Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – Series Review

Ars Nova

The titular Ars Nova form of the Blue Steel fleet

spring13-highwAs I promised when I did the mid-season review for Arpeggio of Blue Steel, here’s the full season review! At halfway through, I really liked the series, and really liked the direction it was going in. So how did the second half go?

Who Is This Series About?

All Hands on Deck

All Hands on the Bridge

While the first half of the series was setting up the characters of the show, the second half really got far more into the exploration of those characters, and especially the Fog. And while I thought through the first half that most of the show would be concerned with how humanity was dealing with this force that they couldn’t really understand, communicate with, or fight effectively, the second half is entirely focused on the Fog and their own search for meaning, and uses Gunzou as the lens for that exploration. And that may not be completely fair to Gunzou, in that he gets what I think is far too much credit / blame for the changes to the individual characters. In particular, Kongou thinks that everything emanates from Gunzou, but how does Gunzou beating them all in battle ‘infect’ them. I think the real key is that when they give themselves the ability for self-reflection, through their mental models, they open up the possibility for self-identification, and with that comes those three existential questions that put such a poignant period on the ending of almost every episode:

Where Do We Come From?
What Are We?
Where Are We Going?


Iona almost loses everything to help Kongou

And when you start asking that, you’re going to start looking for answers, even if it’s not actively thinking of those questions. Those three questions really do help guide all the changes in our main characters, and lead to caring, love, drive, obsession, and even self-sacrifice. Looking back, it’s almost inevitable that every ship with a mental model develops more into what we would consider ‘human’.



Iona looks so different from the way she did at the beginning

I think the show did a very good job showing the different processes of humanizing: through love and through fear. Through love, we get the Fleet of Blue Steel, and thankfully it wasn’t just Gunzou’s harem. In fact, I think this was one of the best aspects of the show. Yes, Gunzou was the center of the show, but only Iona and Takao were really in love with him, and even Takao realizes that she’s a distant second. But the rest of the ships had different reasons and mechanisms for their love. Haruna loves Makie as a fellow traveler, someone who unconditionally cared for her even suspecting she’s of the Fog. Kirishima may have the biggest change, to following Haruna out of friendship, and accepting Haruna’s goals as her own, as well as fondness for Makie for the care Makie shows Youtarou. And Hyuuga is mostly masochistic for Iona, having found she likes being punished. So why do they all team up? Some is just because they don’t really have a choice, although there’s a giant plot hole why Hyuuga, Kirishima, and Haruna don’t recreate their ships (or even Kirishima’s body) from the stockpile on Iwoto. Some may be because they realize they’re all in the same boat (har har): apostate from the Fog, they need to discover their own way to live. And of course, quite a lot may be that they all care for each other, as it flows from Iona back through everyone else.


Kongou loses it

Kongou feels the pain of losing her only friend

The other side of this development shows in I-400, I-402, and Kongou. And even as the internal police of the Fog, 400 and 402 aren’t immune, as 402 sacrifices herself so that her sister may live, even being condemned for the effort. But that makes 400 act for revenge, itself an emotional act. And even 400, dying, reaches out for her sister, apparently in contrast to being of the Fog. But nobody does revenge like Kongou.


Flinching away from the pain of friendship

I think that Kongou is afraid of the change that’s happening to her ships from the very beginning of the show, with that fear increasing every time one of the members of her fleet ‘defects’. As first Takao, then Haruna and Kirishima, and finally she understands that Hyuuga has not only left but made a mental model, her fear of this new power – the ego that they have brought upon themselves in effort to understand how to beat the humans – and her fear of perhaps losing herself and her mission, become more pronounced, yet her reaction to it is to become more human, to change even faster. And when it is pointed out that she herself has become ‘tainted’, in combination with ‘losing’ her friend Maya, it pushes her over the brink, setting up the final showdown between Iona and Kongou, not just as two powerful ships but as two sides of emotion. Iona with her friendship, her support, her love with Gunzou and the others. And Kongou with her fear, her loss, her rage at having the things she realizes she wanted – respect and power as fleet leader, friends with Maya – taken away from her. Kongou with her pain, the “agony that disrupts my mental processes,” the “anger and grief surging from within” that she fears will crush her. That Kongou initially rejects Iona’s pleas for friendship is unsurprising, because any time she’s tried that, she’s lost it. And that all of her losing started with Iona, it’s only natural she’d want to get take it out on her, the source, the agent of change.

