Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest Light Novel Review – I Dare You To Call the Protagonist Overpowered

Arifureta Volume 1 Cover

This one a novel I picked up off a recommendation from the Book Depository when there happened to be a sale and I had 10% off. I hadn’t heard of the title or read anything about it. As a result, it ended up fairly low in my read pile and I passed over it a number of times before I finally decided one day to start it over a long weekend. Well, a day and some eye strain later I’d devoured it, but was it actually any good?

Review:

Look, if you have an issue with isekai stories, stories where the weak guy suddenly becomes an unstoppable killing machine, or stories that insist on making the vampire girl look like a pre-teen and finding any excuse for her not to be wearing clothes, right now you already know that this book isn’t going to work for you. This book definitely ticks off pretty much any trope you want to throw at the isekai genre and it does it with a smug sense of ‘look what I did’. Yet that is what probably works in the book’s best interest. It doesn’t try to hide its genre or shy away from it. It isn’t ashamed to be exactly what it was trying to be and as a result this is a story full of excitement, danger, slightly uncomfortable moments when turning a page and finding a fairly unclothed vampire girl staring at me, and generally a lot of fun.

So what is Arifureta about?

Essentially Hajime is your standard protagonist for these kinds of stories. He’s an otaku who likes to sleep during class and doesn’t have many friends. Then his entire class get summoned into a fantasy world where they are tasked with saving it. And they all have powers, only Hajime’s is considered pretty lame and useless and he ends up being beaten up by some of his own classmates.

So far, so standard, and only some fairly decent writing managed to get me into this story. It isn’t exceptional, but considering some of quality of writing in some of the light novels I’ve read in the last year, it is perfectly readable and occasionally there’s some very nice description thrown in amongst what seems to be a fairly hefty exposition dump setting up the scenario.

Despite that, the story manages to draw you in as the students deal with some fairly real challenges with suddenly gaining power but having no training or actual skills and dealing with a world most of them thought only existed in stories or games. There’s a lot going on with the political situation of the world and plenty of what is happening in these pages is set up that could potentially be very interesting further down the line though remains fairly underused in this volume.

Page 106 is where it all just decides its had enough of the play nice with the class where the biggest issues involve avoiding being bullied. Hajime is literally tossed under a bus by one of his own classmates in a misguided fit of jealousy while the teens are training in a dungeon and the next thing he knows he’s sent plummeting to the very bottom level far below where anyone even realised the dungeon reached. It’s a pretty tragic event and one that isn’t over.

See the next 250 or so pages deal very much with Hajime climbing his way back out of the dungeon. There are impossibly tough monsters around every corner and our protagonist is not getting off unscathed. I may have warned you earlier about the nudity, but here’s a warning about the violence. In a very early monster encounter Hajime has his arm torn off and eaten. No joke and no get out of jail free card for the kiddo. He’s just traumatised and it takes him a fair while to do anything after that event. However, it is a magic based world so at least he doesn’t die and he does find the mean to begin rebuilding himself into the nastiest thing to ever crawl out of a dungeon.

Arifureta Volume 1b

And that’s where this book does distinguish itself quite well. Other than the occasional flashes to what the rest of the class are up to, we spend the rest of this adventure watching Hajime fight for his life and develop the tools he’s going to need to become a seriously overpowered hero. In the process he’s going to lose most of what made him human. Some things are ripped from him (like his arm) but others are things he willingly discards in a quest to become something that can survive in this world.

In that, his meeting with Yue becomes pivotal because it was possible Hajime would become something totally unrecognisable and relatable but the vampire girl manages to reawaken some of the humanity inside of him. The dynamic between the pair might be awkward at times but it was most definitely an essential development in this journey.

Overall, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this adventure and it clearly isn’t done with volume 1. There’s ridiculous amounts of world and lore still to explore and the characters have clear goals to continue to work towards. While this is hardly the best thing ever written it was incredibly bingeable and I most definitely added the next book to my wish list as soon as I finished this one.


