When Microsoft unveiled Halo for the original Xbox it was a game-changer. I say that not in the sense of the video game itself, but with regards to the console market. It was literally the face that launched a thousand ships and helped make the Xbox a viable gaming console in the eyes of many gamers. The popularity of the franchise has grown over the years with Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo Wars. Each has been lauded for their quality and all have become financial success stories. The franchise has spilled into other forms of media as well with books, graphic novels, and toys based on the universe and characters. It should be no surprise with that prolific a background that Halo Legends received a mountain's worth of hype.
Much like releases such as The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends is a collection of short animated stories produced by some of the Japanese anime industry's greatest minds. The likes of Studio 4°C, Production I.G., Casio Entertainment, Studio Bones, and Toei Animation all come out to present their take on the Halo universe. As one might expect this leaves Legends a mixed bag in terms of art style, quality, and focus. It's not a cohesive effort by any means, but rather new adventures and a continuation of some storylines touched upon in the Halo games. Keep this in mind as you approach this release. If you are unfamiliar with the Halo universe then you're going to be lost from the get-go.
The opening piece for Halo Legends is a Studio 4°C effort entitled "Origins Part 1 & 2". This fittingly titled piece begins with Cortana watching over Master Chief while he sleeps in hibernation following the events of Halo 3. Cortana goes on to narrate how much she's learned over the past seven years and discusses the origins of Halo, the Flood, and the Founders. Taking us back quite a ways we see the Founders' society flourishing amidst their technological superiority. Things seemed to be going well until one day the Flood came crashing down and decimated their planet.
"Origins" moves forward to show how the Founders built the Halo rings to eradicate the Flood and press the reset button on life in the universe. When the cleansing was completed life was reseeded back onto each home-world and we see early man, elites, grunts, brutes, and jackals. We then get a diatribe about man's propensity for war and get to see how the war against the Covenant started. To say that "Origins" covers all the bases would be an understatement and for all intents and purposes the piece wraps up 100,000 years of galactic history within a very short span of time. It's condensed in a manner that leaves out a lot of details and the story comes across as interesting, but kind of dry.
Moving on from "Origins" is "Duel" produced by Production I.G. "Duel" is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous pieces on this set and arguably one of the most dynamic pieces of animation I've seen in quite a long time. At its core this is a story about an Arbiter named Fal who does not wish to follow the teachings of the Prophets. His peers, enemies, and underlings all have their opinions of his religious revolt and dark times are ahead for the Arbiter in this piece.
What stands out as the most impressive thing about "Duel" is the animation technique that was employed. Rather than use traditional animation, Production I.G. went with a style that made this piece look like a science fiction Money painting brought to life. It's stunning in so many ways and stands out as incredibly dynamic and unique. This piece isn't all about stellar visuals, though, since the actual story is engrossing as well.
"Duel" was a tough act to follow, but the short entitled "Homecoming" packed enough punch to be worthwhile. This piece follows a Spartan-II recruit as they uncover an interesting part of their past. It's intriguing within the context of the universe, and ultimately the storyline builds a solid enough character, but it feels like it comes up short. Some of the directions Production I.G. took with this short worked and others didn't. I can't really give away the disappointing elements without spoiling the reveal, but it just didn't pack the punch it should have.
The next short "Odd One Out" comes from Toei and is...well...interesting. This one is a slapstick bit completely outside of canon. It focuses on a misadventure with a Spartan known as 1337 who falls off a ship and onto a remote planet's surface. From here 1337 meets a couple of kids riding a dinosaur and eventually goes fist to fist Dragon Ball style with an electrified Brute. Making matters worse is the inclusion of super-powered kung fu fighting teenagers who live on this pre-historic rock with their AI mother. There are a few humorous moments in this story and some decent action but for the most part it's just too goofy for its own good.
Thankfully the next part, "Prototype" gets back to some semblance of seriousness. Studio Bones produced this particular piece with some designs by Shinji Aramaki. At the center of everything here is a Marine known as Ghost who has just some of his humanity throughout the war. In his final moments he commandeers a prototype armored suit and uses it to ensure his squad gets off the planet safely. "Prototype" offers a load of action and some melodrama as it creates an interesting character, even if for only a few minutes.
Moving towards the end of Halo Legends there's an episode called "The Babysitter" by Studio 4°C. One thing that stood out right at the start with this one was the fact that it focused on some ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) members, and even featured the character of Dutch (from Halo 3: ODST). This one follows a squad of ODST as they play a support role for a Spartan out on a sniping mission. "The Babysitter" offered loads of action and a solid story and really stood out as one of the more cohesive entries on this release.
