The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Halo Legends

Title: Halo Legends
Genre: Acton
Company: Production I.G./Toei Animation/Bones/Studio 4° C/Casio Entertainment Inc.
Format: 7 OVA
Dates: 7 Nov 2009 – 16 Feb 2010

Synopsis: In the distant future, humanity has expanded beyond its home solar system into the deep reaches of space. Soon, developing colonies in remote corners of the galaxy come in conflict with a warmongering confederation of alien races known as the Covenant. By decree of their gods, the Covenant devotes itself to erasing humankind from existence, and so begins a decades-long war for the survival of the human race. These are some of the stories of combatants on both sides, spanning across many different battlefields and years throughout the Halo universe.

The Highlights
Animation: Various styles; usually highly detailed and smooth.
Script: Could have used a touch of subtlety.
Concept: Plays it safe.

Halo Legends is an anthology production borrowing the same formula The Animatrix used some seven years prior: mix American writers, Japanese animators, and one mega popular multi-media franchise, to create various short films exploring untold stories from said video game series. The goal is to replicate the financial success of The Animatrix, currently the bestselling anime title worldwide, by cashing in on the famous Halo name. Happily, Halo Legends mostly retains the fun and flash that made the games a blast to play, easily satiating die-hard Halo fans despite a clumsy script and a lack of willingness to break away from convention.

“Origins I” is the first of a two-part overarching recollection, chronicling the ancient Forerunners’ encounter with the Flood. Cortana does all of the narration, yet for an entity that’s supposed to encompass the entire collected knowledge of the human race and then some, she’s awfully boring. Her dry, personality-less delivery does nothing to enhance this detached history lesson. “Origins II” continues with a recount of humanity’s expansion into space, the war with the Covenant, and the return of the Flood menace. The second half does much to correct the lackluster beginning with finer detailed art, great use of the familiar Gregorian chants and sweeping instrumentals of the Halo soundtrack, and improved scene composition. The sum effect elevates this retelling of the events of the Human-Covenant war to epic scope.

“The Duel” portrays the struggles of a village leader of Elites that resists joining the swelling Covenant alliance. This one stands out in a couple ways. First, it is the only one in the series to be told from the aliens’ point of view. We get to see their honor-bound warrior society from the inside, one that takes inspiration from feudal period Japan, with ceremonial robes and Bushido tenets. This conceptual flair for the far east extends to the visuals, which brings up my second point: it has a heavily stylized look. It’s actually just a watery filter applied over the whole picture, and my guess is that it was done to enhance the East Asian aesthetic, but this unfortunately makes every scene look dark and murky. It’s a neat look into the aliens’ culture before they donned the space armor, but marred by a very ugly picture.

“Homecoming” relates the tale of a couple young Spartan II conscripts. While retreating from an outlying planet, these soldiers have flashbacks to their days spent training in the super soldier program and contemplate how their lives could have been back had they stayed home. While it aims for a big emotional impact, this one comes off a bit flat; I wanted more details of the Spartan II project and more than a glimpse of their domestic life. Of all the shorts, “Homecoming” could’ve benefited the most from extra time to explore the characters’ motivations and give us a better idea of future human society away from the frontline fighting. Alas, they missed an opportunity to fill in some blanks in the Halo-verse.

“Odd One Out” is a goofy parody story and the only non-Canon entry in this compilation. Featuring Spartan II warrior “1337” and spoofed up DBZ-style fights, it would fit right into an American Saturday morning cartoon lineup. The episode is totally cornball and eye-roll inducing, though I couldn’t help but chortle (albeit derisively) when good ol’ 1337 got carried off into the sunset by a pterodactyl. Moving on…

“Prototype” drops us into another losing Spartan battle, where one last team must destroy an experimental prototype weapon before it falls into Covenant hands. This was the highlight of the series for me since there is little in the way of pretense and it simply delivers an orgy of vicious gunfights and high-octane combat. Bullets sizzle across the screen, energy crackles, and many things large and small explode in glorious, vivid detail. The prototype weapon itself is a super Spartan suit; think “Tony Stark built it in a cave with a box of scraps” and you’ll get the blend of visceral and awesome. It is a set-piece any action junkie can appreciate and left me feeling giddy with excitement.

“The Babysitter” introduces an elite commando unit called the “Hell Jumpers”, tasked with teaming with a strong, silent Spartan II sniper to take out an important Covenant prophet. The covert nature of the operation makes this an appreciated change of pace from all the bombastic, guns-blazing firefights of the previous shorts. Anyone not born yesterday could see the Big Reveal coming from a mile away, but that’s pretty small potatoes because its highly competent execution marks this as another solid addition to the Halo compilation.

“The Package” is the finale and features Master Chief himself squaring up against a Covenant space fleet to recover a special package. Shot entirely in slick-looking 3D CG with appearances by the Arbiter and even a couple characters from the novels, this is Halo’s ultimate fusion of eye candy and fanservice. Yet what is supposed to be the pièce de résistance plays out as a ridiculous farce like a video game cut-scene gone terribly wrong. The overblown heroics and hammy choreography, including copious slow motion and first-person perspective shots (like in the game!), rubbed me the wrong way. However, the worst bits were the hokey dialogue and conversations chock full of cringe-worthy one-liners. I think somewhere between the A-Team wannabes storming down a hallway full of gurgling alien baddies and Master Chief spewing pure gold like, “That Elite was strong… I have to get stronger!” I gagged. It smacks of trying way too hard to be cool but only left a very sour aftertaste in my mouth.

Aside from a few astoundingly poor parts, Halo Legends delivers the pretty and entertaining elements I expected. It’s a pleasant way to spend two hours with little stress on your brain. In a way, I can commend Legends for not overreaching its promise of wholesome marine-on-alien violence, but there were flashes that signaled to me it could have been a more lasting and satisfying experience if it cared to be.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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