2009 in anime: #3 Saying goodbye

by Grungi

(Tenth post in the “12 days in anime” 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

I guess it was bound to happen, with the return of my sister from Japan (yay!) and Christmas celebrations, I missed the last posting deadlines. But that won’t prevent me to try to post no less than three moments today ! And if my will is strong enough, I’m sure I will prevail ! (I just finished watching Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann a few days ago, does it show ?)

But on to today’s topic, the moment I want to remember on this day is one that comes from a show that didn’t get, to my best knowledge, the recognition it deserved. This show is FLAG.

The plot of the shows is as follows : A civil war is raging in Uddiyana, a fictional country set somewhere in the region of the India-China border. One day, a photographer covering the war takes a photograph that quickly becomes a symbol of peace and hope for the people. The picture features a flag, which by extension also becomes a symbol itself, serving as the banner of the UN-led peace effort. But as it seems like the war will soon be a thing of the past, the flag gets stolen ! A special unit is dispatched to retrieve the flag, a photographer set to accompany and document the operation. And, you’ve guessed it, said photographer is the same one that took the famous picture, Saeko Shirasu.

From there, the story revolves around the life Saeko lives within the special unit, in their base and out on the battlefield, and the one of her mentor, Keiichi Akagi, who is Uddiyana’s capital and witnesses the reaction of the people to the war.

Now, if I tell you that there are mechas involved, you’re probably going to think something along the lines of “Oh right, another mecha show” – with more or less enthusiasm whether you like this kind of things or not. But, honestly, the presence of mechas in Flag is almost inconsequential. Sure, it makes for some nice CG graphics, but that’s about it. There are far more defining traits to be found in Flag. Like it’s directing.

The whole 13 episodes put you inside a camera’s lens. Or inside a webcam, or present you the desktop of a computer. The show is about journalists, after all, and it strives to give a “documentary” look to the events, and mostly does a stellar job at it. Sure, it makes the main characters look like camera addicts, but what’s important is that it works. At first, you have to get accustomed to the weird framing, and the strange and scarce camera movements, but once you get immersed into it, you’ll love it, it really gives Flag a very specific atmosphere.

But can still shots and original presentation make a good anime by themselves ? Of course not. And this is what Flag really excels at : the way it portrays its characters and the interactions between them is something to behold. The shows ostensibly keeps thing realistic, so don’t expect any super-badass here. What you’ve got is a bunch of mostly ordinary people, and while some are good at what they do, it never becomes unbelievable. And, as the plot moves on, they learn to know each other, or, more exactly, Saeko learns to know them. But not through long-winded exposition scenes, no. It’s by experiencing things at their sides, by seeing how they react to the happenings.

And as the mission of the special unit comes to an end, they have to part way, and that’s when you realize that, just like Saeko, you’ve become attached to some of them. And not because you can identify yourself with them, because you’ve started to look at them as friends. It’s a very odd thing, as most animes tend to explain every character’s thoughts more or less thoroughly. In Flag, you don’t really know all their stories, but like in real life, bonds are forged by what you “live” with them. And this amount of emotional believability is probably the main reason why I was devastated by the scene in episode 13 when Saeko watch the video message her friends made to see her off.

The way Saeko breaks down while watching that little video reminded me of what I felt on a somewhat similar occurrence, and to add to the effect, it’s not done in an overly dramatic fashion. Sometimes, less is more.

There are also two other “things” that are very much worth remembering about Flag. The first one in the sound effects. No one usually pays too much attention to those, but here I really noticed their quality, helping bring more realism to the show. The other is the OP/ED, which are both fabulous. The OP is made of various still images, alternating between pictures of a young Saeko and war photographs. With the accompanying soaring music, it’s really epic. The ED is the only time where you’re not seeing things through some kinds of “lens” (the way it ties into each episodes is clever, tough), and it makes for a nice change. It also takes a whole new dimension with the slightly longer version that is shown in the last episode…

All in all, if you don’t mind watching a “serious” show, give this one a chance, you won’t be disappointed.