Maquia and Wolf Children are both very good movies that use fantasy elements to explore the concept of motherhood and what it means to a mother and her children. While Wolf Children zeros in on the mother-child plotline, Maquia is an epic with the backdrop of war and multiple mother-child relationships being presented. For simplicity’s sake, I will be focusing on Maquia’s main plotline, that is, the relationship between Maquia and Ariel. Both movies are shining examples of how incredibly human stories can be told even with fantasy settings or elements. (psst, spoilers ahead)
In the early parts of both movies, we see how our protagonists are thrust into single motherhood, the key difference of course being that Wolf Children’s Hana is the biological mother to her children while Maquia’s titular Maquia is an adoptive one. Both have to go to great lengths to protect their children and work extremely hard to raise them, which they do without question. They both derive motivation and pleasure from simply being with their children and watching them interact with the world. Of course, the mothers get angry at their children as well, it’s part of the experience after all.
A major part of both movies is the self doubt that the mothers face as they raise their children. Both mothers grapple with the constant fear that they are unable to properly provide for their children, be it because Ame and Yuki are both part wolf or because Maquia is young and not a biological mother. But the sense of guilt the mothers feel ultimately come from two different places – For Hana, it comes from being alone with no means to provide or care for her children. For Maquia, it comes from self-doubt, that she is just pretending to be a mother and will never actually fill those shoes.
In both cases, the community around them steps in, teaching the mothers how to work their way around their new lives. Hana learns to farm from her loving neighbours and Maquia learns how to be a parent from Mido, who also gives her the ability to monetise her skill of making Hibiol. It takes a village, after all, to raise a child.
Let’s dive into the fantasy elements that change the dynamic of the mother-child relationship shown in both movies. In Wolf Children, the supernatural is tied to the children, who then cause unique problems that Hana has to deal with. She initially struggles to protect them from a world that wouldn’t accept them and then with how to raise children that she didn’t fully understand.
In Maquia’s case, she is the one that isn’t human and has an unnaturally long life with a youthful appearance. This causes emotional problems for Ariel – they constantly have to move to avoid discovery of her identity and the world forms judgments on their relationship which bother and hurt him. He has to deal with the disgust and powerlessness he feels with the way people treat his mother.
As the movies progress, they diverge in quite significant ways. Wolf Children shows how Ame and Yuki cope with society, with Yuki integrating into the human world while Ame comes to stray away from it. Hana thus has to come to terms with her children choosing different paths to follow.
Maquia on the other hand shows Ariel growing up as people question his and his mother’s identities and also going through his rebellious phase. Having Ariel mature into adulthood as Maquia progresses adds an additional compelling element as it shows the way we, as young adults, can sometimes fail to understand our parents’ love for us. Maquia has to deal with his outbursts as he goes through this confusing stage in his life, but she continues to support him and look out for him. Thus, the idea of unconditional love is presented as both mothers continue to support their children as they grow into their own people even if it hurts them.
This is where the main theme of both movies, that is, a mother’s sacrifice comes in. This theme climaxes very similarly in both movies, as both mothers learn to let go of their beloved children to allow them to live their lives and follow their own paths. This, while being extremely compelling in theory, actually evoked different emotions for me while watching the two movies. This is going to be a rather controversial opinion, but I kind of disliked the ending of Wolf Children. This contrasts me crying my eyes out at the end of Maquia.
Before you bring out your pitchforks, let me explain why I personally feel that Maquia’s ending sacrifice works in a way Wolf Children’s does not. To be clear, I feel that Yuki’s arc is done pretty well, so let’s talk instead about Ame’s case.
The one thing I could never get over after watching Wolf Children was how Ame just leaves at the end of the movie. At first I attributed this to me basically not being a mother; I wouldn’t be able to understand. What made it worse was that I could totally see what Wolf Children was going for – the poignant, unconditional love that puts the child first, but I really couldn’t help but hate Ame for his choice. After watching Maquia however, I realised I do have the ability to empathise, and there were other things at play that were making me experience ‘the block’.
A major difference between these two scenes is the idea of acknowledging the mother. After Ariel experiences adult life and finds out that he is about to be a father, he grows and acknowledges the important role his mother played in his life. When he encounters her again, he expresses his gratitude and reassures her that he considers her to be his mother. Maquia then leaves on her own accord, knowing it was time to let him live his own life. Her Iorphian background would continue to cause problems for him as it had in the past, so after fulfilling her duty of raising him, she sacrifices her happiness and lets go in an emotional and ultimately satisfying farewell.
This acknowledgement of the mother’s role is all but missing in Ame’s case, who basically abandons his mother to live his life as a wolf suddenly. Yes, he shows great interest in his wolf side and Hana does a great job at fostering this side of him, but when he runs away without a word, in a storm no less, he shows little regard for his mother’s feelings. Hana is forced to come to terms with her child suddenly leaving, and this is framed as the act of letting go. When he has an opportunity to explain his position to her after rescuing her from the storm, he, confusingly, chooses not to, and thus we do not see her let go on her own accord. This lack of communication may have been in line with his personality, but in the end, comes off as immaturity that could easily be mistaken for ungratefulness.
Ultimately, I did enjoy both movies as a whole and think they have their own strengths in their goals of exploring motherhood. Both offer nuanced takes on this central theme, and definitely made me want to call my parents by the end. It’s just that Maquia, in addition, made me need a box of tissues.
none of these images are mine; they are used for commentary purpose