IN THE LONG HISTORY of riddling pixilated aliens with pixilated bullet holes, few videogames have gone to such elaborate lengths to justify doing so as the Halo franchise. Having expanded its games' addictive gameplay, labyrinthine backstory, and real-world allusions, the franchise is now made up of five games (with another on the way), action figures, novels, and comic books. It's a cultural juggernaut that's impossible to avoid, regardless of if you have an Xbox.
After Hollywood broke a million nerds' hearts by scrapping plans for a Halo movie from Peter Jackson and District 9's Neill Blomkamp, Halo fans thought they'd never see a cinematic Halo—until Halo Legends hit earlier this week. The 5,000th media property to follow in the footsteps of The Animatrix by releasing a direct-to-video anthology of anime shorts, Legends harnesses directors who've worked on everything from Dragon Ball Z (Daisuke Nishio), to Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii), to um, The Animatrix (Hideki Futamura) to delve into the complex, engaging Halo universe.
It's a good fit, probably 'cause Halo—with its genetically engineered soldiers, tech fetishism, and sexualized computer programs—is pretty well suited to anime to begin with. Still, the most effective shorts in Legends branch out: Daisuke Nishio's goofy, funny Odd One Out stars an oblivious hero named Spartan 1337 who fights a dinosaur and a superpowered gorilla, while Toshiyuki Kanno's The Babysitter tells a Dirty Dozen-style war story. But then there's stuff like The Package, from Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki, which just feels like a too-long videogame cutscene, or Yasushi Muraki's Prototype, which is crammed with emo voiceovers: "A conscience is something that gets in the way. That's all a soul is: an obstacle." ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.
The Halo games manage never to be boring, unlike Legends. But to be fair, Legends is usually pretty, there are a few really fun shorts, and when it does stumble, it's usually because it reaches too far. Even if that ambition doesn't always pay off, it's still nice to see it in effect—usually when entertainment juggernauts get this huge, they don't even bother trying anymore. Legends tries, and it succeeds more than it fails.