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Fantasy Novel Review – The Riyria Revelations

Today, I will be writing about my thoughts on a fantasy fiction trilogy that I just finished, The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. So yeah, this is going to be another English fantasy novel review, instead of an anime/manga one. I will probably get back to those soon. Cross my fingers on it.

Goodreads Link

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THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY CHOSE POORLY.

There’s no ancient evil to defeat or orphan destined for greatness, just unlikely heroes and classic adventure. Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, are two enterprising rogues who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the murder of the king. Trapped in a conspiracy that goes beyond the overthrow of a tiny kingdom, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery before it’s too late.

Before I dig into the books, I want to say something about the current, “grimdark” trend of English fantasy novels, spearheaded by George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Suffice to say, I am not a big fan of the current trend. Before you guys label me as blasphemous for not being a fan of novels like A Song of Ice and Fire, let me explain myself. Yes, I don’t like books that just spew out cliched concept good defeat evil, hero wins the day and get the girl stuff anymore than you do. Certainly, a lot of books haven’t that much imagination and it seems that they are just using a template to write. However, that doesn’t mean we have to swing to the other extreme direction and have heroes always be the fodder, always suffer, and characters that readers like never getting any sort of good ending. I don’t know about you guys, but I am reading these mainly for escapism purposes (If you are looking for a great tragedy, try books like The Crucible, Antigone, 1984, etc. I read them in my high school English class). It’s a good thing that this series, The Riyria Revelations, is neither so fairy-taled nor such a grimdark-wannabe that likable characters always experience hell.

One thing that I have to admit is that The Riyria Revelations series does contain a lot of setting that is considered cliched in the fantasy genre. Nevertheless, that does not mean the series handles its setting in a cliched way. For an epic fantasy novel, tropes like elves, a powerful church authority, the lost heir, banned magic, a mysterious distant history are mixed together and combined in a new way that made the story seems fresh, so that the series feel familiar and new at the same time. Of course, there is also a good, continuous story, a good character cast, and nice pacing.

The biggest treat offered by this series is exactly its plot-twist factor. There are so many plot twists that you never know what to expect next. Every time you discover something new, you are faced with even more mysteries and unknowns. This series ground its plot twist on well thought-out foundations in that usually there are numerous seemingly unimportant details to foreshadow any mysteries unveiled later. There are six chronological and very-much related episodes working together to tell a cohesive story. Unlike most books that loses its momentum as it veers toward its conclusion, this series culminate into an ultimate plot-twist toward its ending.

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Of course, it is not without its flaws. The series start off slow in its first book, and make it seem that the story might be told in an episodic fashion.  Although it starts off with mainly just the perspective of the main character duo thieves and the princess, as the story progresses more and more POV are introduced. Like many other books, sometimes reader do not care for the other POV as much as the protagonists’ because there is hardly time to feel attached to the new narrators. Luckily, the three main characters’s perspectives always take the spotlight and the majority of the story-telling. The other perspectives serve to giving additional information to the main story line, rather than telling a story of its own.

Finally, the characters cast is great. The cast is humorous, round, varied, quirky, and all of them are flawed in different ways. Yet despite their flaws they try to overcome them, and to become better persons. I am not going to lie and say there is no character death, but trust me in that it is a relatively happy ending. Oh, did I mention that there is several adorable romance sub-plot as well.

Overall, The Riyria Revelations takes numerous tropes from the epic fantasy genre and melted them into a new, fresh story, supported by a good pacing, interesting characters, and one whole story told by a trilogy. Of course, the greatest strength is its ability to drive home the surprise factor produced by its well-foreshadowed plot twists that slowly reveal the truth of the present and what happened in the distant past, hence its name Revelations. I would give the whole series a score of eight out of ten (8/10), which is a pretty good score from me.

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Saiteihen no Otoko

Since I run out of review-worthy recently-watched anime, I am doing a manga review today, always for manga that was completed.

