For want of a flag

Episode 1: UNF under attack

FLAG is gritty, at least in a very visual way: grain, and lots of it. Artificially added, I suspect.

There are a couple interesting things going for this series. With the exception of the first two episodes, FLAG was only available through web streaming. The other is the documentary style, with much of the series being depicted through a viewfinder, or through still shots.

I have mixed feelings about this, but for the most part it works. There are lapses where things that should have been recorded are being shown without the familiar camera interface overlay. But what eventually got to me were two things, both of which are shown below.

Episode 10: Moths to a flame

For whatever reason, the camera always has 56 minutes of operation left. Always. There are two dominant battery-powered cameras in the series, and with only one exception, they are always at full charge and 56 minutes left, respectively.

The TCR on the 56 minutes camera jumps around for no real reason. When the camera cuts to another shot in the scene, the TCR is known to go backwards.

These kinds of inconsistencies threaten to devalue the whole experience which, at its height, conveys a sense of claustrophobia as we are steered around by an unseen operator. It is this gatekeeper that determines what we can see and what we cannot, but in the case of HUD feeds during combat, we see what the soldier sees, and in those situations the field of view cannot be wide enough.

Episode 1: HAVWC

Combat in FLAG may not always be intense, but it is never lacking in tension. When the camera stares down an incoming RPG, all the composite armor in the world won’t eliminate the base instinct to duck. And it’s not as if HAVWC’s are impervious to everything: despite the claim that they can deal with any weapons platform thrown at it, it’s shown that they are remarkably open to attack, and defeat, by helicopters.

So there’s a sense of mortality with this special forces unit and their advanced robots, perhaps fitting an overall atmosphere of vulnerability and helplessness that pervades the series. There are enough images of destruction and impending death in the OP alone, to say nothing of the firepower that the belligerents bring to bear on each other, and the locals, over the course of 13 episodes.

Episode 12: Prayer flagpole

You can call the country in conflict whatever you want. The producers like Uddiyana. I prefer Tibet. The concept of a ruling religious authority, led by a re-incarnated figure, screams obvious. An abundance of colourful prayer flags and prayer wheels merely seals the deal. FLAG also comes with mountain ranges, nomads, and the yurts that they live in.

Like Tibet, Uddiyana is fodder for commentary. Commentary on military intervention, on military occupation, on the importance of symbolism and how people need symbols to get things done, including the business of killing each other. Meanwhile, others risk everything to discover and safeguard these distillates of intangibles.

FLAG can be many things; it is many things. The narration is about the closest thing to prose as you’re likely to find in anime. At this complicated intersection of ancient traditions and modern military, is a minefield of parallels and metaphors. Light, and the absence of light, comes up a lot.

[This passage snipped for organizational purposes. See the follow-up entry when it goes up, if so inlinced.]

The soundtrack is repetitive, but the orchestral OP, the very appropriate ED, and a certain warm clarinet piece, are ripe for cherry picking.

One comment about the voice acting: the lead character is voiced by an actress with overwhelming (exclusive?) live-action experience, and I think it shows. While sounding flat can be construed as naive, which was usually acceptable, it really hurt the combat scenes, wherein she came across as borderline oblivious. Any line expressing worry felt shockingly cold and disingenuous.

FLAG is more interesting than it is entertaining; an experiment that suffered from a couple glitches. Likewise it takes a good shot at realism, but such portrayals are less riveting and more informative. There’s a lot of downtime over the series’ span, where soldiers and journalists alike sit around and wait. Unable to act without information, unable to act without orders, unable to act because of orders, they all draw breath until the next exercise of power.

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