Flag Vol. #3 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2008



What They Say
With the Metazone temple operation ending in failure and the flag still eluding them, the SDAC unit comes under heavy scrutiny from U.N. Command. As investigations begin, the frontline base is attacked by a mysterious new bipedal machine, the XR-2 Longku. Defense operations fall to Lt. Ichiyanagi, using his newly delivered HAVWC equiped with an experimental neurologically-linked control system. Meanwhile, within Uddiyana's capitol city of Subasci, the annual festival of Thanka has begun. The living god, Ru Pou, makes his annual announcement to the nation and in doing so reveals the location of Shirasu's flag. With this startling new information, the SDAC unit prepares for an unsanctioned operation to finally end the long civil war.

The Review!
The repercussions of the failed mission becomes apparent and the Pou faction steps up their plans for disrupting the peace accords.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
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 cap and looking off into the distance. 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.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
A rather fun extra is included this time with a video interview with voice actress Rena Tanaka about her role and what it was like being a first time voice actress. It runs for about seven and a half minutes and there aren't exactly any surprises but it's a fresh face talking enthusiastically about her role and the storyline.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I look at Flag, I see a series that is definitely not afraid of the real world. At times and in other ways, this would be something that could drive you away because you want escapism. At the same time, you don't want it to be driven out entirely from things because there are useful examinations that can be done. Flag only manages to up its credibility by the mere mention of such places as Rwanda and Kosovo as it deals with the story of civil war and independence in the country of Uddiyana.

If there's a downside to Flag it's that I want to see the whole thing now and this four volume release is driving me nuts. At the same time I can see the value in the "director's cut" movie that was produced in Japan as a way of dealing with just the core storyline and not as many of the lighter pieces that build the overall story. Curiosity is certainly driving me to check out that at some point after I finish off the series. The three episodes on this volume are more fascinating pieces of work as we see the ramifications of the HAVWC storyline from the previous volume, understand more of the countryside locals and watch as the Ru Pou faction begins to truly assert itself at the right time.

The Metazone operation that made up the last volume was certainly fascinating enough in itself and it was intriguing to see it go badly in the way that it did. That's left a number of issues for the SDC to face from several directions such as the technical, operational and political. The technical side has some old school real world mecha aspects to it as Ichiyanagi now has to deal with re-training a new HAVWC to his peculiarities and vice versa which is very reminiscent of parts of the Patlabor series. Saeko's observing of all of this provides some useful illumination into how all of this work and we get a better understanding of the bond that the operation and the machine share. The operational side of the storyline is examined to a lesser extent as it starts to become apparent that the mission failure won't go far to the operator but rather to the planning staff of the mission. This side of how this special military unit works within the UNF adds a nice touch and helps to show Saeko's confusion over how it all works.

Flag does take an interesting side trip into showcasing more of what Uddiyana is like outside of the main city areas where we see the citizens who are caught up in all the warfare and terrorism. Helping out with a local tribe after an incursion by a curious new unknown force Saeko ends up staying with the native doctor who travels around the country treating people. It's a very mellow piece after the intensity of the first episode and one that allows us to see a very different side of the country with its beautiful countryside and fresh air. Saeko's experiences aren't surprising nor is there anything truly revelatory here, but it's the perfect time for a small story piece like this to help enhance the overall experience.

The dynamic of the series hasn't changed all that much since it began but there are some key differences that crop up in this volume that takes it in a new direction. That comes early on in the first episode when an unidentified group makes an incursion attempt on the SDC base and we find out that this set of helicopters is actually transporting a bipedal mecha of their own known as the Longku. Built as part of a joint Russian-Chinese venture, it comes as a complete surprise to the SDC crew who didn't believe it was ready to be put in service yet. This gives us out first real one on one battle between two different sides using such devices and it has a great realistic tone to it outside of the way the HAVWC tends to hop to one side. The movements, the precision, the lack of "instant gratification" with how the battle plays out is all highly appealing and continues to push this as a realistic thinking man's mecha show.

In Summary:
While the episode count for Flag drives me nuts in this "day and age" of releases, each volume and each episode is made up of pure win for me. With a beautiful visual style, a serious approach that's giving us "mature" in the right way and a sense of realism that gives it more impact, Flag is that rare show that just hits it all right. At the end of each volume and with each episode I'm just very happy with how it plays out and how unpredictable it is since it's not following a lot of standard courses that many shows today do. There are things that you can see where it is going to go, but it lacks that kind of predictability that you get from dozens of shonen and shoujo series. Flag is the kind of show that comes along once every couple of years if we're lucky. Very highly recommended to the right audience.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Japanese Voice Actress Interview

Review Equipment
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: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Flag