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Murai Masahiko (16) has a fetish for the smell lingering around a scumbag in his class. One day, a beautiful girl named Mizusawa Haruka transfers into his class, but when they start dating he spills the truth: “Mizusawa Haruka died 5 years ago…” Who the hell is she!? What are her intentions!? The heart pounding suspense horror Scumbag Loser begins! (Source: Batoto)

First off, if you are just looking for a happy-go-around romance/slice of life manga, stay the fuck away from this one. Saiteihen no Otoko is noticeably different from the majority of other manga because it actually tries to be a true horror story, with messed up contents. This is quite rarely seen in the medium of manga and anime.

The story is relatively short, with only 14 chapters and approximately 40 pages in each. There are however a tons of narrative contents told in mere 3 volumes. The pages are filled with twists and turns, leaving readers on the edge of their seats. The manga never loses its intensity, though there is a departure of tone in the second half of story, opting for a less scary but more “shounen” tone. Compared to numerous similar mystery manga that I’ve read (with shitty ending), it actually gives a great finish. At least I found it satisfying and not pulled out of nowhere.

Being a psychological horror story, there is a heavy focus on MC’s (unstable) state of mind. I myself am not a “scumbag loser” like MC, but even I can see the loser characteristics are exaggerated. Still, it’s entertaining (in a shounen way) to see how even a person who resides at the bottom of social hierarchy can exhibit moments of heroism, at crucial moments.

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I don’t think I can do a better job of commenting on the art than what is shown by the two pictures so far. Scared yet?

[Fyi: itadakimasu means bon appétit]

tl;dr

Overall, for its satisfying story, unique art style, and generally decent execution, I award it with a 7.7/10.

RECOMMENDATION

Recommended to readers who want to read an actual horror story in manga, or anyone who want to take a break from the mass of ecchi harem.

Don’t even attempt this if you feel disgusted to the point of throwing up simply looking at the two drawings from this manga.

For ultimate recommendation, I point you to Ibitsu, also a short horror story.

 

 


High School of the Dead

Time to talk about everyone’s second favorite ecchi show!

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A mysterious, lethal disease is on the loose worldwide, resulting in a catastrophic death rate of humanity, and the increasing rise of attacks, caused by the living dead. In Japan, several high school students and a school nurse have banded together to escape Fujimi High School shortly after it was attacked by zombies. The group now attempts to figure who or what was responsible for this plague, and in the meantime, attempt to survive the present apocalypse.
The story is initially narrated through the eyes of Takashi Komuro, one of the students who had survived in the initial outbreak. (MAL)

If I am forced to only use two words to sum up this anime, it would be … boobs and zombies. I have to say, what a glorious combination!

If you are watching this show with your brain turned on, you are doing it wrong, because this is not an intelligent show, neither does it try to be one. The only reason that plot exists is so that characters can move around the city swarmed by zombies, showing off exhilarating zombie-smashing action as well as their jelly-filled boobs that modestly hide behind very suggestive clothes. Seriously, that’s all there is to it.

There are totally 6 main characters, consisting of 4 pairs of tits and 2 boys who seek to protect those pairs of tits.  Among the 4 walking pairs of tits, 2 pairs do nothing but annoy the audience, and the other 2 pairs gratify the male audience with some of the most ridiculously hilarious sword-panties-boobs or gun-panties-boobs action, ever. Oh yeah, before I forget, all except for one pair of tits have crush on the male lead, Takashi.

Fortunately, the main male characters in this show is much better done. The male lead Takashi of course is the epitome of manliness. A shout out to his voice actor, who just made his voice that much more manly. Also deserving of mention is the fat gun-geek Hirano, a person who knows the ins-and-outs of fire-arms and go psycho with guns whenever he gets his hands on one. Between the two of them and the sword-wielding pair of tits, there were plenty of entertaining zombie-exterminating action.

saeko busujima

expect this in the entire show

The art is, if you haven’t figure out yet, amazing. The backgrounds are colorful and vivid. The animation is often exaggerated, thereby maximizing the entertainment value. The character designs follow faithfully in those of its manga. The only character design that I didn’t like is the pink-haired girl’s (doesn’t her hairstyle just annoys you?). In terms of fan-service, the art is great!

