The Other Side of Animation 153: Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Something that’s unfortunate not only in the animation scene, but the theatrical animation scene in general is that there is a huge lack of non- white male directors. At least, I find that to be a major observation. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness for the directors in question, because we know about women like Lauren Faust and Nora Twomey, but it could also be the fact that many powerful male creators for studios like the ex-head of Pixar and other areas of the animation scene have ruined the chances and passion many non-white male had with working in animation. Not every great story is going to come from one type of person. The more diversity we get with animation, the more stories we can tell, and the more voices that can be heard. A darn good example of getting a unique voice that told a compelling and powerful movie would be Mari Okada’s Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom. Released last year by Eleven Arts in the states, Mari Okada’s fantasy drama was her first theatrical directorial debut for which she also wrote the script. This is on top of a successful career of writing, including Anohana, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and The Anthem of the Heart. So then, let’s dive in and see why this was one of the best animated films of 2018.

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The story follows a young woman named Maquia, dubbed by Xanthe Huynh. She is a being known as a Lorph, a race of human-like individuals that stay young and live longer than normal humans. They also weave their stories in these giant cloth-like fabrics. One day, a kingdom attacks her people to take a maiden from her clan to offer to the kingdom’s prince, so they can make long-living children and keep the kingdom afloat forever. Luckily for Maquia, she escapes when one of the dragon creatures the knights rode on goes berserk, and she ends up riding on it out of the reach of the kingdom. She then finds herself in a village that was attacked by bandits. Among the debris, she finds a human baby in the arms of his dead mother. Maquia decides to take care of the infant as the film follows the challenges of raising a child, learning about life, the trials of love, and being a mother.

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So, what really cements Okada’s writing and directorial work in this film? Well, the themes this film tackles of loss, love, and motherhood. We have seen those themes before in films like Wolf Children, which has unfortunately been compared and contrasted with Maquia due to the focus on a mother raising a kid in a unique situation. What makes this film so dastardly with its way of using emotionally powerful moments is how Okada catches you off-guard. It’s like she sneaks up behind you, pokes you with a knife to tell you to get ready, and then when the time comes, stabs you right in the feels to deliver an extra powerful punch to your heart. I don’t think I have seen a film like Maquia that has made me cry harder the two times that I have seen it. Its themes are beautifully woven into the story as you get involved with the trials of Maquia taking care of this child when she is, considering her kind, young herself, and doesn’t really know what to do. You watch as decades pass and she stays the same, but everyone grows up and dies around her. You watch as her son gets older, and the challenge of their relationship and dynamic starts to get in the way of how they come off to other people. Everyone, from the kingdom to the immortal beings, see the rise and fall of mystical creatures becoming extinct and the fall of the kingdom at the end of the film. It’s a brilliantly somber but touching film that, while having incredibly gorgeous animation, shows Okada’s strengths as a writer. You feel heavily invested with the characters and what is going on with them. You want to see Maquia become a mother, you want to see her make sure her son grows up, you want to make sure the son doesn’t get killed, and you want to see her friendships blossom and stay connected. It’s a well-paced story that knows what main plot elements to focus on, and when to sparingly show off what is going on with the other characters.

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Animation-wise, Maquia is a gorgeous movie with beautiful vistas, great camera work, soft rounded character designs, and very well composted CGI. Yeah, once again, a Japanese animated film shows how to do it properly where many anime series fail in regards to the CGI. It can still be noticeable, but it’s not as distracting as say, any of Polygon Pictures’ products or that horrible Berserk continuation. In terms of the original language and the dubbed version, I think you can’t go wrong with either. Xanthe Huynh is incredible as Maquia and simply goes through the gambit of emotions, and you believe her every time. The other actors are good as well with Ryan Shanahan, Eddy Lee, Cherami Leigh, Kevin T. Collins, Brooklyn Nelson, Marc Thompson, H.D. Quinn, Ryan Bartley, and many other voice actors do great with their respective roles. While the music is nothing that you haven’t really heard before, Kenji kawai, the composer for shows and movies like Patlabor, Ranma ½, Devilman, Project A-ko, Burn up!, Ghost in the Shell, Dai-Guard, and Ip Man still delivers a sweeping epic score and soothing tunes that pull you into the experience.

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If I had to complain about something with this wonderfully touching film, I would say that the art direction isn’t all that creative. Yes, it’s a more human and adult story, but when you have the character designer Yuriko Ishii, who was inspired by the artist who did Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre, Akihiko Yoshida, you kind of expect something more creative. It all looks great visually, but there is nothing that unique or outstanding about the fantasy world that they live in. Also, while it’s not as bad as other films or anime series, you can definitely see when they use CGI. It’s not a major detractor, but it’s something worth noting. I also found a few times where the dub sounded like it got slightly drowned out by the music.

