Category: First Impressions

First Impressions: Chihayafuru


High School student Ayase Chihaya is obsessed with the Japanese card game Karuta but her attempts to get a club started at her new high school aren’t going well. She gets excited when Taichi, who she used to play the game with, also got accepted to the same High School. However, his interest in Karuta has waned over the years. The episode then flashes back to sixth grade where Chihaya meets transfer student Arata and becomes inspired by his incredible Karuta skills.


Chihaya is a cute, single minded girl who is so focused on the game of Karuta that she seems to exclude everything else. Boys don’t like her because of her strange personality, a fact that she doesn’t seem to mind. Her odd behavior is captured in an exceptionally cute early scene with Chihaya hanging flyers wearing a work belt, skirt, and sweatpants which causes her to be screamed at by a Teacher. Her disfunction really hit a cord with me and made me instantly fall in love with her, it’s a bit refreshing to see a Shojo heroine that has a strong dream not involving marriage.

Sixth grade Chihaya comes off as an even stronger character. She has the same characteristic of ignoring how people think of her and uses that to defend and then befriend the shy transfer student Arata. She has a fearsome energy to her that obviously had a profound effect on Arata, who opens up to her after she shows kindness. Her ability to just ignore the rest of her classmates and do what is right is an admirable quality.


Art and animation are nothing special, simple Shojo fair. Although the facial expressions Ayase gives are hilarious, adorable and different enough to be called unique, although just slightly. The sequence of Karuta, a word based card game that requires heavy memorization, was exciting but I can see it becoming repetitive. It’s a feat to animate a game like that and make it watchable, but I’m sure the same was said when Hikaru no Go first started.

Chihayafuru is a sweet story with some interesting Shojo characters. Being Shojo the anime could be a win if they focus on the character relationships going forward but I fear a non-Shonen anime based around a card game could get tired quickly, especially a game like Karuta which a western audience have no connection too. It’s hard to say how the series will play out based on the first episode and Chihaya alone as a compelling character might not able to hold a twenty-five episode series together. This is one to watch, it has potential to be great but it could easily stumble.

First Impressions: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

(Based on three episodes)

Summary: Beloved family, good friends, laughter and tears – these things make up the ordinary life of Kaname Madoka, a second grade student of Mitakihara City Middle School. One night, Madoka dreams of a mysterious dark haired girl struggling against a terrible evil; the next morning she discovers that the girl, Akemi Homura, has transferred into her class. This encounter will lead to an incident which will alter Madoka’s fate forever.


Magical Modoka is attempting to turn the tropes of Magical Girl on their head while using them to create a Magical Girl show. It is a subtle, difficult accomplishment because the Magical Girl elements need to feel both genuine and slightly off at the same time. It is easy to dismiss the first episode of Modoka as a generic Magical Girl anime with some pretty animation but after the first episode the show begins to ground things in reality in a way I’ve never seen in a Magical Girl show. The twisted element comes from Akiyuki Shinbo, who is quickly becoming my favorite animation director, crafts a visual style which juggles the normal world of school life alongside a world where everyday images are twisted by the witches, enemies of the Magical Girls.

The two styles, normal animation and the cut out pencil drawn style of the Witches world, are balanced wonderfully by the narrative and tone of the show. It succeeds in never going too light or two dark but by having an oppressive feeling throughout. There is something sinister in the world and while the Magical Girls should be the opposite of the sinister feeling there is also a darker element to their existence. It is unsettling the way Kyubey, the familiar grants Magical power, is attempting to coarse Modoka and her friend into becoming Magical Girls. There are few elements to the world that seem sincere, even the goal of defeating the Witches feels like there is a secret bit of information the audience isn’t getting. The only benefit the Magical Girls get from defeating the witches is the ability to recharge their powers, so does that mean if their powers are completely drained they’ll die? Why does something a witch leave behind recharge a Magical Girl? The underlying mysteries of the world add a compelling aspect to the series that keeps me desperately waiting for the next episode in the dark as to where they plan to take the series next.

The characters have a special touch to them, notably Madoka’s mother Junko. Early in the series they establish a female empowerment vibe through the character. In Madoka’s family her Mother is the “salary man” and her Father is domestic, her Mother is obviously confident, intelligent, motivated, and responsible all positive qualities to inspire in young women. Early in the first episode Junko is preparing to leave for work and kisses both her Husband and her son goodbye, but delivers a strong high five to her daughter. Seeing such masculine elements in the Mother-daughter relationship is odd but certainly welcome in a medium that normally features female characters as thin as tissue paper.

