Originally published on The Fandom Post
What They Say:
The people of Iolph live far away from the lands of men, weaving the happenings of each day into a fabric called Hibiol. They live for centuries while maintaining their youthful appearance. Maquia, an orphaned Iorph girl, lives her life in an oasis surrounded by friends, yet somehow feels “alone”. But the tranquil lives of the Iolph are shattered in an instant when the Mezarte army invades their territory on a dragon fleet, seeking the blood that grants the Iorph long life. Maquia manages to escape, but loses her friends and her home in the chaos. She then encounters an orphaned baby who is “alone”. Maquia raises this boy “Eriel”, with the help of some new friends. But as the era changes, the bond between Maquia and Eriel changes too, amidst a backdrop of racial tensions between the Iolph and the Mezarte. This is a story of irreplaceable time, woven by two lonely people who can only find solace in each other.
As the directorial debut of long-time anime writer, Mari Okada, Maquia has a lot of expectations surrounding it. Okada is one of the few anime writers whose name is widely known among the western fanbase, and for good reason. She’s created or been involved with numerous hit anime like Toradora, Anohana, and Anthem of the Heart. As the first project she’s directed in addition to having written, Maquia is an excellent way to debut.
As the title suggests, the film is primarily defined by the relationship between Maquia and Erial. What starts out as Maquia simply clinging to some purpose after her world was shattered grows into a genuinely powerful bond. Maquia’s every action is defined by her love and commitment towards Erial, even when it means prioritizing him over the remnants of her people. Erial is driven by the same emotions, although he sometimes struggles to express them the way Maquia does. What makes their bond so compelling is how realistically it’s portrayed, which contrasts starkly with the fantasy setting. Maquia isn’t some kind of perfect mother; she struggles to understand what being a mother means, she doesn’t always make the right decision, and she even occasionally loses her temper. At the same time, it’s obvious that she’s always working to improve for Erial’s sake, and she gradually learns what it means to be a mother. Erial’s portrayal and growth is similarly realistic. As we see him grow from cute baby, to affectionate child, to distant adolescent, to irritable teenager, every detail feels real. Maquia and Erial feel less like traditional fantasy archetypes and more like a real single mother and child doing their best for each other, which adds a lot of weight to every scene when you combine it with the film’s premise.
Even in the lighter scenes, there’s a faint sense of dread, a kind of inevitability that pervades the entire film. Maquia’s longevity means she’ll outlive Erial by hundreds of years while always remaining childlike in appearance. Beyond the strain her appearance puts on their relationship, the fact that Maquia will eventually lose Erial to time puts a weight on every scene. Maquia approaches life completely aware of this, but chooses to seize the happiness in front of her rather than run from the pain she knows she’ll face in the future. The film is endlessly sympathetic towards Maquia’s plight, which ties into its larger themes of change.
If Maquia has one thesis statement, it’s that time always moves forward and things always change. Erial’s childhood passes with an almost dreamlike happiness to it, while also being weighed down by the knowledge that it can’t last forever. Even when we try to resist it, change always comes. From the very beginning, Maquia’s world is portrayed as one nearing the end of an era. The supernatural beings in it are slowly dying out, and nothing can be done to stop it. Even if Mezarte were somehow destroyed, the Iolphs’ home and way of life is gone. Just as, the Iolph will never be able to return to their old ways, Mezarte will never regain the power it’s slowly losing as the magical beasts it relied on gradually die off. The people who cling to past glory or idealized memories, both human and Iolph, are inevitably swept along in the currents of time. The only thing that comes of them holding onto the past is the loss of their potential happiness in the present. The people who end up the happiest are those who accept that nothing lasts forever and seek out their own happiness in the changing world. Unlike most fantasy, our leads aren’t the catalyst for this change. Maquia and Erial are just two people trying to live their lives amidst a changing world. They’re powerless to stop things from changing, and can only continue on as best they can. The film uses this understanding to create some incredibly emotional climaxes, even if it can occasionally lean towards melodrama. By letting emotions build up over time, the climaxes are made all the more powerful.
If the film has one flaw, it’s that not all of its plotlines come off as completely necessary. Leilia, one of Maquia’s friends who’s forced to marry the Mezarte prince so the royal family can share in the Iolphs’ longevity, takes up a lot of screen time without adding a lot to the film as a whole. It contributes to the underlying themes of time marching forward, but doesn’t add anything that Maquia’s storyline doesn’t. It’s not a bad story by any means – it can even be pretty emotional at times-but it comes off as slightly unnecessary to the film as a whole, especially considering the movie is already nearly two hours long.
Aesthetically, Maquia is one of PA Works’ most beautiful productions yet. The character animation is consistently expressive and smooth, which complements the pleasant character designs. Everyone has a somewhat soft look to them, the Iolph especially. When combined with the film’s thin linework and the Iolphs’ pale coloring, the Iolph, Maquia in particular, have an almost otherworldly look to them. This distinction helps reinforce the idea that the Iolph are a part of a world that’s slowly dying out to make room for a new one. The backgrounds are also nicely detailed, and combine with the film’s use of lighting to enhance its already emotional storyline. Aside from a bit of clunky CGI, Maquia’s animation is excellent across the board. Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack is largely made up of soft strings with bits of chanting mixed in occasionally. It’s good fantasy music on its own, but really shines when its used to complement the film’s beauty and warm scenes between Maquia and Erial.
On the whole, Maquia stands as an excellent directorial debut for Mari Okada. It takes advantage of its fantasy setting to show a world slowly changing as time marches on, while also anchoring the story with an emotionally resonant relationship between Maquia and Erial. I wouldn’t call it a perfect film, but it hit all the right emotional notes and is the sort of film that will hit home for anyone who has ever mourned life’s inevitable changes.