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Karandi James

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Yona of the Dawn Volume 1 Manga Review: The Story Begins

This is a manga I’ve been recommended endlessly and I’ve actually really wanted to give it a go because the anime just kind of left me wanting the rest of the story. That said, there’s a long way to go before I get to anything new so how does volume 1 go at making me want to read on?

Anime Review: Akatsuki no Yona

Review:

Shoujo isn’t really my style and while there are a handful of romances near and dear to my heart, it isn’t exactly a genre I go out of my way to track down. Yona of the Dawn as an anime I found interesting, but I’ve never been the die-hard fan so many have become and in terms of red-headed heroines I would have taken Shirayuki over Yona any day. The reason for this I outlined quite clearly in my anime review. The story wasn’t finished. What we got was a very long introduction into what seemed like an amazing tale and then we never found out where it went. That kind of soured m overall enjoyment of it as it all just felt incomplete.

That issue isn’t solved by reading volume one of the manga and I knew I was committing to a far more long term project when I decided to try this manga but I don’t think I was prepared for how little would be covered in this first volume.

We meet Yona, Hak and her father and all three of these characters are as interesting as they came off in the anime and their relationship is interesting to see in action before Su Won comes along and pretty much crushes Yona’s world in an instant. It’s great to read and visually this manga is really quite gorgeous to look at, one of the few times I actually think I prefer the visuals here to the anime as there is a real richness to the detail in so many of the panels that seemed lacking in the anime.

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However, the first volume ends and we’ve barely seen Yona and Hak escape the palace and they haven’t even really gone anywhere yet. This pacing may very well kill my enthusiasm for finding out what lies beyond the end of the anime if it continues this slowly. Then again, it isn’t as though the book feels empty.

The anime did an excellent job of bringing these characters to life, but like with the visuals, there’s just a little something extra in the manga. A more nuanced approach to each character that makes them feel a little more real and a little more grounded, and all and all it was quite the pleasure to read.

If I had any disappointment it would be the book ended and I kind of felt I hadn’t got very far into a story I really do want to reach the end of at some point. Of course, if I’d read this without knowing the anime, I’d probably be equally disappointed in the heroine. She doesn’t come off looking all that great in this volume. And while I know that she is going to undertake a fairly wonderful tranformative journey, this starting point might have seriously put me off if I hadn’t gone in with the knowledge that this weak Princess was going to grow.

Hak on the other-hand comes off as a great character from the word go and Su Won remains a character I am endlessly intrigued by. I’m really hoping future volumes flesh out both of these characters more than the anime ever did as I really am keen to know more about them.

That said, I should thank everyone who has pushed this title at me as to be honest I’m pretty sure I will love reading forward. I have the second volume already though I haven’t read it quite yet (I have quite the stack of reviews to get through first of other books I’ve read), and depending on how that goes I might try to get two or three more volumes covered by the end of the year, but again, I’ll see how it goes.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this manga but please don’t spoil future volumes for me as while I’ve read heaps about this story already I’m trying really hard to take each volume as it comes.


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Karandi James

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Kieli Volume 1 Novel Review: Finding A Place To Be You Is Always Hard

Kieli is a lonely girl with only a ghost roommate for company until the day she meets Harvey, an undying soldier who is being pursued by the church. These two unlikely companions will travel together and may just find what they are looking for in one another.

Review:

I have to admit, there was something interesting about reading Kieli even if I’m not thrilled enough to go looking for a second book. For me, this story was great to read and I loved watching Kieli and Harvey interacting with the commentary of the ‘corporal’, a ghost who lived inside a radio they carried. But I’m also kind of feeling that for me this was enough of that story. Certainly there are wider implications and more that can go on in the world, but I liked where this story chose to finish and felt a sense of completion from it. So I am going to recommend reading this book even while I decline to read any further in the series at the moment (I may eventually change my mind).

