Microsoft’s 343 Industries has one mission, and its a big one – to promote and help populate the company’s Halo franchise across the planet. Although it began its existence in 2001 as the premier videogame for the original Xbox console (after almost being a MAC-exclusive), developer Bungie’s extremely popular first-person shooter has since gone on to become a true global phenomenon, branching into the world of books, toys, and even one well-documented attempt at a major motion picture with famed director Peter Jackson (which was later reconstituted into the multiple Academy Award-nominated hit District 9).
But Microsoft hasn’t finished the fight, and to help get the job done they’ve enlisted the help of Warner Home Video, which helped issue similar projects like The Animatrix (2003) and Batman: Gotham Knight (2008). With seven (including one two-part) stories from some of the world’s most renown Japanese animation studios, Halo Legends takes us deeper into the Halo universe, with different perspectives on the lives of different characters, sacrifice, and even an occasional laugh or two.
As you might have guessed, these animated anthologies usually accompany a new release in their respective franchise, and that’s certainly the case here. Microsoft and Bungie have plans to introduce a new chapter in the series later this year with Halo: Reach, a prequel to the original games. With its own mech-style Spartan designs and intergalactic space melodrama, the Halo universe seems ripe for anime-interpretation, and while the end result may be little more than Halo propaganda, it’s good propaganda. Here’s my brief descriptions and thoughts on each chapter, as well as their respective animation studios, followed with some final thoughts on the whole Halo Legends package at the end.
The Babysitter (Studio 4°C)
In this story, we’re shown a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, i.e. Helljumpers, from Halo 3: ODST, in which one hotshot marksmen shooter on the team is unhappy to learn he’ll be a backup sniper for a Spartan. The use of differently proportioned armor was fun, but their lack of detail and uneven animation felt rushed. Eiko Tanaka, producer of anime such as Tekkon Kinkreet, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service served as producer.
The Duel (Production I.G)
Certainly the most Japanese of all the chapters, positioning the Covenant as a samurai-like clan, complete with hakama-style clothing and bushido-style honor system. In this tale we’re shown an Arbiter named Fal who chooses not to follow the Covenant religion, and the consequences that follow breaking with the faith. Mamoru Oshii of Ghost In The Shell fame helped supervise this story. Although the use of stylized, watercolor-like visuals is likely to divide opinion, a slow-burning story and stunning original soundtrack will probably help make this the highlight of the collection for many fans.
The Package (Casio Entertainment)
This is the story that Halo fans will really enjoy, as it focuses on the Master Chief leading an elite squad of Spartans on a rescue mission that will push all of them to the limit. Rendered completely in CG and packed with action, this is the most Halo-like of all the chapters, and wouldn’t seem out of place in one of the actual games. Speaking of which, fans are likely to get a kick seeing the many nods to FPS (first-person shooter) gameplay throughout.
Origins I & II (Studio 4°C)
The only two part story of the series, and the only one to feature Master Chief. This ambitious story follows the aftermath of Halo 3 and shows Cortana explaining how the Halo universe came to be. She talks about everything from the initial invasion of The Flood, to the creation of the ultimate weapon of destruction, the “Halo” itself. While the artistic style and pacing is wildly inconsistent (some might call it laconic), hardcore fans will probably enjoy seeing this near-encyclopedic look at the Halo universe.
Homecoming (Production I.G)
Koichi Mashimo (Madlax, .hack//Roots) and Koji Sawai (Ranma ½, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor) direct this story that focuses on a young girl that’s recruited into the Spartan program, and the tragic things she experiences in both the past and present.
Prototype (Studio Bones)
This chapter tells the story of Ghost, a marine who breaks the rules to save his fellow troops with a prototype battle suit he’s supposed to destroy. Shinji Aramaki, the mecha designer of anime such as Bubblegum Crisis, lends his work to the design of the prototype suit.
Odd One Out (Toei Animation)
Definitely one short that lives up to its name, as director Daisuke Nishio pokes at his past of directing Dragon Ball Z episodes in this parody of the Halo universe and of anime in general. It follows the wacky adventures of a cocky Spartan that falls off a drop ship and befriends stereotypical anime characters (and their dinosaur). The characters aid him in not only battling a monster the Covenant has sent after him, but his own ineptitude. Considered the one non-canon story of the entire collection, with loose animation and utter silliness throughout.
For the most part, Halo Legends holds up a great deal better than the last anime-inspired collection from Warner Home Video, Batman: Gotham Knight, as the relatively unexplored newness of the Halo franchise lends itself better to different interpretations than an established brand like Batman. The short form medium is perfect for telling these bite-sized stories, as they probably would have buckled under the weight of a full-sized production. Keeping them brief helps preserve their intimacy, although the occasional epic space battle isn’t entirely unwelcome.
Being a direct-to-video (or in this case, DVD and Blu-ray) release, the various special and Blu-ray editions are loaded with more than enough special features to help make this one a keeper. Each segment has its own behind-the-scenes documentary footage, and even audio commentary from producers Frank O’Connor and Joseph Chou. Other features include examinations of the Halo phenomenon with “Halo: Gaming Evolved” and (for the Blu-ray release only) a 20-plus minute documentary called “Halo: The Story So Far”.
The different animation styles and varying storytelling methods (to say nothing of the dialog) of Halo Legends won’t impress everyone, but such is often the case with so many different stories being told by so many different studios and directors. The key rallying point here, however, remains telling and spreading the Halo mythos. That we’re able to experience the stoicism of “The Duel” juxtaposed with the absolute absurdity of “Odd Man Out” in the same package is pretty remarkable. Not that hardcore fans would need much convincing, but these stories have done their job. Time to bring on Halo: Reach!