Anime 101: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Like the magic system of the series, what you get out of Fullmetal Alchemist is governed by the law of equivalent exchange.

Mild Spoilers

Fullmetal Alchemist came to my attention back in 2009 with the announcement of the English dub of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (FMAB). I remember watching the first episode but, for whatever reason at the time, I just didn’t commit to following its run. Recently, I decided to have another crack at it and I can see why it gets such high praise from both fans and critics…

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Covert Coot – Jack’s Back: Samurai Jack

The Return of Samurai Jack

It’s finally here, the trailer for Samurai Jack’s fifth and final season.

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What is Samurai Jack?

Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky and debuted on Cartoon Network in August 2001 and ran until 2004. Each episode follows the samurai as he wakes up in a dystopian future. The samurai has to solve and overcome problems using not only his training, but his creativity in order to defeat the evil Aku and return to the past.

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Samurai Jack received critical acclaim for it’s minimalist art and fluid animal, reinforced with each episode following a simple structure and having a short running time, allowing more focus on action. The story features very little dialogue and chooses to show not tell. This is uncommon for shows on Cartoon Network, especially at the time the show originally aired.

 

 

Samurai Jack season 5 returns 11th March

Written by: Robb Davis

Anime 101: Hunter X Hunter (2011)

33 collected volumes, 148 episodes, two movies and 366 hours of my life on one hell of an adventure!

Mild spoilers

For a few years I’ve had people recommend to me Hunter X Hunter purely based on my love for Dragon Ball. Because of this I put the show down as a copycat of Dragon Ball and never made the effort. Over the course of a week my opinion radically shifted from ‘Dragon Ball knockoff’ to ‘This is the greatest show I’ve ever seen’, and the best part was that I was only just scratching the surface of what the show was really about.

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Left to right: Kurapika, Gon, Killua and Leorio

What is Hunter X Hunter?

Hunter X Hunter is a major ongoing manga series created by Yoshihiro Togashi. The series has been serialised in Weekly Shonen Jump since 1998 and has been adapted into two anime TV shows: the first produced from 1999 – 2001 by Nippon Animation and ran for 62 episodes, the second produced by Madhouse Studios and aired from 2011 to 2014.

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Left to right: 1999 and 2011

The story in its most basic form focuses on a young boy named Gon Freecss as he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a legendary Hunter. It’s worth noting from the start than Gon lived his life to this point believing his father was dead, when in actual fact his father abandoned him to live his life as a Pro-Hunter. Hunters are licensed professionals capable of carrying tasks such as… well, hunting: hunting criminals and treasure, just to name a few.

 

To date 33 volumes of Hunter X Hunter have been translated into English and published by Viz Media. The 2011 anime series is available to stream on Netflix and Crunchyroll.

What separates it from the crowd?

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Killua & Gon

Where Hunter X Hunter truly excels is with its cast of well-developed and memorable characters. I found that I enjoyed and cared for 90% of the characters in the show–this is made more possible by having the characters not follow already existing tropes in shonen anime–the absolute highlight being the friendship between protagonists Gon and Killua.
The relationship between these two characters is well-developed and made believable by how they treat each other, as well as through their interactions. An example of this is the characterisation of Killua Zoldyck, heir to the Zoldyck family of assassins.

 

When it comes to antagonists, Hunter X Hunter delivers them with as much development and characterisation as its protagonists. We spend enough time with each villain to realise they’re not justifying their actions because they’re just straight up evil; each one is made relatable and interesting. My favourite example of this is shown with Yorknew Arc where we’re introduced to a renowned gang of thieves known as The Phantom Troupe.

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The Phantom Troupe

Final thoughts

As I mentioned at the start, I went into Hunter X Hunter with little to no expectations and was completely blown away. At no point did the show feel like a chore to watch; both the story and characters were engaging and well-paced. The soundtrack is nothing to scream about, but it does the job of expressing tone and emotion when necessary. The animation is very well done, but it’s not without its faults as the childish style gives the wrong impression to newcomers and may put people off. Hunter X Hunter is a beautiful show with a strong story and memorable cast to match it, and is worthy of the praise surrounding it. This is a show that deserves to be watched.

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Hunter X Hunter is available to stream on Netflix & Crunchyroll.

Written by: The Covert Coot

Edited by: IvyM

Covert Coot: The Dark Tower – Reading Order & Guide to the Stephen King Multiverse

If my last post acted as an introduction to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, then this serves as a guide and suggested reading order to provide a greater experience. While you can just read The Dark Tower novels themselves, the inclusion of some of King’s other novels introduce certain characters that are key to The Dark Tower.