There’s a lot of fairly familiar antics going on in Kieli with the orphan girl who is a bit different getting picked on by others in the school and being the target of mistaken charity from others. Even her interactions with Becca, the ghost roommate, are all pretty much what you would expect. However, the familiar set-up is taking place in a world that is fresh and new even while it reflects a lot of what we’ve seen before.

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Set on a world colonised long ago and all but out of resources after a devastating war, there’s a sense that everything here is coming to an end and the people are just going through the motions of living because there’s nothing better to do. From a technological point of view there’s a strange mix between old and new as there are weapons and machines left over from by-gone eras that are pretty fantastic, and then there are things more reminiscent of more of the 19th Century. The mix works well to create a world that feels fresh even while a lot of what it presents has been done before.

Where it really missed a chance to distinguish itself was in the main antagonist of the novel, the controlling church and the bureaucracy beneath it. While religious organisations and dictatorship governments are pretty easy targets for dystopian settings, it felt like Kieli could have really tried something different if it wanted to given the nature of the setting and the history, and yet it does make perfect sense that the people did fall back to a theocracy of sorts.

Despite the intriguing setting, this is very much a story about Kieli and Harvey and while they are both products of the world they live in, they are first and foremost people who have been deeply hurt and for various reasons have cut themselves off from others. Despite Harvey’s secrets and the fact that they both see ghosts, they are both characters that it is easy to emphasise with and that is one of the greatest strengths of the story.

Some decent action sequences, including a train escape, and some supernatural goings on with the ghosts all make for a fairly interesting plot while we watch the two characters slowly come out of their self-imposed shells.

As I said, I really enjoyed reading this book and found it quite interesting, but for me the end point it enough. It’s like getting to the end of a movie and the characters get their happily ever after and then you realise there’s a sequel where they just kind of mess everything up for the characters again. I’m happy where this ended and where the characters are so for now I’ll leave Kieli and Harvey alone but if you are looking for something a bit interesting to read, than Kieli might just be what you are looking for.


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Karandi James

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The Devil is a Part Timer Volume 1 Light Novel Review

The Devil is a Part Timer is one of those rare comedy anime I fell in love with. It was even my very first series review on this blog. So now I’ve tried the light novel. What did I think?

Review:

I’m wondering how I would have taken to this book if I’d never seen the anime. Mostly because, I really didn’t enjoy reading it very much. The few moments of genuine enjoyment I found came when I was remembering how a scene was portrayed in the anime, rather than the words on the page. And given the length of time it took me to finish this as I regularly would stop reading to do literally anything else, kind of indicated I wasn’t getting into it.

Part of that definitely comes from my personal distaste of comedy. While the anime managed to pull off the absurdity of the situation the characters were in the book feels like it is playing it more straight and the whole thing doesn’t quite connect. The other issue being, that when I think of this series in book form, I was expecting something more along the lines of Douglas Adam or at least Pratchett in terms of sardonic tone to the narration and that was utterly missing. As was any tone really.

That isn’t actually an exaggeration. There is literally no personality in the writing here. The dialogue that the characters are given, has personality. The narration does not. Or rather it does but it hasn’t quite committed to the absurdity of the situation and the end result is something quite flat.

For what it is worth, the plot works really well. If you’ve seen the anime, you know it, though you will get a few more details about Emi and some of the politics behind things, but essentially the Demon King lost to the Hero and fled through a gate ending up on earth where there is no magic. As a result, he resorts to working at a fast food restaurant while he waits to reclaim his power, but in the meantime he’s determined to work his way up the management chain to take over the world in the most ordinary of manners. All that would be fine except the hero followed him as well and she wants to make sure he never returns back to their world but she also can’t bring herself to kill him when he’s defenceless.

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This plot works well and when both the Hero and Devil King are attacked, the threat plays out really well as does the reluctant teaming up of the two enemies who now have learned to see each other in a different context.

