After three successful and acclaimed XBox games featuring Master Chief, an RTS called Halo Wars, Halo:ODST and the forthcoming Halo: Reach it is obvious that this has turned into an incredibly profitably franchise for Bungie and Microsoft and it shows no sign of slowing. This latest entry into the franchise is a collection of seven animated stories available on Blu-ray and DVD.
The first story, Origins (by Hideki Futamura), is actually a tale of two parts and is a retrospective of the story of Halo and what has led up to the point of the Earth - Covenant war. The first half focuses primarily on the story of the ancient race of Forerunners and how they were faced with a threat they were not prepared for - the parasitic species known only as The Flood. Eventually the threat of the flood got so bad they they constructed the Halo weapon which wiped out all life in the galaxy and was then re-seeded automatically using samples the perished forerunners had collected beforehand. It was a last ditch attempt at wiping out the parasitic species, one which they gave their own lives to destroy to protect the younger civilisations.
Cortana, who is telling the story whilst adrift in space after the events of Halo 3, also casts a critical eye over humankinds lust for war and how it has driven the species forward at the same time as finding new ways to kill each other. We see a brief history of human conflict throughout the ages, and how our species ran out of space and so started to colonise other worlds and continued to fight amongst ourselves until we encountered a coalition called The Covenant. The Covenant saw humankind as heresy to their gods and sought genocide until both sides were attacked by a re-emerging threat - The Flood. The story then continues into the events of the games and how the Halo's were discovered and fought over.
The third story, "The Duel" (produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa), uses a very different style of animation which looks like animated oil paint to create a very impressionist look and feel. Rather than focussing on the story of the humans it takes a look at the lifestyle of one of the species in the Covenant and the life of an Arbiter. This particular Arbiter, Fal, doesn't agree with what the Covenant is doing and is going to openly oppose them to keep his honour. In the way the clothing and belief system is structured it is given a very Samurai sort of feel, and to maintain his honour Fal is drawn out into battle whilst his wife is killed. When Fal realises this he faces her killer in duel which neither combatant survives. During this final duel their are some rather unique animation styles used which although the characters are not moving for most of it the style provokes a senses of fast, precise movements; similar to what you would expect from samurai.
Homecoming (directed by Koichi Mashimo and Koji Sawai) uses more traditional animation techniques to the story of the Spartan-II recruitment program as a series of flashbacks during a battle in which the Spartan-II known as Daisy provides backup for some of the UNSC soldiers who are trying to fall back from their positions. During the flashbacks we learn that the Spartan-II program took children at a young age and replaced them with "flash clones" which were short lived and imperfect, so that no one would question the disappearance of 75 candidates. Over the following years they are trained and augmented with biological and mechanical enhancements to turn them into super soldiers capable of quelling the insurgencies and later the Covenant threat.
Odd One Out (directed by Daisuke Nishio) is appropriately the odd one out in this series of short films - it is a more childish view of the Halo war from the point of the oafish 1337. Amusing the serial number of this Spartan-II is a reference to what is known in computing circles as "leet speak" with 1337 itself meaning "leet" in this system. Without going into too much detail this method of notation is a shortening of the word "elite" and comes from online game playing which is appropriate a Halo film considering the number of online players Halo has. Spartan 1337 is a clumsy and ends up on a planet after falling from a ship and whilst planetside making his way to the extraction point he somehow manages to get half-eaten by a dinosaur and attacked by a special warrior from the Covenant. It's amazing he doesn't get killed, but the character kind of reminds me of Joxer from the Xena television series due to the way they both want to be heroes but are to clumsy to really succeed and only do so out of luck.
Prototype (directed by Tomoki Kyoda and Yasushi Murak) is about a soldier named Ghost who is rumoured to have no feelings whatsoever after the death his entire squadron. At the beginning of this short film a solider dies in his arms and she tells him to promise him one thing - to be human. Time passes and a battle rages on between humans and the Covenant and Ghost's team of are there to destroy some prototype armour to stop the invading Covenant getting their hands on it. The members of the squad discuss how Ghost doesn't care about anyone and how he let his entire team die, but then they are interrupted by Ghost in the prototype armour which basically resembles a mech. He goes against his orders and instead of destroying the armour he uses it to allow his team to escape and doesn't give up until the last person has escaped. When he finally succumbs to the enemy forces he brings up the console to activate the self-destruct and sees the voice command to destroy it is "Be Human". This reminds him of the promise he was asked to make before and for a moment he allows himself to feel human again before dying as the armour explodes.
"The Babysitter" (directed by Toshiyuki Kanno>) starts with some very basic animation which isn't that detailed, until it focuses on the soldiers from the 105th Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (also known as Helljumpers). These elite soldiers play a similar role in the Covenant War as the Airbourne did during World War 2. Their purpose is to drop behind enemy lines and into hot combat zones to take on the hardest of missions. In this story we see an ODST sniper who thinks he's the best shot in the military, but is being made to be backup in favour of a Spartan taking the shot. This angers him and even after the Spartan-II saves him twice he still won't accept the Spartan into their squad. Their mission is assassinate a prophet, but it goes awry when a brute takes a swipe at the Spartan-II. The Spartan removes it's helmet to reveal a young woman inside the armour who is dying from the head wound. She tells him he's the only one who can take the shot, and sure enough he takes the shot and finds his mark. She dies though, but it forever changes his opinion of the Spartan-II forces.
The Package (written by Dai Sato) is a slightly different style of animation, this time CGI and is about a team of five Spartans led by Master Chief (John-117) to retrieve Doctor Catherine Halsey from an enemy ship. It turns out the Covenant were expecting them and left a decoy which causes the death of two Spartans - Arthur and Soloman, but John, Fred and Kelly make it onboard the Covenant flagship where the "package" is really being held. They charge through the ship with guns blazing in a pretty impressive display until Fred stays behind to fight an Elite. John and Kelly continue their push on towards where Doctor Halsey is being held in cryogenic stasis but their efforts are hampered by the ship being split up to try and stop them. Unable for them both to make it Kelly helps John into the cargo hold as she floats away into space. There the Master Chief releases the Doctor who started the Spartan-II program from whom the Cortana AI was based upon and together they escape the ship with some fighting along the way.
The special features include a history of Halo telling the story as it's covered in both the games and the anime, a trailer for Halo: Reach, commentary, and Making Of featurettes for each episode. The featurettes are pretty much what you'd expect and explain the interactions with the different creative teams to produce a great addition to the rich canvas of the Halo mythos. The story telling for the most part across these episodes was superb and helped to show some other sides to a story many people already know. The differences in animation styles did not really distract from what they were trying to achieve with this collection and did well to demonstrate the various styles of Anime which are out there.
The background music is a continuation of the score from the Halo games and it does really help to tell the story. This is the sort of Anime production that both fans of Halo and fans of Anime can equally enjoy.