This show could have been better had the producers done better in the music department. The opening has an awesome first 30 seconds instrumentals, but loses all intensity as soon as the singer opens her mouth. There are 12 endings, one ending each for each episode. I don’t see the point of this except for promoting the singer’s album (indeed all 12 ending songs are from the same artist). In general, this anime could have added more sound tracks in the action part, but the ones that are there are not too shabby.

All in all, High School of the Dead is an anime that is not to be taken seriously. Once you forget paying attention to the story as well as screening out the failures in characters, this show becomes very enjoyable. It has some of the best down-right outrageous boobs-swords-guns action as well as its own fill of love triangle drama, amidst the zombie apocalypse might I add. I award this show with a gracious 6.2/10.

RECOMMENDATION

Again, recommended if you especially enjoy fan-service or sword/guns action.

Not recommended if you are looking for something intelligent in anime. Nevertheless, you are welcome to try this show.


Clannad: After Story

Finally, the time has come for me to write a review on the one and only Clannad: After Story!

Clannad AS

Events in After Story take place immediately after the first season, following Tomoya’s final semester of high school. After declaring his love to Nagisa, they begin to have a close relationship. Their life together will be faced with unexpected challenges, as the truth behind the illusionary world and the city’s legend come to light. (MyAnimeList)

Good anime are remembered for different reasons. Some shows excel in animation and sound; some have memorable characters; still others have well-written and well-executed story that does not leave much inconsistencies; finally, there are some shows of which you get very emotionally attached to.

A question might pop up at this point. Is it possible for one single show to accomplish all of these things? Well, let’s find out, shall we?

The story of Clannad~AS~ is notably different than that of Clannad in that it is no longer restricted to the omnibus format as adapted from the visual novel. The heroine has already been chosen, and the writer does not throw in any break-ups and love triangle routine that is so frequently seen in other romance shows. This is perhaps the truly brilliant aspect of the show. It focuses on what happens after they become a couple, and their life afterward.

It’s hard to comment on the plot of Clannad~AS~, so I will not do so. It is necessary to point out that a side story, of a little girl and a robot in an illusionary world (actually this side story is told in Season 1 as well), is featured along with the main story of Tomoya and Nagisa. The first half of After Story also delves heavily into the pasts of some side characters, nicely adding some touching moments. However, these side stories are not fillers nor distractions from the main stories, they actually exist to build up a major plot device that exist in Clannad, and paramount to constructing the grand conclusion of Clannad. The side story of the mystically illusionary world will come together with the main story and make sense to viewers at the end.

In season two, we see yet more character development in Tomoya and Nagisa, growing stronger together as they support each other … until the story takes a riveting twist that turns Tomoya’s world upside down. Believe it or not. Then, what unfolds is the best, the most emotional, the most touching, and the most inspiring tale of how a person learns to find joy in life despite great misfortunes, in any anime that I have seen. Indeed, the story is emotional and dramatic without ever forcing any drama, and manages to struck us viewers with the metaphorical baseball bat of depression again and again, and again, until we have dried our tears, and finally survived to the ending. (That was more of a subjective description of the emotional impact of this anime, but can you really blame me?)

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The technical aspect of Clannad is something that is easier to talk about. The animation is, in one word, superb. I have rewatched this anime to confirm this, and Kyoto Animation has animated this anime almost flawlessly. The movements of characters reflect those of real life, animated at the same tempo. The expressions of characters during dramatic moments were again, nothing short of amazing. The backgrounds used in episodes were gorgeously drawn. Perhaps the best part of animation goes to those moments at the illusionary world, where the quality matches that of a Disney movie watched in theater.

The sound department is also incredible. The sound tracks are packed with emotions, and only serve to inflame the emotions at the most dramatic points. However, a great drawback is the ending of Clannad: AS, having a drastically different atmosphere than the tone of the anime. Fortunately, the ending does not appear in the most emotional episodes.

