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It’s fairly common knowledge that sequels aren’t the easiest thing to successfully pull off in entertainment. Even if the sequel ends up being okay, it may not live up to its predecessor because of how iconic moments and innovations can start to become formula (having to fit “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” into every Die Hard for example), or plot points from the first in the series have to be modified in order to cater to the new version. Whenever I watch a sequel, I’m aware of how daunting this mountain can be, and try to take into account those problems even if they ultimate are my criticisms. This is the approach I took when I heard that Eureka Seven, one of my favorite anime ever, was getting a sequel, but even with an open mind I felt that Eureka Seven AO not only paled in comparison to the original but was in certain ways a regression of what Eureka Seven had done.

Eureka Seven AO is billed as a direct sequel, as opposed to an alternate universe/retelling like the movie or the manga. The story centers around a young boy named Fukai Ao, who lives in the independent nation of Okinawa, and for whom life is difficult because of the way the community tries to ostracize him. In this world, the skub (or scab however they want to spell it this time), are considered a problematic natural disaster, especially because they bring with them mysterious monsters known as “Secrets,” which Ao ends up having to fight. For anyone who’s seen the original, the fact that the world of AO consists of real-world countries and continents is meant to imply that something is very strange or different about its setting, and trying to figure out just what in the world happened becomes part of the initial intrigue of the series.

When I say “regression,” I’m not referring to retcons or weird developments in AO‘s plot which cast a different light on the original’s events, but a regression of what mecha anime is capable of. Eureka Seven took an approach which let viewers explore its world through a cast of engaging, fleshed-out characters and a central love story developed gradually over the course of many episodes, and which anchored the narrative in such a way that the emotional excitement of the series builds up continuously throughout. It’s not altogether unique to Eureka Seven, and you can probably trace this style of show all the way back to Macross.  Eureka Seven AO, on the other hand, feels more like a mediocre 80s mecha anime, more keen to develop its story as a set of vague mysteries and tensions but never entirely delivering on any of them. It’s not just that the plot is worse, but that it ends up resembling the way a staunch non-fan might look at and describe their idea of a Gundam anime.

What Eureka Seven AO does have, at least initially, is a strong cast of characters with plenty of potential as to how they’ll develop, but much of it never comes to fruition (though the brief glimpses at Ivica’s character and past were things I enjoyed in particular), or if there is a development the lack of impact from the rest of the series lessens the overall effect. In particular, AO never manages to have its story properly focused by something like Eureka and Renton’s romance,  and though it didn’t have to necessarily be “another romance” (which might have well turned it into just a rehash of the original), there was nothing that could properly fill that void. It seems like the closest thing was just the mystery of what happened to Eureka and Renton, the intrigue of which the show feeds into fairly well, but the explanation we’re left with at the end is less than satisfying. And there is the potential for romance at the beginning, as the dynamic between Ao and his friend Haru is cute and gives a good sense of their relationship, but it ends up getting pushed aside. In the end, probably the most interesting point brought up in the show has to do with how the Secrets are treated by humanity, and how it reflects in some ways the way the Skub were regarded in the original Eureka Seven.

If the movie Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers suffered from having a weak and confusing beginning but then a fairly strong finish as all of its disparate ideas came together, then Eureka Seven AO is the opposite: It starts off strong and with many of the pieces in place to tell something both grand and personal, but its plot and character development are so discombobulated that when the ending finally comes it hits like a drizzle instead of the torrent of emotions that the original provided.

Anime Expo 2012 was my first Anime Expo and my first west coast convention. While I’m not one of those really thorough con veterans, I still found some interesting differences between it and the conventions I’ve been to before, both when compared to the bigger cons as well as the smaller ones. Located in Los Angeles, it uses its position to its fullest.

Industry

In a change of pace of sorts, I  somewhat foolishly attended fewer industry panels than I normally would at a convention. I say somewhat only because of the fact that, for so many of them, they largely amount to announcements (which appear within a minute on Twitter) and they have Q&A sessions which lack teeth. Sometimes you can get a good one, and I try hard to ask good questions when I can, but the more “official” it is, the less chance you’ll get a decent answer. The foolish part is the fact that I was accustomed to Otakon, where one must generally choose between autographs and panels, an only later found out that AX works on a system of giving people “skip the line” tickets for attending guest panels. Lesson learned for (hopefully) next time.