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The connections throughout the ‘Stephen King Multiverse’ are all tied to the evil throughout his stories, the character whose influences ripples throughout the multiverse is that of The Man in Black. The Man in Black has many names, but veteran Stephen King fans will know him better as Randall Flagg, the main antagonist in King’s 1978 novel, The Stand.

Randall Flagg

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Flagg is an immortal wizard/sorcerer who ultimately serves The Crimson King and makes several appearances or is alluded to by name – it is strongly suggested that Flagg is the demonic entity behind the events of Children of the Corn (1977), appears in the medieval country of Delain, manipulating and causing havoc to the realm in The Eyes of the Dragon (1986). Flagg also gets referenced in Salem’s Lot (1975), which also features a member of Roland’s Ka-Tet (will return to that in a moment).

Randall Flagg

And of course there’s Flagg’s appearances in The Dark Tower as The Man in Black, Walter O’Dimm, Marten Broadcloak, Richard Fannin.

It’s also worth mentioning that while never confirmed by Stephen King, fans believe the character of Raymond Fiegler from the short story Blind Willie, included in Hearts In Atlantis (1999), is also Randall Flagg. Whether the case or not, Hearts in Atlantis does have its ties to The Dark Tower.

 

The Crimson King

The Crimson King is the primary antagonist of The Dark Tower and is first mentioned in the series during fourth book, Wizard & Glass. The scene where he’s mentioned introduces his sigil and the phrase:

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He first appears in the novel, Insomnia (1994) where he seeks to murder a child named Patrick Danville, who is prophesied to bring an end to The Crimson King. As The Dark Tower series progresses it becomes clear that The Crimson King has worked behind the scenes using Randall Flagg, John Farson, vampires, low-men and other supernatural entities to bring the destruction of The Dark Tower.

The Crimson King is mentioned in the story, Low Men in Yellow Coats in the collection Hearts in Atlantis (1999) which also features Low Men or Can Toi, which also appear in Desperation (1996).

Can Toi - Low Men

Can Toi – Low Men

 

Father Callahan

Father Callahan

Father Callahan

Finally we have Father Callahan, first introduced in Salem’s Lot (1975) and reintroduced in the fifth book in The Dark Tower series, Wolves of the Calla. I personally feel that having read Salem’s Lot before this book makes Callahan’s arc all the more enjoyable – we’re shown what happened to him after the events of Salem’s Lot, but being familiar with the story adds so much more to Callahan’s story of redemption.

The Dark Tower

As most people know, I’m a big fan of Stephen King. I find the stories and characters engaging, visualising myself in the shoes of the main character. My first Stephen King book was Salem’s Lot, followed by the first two Dark Tower books (The Gunslinger & The Drawing of the Three), after reading these I dipped into other King books in no order and took my time with The Dark Tower. Overall taking me almost five years to finish the series, but I feel my experience has been enhanced by all the Stephen King I read in between. I should also mention that the series connects to a lot more of King’s work such as IT, The Shining and more; but felt the material mentioned here to be the most important to the story.

There are lots of guides or suggested reading orders to the series, go with whatever you feel is best. Read the series in chronological order or break it up with other books, but do not forget the face of your father.

Below is a recommended reading order, it’s not the order I read them in but I feel it’s a good starting point for newcomers and demonstrates the craftsmanship behind Stephen King’s world building.

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three
*The Stand
The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands
The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass
*The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole
*Salem’s Lot
*Hearts in Atlantis
The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla
*Insomnia
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower

Covert Coot: What is The Dark Tower?

You may or may not know, but Sony Pictures are finally bringing an adaptation of The Dark Tower to our screens with a scheduled release of February 2017. Those familiar with the series will know that the project has been bounced around studios for well over a decade, with the only reliable information that Ron Howard was set to direct. With the film slowly coming together and the promotional campaign kicking off – I guess you can say that for long term fans, it’s been a long time coming.

Entertainment Weekly's Comic Con cover.

Entertainment Weekly’s Comic Con cover.

With the announcement of The Dark Tower movie and the casting of two terrific actors in the lead roles – Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey – the series has renewed interest with existing fans rereading the books and analysing every little update on the film, but also introducing new fans to one of the most popular series in fiction.

What is The Dark Tower?

I suppose this is the big question for newcomers to the series and I will do my best to sell the series to you spoiler free.

The Dark Tower is an epic fantasy/scifi/horror series written by Stephen King. The series consists of eight books and over 4000 pages of material, furthermore The Dark Tower has a number of ties to other works by King (I’ll expand on this in next week’s post). The story features Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger who is on a quest of epic proportions to reach the Dark Tower – the quest, as well as other elements of the series were heavily influenced by Lord of the Rings and spaghetti westerns such as, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

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Roland isn’t alone on the quest as he is joined by Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean and Oy.

