Written by: Sam Rhodes, Special to CC2K
Fanboy Comics Creative Director Sam Rhodes reviews Microsoft’s animated shorts.
Microsoft produced seven animated shorts that take place within the Halo universe and collected them all into this thrilling collection called Halo: Legends, which is currently streaming live through Netflix. It seems almost like an experiment to test the possibility of a Halo TV show because of the varying styles and tones exhibited. One short goes beyond campy and clearly targets young children, while another has cursing and close-ups on extreme violence. (The victims may be bad guys that bleed green blood, but, when a knife pushes into a skull, it affects you). These shorts are sure to excite the die-hard Halo fans; however, they are all well produced and will be highly enjoyable to anyone interested in adult animated shorts, be you a Halo fan or not.
1. “Origins I and II”
Set to the iconic Halo music featured in the first four games, this short uses old school animation that reminds me of the old G.I. Joe cartoons. Narrated by Cortana, the short gives us the history and story line of Halo that we (by which I mean I) didn’t bother to follow when playing the games. As an artificially intelligent babe who has uploaded the sum of all human knowledge in 2 hours, she ponders War and its seemingly inseparable role civilizations. Through her eyes we see the attack of earth by The Flood, which are booger-shaped beings with tentacles that feed on intelligent life. The forerunners, another race threatened by The Flood, fought back but were ultimately overwhelmed. As a last resort, they decided to destroy every thinking creature that existed, including themselves, to ensure that The Flood would have no other food supply. The weapon that they built to do this was called “Halo.” After destroying all life forms (in the Universe?), they began to repopulate from an ark-like store they had preserved, including primitive man.
“Origins II” chronicles earth’s major conflicts from WWII through the future, presumably years after the forerunners’ re-population and humans’ colonization of space. Cortana wonders why humans seem to need conflict and war, and acknowledges the irony that peace can only be established through the emergence of a common enemy, referring first to the Covenant and then to The Flood. Chock full of cool homages to characters, maps, weapons, and vehicles from the franchise, this short is not the most exciting, but it gets the casual gamers onto the same page as the hardcore fans, which helps put the rest of the shorts in context.
2. “The Duel”
This is probably my favorite short, as it tells the story of the Arbiter’s fall from grace. The animation is textured and splotchy, almost like a water color, but the motion and the camera moves are sharp and exciting. Constructed like a classic samurai film, Asian influences abound. Arbiter”and his wife Han turn traitor to the Elite, claiming that they lack honor, and in doing so Arbiter accepts the wrath of his kind. An epic battle ensues, pitting Arbiter against an entire Covenant army. Heart-pounding slo-mo, legendary wide shots, and a furious score lead to a bad@$$ moment where the Arbiter snatches a second laser sword from mid-air as it falls from a felled opponent’s hand and begins to kill twice as hard. Wave after wave of Covenant and even a wraith, fail to bring down the Arbiter, meanwhile he is being attacked in a more subtle way. After achieving his climactic victory over a final Hunter, he arrives home to find Han, his loyal wife, murdered. Seeking vengeance he confronts her killer, a loyal and ambitious Elite who seeks the Arbiter’s position, and we close with a brutal, beautiful duel between the two.
This tragedy draws parallels between the story of the escape and subsequent recapture of Spartans-to-be and a Marine Platoon cut off from their extraction point by grunts and bugs, assisted by an absurdly bouncy, but hardcore Spartan. The animation harkens back to a 90s anime style, and 90s drum-machines complete this retro-styled short that enlightens us as to the process of becoming a Spartan while exploring the ideas of the individuality and strength of the human spirit. Not as engaging as some of the other shorts, but it has plenty of great action and the tragic tone of the piece will have you questioning your own soul.
4. “Odd One Out”
This is a goofy short with big wet-eyed animation similar to Pokeman and other recent Japanese children’s shows. The short opens inside a Pelican (a Marine aircraft) flying a mile or so above an alien planet surface immediately after “1337,” a proud and foolish Spartan, has just fallen out. This humorous short sets the tone as the other soldiers on board explain that he’s done this before. It is full of camp for the younger Halo audiences and even has some fun for the more mature viewers. We then follow “1337” through a number of exploits as he tries to rendezvous with his squad. He encounters a dinosaur, a Covenant enemy, three very unusual children, and a mysterious and powerful being referred to as Mama who looks after the children. It all wraps up with a feel-good ending that will leave the kids laughing and cheering and maybe even appreciating their mothers a little more.
This short follows a battle-hardened marine, Ghost, who struggles with the conflicting notions of being a good soldier and being a good human. After leading an entire platoon to their deaths, Ghost becomes a brooding and guilt-ridden commander who fights not to atone for their deaths but to find substance within himself while the War around him continually threatens to diminish him. He achieves this when he successfully rescues two of his men from an onslaught of Covenant using a prototype of a Mech-style weapon/suit. There was some great action and powerful themes in this short and sweet story of redemption.
6. “The Babysitter”
The title of this short refers to O’Brian, a cocky ODST marine who is designated as the contingency shooter backing up a Spartan sniper on a mission to assassinate the Prophet. These 3 ODST marines and one Spartan land on a Covenant planet and proceed to their sniper position. On the way they encounter grunts and brutes, and the violence is shocking and unflinching as the ODST soldiers break one grunt’s neck and stab a knife into another skull. The accompanying Spartan takes on a hammer brute in a sweet fight scene at the top of a waterfall. The mission concludes with a sad but heroic final sequence that will leave you feeling proud to be fighting alongside the Spartans.
7. “The Package”
This final short is done exclusively with CGI animation and is about a group of Spartans including Master Chief, taking on an entire fleet of Covenant. A space dogfight delivers most of the action, as the Spartans attempt to rescue a human doctor abducted by the Covenant. This short even utilizes the first person screen from the games as a camera angle during some of the sequences after the Spartans have boarded the Covenant cruiser while in search of the hostage. This short seemed a little clunky and I preferred the hand-drawn animation of the others, but it was still pretty fun and fast paced.
The collection of shorts called Halo: Legends is a mixed bag of fun that bounces all over the Halo universe and tells some very compelling stories. They lack neither depth nor style, and you don’t have to be an avid Halo fan to enjoy them. It’s new on Netflix streaming, so check it out and you’re bound to begin looking at this epic franchise from Bungie and Microsoft a little differently!
Sam Rhodes is the Creative Director of Fanboy Comics, an independent comic book publishing company based in Los Angeles, CA. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Sam and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at FanboyComics.net or sign up for the e-newsletter, The Fanboy Scoop, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.