I’ll be honest; I heard of this movie when it got announced and then completely forgot about it entirely. My handling of anime films just isn’t great because when they get announced to when they are actually available in English (legally or otherwise) is so long because even announcement to release IN JAPAN is so long especially before release onto disc where pirates and even legal distributors can finally get to it, so I tend to PTW them and forget about them for 5 years and come around to them later. I never thought I’d see anime in theaters again after moving away from southern California, but somehow here in Arizona there are loads of theaters that Crunchyroll and Funimation have continually been putting stuff into on a regular basis. Thanks to that I was able to see this much sooner than usual AND do so in a theater.
While I await this little blutooth keyboard my homeboy from over at One Controller Port has sent to me I wrote this bit by bit so, much like the prior few posts please keep in mind the situation I’m in – I may repeat myself a lot and have lots of typos, etc but I hope this still does the movie justice all the same.
The only thing I knew about this movie was that Mari Okada, one of my favorite writers, did both the writing AND for the first time in her career stepped in to do the directing for this. That’s it. No idea of the general premise of the story, the setting, or even what genre it was – though assuming it’d at least be emotional is a pretty safe bet when Okada is involved. I also noticed (without reading any due to spoilers) almost every review of this was not only incredibly positive but included reviews from very non-anime normie places that would usually ignore or outright shit on anything out of Japan that isn’t Ghibli – it had me even more intrigued though also concerned given those people typically hate everything I love and love everything I hate when it comes to content from Japan.
Maquia is basically about a young girl of a race that doesn’t really age (though at one point I think she mentions that she’s like 14, so is also actually a child herself) who ends up becoming a surrogate mother to a normal human baby she finds clenched in the hands of it’s murdered mother. She ends up having to forcibly break back the fingers of his mother’s hand to get him out of her rigor mortis grasp and determines then and there that she won’t let this child ever be alone again – and this sort of sets the entire tone for her character and the movie. While this has a lot going on in the world, it’s about none of them, and most surprisingly it’s not at all a romance at any point. Instead, Maquia is a story about a girl trying her best to be a mother without any idea of how to be one (and being a child herself) and the full life of her newfound son all the while knowing she’ll live to see him and his entire lineage die one after the next one way or another.
Visually the movie is really nice, it looks like an updated version of Granblue Fantasy’s anime which isn’t surprising given Cygames was involved in making this. Even the character designs are pretty much the same but not lazy feeling about it. For all I know this literally takes place in Granblue’s world, though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t I just mean something like that wouldn’t be surprising. The actual quality of the art an animation is thanks to PA Works which of course has a history at making REALLY GOOD LOOKING STUFF, though oddly they didn’t make the Granblue adaptation.
The world and concurrent lore/events that take place feel like a JRPG to an extreme extent throughout, but not like the main story of one – Maquia feels like a story taking place within the world of a normal JRPG, most specifically of a Tales game. From the moment it started I felt almost pulled back into the Vesperia movie. There’s even a whole story about someone very important to Maquia being kidnapped, a whole terrorist plot, and blah blah blah and at one point there’s a short battle that happens and none of it is the point – it isn’t irrelevant but we aren’t there watching this take place and it really isn’t important on it’s own.
It’s a really cool feeling because that stuff going on in the world feels like it was written fully fleshed out and we just aren’t shown it all, almost like this really is some bonus side story written about an already established game where you’d be directly involved in trying to save this princess or stop this war, etc, and instead that’s just the backdrop along with multiple seemingly developed cities, an overall kingdom’s inner workings and politics within the world overall, and the other people living there. That aspect never changes and it makes it have a really unique and pretty cool feeling to it and is another great example of Okada’s ability level; I can’t imagine this entire world, it’s politics, and the supporting cast were not all fully developed and a fully realized story all their own in the process of writing this within her mind, they just weren’t the story she wanted to tell.
