Flag is basically an attempt to create a realistic war documentary and as far as presentation goes, it is a very special and unique show. At the same time it is not something that has replay value or even something that stands as an equal next to real war documentaries or even various biopic movies.
The production values are definitely high caliber, both in detail and aesthetics. Most of the plot is presented through the photograph lance of a news reporter, while she interviews people revolved in a war, or commenting herself on the social-political status of the area. The level of realism is thus pretty high, as the characters are drawn and made to sound realistic, while the shaky camera and the night vision filter really make you think all that happened for real.
The story is basically watching the reporters living and filming the war that takes place on a third world country that resembles India. There are no protagonists that affect the story in any way. Even the woman photographer, who took the photo of the flag in the beginning and turned it into the icon of the rebellion that takes place in the country, is still nothing but a passive observer and at best a critic. So you are basically watching a story about people who try to do the best they can in the war, without someone being more important than the others because he has some broken power. Superior weaponry does play a vital part and we are given analytical descriptions of how everything works, but again you are not let to think this way the few soldiers using these weapons do a better job that everybody else.
That is in effect what makes this anime work and fail at the same time. On one hand it is indeed very unique in its presentation with the camera and the passive characters. On the other hand, it is not something the average viewer would want to watch in an animated show. It is too realistic for its own good and on top of that it has no prevailing characters for you to sympathize and care for. As for the actual idea of the war, haven’t there already been over a thousand war documentaries? Real ones, about real wars, real people, and real tragedies? Why would someone enjoy a fictional war in an anime when there is also the real thing? Going further, there are several movies such as The City of God, or Enemy At The Gates, which are full of social commentary around wars or dystopias and yet they have characters for you to care about. Active ones, which talk, feel, act and die. Flag has no such thing; everybody is very distant from you. Furthermore, a story told through the camera has already been done before with a far greater effect. Famous works include The Blairwitch Project or Rec (not the anime; the Spanish zombie horror film).
Of course none of that are anime and thus Flag is one of a kind in the medium. That still doesn’t escape the fact that it lasts far more than it should. A lot of the duration is spent on monologues around how weapons and mechas work (yes, there are mechas too) as well as chatting with soldiers and politicians about various subjects. None of that help you to like them more but they do provide more context to the setting. Other than that, half the duration of this show felt like it wasn’t even important to tell the story. Ok, it was supposed to show how in wars things go slow but that does not make it entertaining. Remember that it is a fictional war and it is supposed to be good to watch. Heck, most real war documentaries I have watched were more interesting to this.
The anime ends in a rather sad way that wants to tell us that the observers are not immune to the war. Well ok, it felt like last moment drama to me. It also felt like the whole show was some sort of anti-war propaganda work. Again, I wasn’t interested in its messages because I wasn’t interested in its characters. The coolest thing in this series is the flag photograph and the robotic tank; none of which have to do with people.
Flag is indeed a special anime, unlike any other. It is also distant from you, with nothing to feel bad about other than some impersonal war around people you don’t know or care about. In effect, it wasn’t even needed to be made since the real thing is far more interesting than it. I could say something similar about every single work director Takahashi Ryosuke iever made, except perhaps Votoms, which is cult. His style is simply too moody and dull and alienates you fast.
It is good to watch just in order to see something out of the ordinary but other than that, I recommend the far less realistic but far more personal and enjoyable Speed Grapher.