Friday, October 26, 2018

Aria the Scarlet Ammo Review

Aria the Scarlet Ammo Review

Warning: The following review may/will contain spoilers for Aria the Scarlet Ammo. If you wish to stay clear of what happens in this show's story, please exit the tab, and join me once you've watched said show. Or, you know, you can take that warning with a grain of salt, and still read on anyway. Whatever floats your boat.

Anyways, with that said, thank you, and onto the review:

Boom, baby! I'm back! Getting back into the anime watching business is hard work when your burn-out is so bad and you don't feel motivated to start anything new despite the fact that it's summer and you have more free time.

Regardless, here is a life update: I'm in college now! It feels very weird that I've written reviews for four years and it followed the entirety of me being in high school, but alas. My growth throughout this blog's run is startling. It's strange to go back and see reviews from baby me, who didn't know that it was okay to use "fanboying" instead of "fangirling" and who wouldn't go into depth about really anything until the summer of 2015.

However, there are always good parts of going back in time and looking back on the things that made you happy, the things you wish didn't exist, and the things you want to look into since a prime opportunity fell into your lap and why not, right?

Case in point, Aria the Scarlet Ammo. I've known about this show since I realized liking anime could be a hobby. So, at the time of this review, we're talking about almost six and a half years. I'd seen it on the FUNimation website, watched bits and pieces here and there, but never had the time to sit down and give it a full watch. Luckily, Luke found the limited edition set we had seen getting unboxed many times back in the day at Half Price Books in June (HPB is LIT, just saying), bought it with some of his graduation money, and started watching it as soon as our first day of classes were over.

I wasn't expecting a lot out of this series, but I was still hoping it would offer something entertaining. Did it grant that wish? Or did it fall flat?

Well, yes and no. One thing the show has going for it is potential. But that potential barely reaches the point where the show could have been good. Some of the directions the story took were interesting but never really hit the ground running as the writing skimmed on key background development. Some of the characters were interesting, but developments were either barely shown or weren't well-written. The animation was good at points, but also looked very sloppy at others. The score was fine, but sometimes I'd prefer if it wasn't the opening and ending I was looking forward to every episode. These elements all mix together to where an average show is born.

Not gonna lie, I probably would have liked this show WAY more four years ago, but considering I've watched countless anime and kind of knew what I was getting into, I shouldn't be surprised at how this turned out. It's not trash, but it's not a five star meal, either. It lands awkwardly in the middle.

Let's start off with the story:


In this show's world, teens from Japan (and possibly beyond) are trained to become Butei. What are Butei, you ask? Well, they are agents trained to fight crime wherever it may appear. Trained in various fields, these individuals are allowed to possess any weapons they wish in order to capture the worst criminals around the world.

Our story begins with Kinji Tohyama, an E-ranked student at Toyko Butei High (for reasons I'll explain later) riding his bike to school after missing his bus (casually, as he does). However, this isn't an ordinary day. He starts getting chased by a hijacked Segway armed with a Uzi, which lets him know a bomb has been planted on his bike. If he slows down, it'll explode. If he jumps off to save himself, the Uzi will shoot him. He's definitely in a pinch, but luckily, a S-ranked girl named Aria H. Kanazaki saves him from certain death by shooting the Segway and accidentally falling on his face boobs first (oops). 

The two become unconscious after the explosion and roll into a storage unit, but luckily, they come to...with Aria's shirt rolled upwards from the fall. Yikes. From there, Aria and Kinji are able to fend off additional hacked Segways once the former inadvertently sticks her boobs in the latter's face (this time, not from a fall) and Kinji enters Hysteria Mode, a condition that is genetically present in his family, where he becomes seductive, suave, and his skill level is thirty times stronger than its initial level (it's compared to savant syndrome, which I will also talk about later). Impressed with his skill in this form, Aria not only transfers to Kinji's class, but moves into his dorm so he can become her partner. Well, she says slave, but partner is more respectful, so we'll go with that instead.

Together, they will investigate a hijacked bus, argue, find the people responsible for sentencing Aria's mother to an entirety in prison, argue, learn secrets about the people around them, argue, and most importantly, try not to get too worked up about the quasi-harem antics. Also argue. What will happen as their loyalty and partnership are questioned?

