Patlabor: Fighting Giant Robot Crime with a Personal Touch

When most people think of anime, they probably think of the high-energy battles from a series like Dragonball Z or perhaps of the mystical forces that can come into play with shows like Death Note or Naruto. The truth of the matter is that anime, like all media, serves as a home to all sorts of genres. Sure, the medium may most be known for action, sci-fi, or fantasy series, but the entire medium is not like that. One genre has that gained traction in the genre is the slice of life genre. Shows like Azumanga Daioh and Clannad use the medium to explore a normal day-to-day life, most frequently in looking at the lives on high school students. Sometimes, however, a series may inject a slight odd element to it that is still treated ultimately as part of the normal routine. In this case, I’m talking about a slice of life-style anime where its setting may be the very stuff of science fiction, but its heart is rooted in looking at the day-to-day. I am talking about the anime series known as Patlabor.

Set in the future, construction robots known as Labors are used to help advance construction projects like never before and bring Tokyo into this new age. However, as the presence of Labors have grown, so too have the amount of criminals who seek to use Labors in crimes or terrorist activities. To combat this, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police has Special Vehicle Divisions, each armed with their own Patrol Labors to help battle crime. However, the focus of this show is not on the top members of Division 1. Instead, the series focuses on Division 2, a Special Vehicles Division that has gained a reputation for their rather destructive methods when it comes to fighting crime. The series starts with a new addition to the team: Noa Izumi, a petite redhead with a fandom for robots who becomes a pilot for the Division and lovingly names her Patrol Labor Alphonse. Along with her, the division includes such characters as the honest and sometime hot-headed Asuma Shinohara, the gung-ho and order-demanding Isao Ohto, and the seemingly laid-back but cunning Captain Kiichi Goto. Such an odd assortment of characters helps to bring heart to this series, but they bring more to it than just colorful personalities.

Though the series is one about futuristic police using giant robots to fight crime, the focus is not on them fighting crime. Though it is their work, the series is truly focused on the day-to-day activities of the members of Division 2. Plots, though they may feature the investigations of crime, are most often about the team dynamic or of individual team members. In fact, action tends to be limited for brief spots of time. For example, one episode did feature the team having to deal with a Labor-piloting criminal who held a woman hostage within the tight grip of his robot. However, that was not the focus of the episode. Instead, the focus was on how Noa Izuma and Clancy Kanuka, an American officer on assignment from the NYPD, were clashing in methods and throwing off the cooperation of the team. To deal with this issue. Captain Goto decides on a rather unique team-building exercise: take the whole team out drinking. The result is that Noa and Clancy manage to air their issues and come to terms with each other, while the rest of the team vents with humorous arguments about each other’s methods and attitudes. It all comes together in a story that explores team dynamics and the impacts that team members have on each other, putting its characters first before the action. In fact, this even extends to how the show carries itself over the course of its run.

Though the cases may largely be stand-alone and the episodes work on individual levels, the series itself maintains an overarching plot. Starting from Noa Izumi joining the team, you watch as the team grows and changes in its dynamics. They adjust and welcome Noa as one of their own. They undergo staff changes as certain members leave with new characters joining the team. Noa Izumi and Asuma Shinohara even grow closer as friends over the course of the show. The members of Division 2, their lives, and all the personal joys and woes are the central focus and it is handled with a caring touch and a sense of humor. Action is well-handled, even if it is not a core part of the show. In fact, the story doesn’t even really get action-based until near the end, with a plot line concerning corporate espionage and a plan to claim Noa Izumi’s Patrol Labor. Even then, a lot of the story does concern the effect on Noa from battling a Labor pilot whose tech and skills seem to outshine her own. The show never loses sight of its characters, and the result is that the team feels like a natural roster of people, trying to do their best in fighting crime while enduring the curveballs and surprises of life. Thus, it’s a slice of life that may concern a different time and incredible field of work, but its people feel relatable and familiar.

The anime series Patlabor can be seen on Hulu. There is also an original OVA and a sequel OVA known as Patlabor: the New Files, along with full-length anime films. The OVAs and anime series lean more towards a lighter touch, while the movies are darker and more serious. Personally, I suggest giving the series a try first and seeing if you enjoy the lighter touch.