Illustration by Michael Whelan

Illustration by Michael Whelan

Their journey takes through different worlds, but primarily takes place throughout All-World which is comprised of In-World, Mid-World and End-World. Naturally our little band of heroes come across some resistance and come face to face with mutants, vampires, werewolves and of course The Man In Black & The Crimson King – both of whom appear or are referred to in a number of King’s novels.

Illustration by Michael Whelan

Illustration by Michael Whelan

Along the way we learn more about the characters, the world and of course the Dark Tower itself, which is the glue that holds the universe together. With connections to a lot of King’s other work, the idea that the fate of the ‘Stephen King Multiverse’ rests upon the Dark Tower adds to the urgency and importance of the overall quest.

Now, I said I was going to keep this as spoiler free as possible and hopefully I’ve managed that, but I also wanted to expand on some of these points and write about the added experience of reading the comic books in The Dark Tower universe, as well as the other novels by Stephen King that add to the series. After all, I mentioned the antagonists of The Man In Black & The Crimson King appearing in other novels, but there are other characters that do so too and all in very important ways.

So come back next week for a Beginners Guide to The Dark Tower.

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The return of the existential and terrific BoJack Horseman – Spoiler Free

If you weren’t already aware, Netflix’s BoJack Horseman returned with season three yesterday (22nd July), and after two seasons and one Christmas special, we the audience know what we’re in for… or do we?

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To those unfamiliar with the show it must seem like your run of the mill, foul mouthed animated comedy. But BoJack Horseman is much more than that, what the show presents us with is some of the most relatable characters ever created and puts them in situations parodying topical events in the real world, finally sprinkled off with pop culture references. Every season, every episode to date has been meaningful and to some people, myself included, meaningful on a more personal level – BoJack is ironically the most human character on TV today.

Season three kicks off hot of the back of season two with BoJack on a press tour building up to the release of the highly anticipated, Secretariat. With rumours that Secretariat and BoJack himself being nominated for an Oscar, we see BoJack’s career head in the direction he’s always wanted and finally reinventing himself as ‘BoJack Horseman, movie star’ as opposed to ‘that horse from Horsin’ Around’ – but if only it was that simple. The tagline for ‘Secretariat’ is ‘He’s tired of running in circles…’ and in a number ways, isn’t that what BoJack is doing?

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This season focuses more on the inner struggle of the cast as we’re given a flashback episode back to 2007, this episode puts a lot of things into perspective by showing the then and now, it all shows us that the characters are still in the pursuit of happiness. Example of this is we see BoJack also trying to free himself of just being ‘that horse from Horsin’ Around’ by developing another tv show which ultimately fails. We’re also given an episode at an underwater film festival and without giving away too much, the episode is almost entirely silent which adds to the tone and makes BoJack’s actions even stronger.

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Unlike previous seasons, season three doesn’t need to win over its audience, it comes in strong, confident and fully aware. In the second season, BoJack’s mother tells him,

‘You were born broken, that’s your birthright. And now you can fill your life with projects. Your books and your movies and your little girlfriends but it won’t make you whole. You’re BoJack Horseman. There’s no cure for that.’ – Season two, episode 1 ‘Brand New Couch’

I feel that quote stands out more throughout this season as it becomes clearer that even with the success of his professional career, none of it will fill the empty hole inside, BoJack will never be happy. Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom, well, it is very doom and blood but as we’ve come to expect all the feelings of existentialism and self-destruction are sugar coated. You may still be questioning your life after watching but for all the bleakness, there’s the balance of light hearted humour. BoJack Horseman is a show that still doesn’t hold back or pull its punches, despite its serious tone we still feel love for the characters and we still want more of them. It’s a damn good thing that the show has also been picked up for a fourth season.

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80s Nostalgia with Netflix’s Stranger Things – Spoiler Free

Stranger Things is Netflix’s new original series written and mostly directed by Matt & Ross Duffer, aka ‘The Duffer Brothers’.

The show’s set in 1983 and focuses on the mysterious disappearance of a young boy, Will Beyer. While watching the show it was clear that it was paying homage to a number of films and work from the 80s, most notably films like The Thing, The Goonies, Stand By Me, E.T. and much more. The show is sprinkled with 80s movie charm and adventure, topped off with a soundtrack that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s film scores.

Stranger Things will definitely tickle the nostalgia buttons and have the audience longing for their in adventure, that being said, the show is more than enjoyable in its own right and at just eight episodes the story remains focused and well-paced. Being born at the start of the 90s and my siblings from the early 80s, I have a huge soft spot for the movies that influenced this show and I feel that having that familiarity definitely increased my enjoyment of the series, but like I already said the show functions very well by itself without the knowledge of what influenced it.

