DVD Review - Halo Legends

An anthology of eight anime episodes based on the hugely popular Halo video game franchise, Halo Legends gives us seven unique stories set during various important points within the larger Halo mythology. The DVD is a collaboration between Halo's 343 Industries and five of Japan's leading animation studios.

Special Features:
2-Disc Special Edition includes "The Making of Halo Legends" featurette, "Halo: Gaming Evolved" featurette, Audio Commentary with directors Frank O'Connor and Joseph Chou, and it's Widescreen (1.78:1). The Blu-ray version has all of the above, plus "Halo: The Story So Far" featurette.

The most anticipated DVD release date for Halo fanboys the world over has come and gone, and now we sit and wait patiently for the May 3rd release of the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta. So the question is: has Halo Legends earned its place in the deep and ever-increasing mythology already put forth not only in five blockbuster video games, but also in novel and graphic novel mediums?

The answer is a resounding yes. Halo Legends succeeds at being more than just a collection of action scenes and flashy animation. Each individual story weaves its own unique tale that captures the viewer and makes us care about the characters, despite the fact that almost all of the characters introduced are brand new to the Halo universe. Although each episode averages out at approximately fifteen minutes, superb pacing on the part of each of the animation directors means that not a second is wasted as every episode perfectly balances intriguing storytelling with blistering action.

The first two episodes, Origins Parts I and II, produced by STUDIO4ºC (whose work was also featured in both The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight) tells a sprawling, epic tale that takes us from the original Flood war tens of thousands of years in the past to the final closing scene of Halo 3. Though both parts are produced by the same animation studio, they have two distinct styles. Part one has a simpler, more stylized animation, while part two has a much sharper, more modern anime feel. While these two drastically different styles can be distracting at first, both ultimately work together (whether by design or coincidence) to capture the distinct differences in the time periods in which they are set.

Also from STUDIO4ºC, The Babysitter gives us great insight into the mind of an ODST and their rivalry with the Spartans. It also provides a great set of characters and plays on their camaraderie all within the scope of an assassination mission that culminates in a heart-pounding climax.

The Duel, the first of two produced by Production I.G, is easily one of the most memorable and enthralling pieces to be found on this DVD. Animated in a distinctive watercolor style, it will undoubtedly stand out as one of the most emotional, even haunting, stories ever told within the Halo universe. It stands out not only for its brutal combat scene, but also for a feudal samurai-inspired story with a distinct Akira Kurosawa flavor to its drama. Homecoming, the second of Production I.G's endeavors, weaves a tragic tale of the psychological damages endured by a group of children with the Spartan II project. While perhaps not as powerful and emotional as The Duel, Homecoming is easily the episode with the darkest subject matter, with its tortured female lead.

Toei Animation's Odd One Out, the only “off canon” story of the bunch, may be considered by some as the weakest link in the series, but as Japan's oldest animation studio and producer of such mega hits as One Piece, Sailor Moon, and the Dragon Ball franchise, Toei certainly knows its niche and is good at what it does. Odd One Out is goofy slapstick through and through, intended to be a more lighthearted story among a collection of darker, sometimes tragic tales. Taken as that, its Halo-meets-Dragon-Ball style is fun, even laugh out loud funny, from beginning to end.

Prototype, produced by Studio Bones, is one of the stand out episodes on the disc, following the story of a grizzled and haunted soldier who is tasked with destroying a secret weapon before it falls into Covenant hands. The dark past of the main protagonist remains truly memorable when coupled with the kind of blistering action than fans expect from the directors of such top notch anime as Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Satisfying as the rest of these episodes are, the one episode that will leave Halo fans begging for more will undoubtedly be the eighth and final episode of the collection, Casio Entertainment's The Package, not only for its top of the line CG animation, but also because it delivers exactly what Halo fans want: Master Chief like we've never seen him before. Tasked with reclaiming a mysterious “package” from a Covenant fleet, Master Chief leads a team of four Spartans into an explosive, edge-of-your-seat battle that runs almost the entire fourteen minutes of the episode. While lighter in story and emotion than most of the other episodes, The Package manages to be an adrenalin rush from beginning to end, and will certainly please Halo fans and noobs alike.

Released by Warner Home Video, Halo Legends is available in a single disc, movie-only DVD version and a two-disc special edition with extra features available on Blu-ray and standard DVD. A “steelbox” version of the special edition is available at Best Buy stores. In addition to two trailers and audio commentary with Franchise Development Director Frank O'Connor and Halo Legends Producer Joseph Chou on the first disc, disc two of the special edition also includes an in-depth “Story so Far” segment that will tell you everything you need to know about the Halo story line as well as some lengthy and satisfying “making of” segments for each of the episodes.

Overall, Halo Legends does not disappoint. It delivers on all of the hype that most mega franchises too often cannot live up to, and it will leave the viewer begging for a volume two. Even diehard fans of the Halo novels will be pleased to see little nods to them, such as on-screen appearances by Dr. Catherine Halsey and Kelly 087, not to mention a brief glimpse of Doctors Shaw and Fujikawa, inventors of Slipspace. While it contains just enough to impress the most loyal of Halo fanboys, it strikes just that right balance so as not to bog itself down with too much of the Halo lore that would otherwise turn away the more casual viewer. Halo Legends does indeed have a little something for everybody. (Review by Michael Medina - www.michaelmedina.com)