To most of us, ‘fantasy’ typically entails a Tolkien-esque mix of dragons, elves, quests and big blokes with axes. But while Japanese writer-director Mari Okada’s animated epic certainly takes place in a world not far from Middle-earth, it does something new and impressively engaging with the genre.
The title character Maquia (Manaka Iwami) is a member of an immortal clan who stop aging in their teens and are forbidden from mixing with regular, mortal folk. When her people are scattered by armour-clad invaders, she is brutally hurled into the world outside, where she stumbles upon a baby boy. Resolving to adopt him, she names him Ariel (Miyu Irino). What follows is the story of mother and son, one tragically tainted by the mother knowing she will never grow old, and will one day have to watch her child die.
What follows is primarily a platonic, maternal love story, made all the more fascinating for its epic-fantastical backdrop. Okada doesn’t stint on the latter, serving up idyllic mountainous vistas, industrial cityscapes of colossal water wheels and towering, cloud-scraping palaces. It’s reminiscent of Miyazaki, but this is no pastiche. Ultimately, it’s her attention to the emotional content, honed over years of writing romantic youth dramas (both animated and live action), that makes ‘Maquia’ so compelling. It’s a coming-of-age story, of sorts, even if the main character can’t age.