Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, to give the film its full title, is an anime set in a fantasy world. Fantasy tends not to be my favourite genre. Let’s face it, it’s nearly always basically showing us a human civilisation in the middle ages, with some added monsters and/or magic. Having said that, fantasy isn’t a reason not to watch something, as long as it’s grounded in some kind of real world issues or concerns. Without that, it’s hard to relate to any of it, so what’s the point? Luckily there are plenty of themes we can relate to in Maquia.
The titular character is from a very long-lived civilisation. They are all Caucasian and blonde, representing what often seems to be the Japanese idea of physical perfection. Maquia is warned never to become emotionally involved with anyone outside of their community, as it will only ever end in sadness and loneliness. The reason for that is obvious: she will outlive anyone she meets. Of course, that’s a load of nonsense, as anyone who has owned a pet will realise. Sorry to bring this crashing down to Earth, but it’s more than worth the sadness of losing a beloved pet for the years of happiness they give you, and I’m pretty sure that sentiment would also apply to losing a much-loved human companion. Who would want to forego the years of happiness to avoid the moment of loss? So there we have something we can relate to, despite Maquia’s lifespan being beyond anything we can possibly understand.
I’m going to keep things simple, and strip away all the fantasy language. In basic terms, Maquia’s community is attacked and destroyed, and she escapes. Out in the scary, wide world, she finds a dead woman cradling a crying baby, and decides she must look after the baby. He becomes her adopted son, Ariel. The obvious problem with this is that Ariel isn’t from her civilisation, so Maquia will basically look like a young girl for his entire life.
The majority of the film takes place while Ariel is a child, and then the climax to the story where all the big battle stuff is going on features Ariel as a young man, starting his own family. I’m not going to bother to describe the rest of the plot in any detail, because it’s fairly standard fare: a fight to reclaim a former way of life, to free a princess from imprisonment, etc etc. You know the sort of thing. None of that interests me one jot – I’ve seen it a hundred times before. But the heart and soul of the movie is the relationship between Maquia and her adopted son. It speaks to the inadequacies most parents feel at one point or another about their ability to do a good job raising a child. This is exacerbated for Maquia, because she starts off as a child raising a child, and never looks like anything else, because she doesn’t visibly age. By the time Ariel is a teenager, life is very awkward for them both, having to pretend that they are brother and sister, and it doesn’t help that finding a way to earn a living is really tough. Their relationship is placed under a huge strain, and at times it’s tough to watch their world crumbling, but ultimately this is a film that shows the strength of family bonds.
In a lovely coda, we get to the inevitable moment we were always going to have to face. The following is a spoiler, but let’s face it there’s no doubt where a story like this is leading, with one character ageing while the other lives on as a young woman. Maquia has to visit her son on his deathbed, and it somehow manages to be a moment of triumph. It’s bittersweet, yes, but Maquia has proven the advice she was given by her chief to be wrong. The time she spent with her son was precious, and she is ready to love the next person she will have to say goodbye to.
Fans of fantasy anime will probably enjoy the battles and world-building and all that stuff, and it’s worth mentioning that the animation is at times breathtakingly beautiful, so that’s all good, but for me the real value of this movie lies in the themes it explores: independence, family, parenthood, love and loss. Tennyson had a point: “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” RP
Mixing fantasy with real people and real issues is something we could easily learn to appreciate in our earliest fandoms of The Twilight Zone and Dr. Who. Anime classics have a unique way for the fantasy worlds to realistically resonate with us. Because you can see the fantasy world as a world, real in its own right, with characters that have something specifically real to say to their audience, which for a particular kind of animation may understandably work best. Thanks to Fables Of The Green Forest when I was a kid, I could cherish that effortlessly. Thank you too, RP.
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When we think of all the iconic SF/fantasy characters who have loved and lost, while still finding that better to have never loved or been loved at all as Tennyson was right about, we can find our best sympathizes for heroes like Captain Kirk and Dr. Who. Given the SF/fantasy element for the main character having a virtually immortal lifespan, while the people he or she loves do not, I’m amazed about how far this particular genre has endured. Anime of course has its own uniquely talented format and it refreshes our understanding of how important such lifespan issues are in both fantasy and reality. Especially thanks to the Junkyard.
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