I’m “biast” (con): not a huge fan of anime
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Renowned and prolific Japanese anime TV writer Mari Okada makes a visually gorgeous and emotionally lush feature directorial debut with the enrapturing Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. She’s written the script, too, of course, for this labor-of-love passion project, and here creates a beautifully realized fantasy world that echoes with the familiar — Tolkien and steampunk are major touchstones — while also carving out a fresh and uniquely lovely vision.
Maquia (the voice of Manaka Iwami) is a near immortal, already centuries old but appearing to be a teenager, when her people, the peaceful Iorph, are attacked by a jealous king seeking the secret to their longevity. Driven into the larger world, she rescues an orphaned mortal infant, another victim of the Iorphs’ invaders, and adopts him as her child. The Iorph warn against falling in romantic love with mortals they will long outlive… but what about falling in maternal love? And yes, that presents similar dangers — and joys — to the immortal soul.
Epic yet intimate, Maquia weaves a delicate tapestry — much like the breathtaking textiles the Iorph use to tell their own long life stories — of the relationship between adoptive mother and her son, Erial (the voice of Miyu Irino: Spirited Away), as he grows to manhood while she remains unchanged. Okada captures in her stunning animation the seasons of life and of nature: in luminous sunlight, in the joy of animals, in fields of grains and grasses that are anime-stylized yet touchably real, even in human-made houses in which you feel the warmth of their stones, and in massive machines in which you sense the power of the engineering that brings them to artificial life.
Infused with a gentleness that is unexpected in a story that driven by violence and bigotry — for the Iorph inspire fear as well as envy — this is a touching story about the power of love and hope in the face of despair, and of kindness and humanity as the only way to plough through pain.