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In Defense of Superman: What’s So Wrong with the Big Blue Boy Scout?

When it comes to superheroes, most people have a favorite hero. They have that one character who, for them, captures their imagination. It may be how they choose to take on the forces of evil. It could be that there is an element of their personality that strikes a chord for the reader. Whatever it may be, there are a whole range of heroes that can claim the spot of favorites for many people. Now, if you were to ask them, I would hazard a guess and say that most would pick Batman (as a DC Comics example) or Spider-Man (for a Marvel Comics example) as their favorite superhero. For me, I have a pick that would probably not be a favorite for a lot of people. For me, I would pick Superman as my favorite superhero. Now, I have heard many complaints of the character, such as that he is too powerful or that he’s so dull as a generic good guy. Personally, I would like to offer my opinion on why he is a favorite for me.

To me, Superman is an embodiment of hope. He possesses incredible levels of strength, speed, and senses, along with flight and invulnerability, and chooses to use these gifts to help others. He is regarded as one of the most powerful heroes of the DC universe, yet does not consider himself above others. Though most put him on a pedestal, he tries his best to help inspire others to reach their own potential and not give in to the cynicism and sorrow in their lives. For me, I really appreciate and like the idea of a hero whose biggest power is not his strength, but his capacity for good and inspiring others. The fact that he is so powerful, yet chooses not to abuse his powers speaks to the core dynamic of superheroes themselves. It’s even greater when you consider that Superman doesn’t have any past trauma that pushes him to this idea. Most superheroes, as part of their origin story, tend to have some sort of trauma or event that happens to them that affects them and starts them down the path of using their gifts to fight crime. Superman doesn’t really have that same trauma. True, Krypton may have been destroyed, but he did not personally experience that. For him, he was a boy who grew up in Smallville, raised by a kindly couple who helped to instill good virtues into him and assist as his powers began to develop. The idea that he makes the choice to become a superhero, not because of any past trauma or event, but simply because he wants to help others is to me a powerful one. As for the complaints about his character, I think that those are more a result of a weakness in writing rather than character. Honestly, I sort of blame the Silver Age for that.

From the late ’50s to early ’70s, superhero comic books were going through a resurgence now known as the Silver Age. Though this resurgence was the time that gave the world Marvel Comics and gave DC Comics a new breath of life, it was both a blessing and a curse for Superman. On one hand, this was a period that would add plenty to the Superman mythos, such as introducing iconic villains like Brainiac and Bizarro. However, this period was also one where Superman himself was written as extremely powerful. This was a version of the character who could push gigantic planets with ease, who could reveal that he has a superpower that just so happens to perfectly fit the problem at hand. The result was that he felt like a walking deus ex machina. For me, I believe that interpretation has tainted the character for a lot of people, who now see him as a dull character who’s too powerful and always wins. His situation is not helped by writers who try to pull away from that version, but do so by making him dark and gritty or emphasizing the fact that he is an alien. For me, these attempts just result in them missing the core of who Superman is. Still, it doesn’t have to be like this. After all, Superman can be an interesting character. What matters is how he is handled.

For me, there are certain things that I believe would help. For one, keep his powers to a minimum. I would stick to the super strength, flight, invulnerability, x-ray vision, heat vision, and enhanced senses. Along with that, I would have him be at a power level where he isn’t impossibly strong like his Silver Age variant, but still enough that his raw power is awe-inspiring. When it comes to his origin story, I think it would help to keep the emphasis on Smallville, not Krypton. Though his powers stem from his Kryptonian biology, his moral core comes from being raised by a kindly couple like Jonathan and Martha Kent. It’s his goodness and moral core that really makes Superman who he is, not his powers. Finally, I wouldn’t be afraid to let Superman lose sometimes. Though he is powerful, Superman is still just one man. Though he will help as many as he can with his gifts, it is only natural that sometimes a hero can’t always be there. Exploring the impact of that, of how he keeps fighting the good fight even when he can’t always win, is something that I think could help more readers connect to him. After all, the thing that makes a hero isn’t that they always win the battle. It’s that they’re in a battle worth fighting for and refuse to give up. The same even applies to Superman.