The plot for this show is a capital M for mediocrity. Aria the Scarlet Ammo has a variety of interesting influences and can be entertaining to watch at some points, but the problem has to do with how the writing for the adaptation (as well as the original light novels) handles everything. For example, this show STRUGGLES with balancing its action scenes with its romantic comedy moments. It's like the writers are walking back and forth on a tightrope trying to decide what they like best, but more often than not, the comedic "YOU PERVERT!" and misunderstanding drama seem to win out, especially if episodes focus on down time.

While the action scenes are intense and have high stakes, the flip side ended up making me cringe more often than not (unless you're this because it's absurdly funny). These gags put an unnecessary strain on Kinji and Aria's relationship because even though they work well together, there always has to be at least one misunderstanding per episode where Aria catches Kinji in a compromising position or hears about him getting into a comprising position with another girl in the quasi-harem for her to bring out her guns and shoot the whole place down. It's fine at first, but the more I got through this show, the more annoying it was. I was chuckling at how not hilarious the "comedy" was supposed to be at that point.

I think because I've gotten older and seen my fair share of harem type shows, the gags this show pulls aren't that funny because they're ones I've seen countless times by now and they aren't interesting the more I see them since they're done in very similar ways. Again, I would have probably liked this show more when I was younger, because this type of anime isn't something I'm akin to picking up now because of how many adaptations of them we've gotten.

Plot threads are left open or are horribly explained. Even after getting exposition about Buteis in the beginning of the series and what they do to protect the world from crime, I am still confused about them. I know Tokyo Butei High can assign them to missions based on their students' ranks, but what about missions taken on by happenstance or through other students? Do those count? Because aside from finding that lost cat, every mission Kinji and Aria are involved with takes place outside school.

There is also an organization named IU which is barely touched upon. I understand that they're suspicious and want to have as many people by their side as they believe someone's power will be more effective with them, but how did they start? Why target only teenagers? Who is the boss pulling the strings? What is their eventual intention? So much is left unanswered, and I don't know if it will get explained in the companion series.

Also, what was the purpose for including Kana? Wikipedia told me all I needed to know post series, but the way the show handled her was so bad that I never got a good grip on who she was (aside from Aria's assumption that she was Kinji's ex). It just seemed like another vehicle to provide romantic angst, and I wasn't here for it.

A fascinating subplot regarding several characters' backgrounds is revealed in Episode 4, when another girl who goes to Tokyo Butei High, Riko, announces she is the fourth descendant of Arsène Lupin, and Aria is the fourth descendant of Sherlock Holmes. The inclusion of characters being related to famous individuals from literary figures is always a fun plot twist, but this show did not handle it in the best way.

Not only is the reveal pretty random once you get past the initial surprise (or if you notice the Sherlock Holmes image in the opening WAY before I did), but as of now, it only really serves any purpose in Riko's arc at the end of the series. I would have loved for the show to go more in depth about how all of these descendants were able to gather together at one school (especially if they're scattered throughout the world), but that was probably asking too much for a show that likes to focus more on the romantic comedy side of things. It's a bummer, because as least with this, there was an extra spark compared to everything else in the story that misfired (ha).

At the end of the day, Aria the Scarlet Ammo struggled to make its story pop. With the inconsistency between its action and "comedy," lack of going into depth on key parts of its world, and a reveal that didn't click into place (oh look another bad pun), it made watching this anime more tedious than I would have liked. I saw what it was trying to do, but it never really payed off in the way I wanted it to.

Time to move on to the characters:


We've got a mixed bag here, folks. Some of these characters have okay personalities and can be enjoyable depending on the situation, but at the same time, there were a few characters I would have loved to get more screen time and actually matter to the story aside from the key moments where they felt "needed." But I think that's expecting just a bit too much from a show like this. Alas.

First up is Kinji:

Kinji is dead last in terms of ranking, but it's not because he's a crap Butei. He doesn't invest enough time into improving, as his goal in the beginning of the series is to quit being a Butei. This is because his brother supposedly died during a boat hijacking, where he put the safety of the other passengers first before disappearing off the face of the earth. The public outcry following the incident was bad enough to where Kinji wasn't willing to subject himself to that scrutiny.

