The Benefits and Pleasure of Reading Light Novels

Normally this is the time of week I’d have a light novel or manga review and I certainly have more than a few books stacked on my desk and ready for their reviews to be written or finalised. However, recently I was asked what I enjoyed about reading light novels and it made me start thinking about the changes in my reading habits over the past two years since I started reading my very first light novel series, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash.

My whole life I’ve been obsessed with books. I fill shelves with them, spend hours rummaging through dusty boxes and shelves in second hand book stores, and spend more than a fair bit of time online shopping for books. However, growing up my focus was decided split with fantasy, science fiction and horror books on the one side and the standard classic literature list on the other. At university I expanded more into a range of authors who pioneered or represented movements or were renowned in some form or another, though I definitely kept enjoying my genre fiction.

It was pretty standard for me to be carrying two to three novels on me at any one time and cycle through them based on my mood or how much time I had to sit and read.

Maka Albarn - Soul Eater - Reading books

Then adulting happened.

I know, becoming an adult is kind of that thing we all have to do. But it had a definite impact on my reading because after spending a day reading for work meant by the time I came home I wanted entertainment that was less immersive and demanding of me and so movies and games filled the recreation time, as did my growing obsession with anime. I still read books, but they became something I stacked away and stored for long weekends or holidays where I would devour two or three in quick succession. Young adult novels became more standard in my collection because they were quicker to read and I was sure to complete it before I got distracted by work again.

As my anime obsession grew, so did my curiosity with the source material of many anime and while I wasn’t overly keen on reading manga, I decided it was time to plunge into light novels.

Fortunately for me I picked wisely.

At first I ordered one volume of one series when it was on sale and thought the worst that could happen was it would end up donated to a charity where it would end up sold on to someone else. However, I kind of became hooked.

For all that the first volume of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is not a perfect book by any means, the story rolls over you easily and carried you along to the end. There’s enough description to sketch in the world and character dialogue to give them shape, but it doesn’t get bogged down in details or tedious conversations that serve no purpose.

In a nutshell, it is easy and undemanding to read. Plus, easily devoured in a single sitting or over a couple of evenings so even with work demands it was something I could sink my teeth into and enjoy.

However, as my collection of light novels and manga (because one opened the door to the other) grew I ran into a few problems as well as a few really good points.

My main problem was storage space. Because of the quick read time and number of volumes in some sets it became quickly apparent I was going to need to a new shelf to store them on. But the other issue is that each series seems to be its own specific shape. Some are wider or taller than others and so stacking books has become quite the game of jenga and I’m not entirely convinced I’m the best person for the job. Particularly when I decide to read an older volume and pull it out from under a precarious stack, or the latest volume of a series I just read needs to be placed under another series requiring some careful handling.

This is a dream come true, a room totally surrounded by books.

Admittedly, a lot of people are probably just better at dealing with stacks that don’t perfectly align but for me everytime I look at the light novel collection I just want to try to make all the spines line up neatly and I’ve yet to succeed because they just don’t.

The other problem is naturally cost. While each book doesn’t cost all that much, particularly taking into account the frequency of online sales, the speed at which the books are read and again, the number of volumes each set will end up with, means that the cost of books rapidly adds up. It isn’t insurmountable but in order to stop myself binge spending on any other given day I plan lists and schedules for my next book order to keep it all under control and under budget.

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Yet both of these are petty complaints.

The books I’ve bought and read so far have been fun and entertaining. They’ve given me a raft of colourful characters and settings and plots that are incredibly. In the case of Grimgar and DanMachi the books have filled the void left by anime that next concluded the story and in the case of the Natsume manga I’ve found a new and amazing way to experience a story I loved in anime form. Arifureta gave me something different in a genre I’m familiar with from anime, and so on and so forth.

I love the artwork that is included in these books, whether it is the fold out work at the beginning of the volumes or the images scattered throughout, it just adds something to the reading experience. And certainly I appreciate any book that is easily slotted into a handbag or travel bag. That and a book that doesn’t hurt when it falls on my face because I fell asleep while reading.