Ultimately, After Story creates characters that are very close to humans. Although Tomoya is a fictional character, you can not help but relate to his struggles and admire his valiant efforts at living his life to the full extent. The lessons learned from AS should teach us to become a more positive person, to be strong even in front of hardships in life, and change the way we look at things.

I give Clannad: After Story a rating of 9.9/10, if only as a reminder that perfection is something that is never achieved. However, I would argue that Clannad~After Story~ is as close to masterpiece of “slice of life” anime as you can get, and I would honestly be surprised if another “slice of life” show could change me as a person as much as Clannad did.

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Oh, and don’t forget to bring a box of tissue when you watch the show, because you are going to need it.

RECOMMENDATION

This is a great anime for all anime fans out there, as everyone should be able to related to difficulties faced by main characters in this anime, though not everyone will share the same sentiments as I did. It is something that you can (re)watch anytime, and there are new things to be learnt from this anime each time you rewatch it.

Don’t watch Clannad and Clannad: After Story if you only watch anime to enjoy the fan-service and action, then this review is wasted on you anyways.


Clannad

Ahh, finally … Clannad, one of the most popular anime in Western anime communitiy, was created by Kyoto Animation in 07-08. It is an anime directly adapted from Key, a prominent visual novel production company. Clannad tells a heart-warming story that centers on the theme of family, and would forever remain as one of my favorite anime. This review will only talk about the first season of Clannad.

clannad cover

Okazaki Tomoya is a delinquent who finds life dull and believes he’ll never amount to anything. Along with his friend Sunohara, he skips school and plans to waste his high school days away.

One day while walking to school, Tomoya passes a young girl muttering quietly to herself. Without warning she exclaims “Anpan!” (a popular Japanese food), which catches Tomoya’s attention. He soon discovers the girl’s name is Furukawa Nagisa and that she exclaims things she likes in order to motivate herself. Nagisa claims they are now friends, but Tomoya walks away passing the encounter off as nothing.

However, Tomoya notices Nagisa more and more around school. Eventually he befriends her. Tomoya learns Nagisa has been held back a year due to a severe illness and her dream is to revive the school’s drama club. He decides to help her achieve this goal along with the help of four other girls. As Tomoya spends more time with the girls, he learns more about them and their problems. As he attempts to help each girl overcome her respective obstacle, he begins to realize life isn’t as dull as he once thought. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

The story of Clannad can be best categorized as omnibus arc-styled anime in which each main female character has her own arc in which she is the lead, with some characters more focused on than others. Normally, this kind of plot structure is met with negative responses because it is unlikely to construct a good continuous story with it. Nevertheless, Clannad has done a phenomenal job on its story, even with deep roots in its adapted visual novel. This is mainly because Clannad accentuates on friendship and family much more so than the romance aspect, so it allows Tomoya to help all of the heroines with their tragic pasts without condemning the anime to being a harem.

Clannad is an anime that has done an amazing job in the drama department. In each arc, the emotions gradually build up, and never quite let go, entrancing the viewers even after the dramatic catharsis. This is thanks to some well-constructed back stories of our main characters, as well as the genuine relationships that are established during the story. These stories and dramatic moments are easy to relate to, since everyone experienced some difficulties with some kind of human relationship problem at some points of their lives. However, the first season ultimately suffers from its arc-styled constructions. No matter how good the relationship buildup is, it can’t escape the fact that all other characters are relegated as side characters during a particular heroine’s arc. Furthermore, the last episode (23) is almost unnecessary in my opinion, as episode 22 already serves as a perfect closure point for season 1, and episode 23 adds nothing new to the table. Still, despite some of its flaws, Clannad remains one of the only anime in which I cried without any regards of my own masculinity.

As far as delinquents go, Tomoya has got to be the most gentle, kind, warm-hearted, passionate, and determined person, in a realistic way. While Tomoya is well-established, the other main characters are not as well fleshed out, obviously because not all of them are on the screen the whole time like Tomoya is. For this reason, it is a good thing that our main heroine who stays by Tomoya’s side during most of the story, Nagisa, is well-portrayed and experience tremendous character growth, with help of Tomoya. She grows from a shy girl to a determined, strong, and more out-going person. Anyways, the strong development of these two characters are especially important to the second season of Clannad, in Clannad: After Story.

