Vatican Miracle Examiner Series Review: This Show is in Search of a Miracle

Overview:

Hiraga and Roberto are a pair of priests sent by the Vatican to investigate numerous miracles around the world. The story is broken into several mysteries that the priests investigate while also carrying around a lot of personal baggage.

Review:

After the first mystery in this anime finished, I moved it very firmly into the ‘They Made This’ category. It was so over the top and full of every potential cliché you could fling at the Catholic Church, and it was like the writers were having a competition to see who could pack the most stupid idea into the story. The Hitler Clone remains my personal low point, though the pedophile comes a close second.

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And yet I continued watching. Partly this is because I have a thing for episodic supernatural stories with lead characters that are a little more stoic (Ghost Hunt and the like) and partly this was because, in spite of its silliness, at its core Vatican Miracle Examiner seemed to  want to be taken seriously. So I gave the show some more time.

What I gained from this is that each mystery after, while still excessively over packed with events, characters and ideas, seemed a little more solid and grounded. It was as though that desperate plea for attention of the first arc had gotten the sillier notions out of the way and done and the story started to find its feet. We also slowly got closer to the two priests at the centre of the story who at first seemed fairly generic and replaceable.

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Now the argument that it gets better later is a trickier one, because you do have to sit through some of that awful writing and pacing but by the second last mystery, I have to admit I was pretty into this story even if there were still a number of issue. And the last episode really nailed the tone I’d been searching for throughout the whole series. I don’t know that I can recommend a show on a final episode, particularly when the episode in question doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve seen the lead up to it and built up some relationship with these characters, but that last episode was exactly what I started watching this show to see.

Kind of a shame it took 11 episodes to get there.

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There’s also the issue of Lauren, who seems like an interesting character but remains strictly side-lined. I’d have loved to see him more involved in the story and in some of the cases. Yet the story has ended with little to nothing being done with his set up. Julia as well kind of remains a loose end that serves a valuable purpose but without news of any kind of sequel it just leaves us without any sense of closure on his story.

I do have to discuss the appearance of this show though. It is very brown. Like, really and incredibly dull to look at. Plus a lot of scenes happen at night or in dimly lit rooms with an excess of shadows. They were really working on a particular atmosphere but with the writing not quite holding up its end, mostly it just looks dull. Which is a shame, because aesthetically it could have worked quite well.

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The opening theme is also ridiculously intense for the pretty low key tone of the show. Really, you would think you were going to watch something where the priests are kicking in doors every episode and banishing demons back to hell after watching that opening. If I recall correctly, in the entire series the priests attempt one exorcism and then realise the kid isn’t possessed but drugged (honest mistake that one).

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Basically I am not recommending this anime. I ultimately enjoyed the final episodes and to be honest, I’ll probably rewatch it at some point because this is still very much the type of show I like rewatching (I know, I’m weird), but it isn’t objectively very good and even from a pop-corn entertainment point of view there’s better out there.


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Friday’s Feature: Was That Good Atmosphere Or Just Poor Visuals?

Welcome to October and the lead up to Halloween. I know Australia doesn’t technically do Halloween but I find it a lot more fun than a lot of other holidays (less tinsel for one) plus Halloween lends itself to movie marathons. So, tis the season to drag out all the B Grade horror you can find and binge to your heart’s content. In the meanwhile, my features this month are going to focus on various aspects of horror (some more directly than others).

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Today, I want to look at the visual aspects that make up horror. One thing  you know going in to a horror (of any sort) is that it is probably going to be dark. Tremors is probably an exception given it is set in a blindingly bright desert and most of the action happens in full daylight, but it is more a comedy than a horror anyway so we’ll move right along. One thing that is a problem when you have a lot of dark going on is that it starts getting hard for the audience to distinguish what is happening in a scene.

This is something that was a real issue in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the grainy quality of the show, plus poor distinction between light and dark, meant some scenes just ended up being a grainy mess. It wasn’t until the DVD’s came out that some of that got cleaned up and even now the first and second season aren’t exactly amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliantly lit scenes that set the tone and give us the needed contrast and then there are all the other shots.

However, let’s link this back to anime.

During the Summer 2017 season I watched Vatican Miracle Examiner and while this isn’t a horror by any standard, it was trying very hard for a creepy and unnerving atmosphere. I say trying because it was let down by its writing and characterisation and ultimately what we end up with are a lot of dark scenes with poor contrast and very little to draw us in.

