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Halo Legends – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Animated shorts have been widely used throughout the past decade to further explore elements of American popular culture, perhaps most memorably viewed in both The Animatrix released in 2003 and Batman Gotham Knight released in 2008. Each expanded upon a world already well established through the mediums of comic and film, in many instances going even further to demystify the original source material—in the end, both providing a fresh and unique perspective on material already well absorbed by fans. It’s also worthy to note the significant involvement of Japanese directors and subsequent studios involved in the production of these animated collections, in a sense utilizing Japanese animation to interpret distinctively American concepts—excluding some Asian-centric elements borrowed and use within The Matrix film series—with each being constructed in a way to promote these ideals through use of animation.

We then enter 343 Industries, a Microsoft subsidiary company that was created to oversee the production of the proposed Halo live-action film, which is sadly not expected to come out anytime soon. Considering this reality, what’s a studio to do? If your 343 Industries studio director Frank O’Connor, you utilize the tools and connections you have at your disposal to create something now—in this particular case, a collection of short animation episodes collectively titled Halo Legends. Not only that, but you gather some of the more prominent and established Japanese studios and directors to helm the project to see that it’s in good hands. Apparently O’Connor had wanted to create an anime compilation of the Halo series for quite some time now, so Halo Legends can be viewed as a rather wish-fulfillment for him, as well as getting the 343 Industries and Halo brand to connect with uninitiated throughout the world through Japanese animation.

*In order to effectively review this compilation, I have decided to address each animated episode as a separate piece. The review order is also the episode order.

Origins I & II
Studio: Studio 4°C

In the first installment of the compilation, we begin aboard the Forward Unto Dawn where Cortana and Master Chief were stranded on after the events of Halo 3. Cortana begins by musing of her seven years of existence and that she has learned a great deal more about the Forerunners that was previously known. Cortana then begins to chronicle the history of the Halo universe and how it came to be. For fans of the Halo series, Origins I & II will really provide an insightful look into many of the mysteries that were only briefly mentioned in the Halo video game series and novels. It really expands the universe of Halo, and gives us a similar narrative to the one viewed in The Animatrix’s short, The Second Renaissance. We get en extensive look at how The Flood came to be, what exactly The Forerunners were and their contribution to the universe. We even receive an interesting narration by Cortana on the fallacy of war and its instinctual connection to human nature. With animation by Studio 4°C, the animation was slightly simplistic, but as for presenting a chronicle of the origins of the Halo universe explored throughout the game series, it made for a memorizing watch and perhaps the best storyline to fully complement the Halo series. A lot of things left unturned in the books and games are answered here, and I would have to say this was the most fascinating episode out of the collection, and I’m sure it will please fans of the Halo series.

The Duel
Studio: Studio 4°C
Director: Hiroshi Yamazaki

In the second installment, we follow an Arbiter named Fal who does not want to follow the Covenant religion. One of the Prophets accuses Fal of heresy. Fal will not yield and the Prophet is forced to send another Elite to kill his wife in order to drag him to a trap. This installment is perhaps the most visually striking episode amongst the collection. The short plays out like a Japanese samurai film, including everything from the attire of its characters to its the slow and methodic duels, it makes for an interesting watch. With animation done by Production I.G., it’s interesting to see that the film is animated to appear somewhat like a watercolor painting. This really brought the creative level of the episode up a notch, but the story is considerably lacking in actually creating any emotional attachments to its characters—it does however showcase an great look into the religious aspects of the Covenant religion and it’s oppressive nature towards it followers. This is still an excellent piece showcasing that not every member of the Covenant agrees with the religious duty of his or her kind.

Homecoming
Studio: Production I.G.
Director: Koichi Mashimo | Koji Sawai

Focused on the tragedies involving the Spartan-II recruitment in 2517, and the Spartan’s coming to terms with their origins, Homecoming is a great piece that showcases the rather drastic measures in which individuals were gathered to participate in the SPARTAN-II program. Providing an excellent look into actually providing an exploration of the people before they were inducted into the program, it provides a lot of background concerning how they are detached from their previous livelihood. The episode parallels quite effectively between showcasing the previous lives of those that participated with one particular case of a woman Spartan warrior. It’s quite the sorrowful journey, and really makes one reconsider the absolute nature of what a Spartan warrior truly is. Great episode overall.