If you’re looking for a good Superman story, to perhaps find something that showcases the character’s potential, I recommend Superman for All Seasons. Written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale, it’s a stand-alone graphic novel that showcases Clark growing up in Smallville and then becoming Superman for the first time. It explores who the character is over the course of four chapters, each one devoted to a different season and each one narrated by a different character with their own thoughts on Superman.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Madcap Music Hall with a Dash of Murder

If one were to bring up the subject of Victorian literature, you would almost undoubtedly hear someone bring up the name of Charles Dickens. First exposed to the rough elements and harsh treatment of the poor when he was young, Dickens rose up to become a popular literary figure in his time and an enduring literary force to this day. His stories, which offer fascinating and memorable characters along with sharp critiques of the social conditions in his day, have endured thanks to his skillful writing and powerful plots. In fact, many of his works are still adapted to different media these days, most frequently with A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. However, one story that is not as adapted is his last work, a mystery called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Written in his final years, Dickens had died before he could complete the story. However, there is one adaptation that deals with the problem in a unique way and that is in the form of a stage musical.

Based upon the Dickens story, this adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood keeps most of the original tale of Edwin Drood and his arrival to Cloisterham intact. There with his fiancee Rosa Bud, they become wrapped in trouble and turmoil. For one, Rosa is the subject of an obsession for John Jasper, Drood’s uncle and her musical teacher. For another, an emigrant named Neville Landless falls for Rosa and wants her free from Drood. After a bitter fight that sparks at a Christmas party, Drood departs and ends up disappearing. From there, it becomes a search to find the murderer, something added to with the mysterious appearance of a detective named Dick Datchery. Now, that is only part of the story, for there is an additional layer to it. Namely, the show is done as if it were a Victorian music hall show, with Victorian actors playing the parts in their telling of Dickens’ story. As a result, you also have a side story of the actors as they perform this show, along with all of the issues that come in the world of theatre.

The result is a rather inspired approach to tackling an unfinished work. Rather than try to figure out how Dickens might have ended his story, the show takes on a different tactic by instead using audience participation to determine some of the key mysteries in the plot, namely who murdered Edwin Drood and what is the true identity of Dick Datchery. It offers a more engaging method, allowing the audience to determine some of the story while allowing the show’s writers to sidestep the issue of determining for themselves what Dickens would have written. It’s a method that works for the stage and goes along with its music hall style. As for the overall music hall approach, it is used to full effect. It allows the show to inject some humor and fun into a story that is one of Dickens’ bleaker works, and makes use of techniques of the time to reinforce the time period. For example, the part of Edwin Drood is that of a principal boy, which was a type of role from Victorian pantomime which would have an actress play a lead young male role. It is the sort of role that is all but gone in today’s theatre world, but was a major presence in the Victorian Era.

Even the music goes along with helping to reinforce the time period of this show. The songs take two different approaches throughout. Some are songs that fit within the show within the show, pushing the plot of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and its characters forward. The other style is that of bawdy music hall numbers, designed as crowd-pleasers with a touch of naughty humor straight from the Victorian stage. This double-sided style works well, offering a fun soundtrack that helps to push the story along with the occasional break for a bawdy music hall tune. Over all, the show is an inspired idea for not only adapting a story to the stage, but for adapting an unfinished one at that. It not only takes a classic work of literature and transfers it to the stage, but it uses theatrical elements and styles of the time to both reinforce its time period and to add upon the experience. More than that, it uses the medium of theatre to sidestep challenges in adapting an unfinished work by allowing the audience to vote on the answer to the story’s mystery. The result is a fun musical that is worth seeing if it plays around your area. In the meantime, there are soundtracks available of the 1985 original Broadway cast and the 2012 Broadway revival cast.

My Apologies

Hello there, dear readers. I would like to apologize for missing yesterday’s post date. It would seem that the trip had taken more out of me than I had expected and I needed more rest than I had thought. Thus, I am sorry that I had missed posting an entry for yesterday. I shall strive to avoid missing my schedule in the future. I want to be sure that I live up to my promise to you of an entry every Monday through Friday.

Expect my next entry on the morning of September 28th.