And finally, bringing this release to a close is none other than Spartan John-117 (Master Chief). "The Package" is a CGI masterpiece from Casio Entertainment and Shinji Aramaki that sees all sorts of space battling as well as Master Chief and a squad of SPARTANs tearing up the inside of a Covenant ship. There's plenty to love about this particular one, but I have to say that the whole thing feels rushed. The pacing is breakneck fast and there's little room for any actual story to come through. It's more eye-candy than anything, though it speaks volumes to how badass Master Chief is.
From top to bottom Halo Legends is a lot of fun and something fans of the game franchise should definitely check out. Some pieces truly stand out such as "Duel", "The Babysitter", and "Prototype". These are the best of what's offered here, though "The Package" and "Homecoming" come in a close second. "Origins" is interesting, but boring, and "Odd One Out" is too silly for my taste. Despite the varying quality this release comes highly recommended based on the content.
Halo Legends hits Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The film is presented in 1080p high definition with VC-1 encoding. Each piece looks totally unique compared to the others, though the commonality they all share is some sharp quality. Colors are vibrant and bold all around, black levels are appropriately rich, and through and through there's no grain or artifacting to complain about. Episodes such as "The Package" and "Homecoming" pack quite a punch with their clean lines and impeccably detailed animations. However, "Odd One Out" has the dubious distinction of being plagued by aliasing and banding and "Origins" shares similar flaws. This may not be as prevalent on the standard definition release, but in 1080p it's quite glaring. Overall the picture quality in Halo Legends is quite solid, save for a few missteps and some of these pieces are drop-dead gorgeous.
Now, before we get going with the audio section let it be said that Halo Legends caps out the sound output with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 640kbps. There's no lossless Master DTS-HD presentation or other suitable offering typically seen on Blu-ray releases. With that being said the Dolby Digital 5.1 still packs quite the punch from episode to episode. There's a great deal of diversification between the channels and most pieces fall into place where they should. Dialogue is crisp and clean, effects are boisterous and move well, and throughout the film Halo's iconic tunes are employed heavily. There are some points where the track falters with its channel use and sometimes the balance isn't quite up to par. A DTS-HD could have alleviated these concerns, but as it stands the Dolby track is more than serviceable.
Halo Legends hits Blu-ray packed with a supply of supplemental content that should keep fans happy enough.
For lighter fair there is trailer for Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and a teaser for Halo: Reach. Moving on through the extras menu there's an Audio Commentary with franchise development director Frank O'Connor and Halo Legends producer Joseph Chou. To say these guys know Halo lore would be an understatement and along those lines their commentary track proves to be quite interesting. They discuss each story at length and look at how it relates to the franchise as a whole, the style of each, and what things stand out in their minds. It's definitely interesting and worth checking out once you finish watching all seven pieces.
"The Story So Far" (23:56) is a narrated look at the Halo series in a nutshell. It covers most all of the basics and should serve as a nice refresher for fans that may have forgotten some things. It's not quite enough to help newcomers appreciate the material more, but it's definitely helpful. "Gaming Evolved" (21:46) gathers several people involved with the franchise and Microsoft to talk about the franchise and how it changed the scope of first-person shooters on gaming consoles.
The real meat featured on the bonus menu is "The Making of Halo Legends" (54:49). This is a collection of eight mini documentaries that can be viewed individually or as a whole. The first part is an introduction to the project as a whole and from then on the feature is broken down by sequence as they appear on this disc. Each piece takes a relatively extensive look at the pitching process and initial discussions with the creative team and directors. Bits of rough animation and final product are interspersed throughout each segment and you really get a good sense of the background of each scene and how the directors approached the material.
Halo Legends is something that fans of anime and the Halo game franchise absolutely must pick up. The majority of the seven animated shorts are downright awesome with several "geek-out" moments to be had. Whether you're watching Master Chief assault a Covenant ship with a squadron of Spartans or experiencing other pieces of Halo lore such as the creation of a Spartan, there's plenty to appreciate. Sure there are some weaker elements to this release and appreciation of the material will be up to personal taste, but the fact remains this is an awesome project that is highly recommended.
As far as the Blu-ray is concerned the video quality is solid despite a couple of minor flaws and the audio comes through loud and clear (though the lack of a DTS-HD or similar track is a source of disappointment). Plenty of bonus features help seal the deal for this disc. I wouldn't say that it quite lives up to the hype that preceded it, but Halo Legends on Blu-ray is certainly something
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