Despite those limitations, AX2012 was by far my most autograph-heavy convention experience I’ve ever had, which is a reflection of one of Anime Expo’s greatest strengths: the sheer amount of guests, particularly Japanese ones. I managed to get stuff signed by the staff from Madhouse, Animetal USA, Kajiura Yuki + FictionJunction, a limited autographed image from manga artist Toume Kei (who wasn’t attending but offered the images as part of a gallery), and probably the biggest one for me: an OVA of Legend of the Galactic Heroes signed by Horikawa Ryo, voice of Reinhard von Lohengramm. I happened to take a fantastic picture of him.

I did manage to go to a few panels as well. I went to the Animetal USA Q&A just to see that bit of spectacle (it was calmer than I had expected), and attended the panel for GoFA, or Gallery of Fantastic Art. GoFA can be described as an organization dedicated to taking anime and manga and giving it a sense of realism by creating products and opening galleries based on those works. The panelists showed off actual products such as glasses and watches based on the designs of anime and manga creators, and mentioned that artists such as Hoshino Lily (Mawaru Penguindrum character designer) and Fukumoto Nobuyuki (Kaiji, Akagi manga creator) have or will have gallery exhibitions in Japan. Apparently they’ve been a part of AX for a long time now, but this was their first time running a panel, a privilege they received because they’re actually producing a stop motion animation based on the artwork of Toume Kei (Sing Yesterday for Me). We got to see a very short preview, about which not much can be said because it lasted less than two minutes.

Another panel of interest was a manga workshop run by an actual manga artist whose name I sadly did not catch (though Peepo Choo’s Felipe Smith was helping to translate). I was unable to stay for the entire thing, but what I saw focused a good deal on anatomy, working from the idea that a solid foundation in realism is needed in order to deviate from it. While I don’t entirely agree with that assessment, I think it is nevertheless an excellent skill to foster and definitely a legitimate way to begin to create art and comics. I do wish that manga workshop panels and the like could move more towards paneling and page layout, but I get the feeling that character design is much more immediate has much more impact for the vast majority of people.

Concerts

I went to all three of the concerts—Animetal USA, FictionJunction, and LiSA—in some capacity, though could only stay for a small portion of the FictionJunction concert due to some scheduling conflicts (more on that later). Animetal USA had by far the smallest crowd, but an enthusiastic one nonetheless, and it was great to hear their take on classic anime songs from shows like Gatchaman, Mazinger Z, and Saint Seiya. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of heavy metal (though that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it), but I’m glad I went. Later at their signing, the most impressive thing was that there was a real Animetal USA cosplayer, a girl dressed as guitarist “Speed-King” (aka Chris Impellitteri). What little I heard of FictionJunction was definitely excellent. I definitely wish I could’ve seen it all.

The LiSA concert is one of the highlights of AX2012 for me, because I went in only knowing her as the singer of the Fate/Zero opening but not particularly interested, and came out of it as a fan. Not only were all of her songs really good, but her practically-headbanging enthusiasm just filled the concert venue. Impressively, she managed to do the emceeing for her own concert almost entirely in English. I’m not sure how much of it was from actual fluency and how much was practiced and scripted, but she pulled it off regardless. She gave us the benefit of singing the opening to a new summer anime (that wasn’t even out yet), Sword Art Online, and the concert actually made me want to check it out despite only having a passing interest in it prior.

Non-Industry Panels

If AX’s main strength is its industry presence, its main weakness is a lack of interesting fan panels. While fan panels can always vary in quality, they tend to follow along the same basic goals of bringing fans together in order to share in a topic or to convey new ways of seeing the things we love, hat’s not to say that the fan panels at AX weren’t or couldn’t be interesting, but that the sheer amount of “official” panels somewhat limited the overall presence of fan panels. On top of that, many were workshops or something similar, but personally speaking I generally don’t go to conventions for workshops.

