Saturday, June 9, 2018
Anime On the Big Screen: “Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms”
Date: Saturday 9 June 2018
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 115 minutes
Production Date: 2018
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No
So far this year, the anime films Madman has decided to release to cinemas have been stunningly mediocre. A fair few of them have been compilation films, and then only the first or second parts of trilogy compilation films. I’m really not sure who is watching these films and if Madman makes any profit from them. Perhaps with the incredible success of “A Silent Voice” they think any anime in cinemas will be a winner for them. Anyway, yet again I’m off to see another anime film in the cinema. It was a typical Canberra winter day today, though so far the weather seems to indicate it's going to be a much milder winter than previous ones. It rained all morning, but during the afternoon the clouds parted and sun peeked through. Yet despite the wet weather the Canberra Centre was packed with people. Dendy now only shows anime films twice a day, both sessions in the late afternoon regardless if it’s a weekday or weekend; the first at 4pm, the second at 6pm. I went to the first session in which about 20 people of mixed ages, evenly split between the sexes, showed up. Now, on with the film;
Set in low fantasy world the film introduces us to an elf like race known as “The Clan of Partings”, who live in secret and are to the outside world immortal, but in reality are called the Iorph and live for several hundred years. However their appearance is of young teenagers who all have long blonde hair. Life seems extremely peaceful in their small community. The Iorph weave using a looms to create long fabrics called Hibiol. In these fabrics they write and communicate their feeling to others and keep a history of the Iorph. The Iorph also seem to call life itself Hibiol and to a large degree refuse to differentiate the fabric they weave and life itself. One young girl, Maquia, confides in the village elder, Racine, that she feels alone. Racine reminds her that if she leaves the community, she can never fall in love due to the fact normal humans are mortal and will die long before her.
Maquia comes to and turns towards the village where she can see a glow. She cries out knowing it has been torched and destroyed by the Mezarte soldiers. Stumbling through the forest distraught, she comes to the edge of a cliff. Deciding to end it all and jump, she is stopped by the cry of a baby. Maquia follows the cries down to a campsite near a river where inside a tent she is horrified to discover that the camp was attacked by bandits and the crying baby still in her mother’s dead arms. A young trader named Barlow makes himself known which naturally frightens Maquia. He is aware that she is an Iorph and tells her to leave the baby to die. However Maquia refuses and decides to care for the baby boy. Wandering onto a nearby farm house near a small village, Maquia tries to get the baby to suckle on a goat’s teat, but is caught by the owner, Mido. Mido is a single mother with two boys, Isol and Lang. Mido also realises that Maquia is an Iorph and decides to help her out by supporting her, finding her a job weaving in town and dyeing her hair so she doesn’t attract the villagers attention.
I won’t say any more about the plot as not to reveal spoilers. As you may have noticed on anime news websites, this film is a major vehicle for screenwriter Mari Okada. Okada has been a prolific script writer for a number of anime for the last two decades, however it’s only in last eight years or so that her reputation has grown. Screenwriting for “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day”, “Hanasaku Iroha” and “Anthem of the Heart” has catapulted her into the hearts of anime fandom. In more recent times she branched out into scripting live action films such as “My Teacher (Sensei!)” and “The Dark Maidens (Ankoku Joshi)”. Apparently the president of P.A. Works (the studio who animated this film) liked her work so much he gave her the chance to write and direct her own film (or more likely saw an opportunity to promote and market a new project off the back of a "hot" new talent).
I did find that aspect of the film really interesting, as well as the culture of the Iorph and the fact that the two major fantasy aspects of the film, the Iorph and the Renato, have become both endangered species on the verge of extinction in that world. There’s also the Iorph Klim who refuses to believe that his clan is heading into oblivion and manically sets about righting things in the belief his actions will ensure his species survival. Most of the world is fully realised and really well detailed. Okada also doesn’t over explain the world she has thrown the viewers into and is more content to let the viewers know only what is important to the story.
Despite the relatively talented staff, the film did feel a bit cheap. The animation by P.A. Works (“Shirobako”, “Angel Beats!”) barely gets a notch above TV anime series quality. Some of the CG cuts, especially a few shots of the Renato, look a little off. The character designs by Akihiko Yoshida (“Final Fantasy”) also seem a little bland in my opinion. One of the best elements is the score, by Kenji Kawai, however while it does reach some amazing heights, particularly in the opening scenes, it’s hardly his best work. Much of it is comparable to his synthesiser based TV work rather than the bulk of his orchestral based, ethereal sounding film soundtracks.
I really don’t think these films are aimed at me. A lot of the time I do feel they are like a combination of plots, characters, and dialogue I’ve seen before remixed and presented as something brand new. I also feel that these types of films come off as rather safe and don’t take a lot of risks. Having said that I do think there are a lot of really original and intriguing elements to the story. I just wish the emotion had been toned down or made a bit more realistic. Like Naoko Yamada (“A Silent Voice”, “K-ON!”), Okada has been branded as an amazing new talent in the anime industry. I really don’t think she’s anywhere near Yamada in terms of direction, but like Yamada I think if given the right material (and maybe some mentoring) she will shine. In the end I think the melodrama killed a lot of the film for me. 6 out of 10. Oh, and by the way, remember to sit though the end credits for a post credits still shot!