I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of brown, grey and black. I’m not even sure in most of those images what I’m supposed to be focussed on. Basically, this is someone thinking all they need to make something creepy is to paint it black and they’ve just kind of missed the point about how atmosphere actually works.

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On the other hand, Another really gets atmosphere. The slow pace and ending to the story may irk some people, but looking at how the anime visually creates atmosphere is fascinating. It is every bit as dark in scenes as Vatican Miracle Examiner but in those moments brings the characters to the front, and the character usually contrasts sharply with the rest of the scene. You can always clearly see these characters, particularly their facial expressions (or in the case above, the blood splatter). You still get the sense of a dark place but now you have something to connect you to that scene and to distinguish it from all the other grainy black and brown backgrounds.

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Even without characters in the scene, Another manages to make its point clear. Yes, the scene is dark and cluttered, but we have the red light in one corner that gives way to the green lighting on the other side of the room. It is darker in the foreground and lighter further back in the room, meaning we can actually see the room in all its creepiness (because dolls are creepy). The room, and actually most scenes in Another, lacks symmetry, which just adds another element of strangeness to the whole thing.

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The final sequences in Another are all fairly dark, taking place on a rainy night, but a handy fire manages to illuminate sequences with an eerie golden glow. It creates strange shadows and a sense of movement, while at the same time allowing what needs to be seen to be seen. This show was dark and a lot of the sequences were dark, but it was never hard to see what was going on and you always knew what was important on the screen. These visuals when combined with the music and the fairly creepy story of a cursed class worked really well to construct the atmosphere that became the highlight of the show.

Vatican1cBack to Vatican Miracle Examiner and if we look at the scene above, well… At least there is a light source in the foreground because otherwise we would have lost the limited bit we can see. And I guess it kind of shows us the facial expressions of those in the foreground. However, the best descriptor for the image above is murky. By the time the audience has even figured out what they are looking at and what might be the focus, the anime will have moved on.

Given the kinds of stories I love, particularly around this time of year, I end up watching a lot of shows that are quite dark visually. I always appreciate it when they do more than just make things hard to see and actually consider what the audience is looking at and what affect that will have.

So over to you. Which anime do you think have managed to create an excellent atmosphere with their visuals and which do you think missed the mark?


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The Best of Summer 2017

Okay, we have made it to the announcement for the best of Summer 2017. Starting with my favourites of the season and then the reader’s poll results. With over 100 votes again, and a few more than Spring, I am hoping that the poll is becoming more reflective of the feelings of the community, however nearly 50% of the votes were split between three titles. Read on and all will be revealed.

My Favourite Show

My Hero Academia has sat at the top of my list each and every week and looking back over the season, I don’t see any reason to change it. If Princess Principal had wrapped up its story, it may have pushed past My Hero Academia, but without a full conclusion, it just couldn’t beat the ongoing story of the high school wannabe super heroes.

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I’ve really enjoyed this show over the last two seasons and I’m glad there’s been an announcement of a season 3. It isn’t the most amazing anime ever, but it is good fun and I could certainly stand more shows that I just enjoy watching because they are fun.

My Favourite Character

Uraraka from My Hero Academia. She’s adorable but really got to shine at times during the second season of My Hero Academia.

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Admittedly though, she did not have a lot of competition this season as a number of shows saw me struggling to even remember character names because I was that disinterested in remembering them.

My Favourite Story

This is actually really tricky because honestly the stories this season were… bland (well, quite a few were broken but I was trying not to be too critical). Princess Principal left itself wide open for a sequel as did My Hero Academia. Gamers and Fastest Finger First weren’t overly concerned with telling a story. A lot of the other shows the story was just complete rubbish when you broke it down (at least the ones I was watching). So… Okay, I’m going to give this one to Sagrada Reset.

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I absolutely loved the way this story brought everything together in the end. The presentation of the story might be questionable, but the narrative itself is pretty amazing once you get to the end of it and realise how cohesive they manage to make it.

My Favourite Opening Theme

Very easy choice. Princess Principal was by far the best theme of the season for me (though I kind of liked 18if as well but for a very different reason).