I attended the Bloggers and Podcasters Town Hall, not knowing quite what to expect, especially given the use of the term “Town Hall,” but it ended up actually being fairly accurate. Moderated by the Benjamin “Benu” Lopez of the long-running Anime Genesis podcast, the audience (including myself) discussed various topics, including the move to include blogging into a podcast and vice versa, as well as ways to break up the factionalism and cliques which often appear around groups of bloggers/podcasters. It was a fruitful discussion, and I got to meet a number of people I’d only read/heard previously, though I do kind of wish that we didn’t just talk about reaching out but also ways to refine and improve our existing work. As I said at the panel, I do believe that content is king.

Given that I’ve been a part of academia for a while now, I went with the purpose of attending as many of the academic panels as I could. At times, this caused conflict as I had to sacrifice seeing a certain guest in order to see what other researchers were working on, but I think it was well worth it. Even though other events clearly overshadowed the attendance of the academic track, there was something distinctly different about having it as part of a general convention instead of simply being a stand-alone academic conference. Mainly, I felt like presenters had prepared for a mix of academic and non-academic audiences, and it made the presentations a little more fun than what would normally happen.

The highlights of the academic track were the keynote address, where Professor Jeffrey Dym of UC Sacramento discussed his “History of Manga” class, and the “We Make Manga” panel run by Northrop Davis of the University of South Carolina. In both cases, the speakers really knew what they were talking about, and described the challenges they faced in creating their classes, how they designed their curricula, and what sources they used as the foundations for their classes. For Dym’s panel, the things that stood out to me the most were his lament that Ishinomori Shoutarou did not have more work out in English despite his legendary status and the fact that he hesitated on including sports manga in his class because of how little of the really groundbreaking series (Star of the Giants for instance) exist in English. For Davis’s panel, it was definitely the fact that he mentioned his class as being designed to somewhat mimic the editor system used by manga publishers in Japan, especially given the degree to which endeavors such as Tokyopop’s old OEL material lacked in that very area.

I think the attendance could have been stronger if the academic panels hadn’t been added so late. The large color guide didn’t even have those panels, and it was clear that despite the giant screens showing the updated schedules that many attendees ignored it. When I presented at my own panel (which ended up overlapping with the FictionJunction concert due to a 40 minute delay, thus eliminating my chance of doing both), it was to a rather sparsely populated room, which I honestly think could have been made more lively if only people knew about it (and if the concert didn’t start and end when it did). Overall, I think I did an all right job (I did a visual analysis of the manga 7 Billion Needles), I just wish more of you could’ve attended it!

Cosplay

I think I’ll say it: AX2012 was possibly the best convention I’ve ever attended in terms of cosplay. Not only were many of the costumes excellent, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much variety. Popular cosplay topics such as Homestuck and Hetalia!, while still very present, didn’t even come close to dominating the visual landscape of the con, and cosplays I had resigned myself to possibly never seeing appeared in numbers. Whereas previously I had seen zero Dragon Kid cosplays from Tiger & Bunny, this time I saw five.

I remember being the only person to clap for Dragon Kid at Otakon 2011’s Sunrise panel, so this was a pleasant change.

In addition, I thought I’d never see a Precure cosplay at an American con, but I was gladly proven wrong. Have you watched Heartcatch yet? It’s really good.

Anyway, I’ll let the rest of the cosplay speak for itself, though keep in mind that this certainly isn’t an accurate representation of all of the cosplay at AX2012, merely what I photographed.

Final Thoughts

So there went my first Anime Expo. If I had to do it over again, I probably would’ve found a better medium between panels and autographs, and I would’ve definitely tried to see more faces. Also, the Kinokuniya in LA is definitely better than the one in NYC.

Eureka Seven is one of my favorite anime ever, Eureka is one of my favorite characters ever in a show full of incredible characters, and I consider the pacing of the show to be among the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a tough act to live up to, and so with the new Eureka Seven AO currently running in Japan, I wanted to at least give it more than one episode before I started talking about it. Not that I thought that the first episode was bad and needed a second one to “give it a chance,” but my experience with the original told me that this may very well be a show which continually ramps up and whose threads (plot, thematic, or otherwise) are only barely visible in the beginning.

