Anthologies can often be either one of the best ways to explore a concept if executed properly. The idea explored here is Halo and the mythology surrounding it. For the first time, one work tries to take from all other source material like the Halo games, novels and comics in an effort to fully explain the world of Halo. In the process, it also helps actually add new substantial concepts to this much applauded franchise that show that the fight isn’t really over for Master Chief and the Spartans.
As seen before with Batman: Gotham Knight and The Animatrix, Halo Legends is an anthology of seven distinct and separate stories about the characters and ideas of Halo as seen through the eyes of various anime heavyweights. With writers and directors who had worked on everything from Cowboy Bebop to Bubblegum Crisis and MASK to Dragon Ball Z, the spectrum of top talent in this field was pieced together to put together Halo Legends.
The first story, “Origins”, comes in two pieces and may easily be the most important of the seven parts to the greater Halo universe. For the first time in full detail, the audience is given a look at exactly what happened to the Forerunners that caused them to disappear with the creation of the Halo rings. Most interesting about this feature comes from the revelation of what the Forerunners looked like and how they became revered as the gods of the Covenant.
The second piece of “Origins” focuses on what Halo players had already known with regard to the war they have been fighting since Halo: Combat Evolved was released. The style of “Origin” leaves something to be desired as it is either very slow paced or still frames with only slight pieces of animation and slow pans across it. “Origins” also suffers from the “Martin O’Donnell effect” as the Halo theme and Halo: ODST theme wind up being played in excess during at least half of the shorts in the anthology.
Up next came “The Duel” which is by far the most “artsy” of the collection but also ends up being the least impressive. Animated in a style most resembling watercolor paintings, “The Duel” tells the story of the origins of the Arbiter. Not the Arbiter gamers are allowed to play as in Halo 2, but of the role of Arbiter and how it was once one of the most highly regarded positions of the Elites and how treachery from within the Covenant changed it to a mark of dishonor.
Had this art style been used in a comic, it could easily have been a beautiful book but it just did not translate well to animation. Incredibly long pauses without any motion and only audio cues only end up delivering a fairly boring viewing experience. The choice of an oriental theme for the Elite culture also ends up looking self-serving to the animators as this has something that has never before even been addressed or mentioned in any other form of the Halo mythos.
Things begin to kick up with “Homecoming”. Revolving around Daisy, one of the Spartan II’s, this story cuts back and forth between a current battle being waged with Daisy and UNSC military against a horde of Covenant and a series of events from her past. The parallel stories show what happened to Daisy in her younger days as a Spartan trainee and the unfair life choice that was made for her to get here to the point where she is now trying to get herself and the surviving UNSC to safety. A much more exciting story with strong battle sequences contrasted by the emotional past Daisy has gone through come together well in a more modern fast paced anime style.
With a creative team from Dragon Ball Z comes “Odd One Out” which while it seems to be the furthest removed from the Halo reality ends up being very entertaining none the less. Spartan 1337, a joke on gamer term “LEET” or “Elite”, falls from a pelican on to a world where he encounters three young children dressed as cavemen and becomes a plaything of their pet tyrannosaurus.
At the same time, the Covenant unleashes a new biological weapon, a mutated brute, that they unleash on the less than disciplined Spartan. “Odd One Out” screams Dragon Ball Z with its fight scenes and humor which could be a put off for the more serious Halo fans. But it does end up adding some needed levity to anthology which has stuck to a serious route up to this point.
Also telling in its presentation is “Prototype.” Even as a casual anime fan, it is easy to see a relation from “Prototype” to its creators work in Neon Genesis: Evangelion. Revolving around a failed squad leader Ghost and his challenge to be human, a battle rages as the Cole Protocol (the UNSC’s method of safeguarding secrets from invading forces) has been enacted and the last remaining soldiers of the attacked world struggle to survive.
Ghost steps in to the prototype armor in a last effort to not let history repeat itself for him. The battle scenes in this portion are the second best of all of Halo Legends and feel true to the Halo mythos. Big robot battles are what these guys have done well in the past and it is continued here. It is even explained why this armor had not been mentioned elsewhere in Halo lore which ties up the short nicely.
Not to be forgotten, the ODST’s take center stage in “The Babysitter”. With Oni intelligence providing a huge tactical opportunity, four ODST Helljumpers are paired up with a Spartan to take out one of the Prophets of the Covenant armada. While the Spartan stays the strong silent type, it is obvious the ODST’s are not happy about being paired with the Spartans and instead feel more like babysitters than squad mates. The animation and action are solid but the real story comes from the character development in this piece. Fans of Halo 3: ODST will especially enjoy this portion.
The pinnacle of Halo Legends comes from “The Package”. Done in full CGI in what one would hope the next generation’s Halo games look like, “The Package” has Master Chief, Spartan John 117, with four other Spartans including Halo novel favorites Kelly and Fred as they look to recover a special and incredibly valuable resource that the Covenant has taken. Unaware of the prize they have captured, the Elites find out the hard way as the five Spartans look to dismantle an entire Covenant space bound armada.
The animation, character designs and storytelling are nailed down to a T. The sequence here could no doubt have been included in a new or existing Halo game, either as a cut scene or playable piece. Anyone who remembers the awe of the first time they steps in to the boots of Master Chief will feel that spark reignited here.
The Blu-ray also features full “Making Of” vignettes for all seven stories as well as directors commentary from Frank O’Connor and Joseph Chou. O’Connor, hailing from Bungie studios, also narrates “Halo: The Story So Far” which gives a brief but detailed synopsis of the entire Halo timeline from the Forerunners to the end of Halo 3. Spoiler warning there as the events of all Halo games do get described… but if you are watching this DVD you have most likely beaten everything the Halo franchise has had to offer up to this point anyway.
Included only on the Blu-ray is the feature “Halo: Gaming Evolved” which features exclusive interviews with members of the development team and associated media talking about the impact Halo has had on them. “Storytelling is no longer passive. It’s interactive.” Halo has proven this.
In the end, Halo Legends is directed towards a current Halo fan or someone who has at least expressed interest in these stories and characters. While it is possible for animation fans to come in and enjoy the product, they won’t really be able to appreciate all the references and Easter eggs hidden throughout. There is a great deal of fan service that aside from “Odd One Out” does a great job of not taking the viewer out of the experience by winking at the camera.
The biggest complaint that could be found was not including the original voices of Master Chief and Cortana in the anthology’s voice cast. After spending so many hours in these games, it’s hard not to notice it is someone else speaking Master Chief’s words. Halo Legends does a great job at adding to the Halo mythos on all levels as it touches everything from the Forerunners, the Covenant, the ODSTs, the Spartans, and of course everyone’s favorite, the Master Chief.
For real fans of Halo and not just the expletive shouting prepubescent teens of XBox Live, Halo Legends is a must buy.