Okada wasn’t the only big name here though, a lot of the staff from PA Works might be familiar to you – and the seiyuu cast is filled with well established and talented actors ranging from Sugita to Satou. It’s surprising given the majority of them are only supporting cast, and yet their delivery absolutely made the whole film better for having them. The picks are just another great example of Okada making good directorial choices. The music is also very good and emotive, especially the main theme “Viator” – and the overall OST which was put together by Kawai Kenji.
The cinematography also gives a good idea of just how talented Okada has become and will continue to develop – the whole of this film makes it clear that she was mistakenly seen as someone made to write stories all this time when in fact it seems she was meant to be TELLING them. Had someone else directed this the focus would be lost, the entire theme would be much less steady, and the reason this is such a powerful and emotional film would be missing. I’m sure it would still be a very good movie because the writing is solid – but I can’t see anyone else understanding what she was trying to do as well as she did and making sure the whole film was COMPLETELY devoted to that and never forgot what it was there to show you in order to never let you forget or wander off either.
Because of that focus, it’s extremely emotional at times. Even for someone like me, had I not been at a theater with my brother and his wife, the last 30 minutes or so (I assume around that time, wasn’t looking at a clock) are nearly impossible to not cry from. Even in that situation I almost did and it was very hard to fight against. To make it worse, when you think the huge emotional wave is finally over, Okada felt it necessary to keep them crashing down on you one after another during the finale which feels like it goes on forever (in a good way) – scenes you think are the final climactic powerful moment end up only to be followed up with one of the same caliber immediately after never letting you collect yourself.
The story is presented in a really nice format and covers through multiple time-skips many decades of time, letting you not only see this mother grow as a parent, but seeing her son go through his entire life and all of it coming full circle by the end in a handful of very touching ways. Beyond that though is something I mentioned earlier; a really smart attention to LACKING detail – as much as everything feels like there is a fully thought out canon to it, almost nothing aside the pair really have any time devoted to them.
There are conspiracies, there is a short-lived but very violent war, there are all sorts of other characters who recur throughout all periods of time the story presents us with…and none of it spends the time to give it more depth than is necessary for it’s relevancy in the mother-son dynamic. Okada fully honed in on that and never let go or gave in to easy-to-go-to distractions like romance, unnatural comedic moments (not to say there aren’t fun parts or jokes, especially early on such as her trying to have the baby suck on a goat udder for milk), or needless violence to amp things up; giving a unique and surprisingly developed-without-development lore to the world and those living in it over the course of a full lifetime that aids a lot in making the main story feel even more real and the world more ‘lived in’.
Honestly this might be the most emotional film I’ve seen at all, animated or otherwise. It’s not so much a happy or sad movie, just an extremely emotionally evocative one and very bittersweet with an ending (and whole last big sequence of scenes) that ranges from unbelievably sweet and heartwarming to subtly tragic. This isn’t a movie that’s sad because of easy tear jerk cliches, but because of what it’s about which is such a sensitive and personal topic for any person alive and the way those themes and feelings are explored and presented so perfectly.
This is peak Okada and albeit she’s gotten to me with many of her scripts, this one truly stands out and does something even other stories by other creators with similar themes has never done which is sort of what Okada is best at – making something that sounds like you’ve seen it a thousand times before but transforming it in a way that makes it rise above and have a brilliant shine to it that can truly touch you in a meaningful and lasting way.
Maquia is essentially a tribute to the strength, poise, and absolute love from mothers for their children (as well as the hardships of finding in yourself what it means to BE a mother) – I’d say it’s the most beautiful depiction of that relationship I’ve ever seen. You don’t need to be a woman, a mother, or even on good terms with your own. The emotions here are something that can and do get across to anyone willing to be told this heartfelt story. It’s truly an outstanding and very special film that speaks very sincerely and personally to the deepest parts of a very basic yet extremely deep emotion built into us as human beings.
If, unlike me, you get along with your mother, then I would also genuinely recommend watching this with her if possible.