To cut straight to the chase, the main character Ao is clearly implied to be Eureka and Renton’s son. As a result, I feel like Ao inevitably draws comparisons to Renton, but also that the show obviously wants you to do so. The first episode of the original Eureka Seven was all about how Renton wanted to escape his boring, do-nothing town and join the fabulous rebels of Gekkostate, whereas Ao has to deal with the constant materialization of skub coral and the destruction it causes. On top of that, both have parents whose legacies at first seem larger than them, with Renton’s father Adrock being regarded as the greatest hero who ever lived and Ao having to cope with the fact that even mentioning his mother and her turquoise hair on the island garners animosity. The difference between the overbearingly positive reputation that Renton had to deal with and the overwhelmingly negative one that Ao must live with draws an additional interesting parallel, but I feel like it does so while making Ao seem like his own character.

It also doesn’t hurt that Ao’s relationship with his friend Naru is distinctly different from Eureka and Renton’s. It seems to be built on this strong friendship which goes beyond the immediate conventions of the island where they live, and I actually have it in my mind to judge anything related to Eureka Seven based primarily on how it handles its main romance. The reason is that when Eureka Seven was originally airing, during the breaks there would be commercials for the Eureka Seven: New Wave PS2 game where the slogan for the game was “Another Boy Meets Girl.” This of course implies that Renton and Eureka were themselves a “boy meets girl” story, and the fact that their romance was so unbelievably strong supporter that concept. In that respect, and many others, I continue to look forward to Eureka Seven AO. No guarantees it won’t wipe out (see what I did there), but I feel like it’s definitely off to a strong start.

What is a one-dimensional character? What is a well-developed character? And how is it that two people viewing the same exact anime can reach entirely different judgments on whether or not its characters feel “real” or not? Those are the questions that have most recently been on my mind.

It makes me ponder the differences in the way people perceive the world and the people around them, as well as how those perceptions are then translated into the world of fiction. What do some people prioritize in their concept and understanding of a “three-dimensional personality” that runs so counter to the opinions and values of others?

Personally speaking, I find characters to be particularly well-developed in personality when I can sense that there is something more to them than what they are saying. It’s not like I want characters who are saying one thing and thinking another, however. It’s more about showing or at least hinting at a thought process behind those words. Genshiken, Eureka Seven, and Toradora! for example are particularly good at this, in that you can see the transmission from personal desire to choice of words getting filtered through the characters’ own personalities and values. But then I know there are plenty of people out there who dislike these series while accusing the shows of the very opposite of why I praise them. So again, what causes this conflict?

Many times when a character is seen as “artificially deep,” the accusation leveled at them is that they are simply there to fulfill a checklist. This isn’t necessarily wrong or unwarranted, and even I’ve used the “checklist” criticism before and have no real regrets doing so, but the question then becomes, how did these checklists form and who is responsible for them? To what extent are those negative checklists generated by one’s own standards of realism and authenticity?

What is more important for a well-developed character, that they start off with an almost palpable personality that reveals a heart and mind in them, or that they grow their hearts and minds over the long term?

What is more important, what you let the audience see, or what you let the audience infer for themselves? If you keep on revealing more and more angles, is the purpose to imply a sphere, or simply a many-sided polygon?

And how much of it is tapping into the familiar vs the unfamiliar?

It’s food for thought I haven’t really digested myself yet.

Otakon 2010 fires its first major volley with “Home Made Kazoku” as their Sunday musical guest.

Realistically speaking, this is pretty much the kind of musical guest I want at conventions more often. While I know that they’re not a J-ROCK BAND and thus won’t have quite as much clout among those who go to anime conventions mainly for the concerts, Home Made Kazoku’s a legitimate act that’s actually done music for popular anime. I mean, you couldn’t exactly call Naruto or Bleach small-fry cartoons (aside from literally being for children), and they also did “Shounen Heart,” the love-it-or-hate-it second opening of Eureka Seven.

I still consider it a crime that JAM Project got only a fraction of the audience of other musical guests at Otakon 2008, especially when they had Kageyama “Chala Head Chala” Hironobu, a guy whose songs almost every person at an anime con knows at least one of. While I get the appeal of the J-Rock band, I wouldn’t mind them nearly as much if more of them had actually sung something related to anime, or if they weren’t being sold mainly on image. Hell, a COVER of an anime song would be acceptable.

So, Home Made Kazoku. I can’t wait to see everyone at the concert try (and fail) to sing along to the rap portions.

