Flag Vol. #2 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, January 08, 2008
What They Say
On the night of the new moon UN Observation Forces begin precision bombing operations targeting suspected terrorist strongholds within Uddiyana’s capitol city of Subasci. Despite the
high technology of computerized missiles, collateral damage still occurs and the local peacekeeping forces move to hide this inconvenient truth from freelance journalist Keiichi Akagi and ultimately the world. Simultaneously the Special Development
Command unit begins its assault on the Metazone temple in hopes of recovering Shirasu’s featured Flag and with it the roadmap
As the UN begins a number of raids across the country, the situation plays out both in clear clean military precision style as well as showcasing the human aspects of it all.
Flag has quite a good audio selection to it as it presents both the English and Japanese language tracks in a full 5.1 mix done at 448 kbps. Though the show is often one that doesn't utilize the rear channels to great effect, when it does it really stands out well. The area that the 5.1 works the best however is with the music as the bass level on it is really outstanding. The themes used throughout it have such a sense of presence, maybe too much at times, that it helps to set the mood even more than the standard stereo mixes which are encoded at 192 kbps. With four language tracks on here, it's a pretty well packed disc in terms of audio. In listening to the Japanese 5.1 language mix, we didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Flag is shot with a style that could be problematic but the presentation here as authored by Nightjar is simply stellar. Numerous scenes are shot as if they're seen through a video camera or a digital camera which leads to a lot of noise. That is wonderfully replicated here without adding blocking to it or other artifacts. When it shifts to a normal view, the colors are incredibly rich and vibrant, particularly when it comes to skylines. Not unlike the audio presentation, there is a lot of great work here that doesn't always seem like it's top notch but it actually is. The use of the cameras and computer monitors really gives Flag a very different feel. The series has a high definition master to it and it really shows here in terms of the quality of the materials that were used.
The packaging for Flag is very Japanese but it's one that might actually pique the interest of some on the shelf if it's facing outward. The top half of the front cover uses the logo design as seen in the eye-ctach while below it is a shot of Saeko with her camera while she’s wearing her combat helemt. The remainder of the cover is filled with incredibly small – yet readable – text. It really contains the outline draft of what this entire series is about in surprising detail. With a black background and white text, the cover overall is very stark. At first glance it feels weak but after the show it had me looking at it in great detail. The back cover is more showy as it features a film strip weaving across the middle which has shots from the show. The summary is smaller than the one on the front and a bit more concise. The discs episode numbers and titles are listed while the remainder is filled out with the production staff and minor technical information that Bandai includes on its covers. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design is pure Nightjar which is an absolutely positive thing in my mind. Utilizing the pieces from the show itself with camera movements and computer access screens, the menu design is very active with pictures from the opening shifting through it as other areas shift about. Thematically it really sells the show more when you finish these first few episodes since it all comes together. It uses the 5.1 instrumental mix from the opening sequence which really gives it a sense of presence and power. They also have set up the menus to reflect the four volumes that it will run which gives it a great sense of consistency in its design while still teasing about what's to come. Access time is nice and fast and the menus flow very well between the various submenus and the main menu. The disc correctly read our players' language presets and went to the Japanese 5.1 mix and full English subtitles.
The only extra included is a clean version of the first ending sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first installment of Flag with its four episodes really won me over pretty quickly with its style, visual design and the angle from which it wanted to tell its story. Even though they do go with the “every series deserves a giant robot” concept, they play it pretty close to reality as best as you can and deal with real world issues in a rather frank way considering the origins. This installment, which sadly drops us down to three episodes since it’s a four volume release, takes us through the first big mission by the special group.
Not unlike the first volume, there are two distinct storylines that run through here that showcase the different sides of the war that is going on. Each one provides for a different kind of commentary and flavor, but they’re similar in that they’re told through the eyes of the characters cameras. Saeko does hers more through stills than video, but both she and Keiichi move back and forth as appropriate for the scene to tell the story. The visual trick used for this is one that could get quite old if used in a bad way, but Flag really manages to capture it well in how it does it. This is also helped by the excellent authoring going on here so that the grainy scenes don’t come across as awful looking. The visual style draws you in all the more and provides a great contrast when it shifts to a scene that’s not from the main characters point of view.
Saeko’s storyline isn’t and less serious than Keiichi’s storyline, but it has a very different feel because she’s embedded with the special forces military group that’s going after “her” flag. Joining them on the mission, she’s getting a lot of great material in general that comes in small bursts as they make their planned assault on the Metazone base that the terrorists who stole the flag are using. Much of it is kept to seeing Shin’s perspective through the cameras mounted in his machine, but when combined with the digital displays that showcase his progress in the command room and the bits of footage that Saeko provides, it has a fascinating feeling as it plays out. Very serious and almost scary as the sense of what’s happening pours out on the screen. It may have a video game look at times, but it doesn’t feel like one.
Keiichi’s story is the more human of the two since even when Saeko’s story does involve the terrorists, they tend to be portrayed as targets on a display. At the time that Saeko’s group goes into the base, the UN Observer Forces throw out something of a smokescreen that fits in with how the peace accords are going. They put forth something along the lines of four attacks throughout cities where there are known terrorists that need to be dealt with before such things could become a problem. As it obvious to Keiichi and all the other freelance journalists that are gathering in a bar, these attacks create a whole lot of collateral damage. While they understand that it’s a tragic thing, it’s interesting that they also see it as an opportunity to get some footage that they could in turn sell. They’re not portrayed as bloodthirsty or evil by any means, but they do realize they can’t change anything and it’s their job to document it. It’s disturbing work, even if sanitized for a show like this, and they put forth a lot of beautiful symbolic moments in pictures.
As these missions play out and the impact is displayed on everyone, it really comes together quite well. It’s easy to see that this kind of show isn’t for everyone, but with so few series that plays things in a realistic manner and in this part of the world, Flag just hits everything right for me. The human impact is where it counts the most and it can be problematic in having it told through the view of a camera. Yet Saeko gets fleshed out bit by bit as she interacts with her subjects while Keiichi provides plenty of commentary that helps to humanize him. There’s a cool and cold feeling to the show at times, but that just has the moments of warmth all the more engaging when they do come, moments that feel much more realistic and authentic.
Flag is a hard sell for a few reasons. It’s visual style isn’t appealing to people at times, it’s a serious story that touches on real world issues at play right now and it’s a four volume release of a thirteen episode series. It’s also a series that I think will play out much better when taken in full and without the wait between volumes. It’s a very relaxing and mellow show considering what it’s dealing with, but it runs with the idea of a lot of hurrying up and waiting until the big moments. When those moments do arrive, it’s all bold and brash. That build up is where it’s key though as that’s where the real story is told. Halfway through the series and I’m still very much fascinated with it and can’t wait to see more. It’s not for everyone but it appeals to me greatly.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Ending
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2