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Animation-wise, Kyoto Animation does not fail to impress. The backgrounds are beautiful, and for the most parts characters’ motions are smooth and natural. The character designs may not be the best thing ever, but at least viewers can immediately distinguish the characters from each other, which is sufficient in my opinion. Besides, even though the characters are done in a moe fashion, the characters don’t behave typical of moe. Indeed, the characters act and talk like real people.

Clannad is as close to perfection in the sound department as you can get for slice of life anime. Indeed, it not only has a amazing opening and ending, but also has incredible soundtracks that can move you on an emotional level. Check out the OP here https://bunny1ov3r.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/top-anime-op-ed-countdown-3/.

Overall, Clannad is a must-see for all anime fan, regardless of whether you like it or not. It is a slice of life show that inspires the audience to look at the positive things in life. It does not fail to deliver a powerful dramatic story, rich of emotions, that reach out to its audience, changing us for the better. I award this anime a rating of 9.1/10.

RECOMMENDATION

Recommended to all drama, romance, slice of life anime fans, or just people looking for a very emotional story.

Not recommended to people who can’t survive a show without fan-service and action.

For ultimate recommendation, watch Kanon(2006), an arc-styled romance drama anime also done by Kyoto Animation.


Ookami to Koushinryou (Spice and Wolf)

Today I will be reviewing the first season of Spice & Wolf, a highly popular and well-received romance-fantasy-adventure anime that was aired back in 2008.

spice and wolf cover

The peddler Kraft Lawrence travels through the world selling all kinds of things. After visiting a village, he discovers a sleeping girl under the pelts in his cart. She has wolf ears and a tail. The wolf girl explains that she has been called a “god”, but now her name is Holo and nothing more. Lawrence teases the girl a little, but after hearing more of her story, he decides to accompany her further north. On their travels the pair of companions have many adventures, often getting into trouble, and the bond between them grows stronger. (MyAnimeList)

Do not be deceived by the cover. S&W is not another generic ecchi fox girl anime. It is an unique and intelligent show that focuses on the interaction between our leads, Holo and Lawrence, and revolves around the subject of economics.

The story can be best described as slow-paced, nonetheless very well-written and well-timed. Audiences are treated to myriad of dialogues revolving around bartering goods, negotiating contracts, exchanging favors, etc. Being an Economics major in college myself, I recognize a lot of valid cases that are smarted adapted into this medieval, church-dominated scenario. As I warned earlier, however, while this is nicely done, this drags down the pacing of the story. Fortunately, a few more dramatic incidents do happen during the couple climaxes of the show, and characters are placed in mortal danger, giving main characters a chance to experience life-and-death situation together and surviving only with their wits.

If you haven’t realized at this point, you must know that the strongest aspect of this anime is characters. For someone as mystical as a “wolf god”, Holo is a very realistic individual who shows a wide spectrum of emotions, the same with Lawrence, the male lead. Both main characters are very mature in that they behave and act like adults. The development of relationship between the two characters are amazing. Through their daily interactions, they flirt, exchange witty words, act as partners, and comfort each other if the other gets hurt.

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The sound and animation are just as subtle as the show, in a good way. The opening, Tabi no Tochuu, is something that I would put on my top OP countdown. Although I didn’t like the ending at first, it actually fits nicely into the story as I hear it more. The soundtracks consist of mainly classical string pieces, though the kinds that are fast-paced and not so melodic. However, there are points where I feel that there is a lack of background music. The animation is just what you would expect of an peaceful adventure anime. What must be mentioned here is the subtle expressions of the characters, for they are extremely well-done. This aspect further illustrated the MC’s maturity in the tiny details of their actions. If you have to pick some bones, the backgrounds could be more detailed at times and the characters look sometimes distorted from a distance. These are only small problems though.

