Animation Wednesday: Halo Legends

This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a weekly column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.

I like a lot of different things.  I like the Halo video game series, and the accompanying fiction, be it the campaign modes, books, comics, or anything else.  I like expanded universe stories, stories set in the world of a popular series like Star Wars or Star Trek which spotlight minor or new characters and events from the main series.  I like animation (obviously).  And I especially enjoy when something brings my various interests together, like Halo Legends.

Halo Legends, like The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight before it, is an anthology of anime short films set in the continuity of a larger series.  Here, that series is the Xbox sci-fi FPS series Halo, which chronicles the battle between Earth’s military and the alien alliance the Covenant through the eyes of John-117, an armored super-soldier known as the Master Chief.  While Master Chief is the focus of one of the seven shorts (The Package, a stylish, candy-colored CGI action piece), the rest of them center around other soldiers and their lives (and often deaths).  Almost all of them are new material, rather than adaptations of previous stories, and it’s interesting to see the different takes on the source material.

Each short is produced by a different studio, so the art styles and tone vary widely.  My personal favorites are Homecoming, a Bee Train/Production I.G collaboration, and The Babysitter, one of Studio 4°C’s two entries.  Homecoming is a dark, thematic exploration of the SPARTAN-II super-soldier program and its effects on its subjects.  It’s gorgeously animated and well-directed, and the lead character, Daisy-023, is believable in a way that Master Chief and other video game protagonists often aren’t.  There’s a couple sticky issues with the canon as established elsewhere, but they’re easily overlooked.  The Babysitter is the story of a squad of ODSTs (space Navy SEALS) whose fourth squadmate is replaced by a SPARTAN.  It’s a classic war story, and although the end twist isn’t quite as shocking as they probably would’ve hoped, it’s still a well-executed, quality short.

The only short I had a major problem with was The Duel by Production I.G.  It depicts a past battle between an Elite and other Covenant forces, giving some history on the Covenant ceremonial position of the Arbiter.  The story is fine, but the visuals are styled like a samurai story, with the Elites wearing kimonos and living in Japanese-style houses.  I can see where this design choice came from.  The color schemes and direction work really well in action scenes, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of established information on what Elite society looks like.  Ultimately though, it just ends up looking too silly and weird, and robs the short of the emotional impact they’re obviously trying to give it.  My other complaint was against Origins, a background piece on the history of the Halo universe I found boring and redundant, but since I follow that stuff myself anyway, it may be more enjoyable to someone newer to the series.

All in all, it’s still worth checking out.  There’s a mech-fight short with designs by Shinji Aramaki and a weird Dragonball Z parody by Toei Animation.  No matter what flavor of anime you prefer, there’s probably something here for you.  There’s some fun stuff for fans of Halo as well, and generally anyone who like sci-fi or animation.  Halo Legends is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and last time I looked was up on Netflix Instant.  Check it out.

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