Certainly I’ve ordered the first volume of some series and it just hasn’t worked for me and I’ve not continued on, but that is true of all types of books. Growing up there was a huge second hand book sale that took place every six months and the last day of the sale always had a fill-a-bag option and so I would plunder the fantasy section of any and everything I hadn’t read. I worked on the standard idea that only one in every ten books I started would actually be amazing and only three in ten would be good enough to end up on my book shelf. The rest would be read and then returned to the charity to end up at the next book sale. The only tragedy being that one particular book got purchased on three separate occasions.

Yeah, No Game No Life looked like it should be perfect for me, but just didn’t work out.

From that point of view, I’ve had far more hits than misses when it comes to reading light novels, though given a lot that I’ve chosen I’ve watched the anime of, I’m not going in blind to very many.

While a few people I know feel I’ve gone backwards a bit in my reading, all I can say is that I’m having as much fun as every consuming stories. While the pictures on the covers of the books I’m reading these days may be brighter, what hasn’t changed is my general love of words and nicely flowing plot with characters I can get behind and want to see succeed.

Next week I’ll get back to actually reviewing something from the stack before it takes over my desk entirely but before then, if you read light novels I’d love to know what you find appealing about them?

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 13 Review

It has been awhile since I’ve written a Natsume review and I’ve now got quite the stack of books to catch up on as I’m now at volume 17 and hungry for more. That said, I absolutely loved volume 13 (big surprise).

I will admit, my most recent trip to Japan was great as I picked up quite a bit of Natsume merchandise including a Nyanko pillow, a small Little Fox plush, a figure of Natori, and the first five volumes of the manga in Japanese because if I ever get some quiet time I’m going to work on my translation skills again and see if I can get through them. So at the moment, I am very much surrounding myself with Natsume and I cannot get enough.

However, for now I’ll get into reviewing volume 13 which I was really excited about because it brings Natsume face to face with Matoba again.

Chapters 52 – 54: Behind the Chains

This is a story I particularly loved in the anime as it brings Matoba calling on Natsume and asking him for a favour. Only in true Matoba fashion it isn’t so much asking as demanding and when that doesn’t work, threatening. Natori is aware Matoba has approached Natsume and is working away in the background, and Nyanko is as usual being sassy when Matoba is present but working hard to protect Natsume despite the exorcist charms making him somewhat weaker than normal.

There’s a lot to love about this story as it brings great characters together, provides more insight into the world of exorcists as well as the different ways the Matoba go about it compared to someone like Natori, and it also shows us Natsume’s incredible natural talents. The search for the yokai possessing exorcists works wells enough to hold all of this together but that particular issue is so much less interesting than the tension that exists every time Natsume and Matoba are anywhere near each other.

The art is nicely done as usual with some excellent chapter introductions but scenes of the guests in the Matoba house are a little messy in terms of details and the faces of background characters aren’t particularly amazing. It is a minor complaint in amongst a great story but worth noting.

Still, this story didn’t disappoint and the volume wasn’t done.

Specials: Nishimura and Natsume, Kitamoto and Natsume

After the sensational exorcist focused story for the majority of the volume, the second part goes firmly into the slice of life aspects of Natsume and what this volume shows is that there is great balance in the story between these more human moments that hit the emotions hard, and those tense and exciting moments where the supernatural takes centre stage.

These are two characters that, while they have a presence in the anime it hasn’t been very prominent. These two stories are really a great chance to see how these two very normal and ordinary school friends came to be friends with and understand, to a point, Natsume and accepted him for who he was. They are touching and heartwarming stories and just the perfect thing to read to leave you with a smile.

I probably don’t need to reiterate, but this series is so fantastic to read. I’ll cover something else next week but then I’ll be back with my next Natsume review.

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Katanagatari One – Novel Review

Katanagatari Cover Art

I tend to let it be well known that I have a serious love of books. I surround myself with them in my daily life. Books I’ve read, books I mean to read, books I plan to read again… Piles of books stacked on shelves and in odd little corners all in an order that makes perfect sense to me and me alone. I will seldom be found without a couple of books in the bag I’m carrying and certainly wouldn’t travel without the lighter e-reader version of a library.