Jessica Jones – Alias: Through a Panel, Darkly

For a long time, superhero comic books had been something regarded for all audiences. The colorful battles between superheroes and supervillains were seen as something for everyone. However, the changing times came to comics and brought with them a darker subject matter. Superhero comics grew more willing to explore issues such as drug use, sex, and death, using their great heroes to tackle these more mature subjects with a new lens. This came to be a mixed blessing, bringing a natural evolution to what superhero comics were capable of thanks to writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, but also bringing those terrible attempts to be “mature” by throwing out gratuitous sex and violence. Still, this new change brought about a new form to superhero comics, and along with that was an idea at Marvel Comics. Much as there are G or PG rated films, there are also R-rated films. Thus, it made sense to create an imprint they called MAX, which was devoted to comics made for an adult audience. With this new element, they had room to explore subject matters in a darker depth than would be appropriate in their mainstream fare. Though there were plenty of titles that used existing characters, this imprint was launched with a comic centered around a brand new character. Her name was Jessica Jones and the comic was Jessica Jones: Alias.

Created by comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, the series centered around the work of Jessica Jones. Once a former superhero and Avengers member who had super strength and could fly to a degree, she had experienced a traumatic event that inspired her to give up that line of work. In its place, she formed a private detective agency known as Alias Investigations. Spending her days drinking away her pain, she takes on all sorts of cases. Of course, some of her cases involve her dealing with people of extraordinary powers, from investigating the disappearance of noted sidekick and Avengers member Rick Jones to finding a girl persecuted in her small town for being a mutant. No matter the case, she takes them on as she takes on her own issues and frustrations.

For being the first MAX title, the series definitely stands out with making its more adult presence known. It has a frank tackling of subjects like sex and violence, but where it really shines in being a more “adult” comic is in terms of its characters. Jessica Jones is shown as a character haunted, both by her tragedy and by her past as a superhero. Her interactions with people are colored by her superheroic past, with many who question why she’d give up being a hero with her powers. It comes in all forms, from a boy named Malcolm who is a fan of her choosing to work as a detective to police who deliver a demeaning interrogation where they bombard her with questions about her superhero past. It even affects her love life, as the issue of “cape chasers” and those who want to be with her solely because she was a superhero factors in. As for the trauma, it has left her as a bitter soul, one who drinks away the pain and lashes out whenever her temper gets the better of her. Still, she manages to cling to some form of justice as she seeks out the truth and protects other. Jessica feels like a character who would fit in snug company alongside the heroes of pulp detective stories.

This “adult” handling of characters also extends to criminals, such as with Zebediah Killgrave, better known as the Purple Man. Prior to this series, he was a C-list Daredevil villain, a criminal who could release pheromones that allow him to dominate a person’s will and make them do whatever he wanted. With this series, however, the Purple Man became one of Marvel’s most monstrous villains. Though he had committed heinous crimes with his power in prior comics, this series reinforced the horrifying potential of such a villain on a personal level. It portrays him as a man who can simply take whatever he wants, with his powers allowing him to partake in psychological torture and sexual abuse, and it shows the impact of such a man in his role of Jessica Jones’s trauma. The intimate portrayal of these acts and seeing how much their impact has burned into Jessica over the course of this series really solidifies the true horror of such a criminal, bringing him beyond just another mind-controlling villain.

Though the fruits of the Marvel MAX imprint has brought mixed results, Jessica Jones: Alias is a strong and well-written series that shows what can happen when the idea of a mature story of superheroes is handled akin to a film noir detective story. Jessica Jones herself has even become a bigger figure within Marvel itself, becoming a regular presence in the main comics universe alongside heroes like Luke Cage. In fact, as Netflix moves forward with original content set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of their upcoming shows will be centered around her, simply known as Jessica Jones. That series will arrive on Netflix on November 20th. Hopefully it can capture the same skill in writing and character that this series does so well.

For those wanting to check out the original comics, Marvel is re-releasing the four volumes of Jessica Jones: Alias. The first volume is currently released, with the second volume in November, the third in December, and the fourth in January. There will also be an omnibus of the complete series released on September 29th.

