Halo Legends Review
The Halo gaming franchise has been something of a phenomenon. From its humble beginnings as a title by an unknown development studio, which was bought by Microsoft in order for them to gain exclusivity to the title and make it a flagship for their first foray into the console market, the original Xbox, it has never looked back. Smashing onto the gaming scene and being hailed by critics as an exemplary specimen of honed videogame mechanics, it has spawned numerous spin offs in various mediums. From direct sequels intended to help shift consoles, novels, action figures, comics, Actionclix games, adult costumes and even a parody series Red Vs Blue, the content has clearly hit a note with fans of all things sci-fi and gaming related. So it is perhaps understandable that the next inevitable step would be a full length cinematic adventure to accompany the rest of the brand. Unfortunately we haven't been given that, but we have at least been handed the next best thing. Halo Legends is a selection of seven mini stories told in a total of eight bite sized pieces brought together in a Quality Street fashion - you may not fancy all of the flavours, but there's likely to be something you will enjoy. These are supposed to flesh out the back story of the Halo universe and it is clear that the aim was placed firmly on adding some much needed depth to the characters that populated the videogames.
First up is Origins I, directed by Hideki Futamura, who most notably worked in the animation department on the similarly themed tie-in feature The Animatrix. This segment revolves around the back-story of the universe, the conflict with The Flood and where The Forerunners and the creation of Halos fit into this saga. It is nice to have a bit of a reminder amongst other things as it's been some time since I delved in to Halo lore, and this performs the function of bringing us back into the world of intergalactic conflict and odd space races quite well. The art style is primitive, with block colours and thick lines making this more akin to an animated graphic novel, complete with sketchy style, rather than a big budget slick affair. It does its job well enough though, and once The Forerunners enter the fray things become far more interesting as the artwork fits reasonably with the small action sequences and understated nature of this hyper intelligent race. Being that flavours are distinctly of an extraterrestrial nature at this early stage, there is no dialogue between characters, merely a narration that imparts what is happening on screen.
Origins I gives way to Origins II, but Futamura remains. This is the only case of two directly linked segments in content or in director during the whole of Halo Legends but the necessity of setting the scene has taken precedence. The narration continues, overlaying various clips of conflicts throughout human history and this starts to feel more than a mite preachy. Maybe the creators were aiming for The World At War but this falls far closer to a hippy manifesto complete with overly melodramatic music. Swathed in supposed pearls of wisdom about human nature, luckily it moves on to space and beyond before it is bogged down in low rate docudrama style historical battle scenes. In truth this whole section can be seen as one to skip unless you want to see a split second of a cartoon Hitler that is unintentionally hilarious, which almost had me wishing they had made a show around that instead.
Once the preamble and high and mighty musings on man's barbarity are gone we are given the spectacle that is The Duel directed by Hiroshi Yamazaki (co-director of Karas: The Prophecy). To say that the art style shifts would be an enormous understatement, as this is quite unlike any animation I've seen. Akin to a subtle ever shifting water colour, it is certainly striking. If I were to be unkind I'd say it was like watching a standard CGI animation filmed through dimpled glass and viewed with cataracts, but luckily I'm not that harsh. This portion of the series deals with the back-story of an Arbiter. It is your typical affair of a husband whose wife is bumped off by his enemies in order to draw him out into open conflict. The Japanese overtones are played up to the point where it becomes almost a farcical Samurai television show played out by strange-limbed beings from outer space. It has more than a little whiff of the tale of Ogami Itto about it and to watch the Arbiter strutting around in Japanese clothing becomes irksome as there is little hybrid thought put into the design of this section's clothing, architecture etc. Thankfully once we are done with the clunky dialogue about honour and seeing Arbiter and wifey sitting at the breakfast table like a soap opera ET couple, the red stuff...or perhaps that should be purple stuff, starts to fly. An outrageous one versus one hundred battle is ended with a sea of bodies and our hero still standing, which leads us to the duel itself, whereby the Arbiter squares up against the architect of his wife's murder in a suitably tense encounter.
