Time has a way of changing the things we think we know to be true. Close friends can become complete strangers, traditions can become faded memories, and children can become parents to their own children. No one is immune to its effects, not even those like Maquia who live for hundreds of years while always maintaining their physical youth. What was once a peaceful existence with her people, the Iolph, is turned upside-down when she is both separated from her kind after an empire attacks their land and when she finds an orphaned baby, Ariel, that she takes under her care.
Under the first-time direction of prolific screenwriter Mari Okada and with the visual chops of animation studio P.A. Works, the story of Maquia and her odyssey into motherhood is both intimate and monumental. The sheer jaw-dropping finesse put into the animation, not to mention the consistently tear-jerking score by Kenji Kawai, shows Okada to be more than capable of bringing her own stories vibrantly to life. It carries all the bombast and grandeur of a high fantasy story, depicting warring empires and majestic battles between knights and dragons, but within the details of the story are scenarios that should sound most familiar. Learning what it means to be an adult, to be a parent, to be an individual person irrespective of one’s familial or cultural background, and whether any of those three are as easy to grasp as one might think, even for those with literal centuries of experience.
To say nothing of Okada’s writing, which employs a near-lyrical quality throughout to espouse on many questions usually evocative of a coming-of-age story. Using very little true exposition, we are shown living, breathing characters from the free-spirited Leilia to the protective and scared adult that young Ariel grows into; to the epitome of all things feminine, maternal and powerful that is Maquia herself. At the heart of this story, one that spans decades and shows the audience just how much can change in such a relatively short amount of time, is one of how the connections we make shape the tapestry that is our lives. And none more so than the bond between a parent and a child.
Being able to pass on one’s own knowledge and experiences to a younger generation is one of the larger signifiers of what makes a person an ‘adult’, and try as we might to give that generation a good head-start, there will always be that worry that we aren’t doing it right; that we aren’t doing enough to protect our young. That we should be the ones doing the protecting, not them. The story of Maquia and Ariel is one of the passage of time, the fears of growing up and outliving those around us, but more than anything else, it is a story about the strength that lies within the mother. The tapestry of time is powerful, and the woven threads within are strong. But the will of a mother to protect, nurture and raise her child is even stronger.