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The opening of Princess Principal just captured the feeling of the show beautifully and I loved the visuals that went with it. I really enjoyed listening to and watching the opening theme each week.

My Favourite Visuals

Relatively easy choice this season. As fun and colourful as My Hero Academia is, it is pretty standard from a visual point of view. Most of the shows I watched this season were a bit hit and miss. Knight’s & Magic had pretty fights and not a lot else, same as Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu. Ultimately, my favourite overall visuals had to be from 18if.

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That was also hit and miss from a quality point of view but each week was interesting to see what style we were going to get.

Favourite Screen Capture

I haven’t had this category before but I just had to share this one. It is going to be my favourite for awhile.

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I quite like it visually but the quote is kind of priceless and I really want that on a book mark.

Reader’s Choice – Best Anime of Summer 2017

Here it is:

Best of Summer

For the second season in a row, My Hero Academia snuck in a win. It was losing to Made in Abyss for a lot of the voting period and Princess Principal was a close third for most of the vote. However, in the home stretch, My Hero Academia bounced into the lead position. I’m glad it won this time given the season is now finished. I really had a lot of fun with this one and from some of the posts I’ve read on other blogs it is pretty clear that a lot of people have enjoyed following Midoriya’s journey.

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That is officially the end of the Summer 2017 anime season for me though most of the full series reviews are still to be posted. As always I’d love to know your favourites so please leave a comment below. Also, later today the worst of Summer post will come out so be sure to check it out.


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Vatican Miracle Examiner Episode 12: Why Wasn’t the Rest of the Series This Good?

Review:

I know some people will find this episode of Vatican Miracle Examiner overly emotional trite and it would be hard to argue that point. The focus is entirely on Hiraga’s brother who is dying in a hospital full of other dying kids and we get a flash back of another boy who died to young (and happened to know Roberto because this show loves an excess of coincidence).

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And in case that wasn’t enough forced drama the show throws in dead parents and visions of other dead and dying people. My consistent complaint about this show is that it always over-reaches in its mysteries and as a result the whole thing is left feeling half-baked.

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Yet episode 12, with a single episode and not three or four, manages to deliver an emotionally moving and dramatic story that makes you care for the characters and question the nature of miracles. Something that not one of the other mysteries managed in all their over the top antics. If only the rest of the series had managed the tone of this episode I probably would have liked it a lot more.

I’ll get around to a series review of this soon.


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Vatican Miracle Examiner Episode 11: A Conclusion of Sorts

Review:

This week they solve the mysteries and we actually realise that for once not every single weird thing is connected as coincidence ends up playing quite the role in linking some of the events. It makes the main mystery make more sense but it means some of the answers for other things are highly unsatisfying. (He stowed away under a plane? Really?)

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I think the biggest issue is the sheer amount of content these mysteries want to pack in. Underground people, cults, murders and love quadrangles, miracles… there’s so much going on that very little of it can get enough time to feel satisfying. The explanations are similarly rushed and just kind of come together in exposition at the end.

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While this does bring this mystery to a close, apparently there is one more episode so I wonder what that will give us given they clearly don’t have time to start another mystery arc, and there is no way they can give us closure on some ongoing issues that the priests have.


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Vatican Miracle Examiner Episode 10: They Threw Him Off the Matterhorn?

Review:

You know sometimes when you are watching something and there’s this one line or moment that just sticks with you afterwards, even though it is really inconsequential? Well, I had that moment while watching this episode of Vatican Miracle Examiner. In an effort to prove that Hiraga doesn’t really get people or jokes or anything else outside of the church, he gullibly believes the investigator when he tells him another character was taken up the Matterhorn, frozen, and then thrown off resulting in him crashing through the roof of a barn.

There’s actually nothing wrong with this scene and it is quite amusing, except that the fact that Hiraga doesn’t get these sorts of things was told to us by him early in the episode, and then emphasised when he didn’t get what Roberto was implying about the relationships from 30 something years ago, and then they hit the audience in the head with it in this scene. If this is such an important character point, possibly it should have come up in the 9 previous episodes rather than having the writers just get a hammer out and keep pounding the point home in the space of twenty minutes.

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Anyway, onto the mystery.