That's no moon

“That’s no moon…” (sorry, I had to)

But in the end, we see where Kongou is, afraid and alone, the remnants of the world she liked (before she realized she liked it), and we see that Iona is able to make that connection to her, saving her from her own destructiveness. And having made that connection, Kongou finally understands, it seems.


Iona finally reaches Kongou

The Experience


The use of color really helped my enjoyment of the show

Apart from these existential questions, I really loved the presentation of Arpeggio of Blue Steel. The show was just great fun to watch. About halfway through the season, I realized that I was looking forward to Monday nights the most, because that was when I could watch this show, and then finish up my night with Non Non Biyori. But in terms of non-blogged show I watched the most this season, it was definitely Arpeggio, with at least two times through every episode. This was a show I just loved to watch. And it really did a good job bringing the balance of everything: great action, good relationships, good examination of humanity, even funny moments that generally lightened the very heavy mood.

Fun - Youtarou gets Serious

Youtarou (Kirishima) gets serious

One thing this series did very well was put in those great moments of awesomeness. And they were frequently when Gunzou managed to turn the tables, through his impeccable planning and thinking outside the rigid box the Fog were fighting in. The second Corrosive Warhead that destroyed Haruna and Kirishima, the surprise Supergravity Cannon to defeat Takao, the triple decoy with all four Fog ships linked. And you couldn’t have had them without the other side, without the effort on the part of the Fog ships to beat Gunzou, and put him in that situation. The best thing about these battles, and these moments, was that it really felt like an even matchup. The overwhelming force of the Fog was definitely enough to win, but the cunning of Gunzou and Iona’s pairing overcame that force. And it helped that it wasn’t David plinking rocks at Goliath. The weapons both brought to bear were equal in scope, it was just that Gunzou had to do more with fewer. He couldn’t Macross Missile Massacre the way Kongou / Maya (512 missiles in the air at once) or Haruna / Kirishima could. And when he got the computing power of the other ships – Takao, Hyuuga, Haruna, Kirishima – you really felt like he was almost invincible, even against Kongou’s monstrosity.

Beautiful Takao

My favorite moment in the whole series Show ▼

But it wasn’t just the battles. This show also really had great moments in emotion. Haruna beseeching anyone who would listen to save Makie, and having her plea answered by Iona. And then perhaps the most beautiful scene in the show, at the end of episode 10, when Takao sacrifices herself for Gunzou and Iona, realizing that she’ll only ever be second in his heart, but still wanting him to live. With that haunting figure from Silver Sky playing, her figurative embrace of Gunzou is heartbreaking and uplifting, especially as the song makes that transition into its single line in a major key. Sparkling and heartfelt, it’s stunning in its beauty and depth of feeling. That it’s followed up by the lockdown of Kongou and the loss of Maya as her friend just increases the poignancy of both moments.

Kongou's Rage

The final battle, Kongou’s fear and rage against Iona’s determination

Visually, everything in this show was a treat. As I said in the mid-season, the only quibbles anyone can have visually is with the characters, the weakest part of the the all-CGI presentation. But there are good parts to being used to the CG characters as well: that final battle between Kongou and Iona came out tremendously good, because there was no jarring transition to CG, and no off-model animation. For those like me who had no issue with the CG throughout, this was definitely worth it, but I don’t know if it’s something those who hate the CG characters would want to stick around through the whole show for. Apart from the characters, though, this was really a beautiful show to watch, well-animated, action packed, and full of visual detail.


The visual beauty of self-sacrifice

This is one show that I did notice the background music, and a lot of that might be that there wasn’t a lot of different music, but it was used tremendously well as audio cues for what was happening. There were highly recognizable themes for both things getting serious for the Fog and for the counterattack by Iona. The consistent use of these themes really made a difference in identifying the action and ramping up the reaction. Maybe not the most beautiful music, but very effective. And I’ve already mentioned Silver Sky, which was packaged as the B-side to Savior of Song, the OP for the series. The ED was also switched up for episode 11, with Innocent Blue substituting for Blue Field, again packaged as the B-side.