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So far, I’ve listed nothing but good points of this show. However, at least to me, there is a major flaw in this show: the lack of plot twists. For me, the only thing that can make up for a lack of plot twist is witty dialogues exchanged between charming characters. While the dialogues should be praised for their realism in S&W, they are far from being witty. Then, the lack of plot twist where climaxes don’t happen (half of the show) can sometimes be boring, especially if you gradually get tired of watching them scheming their next way of making a profit. I was only pumped up again when I entered the next climax in the story. Of course, for other people, this may not be a problem at all.

Overall, Spice & Wolf is an intelligent show that tells a wonderful tale of a pair of merchant travelers in the medieval era. It features some nicely done script on how merchants cleverly make profits and also the blossoming romantic relationship between our MCs. I award this Spice & Wolf with an rating of 8.1/10.

RECOMMENDATION

Recommended if you are into business (economics, marketing, finance, etc), or if you want to watch a good (non school setting) romance show.

Not recommended if you can’t survive an anime without action and/or fan-service.

For ultimate recommendation watch Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, also a anime series heavily focused on economics and romance between leads.


Anime Graveyard: Blue Exorcist

You read the title right. This is the “Graveyard Division” of Anime Reviews, dedicated to popular and “well-liked” anime that just fails, to an infinitely more drastic extent compared to how Sword Art Online doesn’t live up to its hype.

Before anything else, I would like to say that my opinion of an adaptation in one medium is not the same as my opinion of that work in adaptations of other mediums. Or simply, the anime for something could be crap but the manga might be very good, and vice versa. Certainly, this happens quite often.

blue exorcist

This world consists of two dimensions joined as one, like a mirror. The first is the world in which the humans live, Assiah. The other is the world of demons, Gehenna. Ordinarily, travel between the two, and indeed any kind of contact between the two, is impossible. However the demons can pass over into this world by possessing anything that exist within it. Satan the god of demons, but there’s one thing that he doesn’t have, and that’s a substance in the human world that is powerful enough to contain him!! For that purpose he created Rin, his son from a human woman, but will his son agree to his plans? Or will he become something else…? An exorcist?(Source: MU)

The premise sounds interesting? you bet! And you know what, the first half of this anime is fine. It mainly follows a monster of the week formula that is either episodic or bi-episodic. The main characters are slowly introduced to us in these adventures. There were some forced drama or stories that does not feel very mature. However, coupled with the stunning action sequence and some resemblances of mystery, it is at least decent. Well, then the anime crashed and burned, with the end result being an irreversible train wreck.

The main problem that was in the second half of the anime is that it tries to bring in the “main plot”. While I am usually an viewer who is more happy with something that is not episodic, I prefer episodic nature over bad plot. It may be the case that this anime should actually be made longer, so the producer wouldn’t have to tweak a forced plot and bring it to a haste finish. I won’t actually pinpoint what’s wrong with the plot in second half, but I suspect most critics would agree with me in this matter.

And guess what, there is one aspect that failed even more spectacularly than the plot department; that is character. The main character, Okumura, fails spectacularly as a shounen MC in an incredibly shounen show. The problem doesn’t stop here. While in most other shows with similar problems side characters are sidelined, in Blue Exorcist side characters completely disappear in the latter half. This defeats the purpose of the long-winded character introductions earlier in the story. Furthermore, after finishing the show, I couldn’t decide who the antagonist(s) was, in a shounen show!

I suppose I should praise this anime at least for its visuals, and sound to a lesser degree. As usual, A-1 Pictures does a great job in animation and designs, although even this drops in quality in later episodes.

Honestly, after seeing Blue Exorcist and Tsuritama (and obviously, Sword Art Online), I categorized A-1 Pictures as a production company that couldn’t adapt good stories if their lives depended on it. This opinion is only changed after watching Shinsekai Yori. Though, this still put them in the “can’t create good characters” category.

Overall, Blue Exorcist fails at everything except for the animation and sound. I give it somewhere around 4.8/10.

RECOMMENDATION

Recommended to fans of Ao no Exorcist manga, though be prepared for the disappointment. Also to critics who like to flame popular and well-liked anime.

Not recommended to anyone else.


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