After months of waiting and teaser trailers that showed off its awesome animation and world, I finally got the chance to see Maquia in theaters. There seems to be more modern sci-fi or slice-of-life movies coming out than say high fantasy or stories that focus on fantastical worlds. Your Name and A Silent Voice being the bigger block-busters of the last two years, both focusing on the lives of highschoolers with the former having a sci-fi twist. We had Mary and the Witch’s Flower, which was pretty good, but it still doesn’t really capture the high fantasy feel that Maquia does with its towering castles, dragon riders, and almost elf-like race of humans.
We also have Mari Okada at the helm, one of the bright stars of the anime industry in her first directorial debut. The Canipa Effect has a great video on what makes Okada so great, from her her ability to pull apart scripts and figure out their flaws, to her work on Anohana that’s impact is still being felt in Japan seven years after the series debuted. She pushed and continued to push her role as a screenwriter as far as it could go, eventually getting the chance to write and direct her own project. As The Pedantic Romantic mentions in his video on Black Rock Shooter and Okada’s involvement in the production, she is sometimes seen as a sort of queen of melodrama by members of the anime fandom. But if we look deeper into her stories and characters, we see that Okada has a keen eye for human relationships and how people develop friendships and the nature of devotion.
It’s this focus on devotion and relationships that really gets center stage in Maquia, as we see not only Maquia’s relationship to Ariel play out over the course of the whole film but also the more general relationship mothers develop with their children. It’s these thematic elements that I wanted to take a closer look at today, because I think they give us a nice view into Okada’s headspace and spell out a very interesting thematic arc running behind the whole of Maquia.
If you haven’t seen Maquia yet, I highly encourage you to do so. There may even still be some theatrical screenings in your area. I may delve a little bit into spoiler territory, but I’m hoping to keep this fairly brief enough that I don’t go too deep into too many details. Maquia’s main story centers on the character of Maquia, a member of a long-lived race who spends their time weaving their lives and legacies into cloth. When the neighboring kingdom of Mezarte attacks, seeking to take the women of their clan to be a bride for their prince, Maquia is forced out into the wilderness by herself. It’s there she meets the orphaned Ariel whom she adopts as her own, journeying through the world with him and watching over him as he grows and she stays ever fifteen.
The story centers around the idea of found family and discovering what it means to be a mother. We see this idea first come up when Maquia finds Ariel still clutched in his mother’s lifeless arms. His whole family had been killed by raiders, but it was his birth-mother’s devotion that kept him safe. This powerful force was displayed through Maquia’s struggles in prying Ariel out of her arms, having to physically break the woman’s fingers that were stiff from rigor mortis. It’s both a metaphor for how self-sacrificing motherhood can make someone and just how powerful a feeling a mother’s devotion can be. It’s after this that Maquia takes Ariel in her arms and wraps him in the cloth that she wove, signalling how he becomes a part of her legacy and life.
But Maquia is just fifteen and doesn’t know anything about raising a child or even caring for herself outside of of the life she had before. It’s at this point that we see an example of what a mature and experienced mother could become through the character of Mido, who has two young boys of her own. Mido is a single mother as well, her husband one of the casualties of the volatile dragons Mezarte has tried to tame. She shows Maquia just how strong and responsible a mother can be, becoming the image of the ideal mother that Maquia tries to emulate in the future. It’s only through living and working and interacting with Mido’s two sons that she becomes to feel like a real mother for the first time since rescuing Ariel.
Ariel has to grow up sometime though, even as Maquia stays ever-fifteen, and it’s a mother’s duty to see her son off to become an independent person in their own right. To watch over them as they grow and develop and create a family of their own. That is the cyclical nature of motherhood. The mother watches their children become parents to their own children, seeing the knowledge they have imparted become the foundation their children can build their own family on. And because Maquia never ages, she has the chance to watch over her child from birth until death, seeing her influence in turn influencing his family.
We see this idea of cycles most strikingly in the events that happen during the invasion of Mezarte. Ariel has gotten older, joined the army, and married a woman who is expecting his child. After being called away to the battlefield, his wife goes into labor. It’s only through the help of Maquia that she is able to deliver her baby, Maquia’s now granddaughter, and thus one mother relinquished her responsibilities and knowledge to another. Ariel has a life and a family of his own now, and it seems as though Maquia is no longer needed as his mother. It’s soon after this that she leaves to continue the life she lost before the Mezarte invasion.
But what’s also striking about this scene is the dichotomy that Okada puts in between life and death, with the juxtaposition of the invasion of Mezarte and Ariel’s wife going into labor. It brings together and connects life and death, the cyclical nature of what it means to be alive and to be human. As soldiers die on the battlefield and as Ariel fears for his life, his wife struggles to bring their daughter into the world. Through birth and their responsibilities as caregivers, mothers are always closely connected to life and death in some way. Okada brings this kind of philosophy to the forefront by structuring this scene the way that she did. The cuts back and forth between Ariel and his wife make it clear that we are supposed to make this connection and as Ariel returns home, we see another juxtaposition, that of Ariel’s bleeding war-wound next to the blood of childbirth.
However, it’s through Leilia that we see another side to motherhood as the child she gave birth too is taken away from her, and she is never allowed to become a mother. It creates this contrast between Maquia who became a mother by choice through found-family, and Leilia who became a mother physically but was never allowed to be one emotionally. Her devotion to her child is shown to be wild and uncontrolled, as she struggles with both wanting and not wanting to be a mother. The scenes with Leilia are very characteristically Okada as the character threatens to kill her baby in her womb, throws things, and screams that she wants to see her child. We see through her actions and emotional state how powerful a bond can be between a mother and child even when that mother has only held her child for a short time. It becomes a festering loneliness that eventually drives her crazy. We see this loneliness in Maquia as well, in a more subdued form, as Ariel begins to mature and distance himself from her as all teenagers do. She wants nothing more than to be with Ariel and sees her home as anywhere they can be together.
In the final scene, we see Maquia return to an old and withered Ariel as he lays dying from old-age. His daughter has gone on to have a daughter of her own while Maquia was absent. And so the cycle comes full circle, Maquia once again witnessing life spring from death and becoming a mother to Ariel for one last time It really is a great movie, and I will admit I cried more than once throughout the almost two hours. You really get to see the kinds of stories that Okada has a passion for, stories of the nature of relationships between people, family, and life in general.
If you’ve had the chance to see Maquia, let me know what you thought in the comments below, and let me know if my ramblings tonight have made sense. Going to the movies has definitely become more interesting now that we have new anime films coming out a couple times a year. I’ll also be going to see The Night is Short, Walk on Girl next month, so we’ll see what I can write up about that.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~