So with that context, when I say that Katanagatari 1, a compilation of the first three stories of Sword Tale, is an extraordinary book, I do not say that lightly. I say it with love and admiration as right from when I first opened the package this one arrived in and felt the cover and admired the art work, that there is something very special about this book.

Katanagatari - Fold out image - Togame and Shichika

Part of that may be it is a rare case where I have a hardback version of a book, if only because there was no paperback version and I was keen enough to read this story that I did splurge a little on my usual book budget (a decision I do not regret in the slightest). However, unlike many hardcover books with their plain cover and then floppy book jacket that gets in the way while reading until you simply discard it in irritation, this one has the art beautifully attached to the actual cover with no flappy extras to interfere with the texture and feeling of the book or with trying to read it.

Now, full disclosure, I was already in love with the narrative here because the anime is something of an extraordinary watch with its 12 episodes of 40 minutes and quite unique art style. So I went in to this one knowing the basic outline of the story and what to expect. Still, I feel that whether you go in knowing or not nothing can diminish the pure joy of reading this book.

Katangatari - original table of contents spread

The care gone in to the book’s presentation only continues on the inside. The fold out art work is stunning, a table of contents given in English, and then a page which shows the first book’s original content’s page (this version of the book contains the first three ‘books’ of the 12 book story).

Throughout the book are footnotes which provide reference to the original kanji used and how it has been translated which helps at times to make sense of puns or jokes the characters are making or just adds insight into what the particular name of a place or attack might mean. These don’t need to be read in order to follow the story but they add enough in that I found myself regularly going back to read them if I’d gotten caught up in an action scene and skipped them for a page or two. While unnecessary, they just add a little something more to the story and I really appreciated them.

Katanagatari - Footnotes

Peppered throughout the books are liberally illustrations with double page spreads showing characters, action sequences or new settings. Each consistently demonstrating the unique art style that the anime certainly emulated and they are striking images that are well worth spending some time just taking in.

At the ends of chapters and in the transitions between books there is a character note page that usually outlines information about the ninja or enemy faced in the book and again this isn’t necessary information but it just adds a little extra.

Katanagatari - Double page image

All and all, Katanagatari has gone all out with worthwhile extras.

But, what about the writing and the story itself given this is a book review?

I’m pleased to say that the writing style is nothing short of lyrical. You flow from one event to the next with dialogue keeping the pace swift in places or bringing it up short in others. Enough description is given as is needed to sketch the scenes without belabouring the points. Action is tightly written and again enough description given that you know what is going on, and if they happen to linger over explanations of particular attacks there is usually some purpose behind it.

Katanagatari - Nanami

Overall though, the tone of the writing is highly entertaining. While I know this version is a translated work and some of the author’s original style probably got strained out in the process, there’s a genuine love of language and words that comes through with the writing style that makes it pleasant to read. There’s also a fierce desire to not take the situations overly seriously as the characters lurch from one scenario to another.

Togame, the Schemer, and Shichikia, her sword, are a wonderful duo who bounce off one another in personality and dialogue in a way that is fun to read. The zany nature of the ninjas introduces provide enough in the way of sensationalism without crossing over into sheer ridiculous (though at times it is a fine line). There’s some tongue in cheek and self-aware comments from the narration but none so persistent that it becomes grating, and you just can’t help but feel that the author knew exactly what they were doing and where the lines were that would push it from amusing to silly, self-aware to smug and kept firmly on the side of enjoyable without sacrificing individuality in the process.

Did I mention I really loved reading this?

Katanagatari - Shichika and Togame

While the story across each of the three books is formulaic, enough elements are differentiated that it doesn’t feel like a rinse and repeat effort and there is method in the repetition. The scenario of collecting the twelve swords automatically sets up a quest of the book situation where one sword becomes the target of the hunt and Shichika and Togame need to deal with whoever stands between them and the sword. However, in just these three books we travel from Shichika’s home island to a desert to a shrine and in each place they face off against a different kind of enemy with a different reason for holding firmly to the sword.

