, and what this means for relationships. I've encountered this theme before: Dr Who agonising over friendship and her outliving her companions. And no: that is a human obsession, lacking verisimilitude. Because it seems to me that if you grow up with this fact, you accommodate. It does not become source of eternal existential angst.

All of those, though, are forgiven by the ending which knits together these disparate elements in a war that is visually stunning and – yes – heartbreaking too. We see Iolph revenged, Maquia (and the humans she has touched) coming to terms with their different fates.

And the finale!

As in so many anime, director/writer Mari Okada has gone for the full box of tissues weepy. I know I was far from alone in letting a quiet tear run at the final working out of Maquia's relationship with Ariel and for that, as well as an impressive score and imaginative visuals it gets four stars.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2018
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Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms packshot
An immortal girl and mortal boy meet and become friends, sharing a bond that lasts throughout the years.

Director: Mari Okada, Toshiya Shinohara

Writer: Mari Okada

Starring: Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Yôko Hikasa

Year: 2018

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: Japan

Festivals:

Glasgow 2018

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