Flag is a pretty unique venture. It's researched reasonably well, and is set in our world. The world with the laws of physics and politics. More interesting than the reality-based content though, is the form. This show is set entirely within the eye of the camera.
When we're not watching the narrative through a lens; we're seeing photos or computer displays. There is no scene set outside of the camera, and that in itself is a bold creative choice, although it is stretched very thin, in that we have to assume these people are such camera junkies they take them everywhere and never turn them off, no matter what they're doing or where they are. It's a bit too much to accept, but the directorial concept is so cool that you just shrug off any unrealistic scenarios and run with it.
The story follows the main protagonist, and her friend's reflections of her actions at the same time. The pacing between their stories as a result is well balanced, as just when one avenue of narrative is reaching its end or becoming stale, another picks up the slack. The story's focus on the UN's 'peacekeeping' of a war-torn country is more developed than it has any right to be. We see bureaucracy, politicking, soldiers dealing with killing, and more importantly the feelings of photographers capturing war and their place in it all. I don’t think this anime raises anything more powerful than the case of Kevin Carter's infamous photo in Sudan, but it does try.
The animation for the show is very well done, it always looks good and the whips and pans from the camera P.O.V are very smooth and natural-looking. But this anime is a sad case of so much effort put into research and attention to detail that they forgot about the importance of narrative. But more about that below.
Flag always runs the risk of wallowing in self-importance; the music being a major fault here. Full of bombastic cinematic score in the vein of Lisa Gerrard, with Middle-Eastern lady wailing in pain, it's all very trite. Just like the majority of photos. Yeah, for a show revolving around photography, having it populated by generic and clichéd-as-hell photos really doesn’t do it any favours. You've seen them all before: soldiers and kids, animals and destruction, and you could say that the anime is just using the clichés of the medium to tell its own story, to give it context, but cliché is cliché, unless you're commenting on the cliché itself, then just don’t use it. There are some photos that are good though, mainly the infamous photo the entire show is about.
Ultimately though, is this show entertaining? Does it maintain your interest? Does it captivate you? It didn’t for me. Maybe others will love it, but I have to admit I was bored a lot of the time by the constant 3D maps of digital terrain and preparation for military assaults. Hardly what I call entertaining. Michael Mann's The Insider is about a tobacco whistleblower; there's a lot of talking and meetings in that film, but it’s engrossing, you're on the edge of your seat; you're captivated by what's happening to the characters. In Flag there's a whole bunch of talking and meetings but the narrative is like an afterthought, it’s like the script has been fitted around the concept, instead of the concept decorating the script. There's no drive, no momentum, even though the first half is building up to an assault, there's no sense of urgency, not when every scene transition is via a computer desktop mouse cursor clicking on random files. (which gets old very quickly)
If the anime's purpose was to be like a documentary, it fails even more, as this isn’t a documentary about anything actually occurring in the real world. We have a quasi-Tibetan like scenario here, but its all fiction. If the anime-makers were bold enough to actually focus on a real event, Iraq, Afghanistan, take your pick, and provide their own view on it, then I would find it engaging, but otherwise the anime takes the safe route and doesn’t stick its neck out on anything. Just universal themes of war and media, which isn’t bad of itself, but when it consists mostly of dry lifeless dialogue and 3D maps, it’s hard to find anything compelling to latch on to.
There's only one moment where all the aspects of this show come together and work properly, and it’s very late in the series in the 12th episode where a conflict is being filmed by the main two characters, and it feels alive, full of purpose and direction, emotion and drama.
No matter the faults of the show, it’s different and I always applaud that. There is the chance that it will inspire kids and teens to pick up a camera and find a career out of it. A shame the brilliant animation was wasted on a muddled tale with no backbone.