Some Extra Fun

Show ▼


Compared to the two-word review I started out in the Mid-season review, I’ve written an awful lot here. But for me, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova was my favorite series this season (even beating out White Album 2). It was exciting, emotional, interesting, and thought-provoking. I thought it examined the human condition very well through the use of the Fleet of Fog, and really gave you a feeling of “OMG OMG What’s going to happen?!?!?!” throughout every encounter. Things like Iona’s despair at sinking her ‘sisters’ I-400 and 402, and then her determination to not lose Kongou the same way really showed her growth through the series, as well as the increasingly human animation she had. This show really made Mondays special this season.


Proving that you don't have to be young to love anime, I enjoy all genres and styles of shows. If it's not hurting anyone else, you should never be ashamed of what you like!
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28 Responses to “Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – Series Review”

  1. akagami says:

    Was browsing through the comments on the Winter 2014 preview and when you said long, I was expecting a mini-novel.

    I am disappointed =(
    *throws popcorn at the screen*

    I have to say both this and Log Horizon surprised me. Going in I didn’t expect much, and once I got past the first episode I was hooked.

    • Highway says:

      Well, it’s long for this site, and probably the second-longest post I’ve written, at 1900 words.

      There was definitely a lot of stuff I would have liked to talk about but just didn’t want to make people read through, like more of my favorite moments, but that’s stuff that can come out through comments or other ways.

      And I’m glad you liked the show. I wasn’t expecting too much from it, and from that first episode, I was hooked as well. It just hit that spot with futuristic realistic combat, pretty colors, action, and then humor that made it about perfect.

  2. skylion says:

    Yes, easily one of my favorite shows this season as well, right along with Non Non, and of course, the lovely YZQ (provided the subbers didn’t troll us at Christmas…oh, look, they did).

    I love how the show was able to stick to it’s guns (pun may or may not be intended, check your local circular for details) with the theme of self-determination, all without beating you over the head with it. By examining how we come to this process of discovery, with several streams making the dance come alive, the show achieved depth (pun may or may not, etc.). Great ensemble cast.

    And yes, great animation too. Poo Poo the CGI haters, this program was a dream. There were some derpy bits here and there, but the full range of motion with derp beat out shaken still shots any day of the week.

    Thanks, HWY. Good innings, this.

    • Highway says:

      It took a while to be a favorite, but probably around episode 4 or 5 it kicked into flanking speed and pulled up to White Album 2. And for sheer enjoyment, this show is ahead of White Album 2. I just enjoyed Mondays so much knowing this was coming up, and it never dissappointed.

      Watching episode 12 with Iona and Kongou’s fight the second time really made me realize that the investment in the CG through the rest of the show paid off well here. They were able to keep the detailed backgrounds, the busy textures, and still have beautifully animated action. I’ve heard that the show did run into some budget problems, and I hope they weren’t too bad, but whatever they spent seems worth it. And the thing is, I don’t really have a problem using CG in the action scenes for most shows, it’s just that too often the characters go off model, or the switch to sakuga animation is just too blatantly obvious. And here it just wasn’t, it was more of the same show.

    • Foshizzel says:

      CGI was hit and miss for me I mean yes it works wonders for the battle scenes, but when it came to the character models it just felt like I was watching a PS2 cutscene from like Resident Evil or something; however I eventually got used to it so it turned out to be alright and now we have Knights of Sidonia coming in the Spring which is also going to be full CGI characters.

      • skylion says:

        KoS is something I am pumped for. Maybe I don’t play enough video games, but Arp. never felt like cut scenes to me. I was able to relax and enjoy, never felt like I was edging to close to falling into that uncanny valley.

        • Foshizzel says:

          I checked out the first chapter of the KoS manga and it looks to be a much darker mecha, but at the same time I feel it will be like Eureka seven or Star Driver where it’s about the characters living in the world instead of who has the most powerful machine.

          True I guess the CGI of Arpeggio is hit or miss for most of us.

  3. Foshizzel says:

    Kongou in the final episode was great even though everything was solved with a hug of friendship like in Kyokai no Kanata, but that wasn’t bad at all!

