Flag Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition) - Mania.com

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  • 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: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Flag

Flag Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition)

By Chris Beveridge     November 05, 2007
Release Date: November 06, 2007

Flag Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition)
© Bandai Entertainment

What They Say
In the mountainous Asian country of Uddiyana a civil war rages. No end lie in sight for the war-torn nation until a lone photographer snapped an iconic image that would come to be known simply as "Flag." Hope arises as the many factions involved begin an approach to peace, rousing the call for a ceasefire behind the featured flag. When an unknown guerilla sect steals this symbol of unity, a U.N. Special Development Command unit is dispatched using the latest in military technology, a transforming bipedal exoskeleton known as the HAVWC system. Recruited to document this mission is a war-time journalist, the author of the “Flag� photograph, Saeko Shirasu. Witness the trials and triumphs of a peacekeeping taskforce behind the camera's view-finder as they take their first steps towards the recovery of the road to peace and discover the truth behind a struggle.

The Review!
Returning to a war torn country years after being involved in spurring it into a new direction, Saeko finds herself drawn into a strange mission to retrieve the flag that started 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 in some ruins. The remainder of the cover is filled with incredibly small – yet readable – text. It really contains the outline draft of what this entire volume 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.

In addition to the disc only release, a disc+box version is also available. The packaging for it is pretty unique as it is a camera box basically wherein you could keep a camera that can take pictures through it. Of course, you can't really put a camera in here since it's designed to hold keepcases but there is some really strong design elements to it with the logo in silver on each of the sides while one of them has a picture of the armor unit that's in the show. The box is a full wraparound piece which means that the top flips off. It's not a loose top though as there is a magnet inside that keeps it attached to the box proper. Not unlike the keepcase cover, once you start to look at this box under some light and move it around a bit you realize just how much detail there is to it. Though simple in its overall execution, the end result is a box that fits very well thematically and is quite stylish in its own way.

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 opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Flag, a thirteen episode series, is an original work by Ryousuke Takahashi who also served as the chief director here. Takahashi has been rightly criticized over the years for some of his works for various reasons but I've always found an attraction to them simply because so many have a political angle to them. Gasaraki was a show that captivated my attention even as its plotting floundered in the second half. Votoms has so much to offer but is weighed down by the lengthy arcs that had so much fluff to them. But just like Blue Gender, each of the series had a hook to them that kept me coming back for more to see where it was going to go.

The first four episodes of Flag as seen here work in much the same manner, though a good deal of it is admittedly because of how the show is presented visually. The series revolves around a middle eastern country called Uddiyana, a place that is embroiled in a civil war that has been going on for some years. Five years ago, a young photographer on her first overseas assignment with her older colleague managed to snap a picture that changed the tone of the war. The image of a modified UN flag set against the sun through which an image of the country's goddess can be seen praying turned into a rallying point for many. A large number of the general citizenry took up with the UN forces and began to fight back alongside them to end the war. Yet things were not so easy and the war continued even as worldwide attention on the picture galvanized support.

The country has been through a lot in the time since but it appears that it's getting closer to an end to the fighting as a peace treaty is being hammered out. Saeko has found herself being invited back as the picture she took was so important to events there but also because the flag itself now symbolizes the forces that are attempting to make the change in the country. Alongside her colleague Akagi, we're introduced to the country of Uddiyana in both its past and present form. The series shifts back and forth between their perspectives which can be a bit daunting at first. The narrative is driven entirely by Akagi as he relates what Saeko is going through and experiencing in a past tense. The way you can tell whose focus is being used at the time is through whose camera you're seeing things.

Akagi sticks to his video camera which has a different display than the straightforward digital camera that Saeko uses. Saeko takes things a bit further in her work as we see her interacting on her portable computer. Much of the time, the characters that we're following in terms of the leads are simply off screen, we're seeing it all through their eyes and the lens of their particular piece of equipment. It's not an unusual technique and it usually comes across as gimmicky but it is a rather integral part of the show. Saeko's growth as a photographer is an important element of it as is the changes in her as she becomes embedded with a small group within the military that is setting out to retrieve the stolen flag. That introduces her firsthand to combat and dangerous situations. How she copes with it is as important as how well she handles dealing with those who are doing the actual fighting.

War themes in Japanese animation are nothing new, though they're far less prevalent than they were in the 80's and early 90's. Flag is wrapped up heavily in these themes which are familiar to many of Takahashi's works. Thematically you can see many similarities to earlier series he's worked on but also elements that are almost clichéd. Where Flag works for me is that as a whole piece for these four episodes it comes together really well in its presentation. The characters are still far from fleshed out but they're starting to touch on various aspects of them. Saeko's growth is one of the key points being followed as she joins the SDC group. Akagi is given less character development but he's playing the role of the seasoned veteran who is weary with the world.

Shifting between two lead characters and their views is a strength to the show as we aren't mired in just one perspective. But what really wins me over is the visual design of it in how it shifts seamlessly between the two perspectives through their cameras of choice. It also works wonderfully in the way it weaves back story into it by using pictures, narration and video clips as seen on the laptops. It's not a non-linear story but it takes us into the past in a very effective manner while not disrupting the flow of the present day storyline. Each new piece as its introduced shifts the view of how the present is working but not in a way that really surprises. The deeper it gets, even with the mecha aspect that's slowly introduced, the more fascinating it gets.

To my surprise, one of the strongest aspects of the show even if over used at times is the music score. Yoshihiro Ike has crafted a piece that really has a sense of power and epic nature to it, something that has a slow rise to it and fits in with the mood of a country in a civil war. The main theme to it has a heavy somber feel that begins to boil over into something bigger but never in an ostentatious way. The bass level of it is particularly impressive as it works to really emphasize the visuals on the screen. A lot of background and theme pieces in TV series tend to be nondescript and easily forgettable. Flag simply resonates with me and that just draws me even deeper into it.

In Summary:
War photography and journalism has a varied history within the realm of anime but it's not unheard of. Almost every series that revolves around war in a realistic way has some sort of photographer with them but they're generally not the main focus. Flag works with two of them as the main focus and it provides a very different perspective on things than you would get from a soldier or a general outsider. While Flag has plenty of places where it can go wrong in the remaining nine episodes, what it does right in these first four episodes has very handily won me over.

Japanese 5.1 Language,Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 480p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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