I honestly couldn’t say I was dissatisfied with anything in regards to reading this story. Except of course where book 2 is not yet released so I’m now waiting for the next three stories so that I can continue the journey.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 12 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 12 Cover

Relying on and Reaching Out To Others

We all know Natsume is a bit cut off emotionally. Volume 12 does an excellent job of showcasing the relationships he’s forged as well as pushing him to realise he cannot do everything alone and nor does he really want to. It is a great collection of stories and with Natori showing up for the final three chapters I was pretty thrilled with this volume.

Chapter 47 Answer Instead

This is perhaps the weakest story in the volume, though it is still pretty interesting. A yokai who mimics human voices asks Natsume for his help in finding another yokai who can restore paper so that he can read a note left by a human many years ago. As usual, Natsume gets very caught up in helping the yokai but it ends up being a pretty sad story.

Or maybe bittersweet would be the better way to phrase it.

The yokai lost his chance because he feared the outcome of making a real connection with the human girl and that sets the scene for the remaining stories in the volume.

Chapter 48 Name of the Mysterious One

It wouldn’t be a Natsume story about connecting with others without dealing with Reiko’s life. I really liked this story when I saw it in the anime and here it was just as fun to read and just as heart warming.

Natsume encounters an elderly lady who turns out to be a yokai, or maybe a former god, it is a little unclear. Whichever way, the woman asks for Natsume’s help in finding a powerful yokai to return a mirror to. As more of the story comes out, Natsume realises that the one the woman is looking for is Reiko.

Once again we see and hear about the lonely life Reiko had as she was unable to connect with either yokai or humans. And once again, we see how far Natsume has come in separating himself from that path.

Chapter 49 – 51 Beyond the Glass

This story involves both Tanuma and Natori and it is truly fantastic. Both of these characters know about Natsume being able to see yokai but Tanuma can’t see them himself or help much whereas Natori believes he knows better than Natsume when it comes to dealing with yokai. It makes for an interesting encounter.

Natsume unfortunately draws the attention of two yokai who imprison him in a bottle. As Tanuma tries to help him, he gets injured and the bottle is stolen by the yokai. Tanuma however isn’t going to leave it at that and tries to rescue Natsume, though fortunately Natori is also there to help of things might have gotten ugly.

The danger Natsume poses to his friends is all too clear here and yet without Tanuma, Natsume would not have made it through this encounter.

The contrast between each character, Natori, Tanuma and Natsume, is really nicely explored in this story and following on from the story about Reiko it really helps to distinguish how each of these characters are choosing to live and grow and the connections they have or sever.

I love reading these stories because they always leave me thinking, with a quiet smile, and just wanting to read more. Volume 12 is no exception and is a great, relaxing read.

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level 8 Light Novel Review

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 8

The party is finally splitting up and there are some dire consequences to be found.

It’s honestly going to be impossible to review this one without spoilers so if you haven’t read this far in the series, check out the links below for some of the earlier books or check out one of my other light novel reviews here.

For those still with me, level 8 really stepped things up. As much as I loved the last couple of volumes as they left Grimgar and travelled through the Dusk Realm but the end of the volume where they finally emerged back into Grimgar was a bit of a relief. The question became what now that they’ve gotten back to Grimgar considering it isn’t their world either (though at least there are more humans in Grimgar and they’ve gotten a bit used to it).

Well, it turns out a lot can happen when the party finally arrives back. They aren’t anywhere they know in Grimgar, in fact they are a long, long way away from their familiar territory and hunting grounds or allies that might help them. This presents a number of fairly immediate problems because even though Haruhiro and the gang have undeniably gotten stronger even before their trek through the Dusk Realm (and they most definitely found strength through enduring that), they are still very small fish in the larger pond.

So the team splits up in order to scout the surrounding area and figure out what to do next.

Honestly, as soon as they made this decision it was clear what was going to happen and yet they still managed to make this interesting. Ranta and Merry end up with one group made up of orcs and other inhumans while Haruhiro and the rest end up kind of attached to a mercenary unit that may or may not be assisting a samurai village.