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Even with those criticisms, they are incredibly minor, because Maquia is such a powerful and moving film. It makes me excited to see what other directing gigs Okada will get in the future, and it makes me want to check out what she has done in the past. It’s finally out on DVD, but heads up. You can only get the Japanese dub version with the Blu-ray version of the film. The DVD version only comes with the English dub. Still, I’m happy and hopeful more people can finally check out this classic from Japan. Now then, we travel from Japan to go on a trip around the world! Next time, we are going to check out Laika’s newest film, Missing Link. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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The Other Side of Animation 132: Satellite Girl and Milk Cow Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I decided to start us off on some weird movies. While Lu Over the Wall is definitely a weird movie, it’s still pretty sane in terms of the overall story and setting. It’s a middle school boy befriending a mermaid, learning how to grow up, and how constant communication and being able to talk to one another with no hesitation is a good thing. It’s definitely going to take some convincing to sit someone down and take in the world of Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. This South Korean animated flick was written and directed by Hyeong-Yoon Jang back in 2014. It was supposedly a critical hit in South Korea, but once it traveled the animation circuit, it got mixed reviews. However, GKids apparently saw something special about it, and decided, with the help of Shout! Factory, to bring it over to the states. Granted, it was direct-to-video, but still. Well, how weird is this film? Does having the famous wizard Merlin as a roll of toilet paper sound weird enough? Let’s dive in.

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There is a lot going on in this film’s plot, so I will do my best to sum it up without spoiling anything. The story follows a satellite named Kitsat-1, dubbed by Ryan Bartley. One day, she hears a young man named Kyun-chun, dubbed by Daniel J. Edwards, singing a song that she finds enticing.  After crashing onto earth, she encounters a magical roll of toilet paper, who turns out to be Merlin, dubbed by Kirk Thorton. As she searches for the young man who sang that song, she finds out that due to a broken heart, he has turned into a milk cow. They must find a way to solve this situation, while avoiding grungy individuals who hunt animal people for their livers, a pig witch that takes these broken-hearted souls to live in a forest, and a giant walking furnace that eats the broken-hearted. Can they save Kyun, and turn him back to normal? Will a really off-beat romance build up between the satellite girl and milk cow?

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So, for as weird as this film is, for as many positives I am going to be saying about this movie, this film is a mess. It basically feels like a fairy tale-like story. That means that its logic and sensibilities are going to be only somewhat grounded. To me, this kind of defense can work in two ways. One, if the world, setting, and logic works, then that’s fine. However, it also comes off like a defense of “please don’t use logic so my movie can avoid any legit issues with this film’s world-building”. It introduces plenty of things to bring into the world of this movie, but at the same time, they don’t really explain half of the tidbits that are in it. It’s weird to criticize, since the dub and the film points out how absurd some of the aspects are, like how there is a dog that acts pretty much like Gromit, but walks on two feet. It’s also odd that a giant killer furnace can move around the city, and not be spotted once. Maybe it only comes out at night, but it seems like such a stretch that no one sees a giant fire-breathing piece of metal in the city. They also don’t explain how the secondary villain can travel through reflective surfaces. It gets to be a weird movie when the main characters have to make money, and decide to get the male lead to make milk for them. By that, I mean literal milk. It never happens again, and is not brought up again in conversation. I get being weird for the sake of standing out, and having an identity, but sometimes, being too weird is off-putting.

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I know I’m asking a lot for a film that’s about a satellite falling in love with a man turned into a cow, but when they don’t really build up everything properly, I’m going to be pulled out of the story. I don’t know if there were some edits made that ended up with plot or world elements that feel like they are unfinished, or this was exactly what the final product was supposed to be like, but it’s a movie that’s definitely a wonky ride from beginning to end. Oh, and there are two poop jokes around the beginning of the film. While they aren’t as bad as the one in Big Fish & Begonia, it’s still distracting and unnecessary. I simply don’t get why bodily humor is funny anymore.

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Outside of that, I do have a lot to enjoy about this movie. While the animation is definitely not as good as other animated features from that area of the world, you have to grade on a curve sometimes, depending on what film you are watching. Sure, the film looks like an anime from the early 2000s with its digital coloring and sometimes wonky way of characters walking around, but it still looks polished. It has smooth animation most of the time, and it has really strong physical comedy. Since one of the characters is a satellite that was turned into a robot girl, they take advantage of that aspect, and it leads to a film with some of the funniest and most surprising comedy out of an animated film this year. What also helps is the cast that they acquired. While I wouldn’t say everyone does a good job, the three main actors that they got for the dub all feel like they were committed to such a weird script. Animated properties from different cultures are definitely going to be weird and unusual to adapt, and that is nothing new for voice actors to encounter when doing voice work for anime series, but they don’t skip a beat with their characters. I think my favorite performance came from Ryan Bartley. She does a great job voicing this weird satellite girl, who can’t pick up on certain emotional cues, but is still understanding and loving. A lot of this film relies on the whole aspect of loving someone beyond their looks, and it’s handled pretty well. You felt for the two of them, and got annoyed with them, when they got selfish. I think the scene when they finally confess their love for one another is both very touching and very funny, as she finds out that he loves her for who she is.

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While clunky and bizarre, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow will probably be the cult-favorite animated feature of this year, alongside Big Fish & Begonia. It’s weird, but there is heart to it. If you are hesitant about buying the blu-ray of the film, you can watch the subtitle version on the service VRV. Plus, the movie comes with the director’s first short film that got him acclaim. I would definitely recommend this movie if you are into offbeat romance, fantasy, and comedy movies. Sadly, due to work and life getting in the way, Far East Animation Month will end next week, but we will be looking at another fan favorite film from Studio Ghibli, with Isao Takahata’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!