Hiraga has apparently figured out the whole rainbow light mystery in the church, though only part of that has been explained to the audience, but the priests all but don’t care as they are fully into the murder investigation. Which has now turned into some sort of economic terrorism case involving forged American money and a boy who lived underground and lived on bugs. This show really does love to overcomplicate everything.

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Still, it isn’t like I’m walking away mid-mystery so I guess we’ll all just wait and see what happens next week.


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Vatican Miracle Examiner Episode 9: Somehow a Decapitating Clown Just Doesn’t Sound Scary

Review:

And here we go again with yet another mystery. This time Hiraga and Roberto find themselves in a small village where a magic horn plays before people see rainbow coloured lights every single day. There’s also potentially a killer clown in the forest behind the church and for reasons that will never make sense everyone gets locked in their rooms at night (as Roberto points out, that’s just a fire hazard).

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I think my issue with these mysteries is very simply that they try to do too much. Every  time they go to investigate one thing, there’s about four other things going on that somehow all end up relating. Just once it would be nice for the miracle to be pretty straight forward but then there just be a separate story that they stumble upon while they are there.

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Not to mention, if people keep dying when these two show up, eventually they are going to stop being let in to new places.


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Vatican Miracle Examiner Episode 8: The Truth is Revealed (Kind Of)

Review:

I’m in two minds about this episode. This was a much more satisfying conclusion to a mystery than the first mystery presented in Vatican Miracle Examiner where they decided to go for Hitler clones as their solution. I liked that Roberto got to take centre stage (quite literally) in rationally explaining away each prophesy. That was fairly satisfying to watch.

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But I less liked that Hiraga pretended to disagree with Roberto, that they then had to link the mystery to Roberto’s tragic childhood, the unnecessarily loose ends that they left hanging, and even the final resolution where both Roberto and Hiraga offer to quit being examiners to atone for stuffing up when technically they didn’t. Admittedly, debunking a prophesy and a sainthood on camera in front of a large audience is probably not part of their standard operating procedure either.

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So yeah, some good stuff this episode. Certainly a better ending to this mystery than the last, but I’m still not sold on this show overall.


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Summer 2017 Week 8

This has been one exhausting week and I have really felt relieved most evenings when I have finally been able to watch an episode or two of anything. A few shows moved down the list this week, though it seems almost a race for the bottom of each level and some shows that should have dropped found their position saved simply because they didn’t bug me as much as other shows. That said, I’m really glad that this list I do each week is just a guide because I know that week’s when I’m tired I get far more critical and impatient with shows that probably didn’t go as far wrong as it felt while watching them.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on the shows of the season so please leave me a comment below.

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Must Watch

My Hero Academia (Episode 33)

Episode 33 gets us right back on track with the students returning to school all fired up after their internships and about to go into final exams before Summer training camp. There’s some good reveals in this episode and continues the story very well.

Princess Principal (Episode 7)

While not an amazing episode, episode 7 delivered an interesting enough story with the girls hunting down a soldier’s uniform in a laundry. I’m kind of hoping that this show still has a few surprises in store for the viewer but even if it continues in this episodic fashion, it is still fairly quality viewing.

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Usually Entertaining

Sagrada Reset (Episode 21)

I know, that’s quite a jump from ‘They Made This’ to ‘Usually Entertaining’ but my thoughts on this show are fairly confused. Individually, each episode is pretty terrible in terms of pacing and the way the characters are portrayed. But, it has remained consistent in the way the characters have been constructed and more importantly, as a narrative the ending is proving the worth of all of that set up. While it still has time to fall apart or into the trap of pulling a win from nowhere, it really feels like everything prior has had some sort of purpose now and that is making my overall impression of the series far more favourable than it was at the mid-season mark where mostly I just wondered what the point of all of this was.

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Okay, I Guess

Gamers (Episode 6)

Pointing out I am still personally amused by how cliché ridden and filled with teen drama (exaggerated enormously) this has become but to be honest I just don’t think I can actually call this show better than okay. Realistically, it just isn’t very good and the need to repeat the same one second interval four times just to get every character’s internal monologue into the mix kind of proved how poorly this show is constructing its characters that they have to narrate their current feelings for it to make any sense at critical moments.