    Yes yes I was a hater of the CGI at the start which I still will continue to say wasn’t the best choice ever but I guess it was cheaper for them to go that route instead? Anyway after I got used to it I started to really enjoy Arpeggio <3

    I saw in that kantai collection game they added a special game mode where you can fight the ships from Arpeggio? They are called the Mist instead of the fog but it goes to show you they will be using this series as a springboard to get their own series off the ground one of these seasons.

  4. Di Gi Kazune says:

    *looks at the list of innuendos*

    Oh the shipping… (haha*smack*) I wonder how they plan to use the vibration torpedos (*whack*ouch*)

    Okay, moment of punniness over. How does this show stack? My arbitary ratings:
    A- for the animation/art. Art shows quite good consistency even to the point of the English they use. Occasional mistakes here and there but quite well done compared to some other more famous shows. Characters are consisently done (then again, when you have the models in the database, life is simpler.) Animation-wise, again having the standard models already worked out, it makes it easier to animate 512 thanatonium warheads. (Let’s see, select thanatonium warhead, plot MMM path, render). The gripe I have (hence the minus) is at times they didn’t render it fluidly enough; probably due to experience. Yes, at times it looks quite obviously 3DCG but who else in Japan has experience animating a full 30 minutes of 3DCG? The only team I can think of that has done this with enough experience is Lucasfilm and even Dave Filoni & Co. admitted that the earlier seasons were a bit rough around the edges. As they gained EXP, they levelled up and got better.

    B+ for story. Very, very distilled adaptation, condensing multiple parallel plot lines into essentially 2: The reason for existence of their Avatars and the MacGuffin Vibration torpedo. Given they had 12 episodes and an unfinished manga, this was probably the best option, but in a way it strips away some of the interesting features of the original. Half the original cast are not there, including 6 sets of sisters – see end card, here we only have 2 sets.

    B+ for music. The OP/ED/Inserts were actually nice. The BGM pulled it down. Cannot say more.

    B+ for characterization. This is where it gets interesting. IMHO, the original had better characterization. There was more crew interaction there but I shall focus on the characters that were toned down.
    In general, the mental models are more “human-like” than portrayed in the anime. Eg. The School council of Hiei, Myoko, Ashigara, Haguro and Nachi. (you should really put up the endcard…) Out of all the characters, Takao, plushie bear, Haruna and Hyuuga reflect their originals most. (The gig is up! Tsudere Heavy Cruiser! -i402)

    Iona is quite flat in the adaptation, probably in order to enable “character growth”. She actually likes 3DCG anime in the manga. (Hisonic Miku!)

    Kongou is still her icy self but the original she is literally the Spock of the show. Some of Yamato’s leadership role has been thrust on here here but IMO, not very suitably done.

    Lastly, poor, poor, poor, poor, poor Maya. Yes, she is the Genki Girl of the show but her role here was seriously crippled to just serving as Kongou support. T_T We shall never get to see her play the violin. Or her electric guitar.

    Overall, the show in itself is actually suprisingly decent to watch and will forever be underrated by the masses. BTW, if you notice how they carefully crafted a 3DCG idol group out of this show… just like some 3DCG idols…

    To end this, as skylion said but in a less tactful manner: ****-U you 3DCG-haters! (Some animation studio in kyoto should switch to 3DCG then everyone will worship 3DCG.)

    • Highway says:

      This is another show that will probably forever be fighting the adaptation quality question. (All my remarks here are as someone who hasn’t read a single word of the manga) But I think that from the first question you have to ask about an adaptation, it’s winning: Is the anime entertaining. I think it’s beyond question that this show was entertaining, so then we get into to the questions about which would be better: the limited adaptation that was presented, or a more faithful adaptation.

      Given that they basically made it through one single storyline here, through the whole of twelve episodes, and kept the coherence of the story as well as the pace high, I’d have to say that they probably made most of the right decisions with this adaptation. It wouldn’t take too much more to really bog it down, or make it just too full of explanation. And while having some more characters would be cool, they already had 6 main characters (Iona, Gunzou, Kongou, Takao, Haruna, and I-400/I-402 (might as well be one character)) and 8 side characters (Makie, Kirishima, Hyuuga, Maya, Kouhei, Iori, Shizuka, and Sou). I don’t think adding more characters to this single series would have brought anything more than confusion.