That includes myself.

It’s hard!

2009 has been a crazy year for anime, with ups and downs and all-arounds, but amidst a weakened global economy and an industry going through some serious growing (or shrinking) pains, I find there is still plenty to be thankful about.

I am thankful for…

Great shows being licensed or made available streaming so that when I say Glass Mask is a FANTASTIC SHOW, you can now go and watch it. And Monster is on TV!

Some stellar guests at anime conventions. Between Ishiguro, Tomino, and a whole bunch of others, this has been a highly informative and unforgettable year of conventions. Thanks to Ishiguro and Tomino as well, for telling me all about Nagahama Tadao.

An explosion of new blogs. As the years pass, they just keep coming and coming. Keep it up, the only way to improve your writing is to keep writing.

An industry which is still trying, despite what others might claim. There may be some “safe” shows out there, but we’re also continuing to see the mediums that are anime and manga being challenged and made better as a result.

An Eureka Seven Movie. Sure, it might not be quite what I’d like from an E7 movie, and it didn’t capture what made the TV series great, but I am still grateful that such a thing could be made 3 years after the original finished.

Genshiken 2 out on DVD! Get it as soon as possible. Ogiue is waiting.

The friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met through the fandom. Truly you have made this an unforgettable year.

Others and I will be attending the Union Square showing of the one-night-only US theatrical premiere of Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Good night, sleep tight, young lovers, which is sure to be a rip-roaring good time and a great way to spend an evening. I’ve actually already seen the movie, but I wouldn’t pass the chance up to see it in a theater. The theater showing will be dub only, but it isn’t that much of a problem, and I’m interested in seeing how the dub crew tackles this movie.

If you want to read my review of the the E7 movie, it’s right here.

I also managed to win a copy of volume 1 of the Eureka Seven light novel adaptation, so there’s a good chance I’ll be reviewing that some time in the future. Who knows when though; I still have a Gundam 00 Second Season Review to write!

EDIT: I previously labeled this movie as “Pocket Full of Rainbows” only to realize that the title is actually a reference to the Elvis Presley song “Pocketful of Rainbows.” As such, I’ve changed the title and the associated category accordingly.

When the Eureka Seven movie was announced, speculation began as it always does. BONES said they would be retelling the story of Renton and Eureka, and using some of the existing footage from the TV series in the movie. Fans wondered if this meant the movies would be a retelling of the TV series with content edited to make it flow better as a movie, not unlike the First Gundam movies. Preview images and trailers started being released showing Renton and Eureka together as small children, something that never happened in any previous Eureka Seven media. Now that Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven – Pocketful of Rainbows (or as it’s apparently called in English, Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven – good night, sleep tight, young lovers -) is out, we know that the plans for this movie were much more ambitious than most anyone expected.

Once again, Eureka Seven focuses on the boy named Renton and the girl named Eureka, only this time any hint of the previous series beyond a superficial level are thrown out the window. As mentioned before, now Renton and Eureka are childhood friends who are separated and then reunited amidst a war with an inhuman enemy called the Image. Connecting them is a small fairy named Nirvash, whose words only Renton can understand. Front and center in Pocketful of Rainbows are the concepts of mythologies and dreams, as the movie explores the effects their existences have upon the world and what they mean for human beings.

This is a new world with a new history, and familiar faces are anything but. If you’re approaching this movie without ever having seen any of Eureka Seven in its other incarnations, rest assured that they have little to no bearing on the events of the movie. If you’ve ever seen the Vision of Escaflowne TV series and the Escaflowne movie, the level of difference in Pocketful of Rainbows is even more pronounced. In fact, spoiling the events of one will actually NOT spoil the other!

For those of you who are fans already, let me tell you just one little thing that will make you realize how different this movie is compared to the source material: In the world of Eureka Seven: Pocketful of Rainbows, there are no such things as Coralians.

This movie uses existing footage better than any anime I have ever seen. This is not simply reusing stock footage to show flashbacks or for the animators to go, “We already animated this once, why should we do it again?” Just like how the characters may look the same but their insides have changed dramatically, the TV series footage is given new life. Even though the same animation is being used on a number of occasions, the context of each scene is so different from when it was originally used in the TV series that the meaning of these animations change entirely. You almost can’t tell that it wasn’t originally made for the movie. This also has to do with the fact that this animation was already impressive in the first place, and the scenes newly animated for the movie are just as good if not better.