In Another World With My Smartphone (Episode 7)

Thank-goodness we moved on from slimes. I’m not sure what we moved on to other than continuing to establish the harem, but the sense of fun and entertainment was back and we even got a dragon fight (even if it did seem to be thrown in for the sake of having a cool fight sequence with Touya’s magic). We then had a fight with a beastman, some poorly undercover spies, a random 600 year old fairy, and a few new magical applications. This show remains totally cliché in every sense of the word, but I’m still highly amused.

18if (Episode 7)

Another random witch and her dream, but this time Haruto doesn’t really do much of anything in the narrative. The story just kind of unfolds while he watches on. As he’s the only character that has consistently appeared (other than cat guy) this seems like an interesting choice and I’m not sure what it means.

Fastest Finger First (Episode 7)

All hands on deck as they prepare for the regular meet and learn more about quizzes and each other. This show isn’t trying to be much more than watchable but it is succeeding at that and those into random trivia are still going to have a lot of fun each and every episode.

Hell Girl: Fourth Twilight (Episode 6)

With this episode, I think the fourth season of this show is actually going to end up being my favourite. I’ve really enjoyed these mid-season episodes and hopefully the show can continue to build on this.

Clean Freak Aoyama Kun (Episode 7)

Nothing changing here. Still pleasantly watchable but not good. Occasionally funny and at other times I am pretty sure I’m missing something that maybe was supposed to be a joke. Overall, watch if bored, otherwise you are not really missing much by avoiding.

Knight’s & Magic (Episode 8)

Last week I said the story here was kind of average. I’m going to retract that statement. The story is starting to appear to be missing in action. That doesn’t mean this isn’t fun to watch but at eight episodes in there’s no clear enemy/villain/antagonist/problem and there’s no actual focus other than Ernesti can build robots. While that works well enough for twenty minutes, it isn’t exactly leaving a lasting impression.

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life (Episode 8)

“I really wish this was better, but it isn’t.” – This continues to be my main thought about this series. There is a lot of potential in the idea of the show and it remains watchable, but basically isn’t doing much.

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They Made This

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu (Episode 8)

At episode 8, this show is boring. That’s the only way to put it. It’s pretty, the character designs are nice, there’s some good music and when they fight it gets exciting, but the story and the characters have been painfully dull. It is nothing wrapped up in shiny packaging and getting worse in terms of emptiness as the season progresses.

Vatican Miracle Examiner (Episode 7)

This week shows that once again the writers of Vatican Miracle Examiner just like clutter in their narrative. A simple mystery is being overloaded with references and ideas and the problem is to resolve the mystery is going to need an ending at least as crazy as the one we got for the first mystery and to be honest I’d prefer they didn’t repeat that.

Chronos Ruler (Episode 7)

When a show starts its episode with the main characters standing on top of an aeroplane in mid-flight and then they proceed to have melee there, you just know the show has officially run out of ways to keep you interested and is now just throwing whatever scenario it can at you to make sure you don’t realise the plot is going nowhere.

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Tried and Dropped

Restaurant to Another World (Episode 1)

Centaur’s Life (Episode 1)

Convenience Store Boyfriends (Episode 1)

Saiyuki Reload Blast (Episode 1)

Battle Girl High School (Episode 1)

Hina Logic (Episode 1)

Tsuredure Children (Episode 1)

Fox Spirit Matchmaker (Episode 1)

Aho Girl (Episode 1)

The Irresponsible Galaxy Tylor (Episode 1)

This week I’m wondering who you think the best female character of the season is. Let me know below.


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Vatican Miracle Examine Episode 7: Snake Bites and Visions

Review:

The mystery continues with Roberto getting increasingly worked up over the mystery, the prophecy of his death, some childhood trauma, old texts found in the library, and finally a snake bit and a demonic vision. Once again Vatican Miracle Examiner is determined to shove everything into one story and it just keeps piling one thing on top of another and much like the first mystery, this really starts to hurt the impact of each revelation or clue.

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Though, I am kind of enjoying this mystery more than the first one despite still picking fault with the pacing and delivery.  This mystery has at least managed to give both priests some purpose and they have begun to feel like an actual team rather than a one man show with an overprotective tag-along.

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One thing that did annoy was that Roberto didn’t just share his thoughts on the corpse (you know, pre-snake bite) with his partner. Instead, the audience is deliberately kept in the dark in an unnatural way on this point. That’s an annoying way to add suspense.

This show isn’t getting any better or any worse. It kind of just is at this point.


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