      I think that Kongou’s situation works pretty well, being subfleet commander, and the antagonist of the show. I think that it allowed her to be in charge, to be responsible for her entire fleet either being sunk or defecting, and have her bear the brunt of the emotional wreckage from that. She didn’t have to do much ‘leading’, but just being in the position was enough to make her relevant. I don’t know what Yamato’s character is like, but I don’t think the anime really suffered from not having another level of authority over Kongou.

      The end card is interesting, but it’s more of a shoutout to the people who read the manga, since less than half of the characters on it were in the anime. (I already have more images in this post than I should 🙂 )

      • Di Gi Kazune says:

        Just a minor nitpick. When did Takaona lose the Ars Nova mode in the finale? I remember seeing her in Ars Nova mode in the first half and suddenly in the 2nd half they were using the standard i-401 model. Ars Nova model has the Takao smokestack behind the conning tower. Also, the animators chose to ignore the corrosive torpedo/Kleinfieldless interactions in the final charge. Takaona got hit by so many yet remained unscathed. 😛

        • Highway says:

          Well, from what I can see, the Iona-less Ars Nova form is getting hammered by the salvo as Iona is attempting to get to Kongou. The next time you can recognize the ship is after Kongou has been defeated, and it’s I-401’s model (I can’t tell what form they’re in when firing the Supergravity Cannon during the fight). If I’m making excuses for them, then you’d say that they lost enough nanomaterial to the attack by Kongou that they couldn’t maintain the Ars Nova form, so they reverted to the I-401 form. They probably didn’t have enough material to even form Takao. So I don’t think it was ‘unscathed’, it was more ‘reconfigured to a smaller ship’.

          That’s another thing: That firing of the Supergravity Cannon at Kongou reminded me so much of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, where Reliant was just raking Enterprise with phaser fire

          • Di Gi Kazune says:

            So it wasn’t just my hallucinations. I call it animator forgetfulness.

            • Highway says:

              I don’t think it’s forgetfulness, I think it’s more likely what I explained. That would make more sense than I-401 coming through completely unscathed. Since they can reconfigure, might as well shrink the ship instead of having a swiss cheese bigger ship.

      • Di Gi Kazune says:

        *pelts spamcatcher with even more Thanatonium warheads plus a Death Kongo*

  5. Di Gi Kazune says:

    *pelts spamcatcher with Thanatonium warheads*

  6. BlackBriar says:

    One of the more unique series for the Fall season. What sets Arpeggio of Blue Steel apart from others is its bold move to go all CGI instead of traditional animation. I admit I didn’t like it at first because it was off putting and that it was like looking at a video game than an anime but gradually got used to it because of my interest of the story, more specifically on the mysteries of the enigmatic Fleet of Fog.

    There’s nothing solid on how the Fleet of Fog’s existence came to be, hence the three frequently asked questions “Where Do We Come From?, What Are We?, Where Are We Going?” but the series does present their party’s change from robotic-like entities to more like human beings nicely. Such similarities can be shared with the movie “I, Robot”. They all define themselves by following the Amirality Code and that they are to be weapons to bring about humanity’s extinction. How ironic it would be if they and the code was created by humans to begin with.

    As for the characters, Gunzou, Iona and most of the now defected Fog mental models got some considerable development to better show their views, personality and individuality but also as a backlash, I felt that Gunzou’s own crew didn’t get any justice. We see them there talking, taking orders and executing them with hardly any back talk but generally, we know nothing about them and that makes them seem as significant as furniture.

    • Highway says:

      I’d think if they were created by humans, at least some of the humans would have owned up to it. Plus, it’s hard to fathom that someone would be so far advanced in tech like that without anyone else knowing about it. So I personally go for aliens (cause aliens are SOOOO much more believable than more advanced humans 😉 ). It’s kind of interesting that whoever came up with the Fog didn’t see fit to fill them in on why. I wonder if that’s a corruption (essentially, they forgot) or if it’s kind of on purpose. If you wanted to learn about humans, or even test them, then do something like drop the Fog on them.

      There’s only so much time for stuff, and developing characters takes time. So I’m not surprised or even disappointed they didn’t do much with the rest of the crew. They barely did any character development on Gunzou, actually, just the barest of backstory and motivation. So I don’t really think it was a bad decision to not go into Iori, Kouhei, Sou, or Shizuka any more. Ultimately, what does their backstory or motivation matter, at least in this show? It’s enough to know that they’re dedicated to Gunzou. It’s not like Gunzou’s methods deviated from a basic “I’m going to deliver this warhead, and do the minimum necessary to do it without terrible hang-on effects.”

