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[R1 DVD box art.]
AKA: フラッグ
Genre: Drama / military / mecha
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: R1 DVD from Bandai Entertainment
Content Rating: 13+ (Mild language, political issues)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Grave of the Fireflies, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig
Notes:
Rating: Two StarsTwo Stars

Flag

Synopsis

Sometime in the near future, a violent civil war erupts in a small, mountainous country of Uddiyana. The United Nations Forces quickly intervenes by taking over the capital city in the interests of brokering peace talks, and during the chaos that ensues, a Japanese photographer named Saeko Shirasu takes this photograph:

The photo quickly becomes cherished around the world as a symbol for peace in Uddiyana. Because of public outcry, a date is set for the two sides to meet and sign a peace accord to end the feuding. A few weeks before the signing, however, the flag in the photo is stolen.

Fearing that any chance for peace will be lost if the flag is not found, the UNF creates a special task force to find it. The best minds of the free world are gathered together, and among them is Shirasu, who will document this top secret mission.


Review

Japanese anime rarely attempts to confront modern social and political issues. When a series does, though, usually we get something like Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig or Grave of the Fireflies, both of which are excellent series that tackle social issues in Japan and beyond with the appropriate weight. For that reason alone, I hoped Flag would be worth watching. And while I did get a heavy dose of modern issues such as responsible journalism, Middle Eastern politics and religion, and nation building, it came in one very dull package, heavy on the preaching and light on the entertainment. Taken all together, Flag is a mixed but ultimately disapointing show, as my own mixed review will show.

The first thing a new viewer of Flag will notice is its animation. Production IG continues their high standards of animation quality, but this time with an intriguing stylistic twist: the entire series plays like an elaborate multi-media documentary, with graphs, still photography, videos and screenshots weaving together a visual narrative. The animators try to make each frame of their animation as realistic as possible, making the camera shake when its owner is running, go in and out of focus to follow the action, and often poorly frame the camera's subject. It looks like candid camera on the frontlines of modern warfare. Production IG had obviously done research on the camera's subjects, since they look very realistic too, from the indigenous people who populate the slopes of the mountains to the slightly-futuristic helicopters and weapons.

Tying all the visual chaos together is narration by a Japanese journalist named Keiichi Akagi (voiced by Taylor Henry), a veteran reporter who has seen his fair share of wars. It wasn't long ago that he had taken a promising photographer named Saeko Shirasu (voiced by Dorothy Fahn) under his wing, showing her the ropes and teaching her how to be a freelance journalist. He took her with him to the conflict in Uddiyana, where she quickly became famous for a photograph she took during the UNF's invasion of the capital city. Now, as the date for the signing of the peace accord draws near, they are both returning to Uddiyana, but this time separately. While Akagi is returning to the capital to keep taps on the nation's progress towards peace, Saeko will be going with a special section of the UNF assigned to a top secret mission... which she told Akagi all about before leaving.

The flag in the picture that made Saeko famous has been stolen, and though the UNF has been able to keep that fact a secret from the press, they are desperate to recover it before the signing of the peace accord. If they do not, they are afraid that the country will never know peace, and public opinion will turn against them. Saeko has been asked to document the mission, possibly as some sort of publicity stunt by the UNF, because I can't think of any other reason why anyone would want a top secret mission heavily documented. Saeko is given unlimited access to strategy meetings, she tapes the unit commander's reasoning on why she made such and such an order, she records the officers living quarters, the kitchens, the warehouses, and the day-to-day lives of the soldiers. She also photographs and videos a top secret weapon used on the mission called the HAVWC, a "bipedal armored vehicle." In other words, mecha, and I can't say I'm happy to see it here. Flag could easily have done without the HAVWC; it had obviously been shoehorned in to attract mecha fans.

But let's be reasonable here- because the animation is so detailed, then it must be a foregone conclusion that the mecha action is kick-ass? Fanboys be damned, even I get a little weak at the knees at the idea of giant robots laying the smack down. Sadly, though, because the series is essentially a drama visualized as an elaborate multi-media presentation, most of the action looks like this:

Hooray! Graphs! Charts! Symbols! If you're a freak for both math and mecha, you may have wet yourself. As for the rest of ya'll, I assure you that the action is as dull as it sounds.

Frankly, the entire series is dull, stiff and a disappointment. It's heavy on dialouge that isn't much to begin with, and on top of that the premise of the UN spending millions of dollars on a secret mission to retrieve a piece of cloth insults my intelligence. Symbols be damned, a peace accord is too important to be stopped because of a missing flag. The UNF's reaction to the armed extremists should have been to laugh at how silly they were to go through all that effort, and then go on with their time table for peace after a short press conference. What's frustrating about this premise is that Flag could have easily chosen something else that is believable and interesting simply by turning on their nine o'clock news. Civilian kidnappings. Better yet, important officers kidnapped. Planes hijacked. Suicide bombings. Take your pick; all of these is better than a frickin' piece of cloth.

Despite excellent visuals, Flag takes a ridiculous premise too seriously, and the series suffers for it.Bradley Meek

Recommended Audience: Mild language and violence. For teenagers and up, though this may go over the head of most teenagers.



Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Partial (10/13)
Flag © 2006 Team Flag / Aniplex • The Answerstudio
 
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