Too bad for Kinji, however. Fate has a different story in mind for him, and he's actually a pretty good Butei...if his Hysteria Mode is triggered. A genetic trait that is common in the Tohyama family, it is activated whenever he gets sexually aroused. Once in this state, Kinji becomes a Smooth Dude that knows exactly what to say to the ladies to get them all embarrassed and flustered. He also becomes stronger and is able to be more precise with controlling weapons. It develops to the point where he seems to fluctuate between the two sides, unless you're Aria, because then even the slightest situation is going to cause this guy to get a little excited.

As far as standard light novels turned into anime protagonists go, Kinji was fine. He hit every box in terms of being a standard main character in this subfield, but at the same time, the writers did try to construct more of a personality for him. To compare normal every day Kinji to Kinji while in Hysteria Mode was pretty fun, and I did like how he eventually seemed to combine the two into one that could be suave when appropriate but also retain how he acted normally. The glimpse into his backstory was fine enough and gave him some depth as well.

I do have an issue with how the Hysteria Mode was presented, though. It is stated a few times that the Hysteria Mode is actually Hysteria Savant Syndrome, which sounds politically incorrect. Savant syndrome occurs when someone who is developmentally disabled displays a set skill that exceeds typical human ability. The skills savants display show up in five distinct areas and can develop from a neurodevelopmental disorder or an injury in the central nervous system. To slap on the term savant for something that doesn't match what occurs to someone who develops this seems like bad research. In a way, it feels like the original author of light novels was trying to find a way to romanticize, heck, even sexualize it, and that's a big fat NOPE in my book. If you're going to base a fictitious disorder or illness off of something that is real, do it right and not like what several YA authors have done.

Time for Aria:

The fourth descendant of the esteemed Sherlock Holmes, Aria is the titular character of this show (obviously) and by that standpoint, one of the better characters here. A transfer student from the Butei High in England, she is a rank S Butei (which is the highest rank wow surprising right?). She is also able to use two guns and two swords, thus earning the title of Quadra. Her skill is thanks to her training back in London. She may lack the deductive power her ancestor had, but she at least knows how to fight.

Aria is very short for her age, thus leading Kinji to mistake her for a middle school and elementary school student when he is in Hysteria Mode for the first time. This is because she was almost assassinated three years prior to the start of the series. Not only did the bullet stunt her growth (as its embedded in her back), but its special material turned her hair pink and her eyes red. Which is unlike many anime characters with unrealistically colored hair and eyes, but whatever.

A typical tsundere at first glance, Aria is short-tempered and will threaten to "pump (insert name here but most likely Kinji) full of holes" if she gets angry or uncomfortable. She does not like romance because she thinks it's embarrassing (which makes her naive about kissing as seen in the clip above), but since this is a cookie cutter adaptation of a light novel series, I'm sure you know that's going to change as she and Kinji work more together (and argue). Her main goal is to clear her mom's name and free her from prison after she was sentenced to a ridiculously high number of years as a result of being framed for several crimes relating to the Butei Killer. Until then, Aria needs to track down the criminals who got her mother in jail in the first place and see if she can stop referring to Kinji as her slave (because even though Claire did it to Kamito to Bladedance, I didn't mention it there. It's incredibly problematic and creepy when you switch the genders around in your head).

Though Aria wasn't my favorite character in this anime, I still did like her compared to the majority of the cast. I'm happy the writers touched upon her frustration about her mom being behind bars and how she wants to get her out, plus gave her moments where she was surprisingly vulnerable (and it wasn't for fanservice) and not yelling at Kinji all of the time. She was also pretty comedic at the best moments and though she wasn't a complete breath of fresh air compared to the general lead love interest in other LN properties (like Julis), I'm happy that at least the original author tried to give her a bit more depth and stuck with it throughout the series.

Okay, minus Aria calling Kinji a slave even after she drops it in Episode 5. Continuity clearly passed go because in that regard, it was nowhere to be found.

Speaking of continuity speeding past like a bullet train, let's talk about Shirayuki next:

I always get a bad feeling when shows have the Childhood Best Friend or The One Who is Super Close to the Protagonist trope. It's not always a travel on the bumpy road to Hell, but more often than not, these characters get annoying very quickly for me and don't get a lot of redemption. Unfortunately, Shirayuki is another character I can add to my list, which is frustrating because actual effort was given to her character before it got chucked out the window.

