Ai KakumaMisaki KunoIbuki KidoAyaka Suwa
If Her Flag Breaks
Also known as: Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: I
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Ayumu Watanabe
Original creator: Touka Takei
Actor: Ai Kakuma, Ai Kayano, Aki Toyosaki, Aoi Yuki, Ayaka Suwa, Ibuki Kido, Kana Asumi, Kana Hanazawa, Misaki Kuno, Rina Hidaka, Risa Taneda, Ryota Ohsaka, Sakura Tange, Yoko Hikasa, Yukari Tamura, Yuuka Nanri
Keywords: SF, harem, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 13 TV series episodes + a 14th OVA episode
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=15801
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 22 March 2015
Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara
At its best, it's funny and charming. It's based around a distinctive idea, which even later turns out to have a surprisingly good and complete explanation. I often loved this show. Unfortunately, though, it turns into harem nonsense.
Our hero is Souta, a boy with the power to see flags. They appear above your head, letting Souta read your mind or even your future. You might have, for instance, a romance flag, an anger flag or even a death flag. Occasionally this lets Souta save people's lives, but unfortunately he's haunted by being the sole survivor of a shipwreck and he's under the impression that his gift is a curse. He thinks he's a bringer of disaster. The only reason he's still alive is because he wasn't brave enough to commit suicide.
That's dark. This is a show that plays with death. However it's also a fluffy harem show with a super-cute title sequence, the message of which is "hero meets lots of girls and will have to live with them".
Well, actually lots and lots of girls. Even by harem standards, it's a lot. It's a dozen or so, eventually. It's like a zoo. Unsurprisingly, after a while I started losing track. Akane and Kikuno blurred into one for me, for instance. Nonetheless, it's basically a strong cast and a lot of those characters are likeable, distinctive and funny. One or two of them even manage to remain so even after the show's degenerated into the Souta Love Splurge, with romantic intentions being thrown at the poor lad at every turn and the cast having effectively turned into a multi-headed, characterisation-free blob. The only upside is that it's one of the friendliest harems you could hope to see, with everyone encouraging and supporting each other (no, really) and never a flicker of backstabbing or jealousy.
I'll run through the main characters in order of my personal preference.
1. Ruri Ninjabayashi, the robot. There are thousands of robot girls in anime, obviously, but what's cool about Ruri is that she really is an emotionless hunk of machinery that talks like a computer manual. Her head's detachable. She recharges by sticking a power cable in her mouth. She has a jetpack attachment, although her landing technique could leave craters in tarmac. She has no romantic interest in Souta (yay!), although she's very occasionally capable of slight blushes. She's one of the most intelligent and practical cast members, as you'd expect, but also one of the funniest.
2. Rin Eiyuzaki, an aggressive cold fish who hates all men except for a childhood friend she hasn't seen in years. Guess who that is. Warning: I'm being biased here and I'm sure most people would rank Rin lower than I'm doing, but I loved Rin. She's a proper character rather than a joke (e.g. Megumu) and I think her characterisation has more weight than that of most of the girls. Even after she became just another member of the mob, I was cheering for her and always happy when she got a bit of the spotlight.
3. Nanami Knight Bladefield, the First Girl. You know. In a harem show, the most important girl is traditionally the first one we meet. Anyway, Nanami's great because she has no romantic interest in Souta and will instead talk to him like a (bad-tempered) friend, noticing things about him and cutting through the bullshit. Even when the show's at its most harem-ridden silliest, Nanami doesn't care. She'll participate, but only not to be left out. Admittedly one's your first assumption will be that she's just being tsundere and that she'll end up melting into gooey Souta-worship like everyone else, but impressively she doesn't and in fact I was seeing mild hints that she's lesbian. Look at her (very funny) adoration of Serika. "I think Nanami broke." Look at Ruri's kiss in ep.12. Most important, though, is that Nanami's perceptive, understands Souta better than anyone and won't take any nonsense. She's great.
She's also a minor royal from a European country called Bladefield, so she talks in mildly antiquated Japanese.
4. Megumu Tozokuyama, who's really a boy. Unfortunately everyone's always treating him as a girl, despite his (eccentric) efforts to be manly and his bouts of comedy depression at being regarded as one of the girls. This is being played entirely for laughs, but at that it's very successful indeed.