Being a movie, Pocketful of Rainbows does not have the luxury of developing the relationship between Renton and Eureka as thoroughly as the original TV series, but it still manages to get a sufficient amount of characterization into them and others. Even though you aren’t given all of the information, the way the characters act around each other will make few of the revelations about character relationships seem jarring or negatively unexpected. BONES knew that this was a 2-hour endeavor instead of a 50-episode series and worked accordingly. It really shows, as I do not feel that this movie was rushed unnecessarily.

Overall, this was a fun and thought-provoking movie as an Eureka Seven fan. Expect future posts about it as I explore some of the concepts presented in Pocketful of Rainbows, as the movie has gives you a lot to mill over.

For those of you want to see the movie for real inside of an actual theater, you should know that Bandai Entertainment has plans to do exactly that, albeit dubbed. Tickets go on sale August 21st for a September 29th showing in select theaters across the United States.

Before I start talking about the Eureka Seven manga adaptation, I’d like to explain what Eureka Seven is as a franchise. Eureka Seven was designed by Studio BONES and Bandai to be a sort of multimedia franchise that reaches out and expands beyond the normal frame of any single anime or manga series. You have the flagship anime, video games which retell the story of the anime, video games which act as prequels to the anime (which I’ve never played, but if I do get my hands on them some day I may review them too), a manga that is a prequel to the prequel video games, as well as a recent movie which is an alternate setting using the same characters. The Eureka Seven manga I’m about to review is somewhat similar to the movie in that it takes the characters and settings of the anime and adds a few twists to them here and there, but unlike the movie it sticks a little more closely to the plot of the TV series.

Unlike a lot of anime or manga, the Eureka Seven manga was not really made to be an “adaptation” of some source material that already exists in public entertainment, despite me using the word adaptation numerous times. Instead, the manga and anime were released almost simultaneously, so one does not rely on the other to be an initial source. Instead, the “source” for both of them is the director, Sato Dai. The result then is that as a manga, Eureka Seven is something quite unique, both relative to other manga in general, as well as to the anime TV series.

Premise-wise, the manga is pretty much the same as the anime. You have an impetuous youth named Renton Thurston, an enigmatic girl named Eureka, an anti-government group called Gekkostate, and there’s sky surfing and trappar and all sorts of familiar sights. Many of the plot points between the anime and manga are similar, too. However, many plot points are also quite different, and these changes to the story also change the basic feel of Eureka Seven.

The Eureka Seven manga is a little more action-based, a little more violent than the TV series. There’s not superfluous amounts of blood flying about, but people get hurt in the manga pretty badly. In other words, it reads less like the crescendo that is the anime and more like a sforzando. Now, if you’re like me and only knew the word crescendo (gradual buildup), and had to look for another musical term to continue the analogy, sforzando basically means “sudden changes.” The manga comes at you fast and hard, and at times it can leave you asking, “Wait, when did that happen?” Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, of course.

There’s also more fanservice in the manga, such as panty flashes. And by panty flashes, I mean a character literally lifting Eureka’s skirt in Renton’s presence in order to get a rise out of him, both emotional and physical. Anemone in particular is given some choice sitations, as well as an ever-so-slightly different personality, where her cheerful side and her not-so-cheerful side are just a bit more extreme on either end.

I personally feel that the manga is not nearly as good as the anime, lacking much of the subtlety and grandeur of the anime, but that doesn’t mean I think the manga is bad or mediocre. I know some people prefer the manga because it doesn’t dawdle as much, and it really does get to the point more often, although it tends to be at the expense of building up the characters more. Still, I think it’s worth reading whether you’re an Eureka Seven fan or not. In fact, you don’t even need to have seen the anime in order to enjoy the manga, and it’s even possible you might enjoy the manga more if you don’t have the anime for a comparison.

The creators of the Eureka Seven manga, Kataoka Jinsei and Kondou Kazuma, are currently working on their own original manga called Deadman Wonderland. Check it out if you want to see them working in a setting that isn’t tied to a greater franchise beast.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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