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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, May 08, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What They Say
A shadow unfurls over Uddiyana with Ru Pou's thanka as guerillas overtake UN headquarters in Subasci. A hymn is delivered to the malignant spirit Angra Mainyu calling for civil war. Unable to contact central command SDAC must move under their own initiative but can they withstand the onslaught of Longkus waiting for them at every turn?

Akagi forces his way through the Gelut sect's pitch-dark tunnels leading to their hilltop fortress. As his viewfinder scans the loom of the land his eyes meet Shirasu's through their cameras' lenses but will it be the last time?

The Review!
The series draws to a quick close before delving into an episode of epilogue in which the growth of the characters is fully examined.

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 in the midst of a battle with one of the mecha behind her. 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 showier 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 with this volume is a clean version of the final ending sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The finale to Flag is one that really didn't surprise me but ended up pleasing me quite a bit. The show has alternated between moments of quick intensity and action and that of quiet introspection and reflection. Each of those aspects of the show have pushed the narrative forward beautifully while also humanizing the characters involved in a way that really lets you connect with them. The series is one that, while not quite so bloody and violent, feels far more accurate in its portrayal of war in this manner than most others. And that's something that's highly appealing simply because it's rare and almost novel in today's marketplace of shows.

Because of the kind of series that Flag is, I wasn't really expecting any kind of massive flashy or showy moments in these last episodes. The way it has played out is one where things happen quickly and there's almost a mechanical aspect to it as the fighting progresses. That isn't a criticism either as it's something that really adds a fascinating level to it. When you have the mecha operators going through the motions and fighting with ground soldiers whose weapons can't penetrate your armor, it's something that in a way is relaxed and very cold as they flick a few buttons and eliminate a swath of the enemy. The nervousness of the operators like Ichiyanagi that we saw in the first encounter has mostly dissipated by now and they're much calmer in their operations after getting some field experience in these machines.

Unlike those earlier experiences however, what's going on in these first two episode is far more public. With the insurgents having commandeered the UNF headquarters, Uddiyana and the world is looking on and wondering just what will happen next. Everything takes on that hushed pause where you're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even worse for the SDC is that they realize they're being played with the "distraction" of acquiring the flag back but have to break off of it in order to help liberate the UNF headquarters. The two separate but related goals of the SDC play out beautifully during these episodes as we have Saeko's relationship with them strengthening what shots she's taking but also just from an action perspective. The restraint in it and the way it's show technically just gives it such a rich and textured feeling without coming across as too emotional and unbelievable.

As engaging as the action elements are, it's the character elements and their portrayal that are more engaging in some ways. We've seen the show told from the perspective of both Saeko and Akagi's cameras but they've been apart from each other for the bulk of it. Their reunion occurs in this volume and it's done in a way that fits their personalities as it's more through their long lenses than anything else. Akagi has something akin to a fatherly feel when it comes to Saeko and when he realizes just what she's been caught up in he does his best to get close to her to try and figure out what it's really doing to her. To his surprise, everything she's experienced has made her a far better person. The scene in which he sees her doing the combat photography, with her expressions just completely focused on her objective of taking the best shots, he realizes what she's become and cannot help but to encourage her on through the views he's creating.

With the epilogue, the fate of Uddiyana is shown to some extent but it keeps to that realism the show has tried to employ. There is no real firm ending to things here, but rather just goal posts that are achieved before moving on to the next thing. Praises for peace and the working of prayers is the subject of discussion, but cynicism unfortunately creeps in and you can't help but to look at some of these people as na´ve. At the same time, you have to admire their ability to think positive after all that their country has been through and the challenges ahead, and you know that such people are crucial to making the hope for peace a reality. Tied with the changes to both Saeko and Akagi as they grapple with their lives after such dramatic events, Flag really ties it all together beautifully in a manner that will appeal a lot to those who have enjoyed the show for what it is and what it wanted to display.

In Summary:
With this thirteen episode series, Flag is the kind of show that can seem pretentious to a lot of people because it takes itself seriously. It deals with things that are going on in the real world in a fictional way but from an angle not used all that often. A great deal of what's here are things that simply don't get done in the anime realm all that often, so when they do it tends to stand out more. Thankfully, Flag isn't just a show that's trying to push buttons. It's a show that is looking at what's going on and how people deal with it from a couple of different perspectives. What helps to make it work so well, at least for us, is the visual way they go about it. By using the photojournalists and their various means of capturing things, we're seeing it as observers rather than through people actively involved. They do get involved in a limited way, but it's not as though Saeko or Akagi are the ones that are making the changes in a first person manner. And that goes a long way towards making this a fascinating viewing experience. Flag is yet another in a line of very memorable and unique shows that Bandai Entertainment has put out which provide for some of the best jewels in their catalog that hardly anyone is watching. This is definitely a series to watch and savor.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Ending

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