We'll get back to this later, but meanwhile, Shirayuki is Kinji's childhood friend who is deeply infatuated with him. How infatuated? Well, infatuated to the point where she calls him a fair amount, sends him a lot of e-mails, and will go out of her way to attempt to kill any girl who she feels is getting too close. And by girls, I mean just Aria. Though she does get irritated when Riko also attempts to flirt with Kinji, she doesn't like Aria for no particular reason outside of, "She's getting too close to Kin. THIS MEANS WAR!"

Outside of this comprising her entire personality, Shirayuki is a Rank A Butei who is enrolled in the SSR department and is the president of many clubs. Typically doting shrine maiden attire, she lives at a (you guessed it) shrine, where she is trained and expected to stay at when she gets older because of her great power. Believe it or not, but the white ribbon in Shirayuki's hair conceals her true abilities, one in which she is able to hold her own with her sword Irokane Ayame. In Episode 8, she also declares her true name is Himiko, with Shirayuki being a cover-up.

Now, this may sound incredibly badass, and it gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, Shirayumki's character would turn over a new leaf, but boy, was I giving this anime WAY too much credit, because not only did she go back to how she was at the start of the anime, she became even worse. Do you remember in my Kiznaiver review when I mentioned how Mari Okada threw most of Tenga's personality out the window when his feelings for Chidori were revealed? Whelp, it's like that, but if the debris got plowed by a semi and a van before flying into the nearest landfill.

After Kinji kisses Shirayuki in Episode 8 in order for her to regain her breathing, Shirayuki's love for Kinji grows to the point where she will...wait for, seriously, wait for it...strip her clothes off so that she can complete a "fait accompli" with him. AKA, she wants to have sex with him. The fact that this anime plays this off as a gag the two times it pops up (once in Episode 9 and once in the OVA, because after the former, Shirayuki is out of this series faster than me during the Black Friday CD sale at Best Buy back in 2016 when I bought both Dangerous Woman and Lady Wood for under ten bucks) is disgusting and made me question just what on Earth happened. It's not funny and just degrades this character to where the fact that she wants to bone the main character is her only personality trait. 

We deserve better than this complete character annihilation. Even though Shirayuki was far from the best at the beginning of this series, at least she had some personality compared to how she ends this series with. I have never seen this intense whiplash before, but I hope it never rears its ugly head again (I may have just jinxed myself. Don't quote me, though).

Let's move on to Riko:

Riko is a character I should have liked more than I did, but once again, the show's writing ended up getting in the way. Enrolled in the Inquesta department, she is also a Quadra and can easily access intelligence information, whether related to her fellow students (who she can disguise as if necessary) or just gossip. Despite being rather ditzy while at school, this is a front she puts on in order to hide her darker intentions. Guess who ends up being the first antagonist of this series? Ding ding ding. It's Riko, bitch.

Riko was the mastermind behind several hijackings at the beginning of the series, equipping bombs onto Kinji's bike and a bus in order to see how Kinji and Aria work together, before sneaking onto a private plane meant to fly Aria back to the UK and revealing a secret: She is the ancestor of Arsène Lupin and much like Aria, has not inherited the powers that made him as stealthy as he was. Because of this, she hate being referred to as the fourth Lupin and wants to find a way to surpass her great-great-great-grandfather by any means necessary.

This is due to living in a cell as a child under the hands of Tooru Sayonaki/Vlad the Impaler, who took her in after her parents died, only to throw her right into a cell. Used as an experimental subject and barely given food or water, Riko became used to being called a failure and only useable to create the next heir until she was released. Forever, she wasn't completely freed, as Sayonaki promises her that he will vanish from her life once she is able to surpass the first Arsène Lupin. Although Riko attempts to do this by asking both Aria and Kinji to steal one of the last gifts her mother gave her before trying to kill them post their mission, she fails because Sayonaki steps in at just the right time (wait, no. The wrong time). However, once he is defeated, Riko finally feels a sense of pride in the fact she was able to beat the man who tortured her for years.

Because we have a quasi-harem on our hands, Riko also has a crush on Kinji and is aware of his feelings towards Aria, which she tries to exploit in order to trigger Kinji's Hysteria Mode. Once, she imitates Aria's voice over an intercom system the three use while the former and Kinji are at Vlad's estate, giving Kinji permission to "do stuff" to her. Since Hysteria Mode Kinji is SMART, he realizes this is Riko and says she will get a spanking later (which is, well, extreme for a TV-14 anime series). However, she will also flirt with Kinji herself.

