Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 3rd 2008
As the carefully-orchestrated attack by the SDC on Metazone Temple commences, Saeko has a front-row seat which allows her to shoot the action. Complications arise, however, when it eventually becomes apparent that the flag whose signal they thought they were homing in on is not there, and the implications about who must have it resulting from what is discovered run deep and dangerous, while the stress and fall-out of the mission takes its toll on those involved. In Subasci, meanwhile, Keiichi and his fellow freelancers get wind that the U.N.F. has more planned than what they publicly admit, most notably a supposed precision bombing of various terrorist hideouts within the city. Keiichi soon comes to suspect that the U.N.F. may be covering up even more than that, however, and that Saeko may be involved in whatever they're trying to hide.
The second volume of Flag made anime news in January because of its involvement in the Bandai Entertainment disk-printing fiasco which resulted in the well-publicized recall and replacement program. (If you obtained a copy at the time of its release and have noticed operational defects, please consult the Bandai Entertainment Web site for details on how to replace your defective copy.) It almost could have made news instead for some of the politically-charged dialog included within its three episodes. Whether done intentionally or not, some of the lines, when combined with the patterning of the setting and circumstances off of a combination of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nepal, get rather provocative and give the impression that the creators may have been trying to send a message or make a statement. Case in point, this line from episode 5, which remains intact through translation:
“'Terrorists', huh? So I guess they're gonna to use that one little word to write off any faction that doesn't play along with them [the U.N.F.].”
Given some observations made about strategic bombings later in the volume, the edginess seems deliberate.
Those who did not care for the documentary style, snapshot transitions, occasionally grainy filtering, or jerky “filmed as if in real life” camera angles in the first volume will find no relief here. Those not bothered by the highly unusual approach should still find it to be a refreshingly dramatic departure from the norm for anime series, one that has been very carefully edited to give the feel of a smoothly linearly progressing show while actually executing the series in snippets. (It is also, of course, a clever method used by Ansa Studio and Aniplex to limit the actual amount of animation that needs to be done.) Mixed in this time are some longer CG bits showing the progression of one of the HAVWC units into the bowels of the Metazone Temple from the pilot's point of view, which give the impression of being in the kind of immersive first-person cockpit games that used to be common in arcades back in the late '80s and early-to-mid '90s, albeit with better graphics.
The other factor that continues to distinguish the series is its attention to detail. Not since Gasaraki has a series involving mecha so thoroughly delved into the technical nitty-gritty of mecha operation, which helps make viewers appreciate exactly how fantastically complex and prone to mechanical issues such equipment is. It also devotes considerable attention to more traditional military equipment and situations, such as how bullets plinking off of armor plating might sound to some inside such an armored vehicle. This combined with the rigorously laid-out and executed mission tactics makes this series a worthy view for any military buff, while others may find greater draws in subsidiary details such as Keiichi's ruminations on the bombing, the way the freelancers delve into their stories, or the way SDC member responses to Saeko's questions show just enough of their character to make them credible.
The military equipment is not the only visual highlight. Exceptionally well-detailed backgrounds provide convincing settings, character designs are drawn with an eye to realism, and the integration of CG effects with normal animation is nearly flawless. Characters seem to have slightly bigger mouths than the norm, which may have been done to allow emphasis on the animation of talking when animated scenes are actually shown. If you can get past all its visual gimmicks, this is a very good-looking series.
The understated musical score pops up to provide backing for snapshot montages but much of the time disappears into the background, allowing the events depicted to carry the full weight. When present it maintains the Asian-themed numbers used in the first volume, as well as retaining the powerful opener and more modest closer. The English dub shows no drop-off in performance quality, either, and much of the series' dialog consisting of narration or technical language allows the English script to stay very tight. The translation does seem more consistent in this volume on replacing references to “U.N.” with “U.N.F.,” however.
Like with the first volume, the second is very sparse on Extras. Only a clean closer is available this time to go along with a mere three episodes.
Due to its unusual style, Flag is one of those series that will either utterly fascinate you or utterly not work for you. Those that take a liking to it will find more mature, detail-oriented plotting devoid of all the normal bright and hyperactive anime trappings. If its second volume has significant flaws, they lay in episode 6 spending much too much time recapping episode 5 and the content sometimes getting a little too focused on making some kind of statement. Otherwise volume 2 establishes the series as a contender for one of the year's best.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Superb attention to technical military detail, mature and involved storytelling.
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