The Muppets: It’s Time to Raise the Curtain…

Ever since Jim Henson first brought his rag-tag team to the television screen with The Muppet Show, the Muppets have become an endearing pop culture force. They worked their way into the hearts of audiences back in 1976, bringing with them a storm of bad jokes, self-aware humor, musical numbers, and celebrity appearances. More than that, they brought along a sense of fun and optimistic cheerfulness that proved to be irresistible. Since that TV show, the Muppets have starred in numerous films and TV specials with their signature brand of humor. Now, the results of these works varies in quality, but even the worst can’t dim the fun that comes with the Muppets. In fact, the 2011 film The Muppets was a great reminder of it, capturing their optimistic spirit while framing the Muppets against a cynical world. Now, the Muppets have made their return to television with their new series, which is also called The Muppets. Though it is still early and the result is a bit mixed, there is still a glimmer of that promise.

Done in a mockumentary style, the series follows the Muppets as they make and shoot a late-night talk show. Hosted by Miss Piggy, the show has Fozzie Bear as a warm-up comedian and Kermit the Frog as executive producer and showrunner. Even with the challenges of making a late-night talk show, things are particularly tense when it comes to Kermit and Miss Piggy. The two of them have broken up, with Miss Piggy being her usual stormy self while Kermit has the company of Denise, a pig who serves as Head of Marketing and his new girlfriend. As such, the tension mounts between Kermit and Miss Piggy as they try to work together, even with all the other headaches that come with making a talk show.

Now, the format of the show is done in the style of mockumentary, a format that has really taken a hold on television through the successes of shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation. Those are shows where part of the humor comes from a drier approach, from awkward pauses and tension built between characters. This is generally not a style used by the Muppets. Their work tends to be quicker paced, filled with jokes and punchlines and the sort of gags that hail from the days of vaudeville. It’s really a more old-fashioned style, one made to move fast and pull for laughs. Seeing the familiar characters utilized in this drier, more slow and modern approach feels…well, weird. I hesitate to say bad, because the writing is still sharp. There are also doses and dashes of the sort of fun but groan-worthy jokes that most people associate with the Muppets. It’s just…different. It could be that the format is simply one that requires a little adjustment to accepting. After all, the Muppets have generally had one specific style for the many years of their franchise. A major change like this will take some getting used to. However, a more direct issue that could use some better handling is in how it can use this format to its best advantage.

Honestly, the Muppets have always had an adult sensibility. There was a clever wit to their proceedings, one that can be enjoyed on both an adult level and on a kid level. True, this show does use more specifically adult jokes which might rub some groups the wrong way, but those jokes are solidly-done for the most part. Rather, how this series can achieve its tonal goal of being a more “adult” Muppet series is in really making the Muppets do more than just make us laugh. Rather, they can make us feel for them. Near the end of this first episode, we see a flashback to the break up between Miss Piggy and Kermit and the pain is palpable. Frustrations that have built up over the course of this franchise, finally at their breaking point. When the break up finally occurs, it is a quiet moment. When its impact finally sets in, Miss Piggy doesn’t showcase any of her histrionic bawling. It’s a simple, constrained cry, the sort that can come from a bad turn in fate. The moment is emotional, and one that allows us to feel and connect to a pig who’s most known for taking up the spotlight or eagerly feasting on meals. This is something that is truly more “adult”, not simply jokes that relate to adult subjects like drugs or sex. This is allowing us to peel back away from more than the jokes and letting see the all-too-familiar emotions that lay in us all. That is what can make this a truly more “adult” Muppet series, by showing us the pathos behind the Muppets while still delivering on the fine humor and optimistic spirit that comes with them.

Now, the show just premiered on ABC, so there is still plenty of time to see if The Muppets can live up to its potential. If it can, then it will make for a strong and fascinating addition to the Muppets franchise. Viwers can watch the show on ABC at 8 PM on Tuesdays, or catch up with Hulu if you don’t have cable. For the meantime, I recommend viewers give it five to six episodes to see if it reaches that glimmering of potential.

Little Nemo – Adventures in Slumberland: A Breezy Dream with Realistic Flaws

(My apologies for such a late post. I shall try to avoid this in the future. Still, I did my best to keep to my word about having a post on the 22nd.)