This is where things get complicated. I do have to hand it off to the writers for giving Riko a whiff of development rather than making her just one trope and having that one trope define her for the rest of the show, but at the same time, I didn't really like her that much.

I know, I know. Normally I like characters who get the amount of development that Riko does. It makes me understand why they are the way they are and I can also sympathize with them even if their actions are questionable. However, that was not the case with Riko, and again, it has to do with the writing. 

Unless IU highly trained her, I think it is illogical for a young girl about fifteen years old to be able to hijack a ship and cause only one "causality (because eventually we find out Kinji's brother is still alive)." It seems odd for her target to be that specific and to also claim said target was her lover, unless it was a ruse to make Kinji mad. Regardless, it's never really explained and because of that, my interest in Riko faded as fast as turning a TV off. 

For the rest of the show, she's either written how she was back at the start or as capital E for Evil and I don't think the writers could really decide what tone would work the best for her. As such, it makes me wary that she is back in Kinji's trust considering she's almost killed him and Aria twice and may have the potential to betray them again if IU comes calling. I don't know. Why does this show make its background development more complicated than it needs to be?

Last but not least is Reki:

Reki is a Rank S in Sniper department and serves as an ace, typically providing the last shot or additional body guarding when Aria or Kinji need it most. Her signature catchphrase is "I'm a single bullet," one which she always says before she fires said single bullet. She is very accurate and precise in how she fires, except when she and Kinji hunt after a white wolf creature Sayonaki created to distract everyone in the nurse's office. Riko draws Kinji there during Episode 10 in order to see how he reacts to Aria getting undressed (they were getting physical examinations. It's a long story). The bullet Reki fired only grazes it so that it is knocked unconscious. She later takes it in and names it Haimaki.

Reki is calm and collected, not displaying much emotion about what's going on in her surroundings. This can be traced back to her upbringing, where she was born into a tribe (referred to as the Ulus) located between northern Mongolia and Siberia. A genetic condition which only affects pregnant women causes only female children to be born, and Reki grew up with forty six others. As such, the tribe is on the lookout for men they believe could help produce stronger offspring with the women.

Obviously, the anime doesn't delve into this, and maybe it's a good thing they didn't, because when Reki eventually admits to Kinji that she has feelings for him, she hints that not only could the latter help with her offspring, but also with the other forty six women as well. Which seems creepy and odd and questionable.

Regardless, Reki didn't really get a lot of screen time in this series, but she ended up being my favorite character. Though we didn't get to know a lot about her, I did like how she was a badass and she made the show slightly better whenever she was on screen. She and Kinji had some good interactions as well. I don't ship them, but I can see how people would once Reki shows more emotion. In the end, this character clicked with me more than I thought it would.

Other characters include Jeanne d'Arc (otherwise known as Durandal), the main antagonist of the second arc who also works with IU and tries to lure Shirayuki into joining the organization because of the potential of her power (don't worry, she gets redemption), Goki Muto, one of Kinji's friends who (surprise, surprise) is a pervert (which the series falls back on for his appearances in Episode 10 and the OVA despite him also being good with technology), Ryo Shiranui, another one of Kinji's classmates and friends who doesn't have much personality to him, Mrs. Takamagahara, the homeroom teacher for Class 2-A, Mrs. Tsuzuri, the homeroom teacher for Class 2-B, who is known for her tough interrogations, and Tooru Sayonaki/Vlad, another teacher at Tokyo's Butei High who, as mentioned earlier, is the main antagonist of this anime's final arc.


The animation for this series was produced by J.C.Staff, who are also known for their work on shows such as Excel Saga, the Slayers franchise, and Taboo Tattoo.

Average is the best way to also describe how this series looked as a whole. At most moments, everything looks fine. The character designs look good and movement is pretty fluid. However, the action scenes are a bit disappointing. They didn't have enough intensity for me to really care about them, and the animation shifts during them could get distracting. Granted, Takashi Watanabe directed the first season of Freezing (which premiered the season before this show in 2011), but I felt those looked cleaner and had more effort put into them. There were also a few moments when the general animation would just dip and it didn't look pretty. I'm still thinking about Gumby Aria from Episode 1.

