When watching this film there is at least one thing you will need: tissues, because by the end you’ll need to wipe away the tears.
This fantasy epic begins with us encountering a race of people called the Iorph. These blonde-haired people live for much longer than normal humans, existing for hundreds of years while remaining youthful. They spent most of their time weaving a type of cloth called Hibiol, which also acts as a form of written language.
We follow one Iorph, an orphaned girl named Maquia. One night, the village where she and the rest of the Iorph live is attacked by a kingdom of normal humans called the Mezarte, who ride on the back of dragon-like creatures named Renato. The commander of this force, Izora, attacks and kills most of the tribe, but Maquia is instead locked inside a large tower. However, one of the Renato succumbs to an illness called Red Eye which causes it to go insane. It flies into the tower, breaking it, tangles itself in the Hibiol then flies away, also dragging Maquia, who also gets tangled up in the cloth, along with it .
The Renato crashes and dies in a forest, but Maquia lives. She then comes across an ambushed caravan of merchants where she finds among the survivors a newborn baby boy. After removing the boy from the tight grip of his dead mother, she takes the boy with her. After some time wandering, they come across a farm, where the woman that runs it takes them both in. Maquia names the baby Ariel and adopts him as her own child; she also dyes her hair to prevent strangers from discovering her identity as an Iorph.
Years pass and Ariel begins to grow up while Maquia continues not to age, making money by weaving Hibiol for a friendly merchant. Maquia then comes across a piece of Hibiol revealing that one her Iorph friends back home, Leilia, survived the attack on their homeland years ago. Leilia is now being forced to enter into a marriage with the prince of Mezarte, as the king wants to prolong the throne’s lifeline with Iorph blood. This is partly because the mighty Renato are all beginning to die of the Red Eye disease. Upon learning the news, Maquia and Ariel travel to Mezarte to help Leilia, meeting more Iorph survivors during the trip.
The attempted rescue ends in failure, partly because when Maquia finally encounters Leilia, she learns that Leilia is pregnant and wants to remain behind to give birth to her child. She and the rest of their group escape, with Maquia and Ariel separating from the rest of their group. The story then progresses years later, as they move to another town, Maquia working as a waitress and a teenage Ariel working in an iron foundry. As more years roll by aand Ariel reaches adulthood, we learn that Leilia is being kept a virtual prisoner in Mezarte’s palace and other kingdoms are planning to attack them, leading to Maquia and Ariel finding themselves at the heart of further conflict.
Maquia is the directorial debut of Mari Okada, who has previously worked on series such as Black Butler, Vampire Knight and Black Rock Shooter, and who is currently writing the script for a live-action film version of The Flowers of Evil. As far as debuts go, this is a very strong one indeed, primarily concerning the themes of the film. The main theme appears to be motherhood and the trials and tribulations of both raising and bonding with a child. However, this is made more complicated when we take into account the fact that the mother is aging so much more slowly than the child. She certainly matures in terms of attitude as the story moves along, but we follow Ariel all the way through his life, seeing him not just maturing, but aging physically as well, from childhood to adulthood.
This central relationship is the key to what makes this such a great film. One of the best moments in the entire film is early on when Maquia discovers the baby Ariel for the first time, and has to forcibly remove the natural dead mother’s tight grip on the child in order to free him. It is a disturbing sequence to watch but also a very telling one, as we witness the original mother still not wanting to let go of her child, even after death, as the child is presented with a new mother.
This makes things even more poignant when we get to the point where Maquia meets Ariel for the very last time. As you watch what unfolds and what it has been building up to, you will have already formed a lump in your throat as you watch a very sad conclusion. Indeed, Maquia has achieved a first for me. I am not the most emotional of people, but a few anime have certainly moved me, some close to the edge of tears. But Maquia actually did it. This is the first anime that I have watched, and probably the first film I have seen probably since childhood, that has actually made me cry. The ending is that emotional. It is a truly tragic and powerful sequence that will melt any heart.
On top of this are the visual sequences, which are appropriately grand for such a fantasy film, with beautiful landscapes delightfully illustrated. These are combined with music from Kenji Kawai (Ghost in the Shell) that heightens the more dramatic aspects of the movie. The voice performances are generally good, although there are some differences in the way the Japanese and English actors perform their roles. Namely, that for the humans, most of the characters that age from childhood into adulthood are played by two separate actors for each phase of the characters’ lives. In the case of Ariel, he has three actors in the English dub (Barnaby Lafayette as a child, Ryan Shanahan as a teenager, and Eddy Lee as an adult). In the Japanese dub, almost every character has just one actor, with Ariel being the only exception (Yuki Sakurai for the young Ariel and Miyu Irino as the adult Ariel). There is also a French dub in this release, which appears to more closely match the original Japanese dub style of using fewer actors.
Regarding extras, on the disc the only bonus features available are trailers for the film. If however, you get the collector’s edition you also get an A3-size poster, and an 84-page booklet featuring information on the characters, comments from the Japanese cast, and interviews with several members of the production team including Okada.
One of notable fact about Maquia is that is one of those few movies to be rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Having watched it, I can see why it has achieved that. This is a spectacular, heart-moving, tear-jerking film. That’s why I believe it fully deserves full marks.