Basically, the plot and the ideas behind it are solid enough if a little undeveloped.

The support cast aren’t used overly well and Chiho tragically gets thrown into the role of love-sick teen followed by damsel in distress with few traits in her favour. While it is all well and good to have her character there, the fact that both Maou and Emi end up protecting her and liking her in their own ways kind of feels like her character should have a bit more going for her than being sweet. And yet, nothing. She doesn’t do or say one interesting thing in the story and exists purely as a plot point. And Alciel is even more ridiculously useless in the novel than he was in the anime and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.

This is one of those rare cases where for me the adaptation was much better. The comedy worked for me in a visual form with music and the character voices driving the dialogue. As a text, I just didn’t feel it and the story, while it works, isn’t interesting enough without the comedic edge to push it into the realm of memorable.

Lots of people seem to like this one as a light novel, but for me its another pass and I won’t be going on any further with this series.


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Karandi James

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Are You Alice? Volume 1 Manga Review

While I’m not the biggest manga reader, I was kind of looking forward to this one having read some fairly positive reviews. How does this gender bending tale of Alice in Wonderland go?

Review:

There’s nothing overly original about reworking the classic Alice in Wonderland. Even Ouran High School Host Club had an Alice episode thrown in. However, my issue with Wonderland inspired tales remains the same; too many of them rely on people just accepting weird things happen in Wonderland and don’t really consider how they might make that setting believable other than telling us it is Wonderland.

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Are You Alice? very much fell into this camp of stories that introduces characters that are given names connecting them to the original tale, but little is done outside of that to establish their character, background or motive. It is like the write feels you can short-cut all the things that would help the audience connect with a character simply because they are the Hatter or whoever and of course we should know their nature. However, that leaves us with a shallow impression of characters. They wear a facade similar to something we know but they undeniably are acting in different ways in a narrative that actually is interesting, but we’re not given the time to establish anything in its own right as they want to jump into people doing things without providing context.

And maybe that works for some people. They’ll happily just nod and accept the setting as Wonderland and the base starting point for all characters is the established trope that we’re all familiar with.

For me though, it was an ongoing issue while reading this. The Alice but not Alice vibe permeates everything and while I actually like the idea that accepting a name is the same as accepting a role and the journey the ‘Not-Alice’ is on, I never really clicked with anything happening in this volume.

It’s also visually pretty ugly. Not the character designs. They are quite nice and clearly some time and attention went into them. But backgrounds, especially the streets which we spend a long time walking up and down, are all kind of basic ruled lines and while the characters are suitably zany given the setting, Wonderland itself is not portrayed in anyway as being ‘wonderful’.

So this series is going to get a pass from me as I don’t really intend to continue on. I am really curious about how the rules work and about the Alice’s that have come before, and even the White Rabbit, but there were too many things that didn’t work for me in this series to consider reading on.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

 


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Karandi James

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Strike the Blood Volume 1 Light Novel Review

Overview:

Akatsuki is having a string of bad luck what with having had vampire powers forced upon him. Worse that he still has to brave the summer heat and sun to go and take make-up exams. And worse still, Himeragi, a middle school girl wielding a spear and a righteous attitude has just landed in his life and has no intention of going away.

Review:

I never really planned to pick this book up. I’d watched the first season of the anime and while it was watchable I didn’t find it noteworthy enough to work at tracking down the follow up and more or less forgot about it. However, sales do strange things to people, and so I found myself opening a parcel with this inside. I’m actually kind of glad.

While the book still has the definite harem set-up going on that the series seemed to be about, not to mention vampires and middle-school girls are a definite combination for some uncomfortable observations to be made by a male protagonist, and yet there’s a genuine fun and humour to the writing here as well as some decently described action sequences. Okay, the writing isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely keeps you moving forward only lingering briefly on how much of the girl’s neck he can see and whether or not his loli-teacher is dressed appropriately for the summer. Plus noting the accessories on his classmates outfit is just a little bit strange given how unobservant he seems about everything else.