Back in 1905, a cartoonist named Windsor McCay started a comic strip that would become one of the earliest influential works in the medium of comics. He created a comic strip called Little Nemo in Slumberland. The concept was simple: it followed the adventures of Nemo, a pajama-clad boy who goes on adventures through the wondrous Slumberland after being summoned by King Morpheus. The series was packed with colorful visuals and an interesting assortment of characters, from the very serious Dr. Pill to the cigar-chomping clown Flip, but it cemented itself as such a force by way of McCay’s experimentation. He played around with coloring and panel layouts, allowing him to twist and bend his Art Nouveau visuals for full effect. He even had a post-modern element to his stories, with characters handling and interacting with panels or comic strip text long before our current concept of post-modernism came to be. Such a striking and original work in the early years of its medium allowed it to gain a rich legacy, becoming an influence not only to comic book writers like Neil Gaiman and Robert Crumb but also to filmmakers like Federico Fellini and authors like William Joyce. It only seems fitting that someday there would be an animated movie based on the legendary comic strip, especially considering McCay’s own work in animation. Thus, in 1989 (a good 84 years later), there was a movie made jointly between Japanese and American animation studios with a veritable roster of talent. The result was Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, a fun take on the material even if it’s a bit so-so in some of the content.

Based loosely upon the original comic strip, the film follows Nemo, who falls asleep after a day of witnessing a circus parade and attempting to sneak a night-time treat of a slice of pie despite his mother’s warning. Finding himself greeted by a colorful visiting party and the somewhat smug Professor Genius, he is brought to Slumberland and informed that he is to become the new playmate of Princess Camille. Along the way, he ends up becoming caught up in the hijinx of local mischief maker Flip, only to find the Nightmare King unleashed. Having to own up to his own mistakes, Nemo sets forth to take down the Nightmare King and restore order to Slumberland.

On the whole, the film is rather fun to watch. Though it doesn’t quite capture the same visual splendor as McCay’s work, the movie still showcases Slumberland as a circus-like labyrinth of city streets and a candy-colored palace of wonders. Also, while it might not capture the same puzzling madness and dream logic as its source material, this does a good job in capturing the pace and flow of a dream. Bounced around like a pinball as he moves from moment to moment, Nemo’s adventures flow effortlessly between episodes. From training for a royal life to fleeing from bumbling cops to bouncing across floating balls, the pace captures the feel of a dream, which can change between two instants without explanation yet feel completely natural. It also adds to the impact of such a dreamscape by showing part of Nemo’s life before he goes on his dream adventures. It helps to not only root Nemo a bit more by showing us his normal world first, but also shows the influence of it upon his dreams. The aesthetic of Slumberland and its many inhabitants are clearly inspired by the circus parade he witnesses, such as King Morpheus baring a resemblance to the parade’s ringmaster. These are good touches to go along with a movie that captures the feel of a fun dream, but there are some faults that bring it down to reality.

I had mentioned earlier that there was a veritable roster of talent that had served on this film. Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had taken turns as directors, Brad Bird had done some work as an animator, Chris Columbus did some work on the script, and Robert and Richard Sherman wrote songs. Even famous author Ray Bradbury had a hand in the script. It is not like all of them were involved with the project at the same time, however. They were among many who went in and out of the project since it began in 1982. As a result, the movie feels like it was made by committee to a certain degree, pieced together from the many versions and drafts that went through the mill. This also shows in details like the inclusion of Icarus, a flying squirrel and pet for Nemo who was never in the original comic strip and feels made to be a copy of Disney sidekick characters. Not only that, such a character makes the normal world feel slightly more cartoonish and unreal, when it should be more grounded in comparison to Slumberland. Such flaws dampen what could have been a great tribute to a legendary piece of work.

Still, even with the by-committee feel, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is a fun watch. It slipped between the cracks in the wake of The Little Mermaid and the birth of the Disney Renaissance when it was first released, but it manages to have a fun story that captures the mercurial flow of dreams and some of the whimsy of Windsor McCay’s original comic. If you’re curious about this animated adaptation, it is available on Blu Ray and DVD. For those who want to visit the original Windsor McCay work and see what had made such an impact many years ago, there are several volumes of Little Nemo in Slumberland printed, along with a complete (if pricy) collection of the whole series. If a more modern version captures your eye, IDW released a new comic book called Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland. Centered around a modern-day boy named Nemo, the limited series will be released as a trade volume on September 25th as of the time of this post.