Odd One Out
Studio: Toei Animation
Director: Daisuke Nishio

A parody story—which is also the only piece not considered to be actual canon within the collection. It concerns a Spartan warrior who is unlike any stereotype that would entail what a Spartan should be; he’s clumsy, not coordinated and is entirely too cocky it’s almost laughable. His name is also “1337”, which is ironic considering personality-wise, he’s really not that “elite” in terms of what constitutes a Spartan warrior. Due to many of the reasons listed above, Odd One Out is absolutely hilarious and is coupled with good action scenes to boot. Fans of the hit anime series Dragonball Z will notice striking similarities in these particular action sequences—and its no surprise its similar to DBZ considering that director Daisuke Nishio was responsible for directing it!  For those unknowing, Nishio directed the popular series Dragonball Z, a series that is undoubtedly one of the most popular anime series known throughout the world. With this in mind, Odd One Out is a light and fun romp that is quite refreshing considering the seriousness of the other pieces, and it’s also great to see some comedic value thrown in as well.

Prototype
Studio: Studio Bones
Director: Tomoko Kyoda | Yasushi Muraki

This story is focused on a Marine who is sent to a distant planet to destroy a prototype-powered armor. Upon his arrival, he finds the planet is still inhabited by humans who are under the control of the Covenant. With the suit the only means for survival for the people the Marine disobeys orders and keeps the suit to be used for the good of the people. An action-packed piece that really amps up the delivery of mecha action, an element not really explored within the Halo franchise, but it works out well here. The battles are fast and furious, with an incredible amount of detail put into them. With animation done by Studio Bones, this is perhaps the best looking traditional animated episode within the collection and this something Prototype does well. While not really adding too much to the overall storyline of Halo, it does showcases a strong code of ethics amongst the marines that are showcased throughout the game series and novels.

The Babysitter
Studio: Studio 4°C
Director: Toshiyuki Kanno

This episode follows a squad of four Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, with the squad being composed of Private O’Brien, Dutch (from Halo 3: ODST), Master Sergeant Cortez, and Corporal Checkman. O’Brien is being replaced as the squad’s sniper by Cal-141, a SPARTAN-II, and is now the backup. The squad is sent into a Covenant zone under the cover of a meteor shower to eliminate a Prophet. The Babysitter showcases the rather awkward relationship that forms between a marine and Spartan warrior, a relationship that is built more through hindsight than anything. Interspersed with moments of action and recollection, The Babysitter provides a great view of the cooperation between the marines and Spartan warriors. With lush animation done by Studio 4°C, this is perhaps one of the better-balanced episodes out of the collection in terms of having an adequate storyline that is quite similar to the one explored within the game series.

The Package
Studio: Casio Entertainment
Director: Shinji Aramaki

This episode takes place during a SPARTAN-II raid on a Covenant CCS-class Battle cruiser using the Booster Frames, and is directed by Shinji Aramaki. Completely done in CGI by Studio Casio, The Package is visually impressive as it is action-packed. From the very beginning, The Package doesn’t let up in its relentless pursuit to shock-and-awe the audience with its visuals and action sequences that go far and beyond what one might expect coming from world of Halo, including an exciting Star Wars-esque space battle. This is a perfect way to finish Halo Legends, and with a bang nonetheless. While more of a showoff episode for the Spartan warriors than anything substantial, action fans will not be disappointed and really showcases the ability of the Spartan warriors to almost absurd lengths, but it makes for a great sendoff.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Halo Legends is an excellent compilation of animated shorts that really bring the Halo universe up to a whole new level. Each episode seems to complement the series in some fashion—some obviously more than others—but it’s awesome to see such imaginative interpretations of one of the most famed video games series. Usually I find these compilations containing only a few good episodes amongst some rather insufficient ones—that’s not the case with Halo Legends. Each episode is engaging to watch and none are too abstract for their own good. Fans and even non-fans alike will find some enjoyment in this release, which is great considering the material at hand. Whether these animated compilations should be viewed more as a trend or not, Halo Legends is an exceptionally well made compilation that not only expands the universe, but provides an intimate look into some of the facets that made the series famous in the first place—343 Indsutries should be proud of what they accomplished. Now all we need is that Halo live-action film announcement…

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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Comments

  • V

    what I was happy about is that the English dub was actually handled by Neo-ADV; lets hope this helps them get back on their feet.

  • Douglas

    Oh yes, a lot of Neo-ADV VA’s were involved. I even recognized plenty of them myself.

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