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The cast feature Winona Ryder, David Harbour and Matthew Modine among the adult cast and they fill their roles perfectly, doing a great job of making their characters feel real and genuine. But the real spark comes from the young cast who are on par with the adult cast as they search for their missing friend, demonstrating a friendship that is both charming and convincing on screen.

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Stranger Things is an enjoyable series and incredibly easy to binge (I haven’t slept yet). If you have a love for 80s cinema then you’ll love the show, even if you’re unfamiliar with 80s cinema you’ll still find something to enjoy here. The show takes elements that worked and pays homage to the films that influenced it, creating an unnerving and chilling mystery. The Duffer Brothers know their stuff, from the work of Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King; right down to their attention to detail with the 80s setting.

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Stranger Things now streaming on Netflix from 15th July

Why you should pick up Tokyo Ghoul

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What’s it about?

Tokyo Ghoul is a dark fantasy manga written & illustrated by Sui Ishida, and is about an alternate reality where ghouls secretly live among humans, surviving by feeding on human flesh and evading the authorities. Ghouls appear human but have enhanced strength, endurance and senses; as well as these traits ghouls carry a ‘kakugan’ where the eyes iris turns red and the sclera black and finally they’re equipped with a predatory organ known as a ‘kagune’.

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Kagune
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The story follows college student, Ken Kaneki, who through a series of unfortunate events ends up becoming a half human/half ghoul hybrid. This tragedy follows Kaneki as he struggles to adjust to his new life in the ghoul society.

Themes

One of the most prominent themes throughout the story include identity crisis, which refers to Kaneki’s adjustment from being human to becoming a ghoul which leads to the core struggle comparable to racism. Through Kaneki’s journey we see a world that focuses on the difference between humans and ghouls, and the humans lack of willingness to understand and treat ghouls as individuals – humans deny ghouls human rights and treat them as animals, even if they have shown to have morals and the capacity to live side by side with humans despite their need to feed on them. An example of this is perfectly demonstrated early in the manga when the CCG (Commission of Counter Ghoul) murder a family of ghouls, showing no mercy even when attempting to dispatch a ghoul child.

Mrs Ryoko protecting her daughter, Hinami, from the CCG Ghoul Investigators

Manga and Anime

At the time of writing this seven volumes of the manga have been translated into English and released through Viz Media’s Signature run, while the anime has seen the release of season one and two.

In Japan, Tokyo Ghoul was published between 2011 and 2014 with its popularity leading to a prequel manga that ran for seven chapters and three light novels. The story is also continuing in the ongoing sequel set two years after the conclusion of the original series, titled, Tokyo Ghoul:re

Tokyo Ghoul:re
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The first season of the anime is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the first seven volumes of the manga, albeit it does remove many subplots and character development but all the same is incredibly enjoyable and a great introduction for newcomers.

The second season on the other hand is an entirely different beast. Titled, Tokyo Ghoul √A (root A) and unlike the first season, it doesn’t follow the manga and is considered to be an alternate story exclusively for the anime. Fandom for the second season is divided with some fans enjoying the more action oriented turn, while others dismissing it as style over substance for drifting from the original source material.

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Should you check it out?

In short, definitely!

Both the anime and manga differ slightly, both offer a great story with a well-developed cast of characters and some great action scenes. I recommend checking out the first season of the anime to get a feel of Tokyo Ghoul, then take it from there.

Tokyo Ghoul is growing in popularity and it’s definitely earned it, as well as the anime and manga it’s also spawned a wide array of merchandise and recently received the announcement of a live-action film, scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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…That was this week’s Covert Coot article!!! Check back tomorrow for a brand new BearSleuth Spoiler Free Comic Book Bundle!!!

Konami’s cancelled Silent Hills project

This week I thought it’d be fun to discuss the now cancelled Silent Hills video game. For those who don’t know – Silent Hills was scheduled to be the tenth instalment in the Silent Hill video game series. The project was under development by Kojima Productions and to be released through Konami. I’ve been a fan of the Silent Hill series for several years now, with the series producing some of the greatest and best known and beloved survival horror games ever created.

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The Work of Junji Ito

Last summer, horror writer and artist, Junji Ito, released a new collection of short stories under the title ‘Fragments of Horror’. If you ever bothered to read my about me page – About The Coot – then you’re aware that I mentioned Junji Ito amongst my creative influences. My relationship with Ito’s work is a bizarre one; I always find myself reading his work at night which is probably a bad idea, but I find that I’ll read each page multiple times primarily for the artwork. Ito’s art style is incredibly unique and can make even the mundane seem unsettling.

Writer/Manga Artist, Junji Ito

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