Y’know, it’s sort of weird. Between Magus and I, I’m probably the bigger anime fan. But I haven’t done a SINGLE anime grump. Why is that?
I’ve been planning to. I’ve SEEN my share of anime since starting this blog. But the plan doesn’t seem to gel. It doesn’t help that my relationship to the genre has been strained for a while. To put it bluntly, anime has sort of alienated me. I used to love anime for its complicated plots, intricate characters and striking visual design/animation. I think this was sort of a fallacy that I’d built for myself.
I only got into anime seriously at around the year 2001. I knew OF anime (or Japanimation as I’d commonly seen it called) because of stuff like Sci-Fi’s limited selection of anime they’d show every Saturday morning. Also, I knew the Pokemon cartoon was Japanese and very strange. But then an online friend (you know who you are) tried to get me interested in a little show called Cowboy Bebop.
That’s sort of a story for another time, but needless to say that show catapulted me headlong into Japanese animation. For years I’d use a chunk of my leisure time to research what shows were available and were up my alley. They were usually cerebral stuff or stuff with very high pedigrees or production values like Escaflowne, Serial Experiments lain, Perfect Blue and Akira. This continued past a backlog of shows that I’d missed and into contemporary offerings like Wolf’s Rain, Haibane Renmei, Gankutsuou and, of course, Stand Alone Complex.
I should have known that this sort of output couldn’t last, but I’d had no experience with there NOT being some show I was dying to watch. A little bit after Stand Alone Complex ended, there seemed to be nothing to fuel my interest. Maybe there was some bizarre trend in the animation biz that coincided with the industry boom over here where it was totally en vogue to make immaculately-animated, deeply-scripted high-concept shows and now the fad’s over. But it just seems to me that the harem comedy genre has come back with a vengeance and polluted the entire industry. Walk down the aisle at Best Buy and you’ll see more than your fair share of shows populated with scores of adorable cookie-cutter girls fawning over the lone male milquetoast protagonist. Either that or a generic “badass” action show designed specifically for Western audiences (AFRO SAMURAIIIIIIIIIII). No one is buying or watching these shows for the dedication to the craft. They’re watching it because they want to fantasize about locking Haruhi in a room with a tentacle monster. Blehhhh.
So imagine my surprise to hear about a show called Flag that actually seemed to break a mold or two. First of all, it’s not fantasy or wish-fulfillment. There’s no poor 15 year old kid with glasses and failing grades who suddenly has 45 swimsuit models move in with him. It’s actually a pseudo-realistic documentary-ish look at a civil war in a fictional Asian country. A young photojournalist, Shirasu Saeko, takes a photograph of the country’s flag that becomes a catalyst for peace, as well as the most famous photograph in the world. However, the extremist faction opposed to the peace process has stolen the same flag that was used in the photograph and has become a symbol for the unification of the country. This puts the cease-fire agreement in jeopardy and the U.N. scrambles to get back onto the road towards peace. To do so, they put together an elite squad to retrieve the flag. On top of that, they also enlist a photographer to chronicle their endeavor… none other than Shirasu Saeko, herself.
If you think the story already sounds atypical for an anime, you don’t even know the most unusual thing about it yet. You see, almost all of the series is shown through the lens of the camera. The conceit of this is that Saeko’s colleague is recalling the entire ordeal and combing through archived footage on a computer that contains Saeko’s journey. It’s a remarkably original move, and was probably the big reason I wanted to check out this series in the first place (on top of the fact that it was just about the only series around that wasn’t screaming “masturbate to my female protagonist!!”).
But it surprised me by being so understated and mature in its delivery. It could’ve chosen, despite the tricky subject matter, to be a wacky comedy or bore-fest (GASARAKIIIIIIIII), but instead it quietly goes about making its points without being overly obtrusive about the experience… like a good photojournalist, I guess. And I was actually surprised that for once, an anime has a pretty diverse cast. There’s a BLACK man, for goodness sake. And he’s not an awful minstrel stereotype (Mr. POPOOOOOOO). Thank GOD.
The one overt anime trapping on the series is the inclusion of rudimentary giant robots. More in the vein of Metal Gear‘s realistic military design than something like Giant Robo or Gunbuster, they actually do a good job making it a believable tool of war that we might see in the next twenty years. I will say that it’s responsible for the most egregiously boring section of the first episode where you’re forced to sit through so much test footage of the damn things that it makes the beauty shots of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture seem modest in comparison.
Overall, if you want an animated series that doesn’t make you feel embarrassed for watching and liking it, Flag should be on your radar. The first volume was very intriguing and engaging and I’m looking forward to seeing if the trend continues up to the halfway point of the series. If so, I’m definitely committing to supporting this series with my money on DVD. If not… then it’s a shame. More series should attempt to attempt different things and break the mold. Just make sure you don’t suck.