As the team learn about this part of Grimgar, the Samurai villages, Arnold – a force of nature, and everything else that is going on, they are continuing to search for Merry and Ranta however Ranta as always has an interesting knack for survival. When up against an unbeatable enemy, make the enemy a friend remains his standard practice and while it might be argued in this instance his instant bow act saved Merry’s life, it would be difficult to say that Ranta has particularly grown as a character.

That said, his presentation in this volume was perhaps the most nuanced yet as it seemed he was well aware of his failings but desperately wanted to save Merry and couldn’t think of a better way to go about it. It made me quite interested in where his character might go, assuming of course he lives long enough to go anywhere from this point.

However, this does set up for a climax where Haruhiro and Ranta face off. Now, anyone who has read seven books in this series will be on their edge of their seat for this confrontation. While these two have been in the same team since the beginning, the friction between them has never gone away and finally seeing them on opposite sides for real is one of those character moments you are just grateful actually eventuated and they didn’t back away from it at the last minute.

Haruhiro Vs Rantar

While the conclusion is yet to be decided and I’m kind of hopeful that eventually they pull the team back together, Grimgar has a penchant for being very realistic about some things. Water once spilled can’t be returned to the glass and all that. Is this the end of Ranta in the group or will they find someway to save him?

Outside of the interesting team dynamic moments, I must say Grimgar continues to introduce some weird and yet interesting supporting characters. While such a large cast might be a problem if handled poorly, here they manage to keep the focus on how each encounter changes the core group so characters coming and going from the story around them is actually handled fairly well with enough reminders of who the important support cast are for us not to forget (even though it has been awhile since we’ve seen them as Haruhiro’s group have been separated for a fair while now).

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 8

The story continues to move at a good pace giving each moment enough time to have the appropriate emotional weight without lingering overly long on any one point and while Ranta’s dialogue remains fairly insufferable, it has become pretty accepted at this point that it is part of his character.

If anything, I’d have to say my only real criticism of the story at this point is that it has become decidedly serialised. Earlier books could be read more or less independently, though needed to be read in order, and these later ones pretty much build to a climax but leave so much still be to be discovered. That would be fine if all the books were out and while I have volume 9 to read and ready to go I suspect that I’ll soon want volume 10 and unfortunately it is pre-order only and Volume 11 isn’t out until October. That would be why I haven’t been in any rush to get through these volumes because I want the story relatively fresh when I read the next book.

Grimgar remains a really great read and I think the writing has gotten better since book 1. The story and world building are great, the character development remains believable, and the books haven’t fallen into a repetitive pattern as each new adventure really does build on the last but take us somewhere new to learn more about the world and characters. I very much recommend this series to anyone looking for a more serious isekai (though early books do still have too many random fanservice moments just because).

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 11 Manga Review

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11 Cover

It is always great when a story remains consistently this great and volume 11 of Natsume’s Book of Friends maintains everything that has been good about the series so far. While we move away from the exorcists to focus more on Natsume’s growing group of human friends and to face Natsume’s past, this volume continues to be a compelling read and fleshes out Natsume’s character and that of his friends Taki and Tanuma.

Chatpers 42 and 43: Sealed

The first story deals with Tanuma and Natsume arriving at Taki’s home during a rain shower. After some pleasantries they end up assisting her in cleaning out a store room and in the process Natsume accidentally breaks a seal on a yokai that Taki’s grandfather accidentally imprisoned. It isn’t exactly looking for a pleasant conversation.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11

This was great because it does put the three of these human characters together in a way that hasn’t really been done previously. Natsume is friends with Tanuma and friends with Taki, but previously the two of them have had little interaction. As the two characters who know the most about Natsume it is great to see them together here and trying to help Natsume as he is dealing with the yokai.

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 11

We also learn more about Taki’s grandfather and the way the yokai responded to him. While he couldn’t see yokai as Natsume can, he was very much obsessed with them and gather quite a crowd around him during his life. These yokai ultimately decide to help out in this story and that saves the day. Taki thanking them was an adorable moment even though she also can’t see them without the aid of the circle and generally speaking they aren’t willing to step in it.