    • akagami says:

      I have to admit I normally dislike CG, but it wasn’t too bad in this series. It didn’t overly detract from the series at least, which was good. Sometimes its really jarring.

      • Highway says:

        I think this may be a watershed event for CG. We’ve been seeing it used more and more, especially in action shows. And I think that a lot of the ‘usually I dislike CG’ is not because the CG is bad, but because the model difference between the drawn 2D and the 3D CG is enough to notice. I think you’d have to look pretty hard to find people who would say “I dislike CG because the animation is smooth and it allows for more action in the same budget” (although there’s guaranteed to be *someone* who just wants to be recalcitrant about it). It’s almost always because the models look different, generally ‘worse’ in CG. But as I said above, the all-CG production gets around this because the models stay the same. So now it’s a case of working on the models, learning more about animating them, and making them more realistic.

        I really don’t know how anyone could complain too much / at all about the CG action in this show. It really was impeccable.

    • d-LaN says:

      Video games cutscenes/models have come a long way, BB.

      How ironic it would be if they and the code was created by humans to begin with.

      Ouch if tht is really the case XD The manga haven’t provided any answers abt FoF existence AFAIK btw.

      Yeah, its too bad Gunzou crew got shafted in favor of those MM but like @HWY said its a logical choice. Would’ve like tht they kept Kouhei otaku habits in though like him watching anime with Iona.

      • Highway says:

        For another reason they might have minimized the human crew time and development, it’s much easier for us to believe the CG animation for the Fog characters, because they’re supposed to be somewhat robotic and flat. So the uncanny valley issues don’t apply nearly as severely. I did notice that I noticed Kouhei’s time on screen much more than the Fog, from a ‘CG not quite working well’ standpoint.

        So less exposure = less complaining about CG.

        • Di Gi Kazune says:

          There isn’t really material for the human crew development. Apart from Gunzou, only Shizuka has material for character development.

  7. T.K. says:

    The show proved itself to be entertaining throughout, although they probably could have expanded more on the world, and about the Admiralty Code but I guess I will have to find out by reading the manga.

    The choice of putting it all CG was a bold move and I really hope it pays off in the BDs and that Blue Field CG concert they’re planning. Most of the people I know thought that the animations leave a lot to be desired and hoped that they had gone with traditional but I thought it was decent, sans other scenes with lesser humans, those were horrible. I hope other shows would take up the CG challenge in the future (looking at you Knights of Sidonia).

    Soundtrack wise, it had a few badass tracks and some pretty Evangelion ones, no complains about that though, I loved it! Overall, I’m glad I stuck to this show till the end.

    • Highway says:

      I thought that Ryokan Kita (I think that’s the name of the politician with the beard) was fairly well animated, but then beards make it cheaty. Kamikage was terrible, easily the worst animation in the series. But as we discussed in an earlier post (either mid-season, or the first mini-talk about it), not going with the standard style for CG characters meant they’d be breaking new ground on the style. Pixar developed that 3D textured look because that was easiest to get out of the uncanny valley, and now just about every CGI feature uses that. I think trying to keep a classic anime style is worth some effort and some credit. And I think they were very successful with the look and animation of almost everything else, and it allowed a freedom of direction that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible, much like Girls und Panzer from a year ago.

      I like quite a few pieces from the soundtrack as well, and while it’s limited in scope, I think that’s better for cues.

  8. ken92601 says:

    I personally enjoyed the show very much, it just grew on me and was a nice change of pace from other fall anime like kill la kill.The animation never really bothered me and the music was fantastic.The opening and ending themes were great as well as the character songs (If you have not seen a character song here’s one it’s Maya’s which is done by her actual voice actor 🙂 I especially enjoyed Kongou’s and i-400 and i-402’s songs) Hopefully this show gets a 2nd season which either continues where they left off or gets a reboot like fma:brotherhood where they follow the manga more.Given the fact that they alrdy have alot of the models and ships done if they make back their initial investment it will still be profit for them and give more hope for another season.

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