On a side note, the broadcast censoring for this is a TRIP. All twelve of the main series' episodes are available to watch on FUNimation's YouTube channel, and it is so much fun to see how much the animation staff overdid the censoring like in other shows to the point where you can only see fifteen percent of the screen. The fanservice is there, but you'd think with all the censoring, the final rating would be TV-MA instead of TV-14.

Look who was expecting too much out of yet another element to this show? Me. Oops. Again, this didn't look completely ugly, but I did think more needed to be done between airing it on TV and releasing it on DVD, because it lacked some polish.


The score for this series was composed by Takumi Ozawa, who is also known for his work on series such as Divine Gate and Okamikakushi - Masque of the Wolf.

Much like with Divine Gate's score, there were a few pieces I grew to throughout the series (also like the last time with an Ozawa score, it was the sadder or more dramatic pieces), but the overall background music ended up being forgettable. A lot of the comedic pieces blended together for me and there weren't a lot of elements that caught my attention. I would go back to at least three or four pieces, but not the rest.

The Japanese voice acting is fine enough. I love how Junji Majima and Rie Kugimiya are cast as lead characters following Toradora who eventually fall in love with each other, which mimics Satoshi Hino and Rie Kugimiya being cast together in the Shakugan no Shana and The Familiar of Zero franchises. Hino or Majima is the main hero while Kugimiya is the heroine who ends up being a tsundere who isn't sure about her feelings to the main protagonist until they grow over time. Want to know something ironic? All four series had their animation produced by J.C.Staff.

It's also ironic how both Hino and Majima are in the DRAMAtical Murder franchise, and I can't hear the latter's voice anymore without hearing Virus, but I'll move on now.

Majima, additionally, does a good job differentiating between Regular and Hysteria Mode Kinji, even as they blend together, and Kugimiya is great at the emotional moments. The side characters also have their chances in the spotlight, but particular standouts are Ayako Kawasumi as a badass Jeanne d'Arc and Masumi Asano giving the most iconic dramatic cough of all time as Mrs. Tsuzuri.

The dub, sadly, is not as strong. I remember not liking this dub primarily due to the quality when I watched bits of it at twelve and thirteen. Rewatching it, however, I noticed other problems. The Blu-Ray mix, in particular, is incredibly quiet. All of the sound effects are at normal volume, but I had to turn up the TV because I could not hear the characters with the volume set at 20. The script is not as engaging, with choices that feel cliche or a feeling that the writers didn't care enough (which is sad, considering Chuck Huber was the lead writer, and I haven't seen a lot of shows which he wrote). Finally, the acting feels wooden, as if most of the actors are going through the motions and aren't invested in what's happening. FUNimation has better dubs than this where this pool of talent sound more comfortable than they do here.

And yes, the quality still isn't good. But at least we have a fantastic performance from Colleen Clinkenbeard as Jeanne d'Arc to make up for some missteps.

Highlights from the original Japanese are Junji Majima, Rie Kugimiya, Mariya Ise, Kaori Ishihara, Ayako Kawasumi, Takuya Eguchi, Masumi Asano, Hisako Kanemoto, and Yui Horie.


Man, this was underwhelming. Even though I may have gone in with too high expectations despite thinking this series wasn't going to be as exciting as my younger self thought it was, I can't deny that this show is just mediocre. Series like these aren't easy to review because while they have good qualities, much of their potential is wasted on not expanding those qualities. In Aria the Scarlet Ammo's case, I saw directions where it could go, but it never went there.

As it is, I did find some enjoyment in what I got, but that ended up being in what this anime was doing wrong rather than right. That, sadly, is why this lands at the point where I go from "Eh" to wanting to rant. This is a show I'm not going to remember vividly in a year or so, and potentially, it's for good reason.

I would only recommend this series if you don't have anything better to watch, but aside from that, this is a show you could probably skip and not miss much.

Score: 6/10


Potential is there.

"It's okay, because I didn't get pregnant!"

Fascinating parts to some characters.

Every time Reki appeared on screen.

Solid Japanese voice acting.

Some moments of enjoyment.



Story can't decide if it wants to go in an action or comedic direction.

Plot points aren't answered or are dropped.

How Kinji's Hysteria Mode came to be.

Characters lack development or get it trashed.

Animation is okay.

Score is a bit forgettable.

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