Chapters 44 – 46: Long Way Home

Any of the stories that give us more insight into Natsume’s lonely childhood are really fantastic and this story gives us a double hit. Firstly we see another family he stayed with previously and how well that went… And we also see Natsume dealing with the sale of his family home and his final goodbye to it. Throw in a yokai that tormented him as a child and you have a really great story.

What really sells this is how much readers have come to love Natsume over the previous en volumes. If this story had come in earlier, it may not have had the impact it does here. But with Natsume where he is on his character journey, this seemed like the perfect moment for some reflection and facing the past and it was handled beautifully.

Nyanko-Sensei is of course along for the ride and so we get a little more of the relationship between Nyanko and Natsume, but the focus is unmistakably on Natsume’s growth.

All and all, volume 11 did not disappoint and I am read to sink my teeth into volume 12.

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Arifureta: From Commonplace To World’s Strongest Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Arifureta Volume 4 Cover

Complete a quest, rescue a child, save the hero, and win the girls!

Okay, volume 3 and I of this particular series parted on a fairly rough note. They’d introduced a character I pretty much despised and she was eating a lot of page time with comments I found neither interesting nor funny. I felt perhaps that this would be the end of my acquaintance with these characters and that we would go our separate ways after this volume.

Let me assure you, I’m not parting ways with this series.

The annoying character is most definitely still there, though with so much else happening in this volume Tio’s presence feels muted or diluted at least. But, everything is happening in this volume.

Arifureta Volume 4 Shea gets a new collar

There are two fairly major stories that happen in this volume and then they are book-ended by information that is pretty crucial to the ongoing narrative. It makes for a very satisfying read in a series where drama introduced within a volume resolves but the greater story it is apart of continues fairly seamlessly. This is my favourite kind of series to read where I feel like I was given a wonderful conclusion yet am desperate to read more to find out what the next thing for the characters is.

The first part of the story feels less consequential though it does introduce us to another character (yet another girl) that is going to have a fair impact on Hajime. After volume 3 reunited Hajime with his teacher, he’s definitely started thawing though that isn’t a huge improvement given he still treats most everyone outside of his harem as his enemy. No, they give Hajime a child to protect and while that could have gotten very inappropriate and a little uncomfortable given Hajime’s relationships with the other girls in his life, they actually make this one a fairly wholesome guardian and daughter relationship and the impact of having someone vulnerable and impressionable to protect pushes Hajime’s personality yet further toward the Hajime we met back in volume 1.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want that Hajime back. However the extreme personality make-over took Hajime to a place where he’s almost impossible to connect with so these small steps back to humanity are actually really appreciated and keep each step of the journey feeling fresh. Hajime isn’t wavering in his plans to defeat the gods and get himself back home and he’s still willing to trample whoever he needs to get there. But he is now carrying quite a few others with him.

While this was the shorter section of the book, it was nicely done. There were some battles and some city-wide destruction, and then Hajime moved on.

Which brings us to the second stage of the book. Finally Hajime is going to come face to face with the hero’s party and the other students. When first requested to go and rescue them, I really figured he’d walk away. Despite meeting Aiko in the last book and thawing a bit, and despite the influence of the child he was looking after, I honestly didn’t see Hajime as having captured enough of who he was to care about his former classmates.

Turns out I was right and wrong.

Arifureta Volume 4 Hajime and Kaori

It wasn’t the class he went to save but rather Kaori, the one person in the class who had been nice to him.

This is perhaps the first volume since the first that has devoted any time to fleshing out the students and their personalities and interactions. It is also the first time we find out why Kaori was so distraught when Hajime ‘died’ back in volume 1, you know, other than seeing a classmate fall into an abyss.

Arifureta Volume 4 - Kaori and Shizuku watch Hajime

It is a lovely bit of character development and they managed to simultaneously work in some world building because the students encountered a demon who ended up being way stronger than anticipated and surrounded by incredibly powerful monsters. We finally get a bit of a look at the threat the students were summoned to defeat.

All and all there’s little to complain about in this volume as it seems to keep powering from one event to the next and each part feels meaningful. There’s some excellent character moments from a huge number of the cast, and the ending will leave you wanting the next volume ASAP.

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