5. Akane, Kikuno, Serika, Mimori and Tsumugi. I liked all of those and I'd have been happy to see any of them getting more screen time, but ideally not in "We Love Souta" mode.
6. Mei, Sakura, Number 0 and the deceptively buxom teacher, Miyuki. They're okay, but there's not much to them. I'm neutral.
7. I might as well include Souta. He's not a girl, but he's the show's most important character. He's likeable enough and he fulfils his story function, but I don't think the show successfully sells his darkness. He's dark-lite. Theoretically there's a fair amount of dark content here, but I didn't get the feeling that the show was genuinely interested in exploring those psychological places. I didn't believe that Souta's survivor guilt would manifest like that, I didn't buy his thought processes and I had trouble with the ease with which he switches between being a depressive suicide-risk who hates human contact to being a friendly, generic harem hero.
He's fine. He's a nice guy and the show's perfectly watchable with him at its centre. However a harem hero is traditionally personality-free and, despite everything, Souta isn't significantly bucking the trend.
8. Kurumiko Daishikyogawa, who annoys me. You see, I love this kind of character. She's a little girl who's sweet, kind and immune to all the harem nonsense. She has a tragic past. It should be impossible to mess up a character like Kurumiko, but unfortunately the show's again pulling back from its own darkness. Kurumiko's unconvincingly saintly and a weak copy of what she should have been. There's no force behind the pallid way she's been developed from her backstory.
9. Hakua Berserker Bladefield, for two reasons. Firstly, despite being yet another super-privileged girl of high status (another princess, in fact), she's needy and stalker-like even by harem anime standards. She's kind and polite, yes, but she's offering herself on a plate like someone in a porn film. That's basically just another symptom of the harem genre, though. There's far worse out there and at least the show's other characters are aware that she's over the top. Souta thinks she's being too heavy. More immediately annoying is her speech pattern (...speech pattern), in which she's always repeating the last two words of her sentences. (...her sentences.) I wanted her to shut the hell up. (...the hell up.)
When it's in full-on harem mode, I still don't mind this show. It's okay. It's harem nonsense, but still likeable if you can swallow the harem-ness. Even at its loopiest, there are plenty of laughs to be had from, say, Megumu crying that he can't become a bride now. (Um, Megumu? It's not "now".) Ruri is always cool, too, while Nanami can be relied on to pull us back to earth. It's silly, but pleasant. I wasn't wild about Souta making what felt like mutually unkeepable promises to different girls in ep.8, mind you.
Nonetheless that's clearly a weaker show than it had been in earlier episodes, when the girls hadn't yet blobbed into a mass and the character relationships had been plausible. Even the blend of comedy and darkness felt more credible, before we'd been subjected to, say, Kurumiko's implausibly saintly inner anguish. That felt forced. They try harder with Souta's problems, which admittedly have been extreme, but for my money are also too abstract to be successfully dark. I love the ideas, which are genuinely interesting even if in the end it's something we've seen before. I like where they're taking it. I like the emotional beats in the finale. It just feels to me as if the show's prioritising lovable comedy and not following through properly on its own content.
Come to think of it, though, ep.10 was a bit cringeworthy, with a beauty contest involving love confessions for Souta and a wet T-shirt swimsuit competition with phallic water pistol spurting. "No need to be so tense, Sou. Come now. Squirt it on your big sister."
The OVA is a Christmas episode, by the way. It's okay.
There's still a lot here I love, though. The early episodes are great, when everyone still has motivations and relationships that specifically aren't romance. I was laughing all the time. The show's full of entertaining oddballs and comedy, e.g. Ruri saying, "this school has good electricity," Akane's dad's advice or the childhood peeing contest. The student council president might actually be insane. The moments of lesbian subtext make things more potentially interesting (not just with Nanami) and of course I loved Rin. I don't think everything the show's trying to do with Souta works, although it gets a respectable halfway there, but I think the Nanami material hits its mark and there are things to like with the other girls too. If you can live with the second half sliding into harem silliness, I think this show has a lot to enjoy and even (in a lowbrow way) to admire.