Flag is a series by Gasaraki director Ryousuke Takahashi about a small central Asian country called Uddiyana and its civil war. Japanese photographer Saeko Shirasu has been sent to take pictures of the conflict and the newly formed "United Nations Forces" war machine's efforts to bring peace to the region. During a battle in the country's capital city, the local militia groups and the UNF drive out the insurgent groups and scale a statue in the city square to raise a modified version of the UN's flag. Saeko, attempting to get a picture of two women praying on a rooftop, catches the flag in the picture as well, and photo circulates around the world, inspiring a message of peace and unity for the warring factions, and even spurs discussions of a possible cease-fire agreement.
However, an insurgent group eventually steals the flag from its safehouse out of spite, and the UN, not wanting to look taken off-guard, forms a task force called the SDC (Special Development Command) to recover the flag and test the battle-readiness of the UNF's latest combat unit, the HAVWC (High-Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, pronounced "havoc"). Saeko, for her part in taking a picture of the flag, is offered a chance to work with the SDC and document their progress in retrieving the flag, so that their efforts can act as an inspiration to the world and boost the image of the UNF. Over the course of the story, Saeko has several discussions with her fellow reporter and mentor, Keiichi Akagi, who offered her the Uddiyana job in the first place, interviews the various people who make up the SDC, and learns just what sort of effects the HAVWC units have on the soldiers who pilot them.
Flag is a series that greatly modernizes the war story. It portrays a future where the victor of a war is no longer the country with the biggest army or the best weapons, but the country that can best control the minds of its citizens with propaganda like Saeko's flag picture. The HAVWC units are endlessly schematized and their every function is described in detail, but they only see combat on a handful of occasions. The efforts of the UNF to recover a single flag is the least implicitly "realistic" aspect of the shownote , but emphasizes the show's idea that propaganda and the ability to make people rise to action is what wins a war.
The series is also notable for being told in an incredibly distinct visual and narrative style. Everything the viewer sees is from the point of view of a camera (though not always the same one), and still images also appear at least as frequently as animated sequences. Furthermore, the whole series is narrated by Keiichi Akagi as he plays back video footage from the various cameras seen in the series on his computer, establishing that while everything the audience sees is from the past, the future of Saeko and the SDC remains unclear. Flag is a series for those interested in a more realistic take on warfare, but that still contains the somewhat fantastic ideals of a war effort to recover a piece of cloth and deadly giant robots in the desert.
- Art Shift: The animated sequences and photos look quite different. Furthermore, the photos of the war and the photos of Saeko in her childhood as well as from certain scenes in Japan look like they shouldn't even belong in the same universe.
- Badass Bystander: Saeko has her moment when she heads out into the battlefield to get pictures of mecha-to-mecha combat.
- Bittersweet Ending: Peace is achieved in Uddiyana - at least for now - and the UNF manage to get the flag back. None of the SDC die, and things look pretty peachy. Despite being detained by the UNF and having her pictures confiscated, rendering her entire time with SDC a "Shaggy Dog" Story, Saeko is young and full of joie de vivre and plans to continue taking pictures. At least, until she goddamn dies in a random terrorist attack at an airport on her way back to Tokyo to see her father, leaving her mentor Keiichi to piece together her story from the files she gave him, which means this Bittersweet Ending veers more on the side of "bitter" than "sweet", and even a mild case of Shoot the Shaggy Dog. Some people even consider it a Downer Ending - see Downer Ending below.
- Bloodless Carnage: Surprisingly for a series about war, there is almost no blood or gore save for a few minimal bumps or scrapes, which is especially jarring in scenes where the HAVWCs fire on insurgents with seriously powerful mounted machine guns, which would quite literally tear a person to shreds. This is, perhaps, a commentary on how we tend to edit narratives of war in traditional reportage to expunge it of anything objectionable or upsetting.
- But Now I Must Go: Saeko tells this to the UNF at the war's end, and they decide to pay her back by smuggling the highly classified photos she took over the course of the war back to her, as Eversalt claims she has earned them.
- Camera Abuse: Saeko, from time to time, drops the camera, and at one point gets blown off her feet by the report of the new grenade rifle being tested on the HAVWC. As a result, the camera, and the audience, go with her.
- Chekhov's Camera: Every photographer (rookies and veterans alike) has a digital camera, which makes transferring and copying their pictures a snap. This will become very handy at the end of the series, with an assist from Chekhov's Stuffed Toy Rabbit.
- Conspicuous CG: The HAVWC units are done in CG, but do a reasonably good job of blending in with the environment.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Keiichi dabbles in this following Saeko's death and even hints that The UNF may have been complicit in the attack that killed her. Lisa, however, sets him straight.
- Dissonant Serenity: HAVWC units are loud as hell in transit and their gatling guns are deafening. However, when Shin Ichiyanagi pilots his for the first time, all we hear in one of his flashbacks of the battle is the sound of his slow, calm breathing.
- Downer Ending: Saeko dies, as a result of someone deciding to set off a bomb at the airport, very close to Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
- Government Conspiracy: Warning: MAJOR SPOILER: It is heavily implied that the Flag was never that important, and that the entire operation was a Russo-Chinese ploy to live test their XR-2 Longku combat mecha against the Western-made HAVWCs.
- It is also heavily implied that the investigative reporter who was introduced, then killed off by what was officially a stray shot from the UNF troops fighting near his hotel in Episode 2 was intentionally targeted because he was getting too close to the truth.
- He Knows Too Much: Some of the Intrepid Reporter characters meet bad ends which are implied to be due to this. Maybe even Saeko.
- The Hero Dies
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Shin and Chris have these for a short period after piloting their HAVWC units for the first time .
- Intrepid Reporter: Keiichi more than Saeko, as Saeko claims that she wants to learn what "kind" of photographer she is.
- It Has Been an Honor: Saeko manages this with Keiichi, as the video she makes of herself, which he watches after her death, features her explaining that Keiichi's photos made her want to be a photographer.
- In-Universe Camera: The audience sees what the cameras in the series itself see, no more, no less (excepting the ED). On several occasions, Saeko looks into mirrors and glass surfaces and gets her own reflection (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) in her pictures.
- Jitter Cam: Occasionally averted, as Saeko has shown that she can be really clumsy with her camera on some occasions, and on others hold it so rock-steady that you wouldn't believe she's not using a tripod.
- Multinational Team: The SDC. Justified in that, well, it is the UN.
- Phenotype Stereotype: Commander Chris Eversalt and Lisa.
- Propaganda Piece: In-Universe, Saeko's flag picture are used as propaganda.
- Real Robot: The HAVWC units.
- Schematized Prop: Again, the HAVWC units, though the technical specs, as they appear in the show, flash by a bit too quickly to read.
- Spoiler Ending: Although you won't realize it until the end. There's a reason the camera in the closing shot has a cracked lense and a huge chunk taken out of it.
- Surprisingly Good English: Will sometimes contain typosnote , but the large blocks of English text that appear throughout the series on newspaper articles and HAVWC schematics are grammatically sound enough to fall out of Gratuitous English territory.
- Pausing the video during the HAVWC schematic scenes shows exactly why the English text is so good; namely, it's ripped straight from English newscasts. Example: while displaying the HAVWC's miniguns, the schematic text mentions a press release from the 700 Club, and the ammo container's text mentions Lance Armstrong.
- Tomboyish Name: Chris Eversalt, the SDC's female commander.
- War Is Hell: One of the main themes of the entire series.