Strike2

But to focus on those details kind of takes away from the positives that this book has and there are definitely some positives. While this is strictly set-up and essentially shoving Himeragi forcibly into Akatsuki’s life, the two have some genuine chemistry at times and the banter between them is quite easy to read. Villains, both real and just street thugs, have some reasonable moments and despite ultimately only existing to be defeated they make a reasonable showing before their demise.

The support cast, despite being girl heavy, is also quite well done with most of the characters having distinct personalities and roles outside of falling over Akatsuki.

I’m still not going to say this is a must read. There’s only so many times you can deal with a lazy vampire who doesn’t really want to use their power before it gets a little dull, but I don’t actually regret giving this one a go.


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Karandi James

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Demon Love Spell Volume 1 Manga Review

Overview:

This is the story of Miko, a shrine maiden, who can’t exactly see spirits even though her parents are both very good at banishing spirits. However, one day, when responding to a request from a friend, she attempts to banish Kagura, a demon who feeds off women, and she seals his powers, kind of.

Review:

Okay, I’m going to straight out point out that this isn’t my usual kind of thing. However, I do enjoy reading supernatural romance in novels and this particular story was recommended to me so given I’ve been trying manga I decided to give it a go. The result wasn’t bad. This is a perfectly readable story, however I wasn’t surprised to learn it wasn’t originally intended to be an ongoing story. It definitely feels wrapped up fairly early on and then they throw in yet more of the same to keep the story going.

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There’s not a lot really to this story. Miko is dedicated but pretty clueless when it comes down to it and Kagura is a demon. Once his powers are sealed he becomes targeted by other demons so he ends up working with Miko, enhancing her powers at times, in order to survive. He also enters her dreams to seduce her and generally mess with her. By the end of the book they are kind of a couple but to be honest Miko is still pretty clueless and Kagura is having things go his way far too easily.

I don’t dislike Kagura as a character. He could actually be quite interesting. My issue is more with Miko who I find pretty bland as a protagonist and just a little bit too much of a doormat. Even when Kagura is sealed and shrunk (and adorable I might point out), she is so easily manipulated by him.

As for the rest of the story, there are some great moments if you happen to really like supernatural stories involving demons and the like. While mostly they consist of demon or demons show up because they’ve heard Kagura has been weakened, Miko somehow gets entangled and over her head, Kagura says something scathing and then either gives Miko some power or she unseals him so he can deal with the situation. Still, using Kagura as a key chain attached to her bag in his tiny form, the parents making him a new outfit complete with protective charm, and even the snake demon that turns out to be a fox in disguise are all interesting in their own way even if the approach remains pretty formulaic.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll continue onto volume 2, but I can certainly see the appeal of this series and enjoyed this first book well enough. That said, I think I’ll leave Kagura and Miko to their dreams and look for something else to read.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody 1 Light Novel Review: And We’re Once Again Trapped in a Game

After enjoying the first volume of Grimgar and Fantasy and Ash I decided to just dive into this whole light novel thing and when the Book Depository had a bit of a sale, and I had a discount code, I ordered the first volume of a number of series just to try. Some were recommendations by actual people and some were just the usual things that come up telling you that people who looked at this book also liked… I wasn’t too concerned or picky so I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised by anything I received that was even readable. So as the first one that actually got delivered, how does Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (shoot the title already) fare?

Overview:

Suzuki is a programmer who has worked way too many hours with way too many caffeine hits when he finally manages to catch a nap under his desk. Unfortunately he begins to have a very vivid dream about being inside a game world with new powers and a much younger looking face. With the in-game name of Satou, he needs to find a way to wake up.

