Friday, March 12, 2010

The Animatrix: Halo Edition!

I've never been a huge fan of the Halo series. I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the games in the main trilogy, passed on ODST and Wars, and while I am intrigued by Reach, I am not waiting on baited breath for its launch. Overall, the series is the poster child of super big-budget videogame design: enjoyable if not terribly innovative game design, pleasing music and artwork, and a conventional but incredibly detailed story. That same spirit pervades Halo: Legends, an anime styled collection of short films in the fine nerd art meets cross-marketing spirit of The Animatrix.

From Wikipedia

Given gamers' flagging interest in the Halo series after the conclusion of the main trilogy, and the Xbox 360's less than stellar sales in Japan, playing the animation compilation card is a predictable move for Microsoft. Fortunately, they spend the money to do the trend right, hiring well known anime studios like Bones, Production I.G. and Toei Animation to do what they do best. A pity the narratives don't measure up to the quality of the animation.

Looking to accessorize your new Mjolner armor? Nothing says "Death to the Covenant!" like a little teddy bear cellphone keychain . Pic was swiped from Kotaku.

To be perfectly honest, Legends is a largely forgettable experience. Origins parts I and II are a nice primer for Halo virgins and those who didn't pay close attention to the story in the games. It is also where Legends overlaps most prominently with the Animatrix template. It does for Halo what The Second Renaissance (also divided into parts one and two) did for The Matrix franchise. The Duel, which Mike Fahey hails (link under the pic) as "Far and away the best short of the DVD", is a unique and impressive visual experience that tells an utterly hackneyed tale of bushido honor and loyalty. I was similarly unimpressed with The Package, a CGI romp that shows the Spartans kicking ass with vehicles that didn't exist in the game, who save (spoiler alert?) some scientist  I was supposed to recognize but didn't.

Homecoming is perhaps the most promising story in the collection, giving a grim and fascinating glimpse at how the Spartan II recruiting campaign works. It isn't a cheerer upper, but few in the collection are. Take Prototype for example; a story about a squad leader with a gift for leading his squad to their doom. Contrary to Fahey, I rather liked that one. Again I disagree with Fahey on The Babysitter, which I felt was one of the best pieces in the package. While the Samus Aran style twist may not have blown any minds, it tells a unique tale about tensions within the ranks of the UNSC army and it comes to a legitimately poignant close.

No, that is not Master Chief, but yes, that thing does Shoop Whoops.

Not everything is all ass kicking and seriousness however. In fact, my personal favorite is "Odd One Out," a totally bizarre parody of the Halo Universe staring Spartan 1337. Yes, I know '1337 speak' is supposed to be old hat and unfunny by now, but it dovetails nicely with the feature's absurd nature which is an incredible refreshing presence in the somber halo universe. If it has been a while since you've watched something and had an emphatic "What the fuck?" at the end, you would be hard pressed to do better than this short, which features kung-fu fighting kids raised by an AI, dinosaurs, an idiot spartan hero, rainbow laser beams, and a motherly AI.

The tale confirmed a long held suspicion about Halo's universe: it would be infinitely more endearing and entertaining if it had a better sense of humor. Not the only humor of quick quips and snide remarks--don't get me wrong, I like quippery and snideness--but the ability to look absolutely foolish. So many new franchises, especially in the world of video gaming, are utterly desperate to be treated as grown-up art form. I can understand this desperation. I can even sympathize with it. Videogames are growing up and it's time people recognize it. That respect does not lie in melodrama, gore and swearing, but in the ability to laugh at ones self.

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