FLAG is an ONA from mid ’06 to early ’07. It was handled by The Answer studio. That’s right, the studio behind Golgo 13. It’s also an original work. So, that’ll be interesting.
Our narrative takes place in a fictional war torn country named for a yoga pose. A young photographer named Shirasu Saeko manages to capture a strong moment of hope in a brilliant photograph. This results in the flag in the photo becoming a symbol of peace. There’s just one problem, it gets stolen. Shirasu is chosen to work with UN’s special forces in their efforts to scour Uddiyana and regain the flag.
The biggest problem with the series is that it has two protagonists, for good reason, but it can repeat information from each of their perspectives with very little difference. Which just feels like a pointless way to pad the series.
To its credit, the dual perspective does work well for showing the situation from the military-oriented perspective of Shirasu and from the more civilian point of view of Keiichi. Which serves to provide a broader, more nuanced viewpoint. The series also makes good use of its photography theme. Both with its aesthetic and by using short snippets for its scenes. The ending also has a strong narrative purpose that ties things together and is really well done.
The series does a great job of using snippets with characters to illustrate different parts of their personalities and flesh them out more than you would expect for a cast of this size in a thirteen episode series. It helps that the conflict has a strong sense of realism to it which gives them a grounding in reality.
It also helps considerably that the side characters interact with the photographers, which provides some strong interactions for the photographers even though we don’t see that much footage of them directly.
The only real downside of the art is that the CG shots of the mecha have pretty stilted movements and they just look awkward. Yeah, I have seen much worse CG but this still isn’t good.
Overall, however, the visual aesthetic is really good. Seeing everything through lenses, as either stills or video, gives the series a unique look and it really delivers the photography theme strongly. I also appreciate that the series shows warfare while using various tools to avoid making it graphic. It’s almost like you can get the point across without going the sensationalist route and showing a bunch of blood and corpses.
And even though the mecha look a bit awkward, seeing their blueprints and how the parts connect is interesting. Even if the engineering isn’t realistic. If it was we’d all use these blueprints for our own killer robots. And almost as many people would die as anti-vaxxers have killed.
The worst thing I can say about the acting is that Tanaka Rena delivers some of her lines a bit awkwardly. They aren’t badly done but they don’t seem to quite match the mood the series is conveying. In contrast, we get an excellent performance from Ishizuka Unshou and most of the actors do really well. Ike Yoshihiro’s soundtrack is nicely done.
About the closest we get is Shirasu commenting favourably on some of the women she’s working with. But she does the same thing with the men and it’s pretty obvious that it’s not meant romantically. Romance, as a whole, is not a significant thing in this series.
Areas of Improvement:
- Cut down on the repetition. We don’t need to see both Shirasu & Keiichi look at the HAVWC blueprints. We can see that kind of thing once. And it would make for a cleaner narrative.
- Animate the mecha more naturally. It would legitimately be better if these things looked more natural instead of sticking out awkwardly.
- Better direction for Tanaka Rena. Like I said, she’s not bad. But the emotional core of the series would be stronger if not for those out of place lines of dialogue.
Ultimately, FLAG is a series that has a lot to offer. Including an aesthetic that’s all its own. Do I recommend it? If you’re intrigued by the idea of a narrative where photography is a central theme and an operation to suppress insurgents is handled from a human rather than a sensationalist perspective, I absolutely would. I’ll give it a solid 8/10.