Next up is Homecoming, directed by Koji Sawai, a man who has worked on so many anime titles as an artist and episode director that this review is simply not long enough to go into detail about them - suffice to say he has pedigree. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the director's track record, this segment is one of the most traditionally anime in its approach. It has all the hallmarks of a decent mature Japanese animation, with a strong central female character, a touch of mystery in the plot and a few dashes of well choreographed action butting up against more than a little sentimentalism. It is one of the strongest parts of the whole series and forms a nice midway point to boot.
Odd One Out is a wonderful title for, possibly, the real gem of Halo Legends The tag describes not only the plot of the section but also, more fittingly, how it compares to the rest of the constituent parts. Far from the sombre melodrama and endless preaching, this is pure comedy from start to finish. Maybe someone has watched a few episodes of Red vs Blue as this strikes the perfect note as an antidote to the heavy morality that comes before and after it. Directed by Daisuke Nishio, of Dragon Ball Z fame, he brings with him an offbeat skewed vision of one particular Spartan. As soon as you hear that the super soldier in question is number 1337 you know you're in for a light hearted time. This is the story of a Spartan who is inept, foolish and more than a little bit conceited, who regularly pontificates on his own importance with such snappy dialogue as “How dare they ignore my awesome heroism”. If Homecoming was an example of more mature Japanese anime, then this is the epitome of the zanier breed of anime/manga. It is full of slapstick, wry humour and downright silliness - in short my pick of the eight sections on offer!
Prototype brings us back down to earth though (not literally, we're still in deep space here), as Yasushi Muraki directs in a return to the melodramatic roots of this production. Co-directed by Tomoki Kyoda (though quite how you can have only one co-director I'm not sure), it's the tale of one soldier named Ghost and how his coldness in battle effects those around him. It has a typically weepy death scene where a female recruit bawls like she was on Trisha and a message that seems at odds with what one would assume a good soldier would be needed to be, but that shouldn't stop you revelling in all the glorious carnage as a prototype armoured suit is used to blast countless aliens into infinitesimally small pieces.
The penultimate episode in this saga is The Babysitter , directed by Toshiyuki Kanno, with this marking his debut outing at the helm of anything. It's a fairly simple affair, the story of a group of snipers sent to act as a backup to a Spartan who will attempt to assassinate a Prophet. Stylistically it is obviously Japanese, but the CG shots that are inserted to add atmosphere jar against this more traditional artwork. In truth there isn't really that much to be said for or against this segment as it feels pretty sparse and short. The usual stereotypes of a snotty brash young soldier and a “wow” shot when someone dies are standard for this type of outing. The one high point is seeing a Spartan take on a Brute Chieftan, but this is over pretty quickly and has the usual body size ratio issues that will have you wondering just how tall various people are supposed to be.
The capping to the stories that comprise Halo Legends is given over to an all CG affair, entitled The Package. Directed by Shinji Arimaki, of Appleseed fame, it works as a fitting ending to the saga as we get to see the Master Chief himself take the lead. He is on a mission, heading an elite group of five Spartans, to reclaim a mysterious package that could have devastating consequences for the human war effort if not wrenched from the hands of the enemy. Just about every flashy effect is thrown at the viewer as our hero and his comrades zoom in attack formation in and out of a flotilla of Covenant crafts. It has more than a mild air of Star Wars, with whizzing projectiles filling the screen and spaceships flying through explosions and along the channels of intricately armoured battle ships. The only downside to this slick effort is the odd misstep in Master Chief's characterisation, which makes him seem a touch too human, but this is an afterthought that is far from your mind when assaulted by the wholesale mayhem that is brought to the fore.
Halo legends is a classic example of too many cooks spoiling the broth. For every decent segment there is at least one that is more than a smidge dodgy. The script could have been done a favour by being lost and there are sections that I'd prefer to watch in a foreign language I don't understand with the subtitles turned off. If you can wade through the dross though there are a couple of standout action sequences and the hilarity of Odd One Out almost makes the effort worthwhile. This is one for hardcore fans only - those with only a passing interest need not apply.