Mari Okada works can be pretty hit-or-miss, but there’s nothing quite like what
she brings to the table. Even if the plot itself is amazing or messy, they always manage to provide those rushing
feels, regardless of if you loved the work or hated it. It’s a feeling that can be easily addicting, but what happens
when Mari Okada gets the director’s seat for the first time instead of just writing the scenario? You get
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, a work that is very, very Mari Okada.
This is all amplified by that the story of the movie being far too ambitious to
fit into a 2 hour movie, and the movie crams things next to each other in a way that felt jolted and unenjoyable. Maquia
is split into the time periods of Ariel’s life, covering when he was an infant, when he was a little kid, when he was
a teenager and when he was a young adult, but because there’s only 2 hours for a film, each of the time periods felt
constrained, with nothing getting real development. The movie is a very thematically consistent one, and manages to
extract thematic meaning out of each era to make the work satisfying in the end, but that’s about it. The time periods
were too short to get a real sense of what the world was like, too short to feel engaging and absorbing, but the big
issue is... It wasn’t nearly enough time to develop the characters, which is a huge issue given that this movie is all
about the characters.
This lack of development in regards to the characters is frustrating because there’s so many characters you would love to see and engage with, but you almost ever get any time to really get to know them. A great example was the characters of Leilia and Medmel:
(SPOILER ALERT - LIGHT SPOILERS START HERE)
Leilia is a friend of Maquia’s and was kidnapped by the nation of Mezarte, one of the most prominent locations in the world of Maquia. Mezarte’s king forces her to have a child with the prince of the nation, Medmel being said child. Their dynamic is fascinating and engaging, leading to what is by far my favorite part of the movie at the end, but they get almost no screen time. Medmel for example is literally in only two scenes, and each scene she is in is powerful and moving because of the themes their relationships represent, but we don’t know anything about them and what they are like besides a handful of moments they are on the screen.
(SPOILER ALERT - SPOILERS END HERE)
Compound this with the fact that Maquia also has a pretty big cast, with
many of them being pretty important to the experience - all contribute to the themes of the work, but many important
characters have their own storylines to follow, which makes the movie frustrating to follow as a result, trying to
keep in mind how each event will affect each character, and remembering what each character and their dynamics with
others represent. There’s the story of Maquia, the story of Ariel, the story of Leilia and Medmel, the story of Krim,
and the general overarching story that involves everyone, with supporting cast throughout. It’s a lot, and I couldn’t
help but feel like shouting out “What the fuck is this film!?”, because the movie does so much, and is just
weird with what it does in a way that it’s hard to understand and grasp.
It also doesn’t help that only three characters, Maquia, Ariel, and Lang (who’s a guy Ariel grew up with and is really important to Maquia), get any real sense of development and most of them are as boring as cardboard… which is infuriating! Great characters mean so much to nakige-like works like this, as emotional movies are inherently about human emotions and the feelings we see. Without a human touch from likable characters, it becomes so much harder to truly appreciate.
All of this hampered my experience to a certain extent that throughout the first
third of the film. I honestly felt like I wasn’t going to enjoy the movie. The lack of character development, the
consistent, poorly-executed time skips, and the feeling that it’s just going through the motions is usually a recipe
for disaster… And despite that, I still found myself enjoying Maquia quite a bit. I think if you try to judge
Maquia in a traditional and/or objective manner, it becomes impossible to say it’s a good film because the
movie screws up so much of what is considered good film making. Thanks to the themes and emotions that this movie
builds up, however - due to the gripping nature of the work and Mari Okada magic - Maquia provides
an experience so enjoyable that it makes you wonder what good even means. The movie shines in the second half, where
everything builds up to be oh so satisfying, with a release of catharsis that’s done in a superb manner. Everything
clicks, everything is built up in a way that is satisfying to see, and the way it displays and wraps up the
themes to show to you… It might be heavy-handed, but it’s amazing. It’s also obviously a tear-jerker, and some of
those scenes are hard to resist crying. If a work of fiction manages to make you cry, it has to be doing something,
Maquia is a movie that gets better the more you let it sink in - it’s
very multifaceted and full of substance and because of that, it shines. When you think back on movies, you don’t
remember trips in execution but the substance and meaning that the work provides. For example, while the beginning of
Maquia and wanting to be a mother is rather contrived, there’s so much to this work that contributes to how Maquia
thinks and acts in the end, and analysing that is an absolute blast.
If you truly love a movie despite its flaws, who is to say that it’s a bad movie? Is a movie’s ability to make the viewer look past the flaws be considered a justification to call the movie objectively good, or does the flaws it has cement itself as a bad film? If a film you enjoy is a bad movie, then what makes a good movie? Can your subjective experience trump the objective? I think this is really up for you to decide - it’s up to one’s subjective experience and I encourage everyone to go and check it out Maquia at least once.
The more I think about Maquia, the more I think that this movie might just
be the most quintessentially Mari Okada work out there. This makes sense because given that this is Okada’s
directorial debut and she had her hands all over the film, but it’s still mind-boggling to think about - I don’t
believe I’ve ever seen a work that captures what she’s done quite like this one. Maquia is not necessarily
the most cohesive work. It doesn’t necessarily do everything right. But what you get out of Maquia is a
thrilling, emotional, and engaging work that is very enjoyable. In the end, this movie manages to take everything it
does and puts it together to provide an emotional and entertaining experience that only Mari Okada can provide.
Maquia is truly an experience that you must see for yourself. I can’t quite vouch for the quality as it has a significant amount of flaws, but what you’re left with even after those is a gripping, engaging, and emotional ride that is very enjoyable! Whether you think that Maquia is a horribly flawed work or you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, it’s hard not to have a great time with this film, and that alone deserves something. Definitely give Mari Okada’s Maquia a shot - you won’t want to miss it.
Thank you for reading! This is Rockmandash Reviews, a blog focused on everything revolving Visual Novels, with stuff like tech and anime every now and then. If you want to check out more of my writing, check out FuwaReviews and AniTAY where I am a contributor and follow me on Twitter.