Review:

On finishing this book (which I devoured in three night reads – read until I fall asleep, usually book on face) I started a conversation with someone about the book. I’d really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun, even knowing some of the obvious flaws that I will get to later in the review. Alas, I did not sell the story very well and they gave me a look. I think all anime fans know that look. The one where someone has just wondered what planet you are on when you are trying to defend a show that has literally just shown a guy fall onto some girl’s chest.

And that’s probably the issue here. Protagonist trapped in another world which is based on a mashed up combination of games. He has menus and inventory and all the in-game things you could want, except an exit. He is rapidly building up a harem. Even though he starts as a fully employed adult, his in game age is closer to a teenager and to be honest a lot of his narration is way closer to a teenager (tell me again how flat that girl’s chest is, I dare you). And to make it even worse, while he started for about two seconds as a weak character who was actually at risk of dying, due to a beginner help spell (fortunately foreshadowed – blatantly telegraphed – by an earlier real world conversation) he wipes out literally hundreds of enemies including apparently unkillable ones (good thing the game is buggy) and ends up on such a high level it is difficult to believe he will ever face danger again.

Oh, and I can already see some people scratching another title off of their list.

After finishing reading I looked up this title (backwards order I know) but I found out it started as a webcomic, became a manga, then light novels, and there’s an announcement of an anime (though how confirmed that is I am not sure). So why such appeal in a story that it can get transformed that many times when it doesn’t appear to have a single original idea anywhere in sight?

As to the webcomic and manga, I honestly wouldn’t know, I’ve never looked at them. But I know what the appeal of reading this was. When I read Grimgar my biggest complaint (other than reading fanservice fuelled moments) was the writing itself and just how poorly expressed things were even for a translated text. Death March on the other hand… Well it it clearly a translated text and some words get repeated awkwardly because of that and other sentences don’t quite flow, but on the whole, the writing is pretty good if you compare it to a standard YA novel.

There’s a natural flow to most of the descriptions, the action sequences never linger too long, the dialogue helps bring out the characters, and the inserted in-game references like skill acquisitions fit kind of perfectly with the story they are constructing. I would point out the obvious issue with their being a little too much world building and set up given we spend nearly two entire days with Satou just escourting one girl and then another around the city. Admittedly, we learn a lot from the experience (as does Satou), and the second trip is needed as it leads to the dungeon sequence which leads to the climax of this story, etc, etc. There’s still a lot of plot padding so it is a really good thing that I enjoyed Satou’s internal thoughts, criticisms, evaluations and just his general tone (when he wasn’t looking at one of the girls in the story).

Before I move on from the writing though I would like to share this gem (a lot of sarcasm there) from page 66:

“Every time she moved, something – well, two things, which were presumably D cups – asserted their presence with a distinct jiggle.”

There are some things you cannot unread and that line tragically stuck to the point where I even remembered the page number two days after passing that point of the story. I’m really starting to think there’s some obligation to include these lines in order to prove that you are actually writing a light novel but at least now all those fan-service scenes in anime based on light novels make more sense.

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What is a little surprising about the direction the story takes in Death March is that Satou doesn’t immediately set out to make himself defender of the downtrodden. In fact, he goes to great lengths to hide his true level and abilities most of the time letting other characters take the lime-light with occasional assists in the form of flicked coins or rocks from the sidelines. This doesn’t last as he dons sword and cloak for a fight sequence toward the end, but having a protagonist actively avoiding conflict makes a nice change even if even he knows that can’t possibly last given the game like nature of the world.

So while there are plenty of things I could sit and criticise about this book, the one undeniable point is that I had a great deal of fun reading it and I want more. There’s a number of plot threads that have been developed that clearly are going to be continued further down the line, and while the world building in this first volume detracts from the story of this book, it has set the foundations for a lot of possibilities, many of which might be interesting.

Basically, if you can ignore the fact that this is literally a story we have seen done to death at this point, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had. Swords, demons, dragons, magic, slaves, and pit toilets. It all makes you wonder which one is the worst danger Satou will face.


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Karandi James.

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