Verdict: Madoka Magica is a beautiful, well written show that both users the familiar elements of Magical Girl effectively and turns them slightly to create elements that feel new and original. There is a sinister plot running just below the surface that compels the audience to keep watching. The characters are strong and work within the genre and themes of the narrative. Madoka Magica is definitely the winner, so far, in the Winter season.

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First Impressions: Level E

(Based on two episodes)

Summary: Tsutsui Yukitaka is a freshman who has finally convinced his parents that he is ready to live on his own. When he arrives at his new apartment, he is surprised to find that someone has arrived before him; a young man who claims that he is an alien and that he is suffering from amnesia.

Review: The soul of Level E lies in the interaction between Yukitaka and the Prince. Yukitaka’s constant surprise at the Alien’s behavior and the aliens deadpan humor create a strong relationship that seems to be forming the core of a rather complex comedy. However, complexity is starting to feel like it may hurt the overall narrative.

The humor of the first two episodes mostly comes from the protagonist trying to co-exist with this weird roommate he didn’t expect to receive. It doesn’t help that the alien is constantly playing tricks and teasing Yukitaka to the point where even the audience isn’t quite sure what is real and what is a clever lie. The punch line to those long, complex interactions are creative and well worth being strung along by the sarcastic extraterrestrial.

The introduction of Miho, Yukitaka’s neighbor and daughter of an important alien researcher, shows that the character friction is not just an accident. Yoshihiro Togashi is obviously a skilled character writer, some of the subtle development of Miho appearing unique and powerful. She is a strong female character for subtle reasons, being calm when the crashed UFO explodes near her father, and at points some ridiculous elements that I never expected to see in a female character such as disassembling a phone to look for bugs and taking notes on who was watching the Prince as they left the apartment.

Another layer of humor comes from the chaos caused by the Prince being on the planet. He sows conflict wherever he goes, it seems, even if it will lead his race into conflict with the many alien races living on Earth in secret. The show is building into a larger narrative about conflict between the many races living on earth in secret with this single alien sitting in the eye of the storm. This is where I see some problems. The show has just started to introduce some of these races and it is already distracting from the relationship between Yukitaka and the Prince. If the series entire focus shifts to the races as a whole and even war, it’ll be an entirely different show than what we’ve experienced in these first two episodes.

Verdict: I have faith in the writers to turn even something as dire as war between two alien races on Earth into a joke was a singular punch line. The gags they’ve done so far have been fantastic each one more bold than the last. If they are able to maintain that momentum the show is going to be spectacular, if they start to fumble under the weight of their own complex jokes then the show might become massive disaster.

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First Impressions: Dragon Crisis

(Based on two episodes)

Summary: A normal high school boy Kisaragi Ryuji’s peaceful life is turned into an adventure by the return of his second cousin Eriko. Ryuji and Eriko seize a relic box from a black broker. In the box, they find a red dragon girl Rose. In order to protect Rose from the black organization, Ryuji decides to fight using his power as a relic handler.

Review: Dragon Crisis suffers from some dumb storytelling. The characters are a complete mess and for such a complex world the audience is being thrown into there is almost no world building. There are hints and whispers about how things work but without the information it is hard to know what the characters are even talking about. Although, this is a somewhat welcome change from the normal strategy of world building through expository dialogue (*cough* Infinite Stratos *cough*) it goes way too far in the opposite direction. Eriko wants to start her own organization but needs to get permission from a larger organization in order to hunt treasure, which they call the intolerable name “Lost Preciouses.” They are something called “Breakers” which are given out in ten levels and Ryuji is one of the few people in the world that is a level ten breaker but never once is it even hinted at what a Breaker is…

The narrative suffers from some of the same problems, the show reveals information at illogical points, as if the ideas were coming to the writer and he doesn’t know about the concept of editing. In the first episode, Ryuji is baffled by the idea that the Dragon knows his name and yet it comes to him in the second episode that he suffered a traumatic event when he witnessed a Dragon being born. An event no one in this world had ever witnessed! Dragons are the rarest being on the planet, according to the show, and Ryuji forgets about meeting one?

The show isn’t all bad, the character designs are cute, even if the animation seems inconsistent, and this world has a lot of potential if they ever get to revealing what the exactly the large treasure hunting organization’s role in the world is. The plot with the Dragon is compelling especially framed by Ryuji who has absolutely no interest in “Lost Preciouses.” There is a surprising amount to like about Dragon Crisis and I just wish the concept was in more capable hands.

Verdict: I’m two episodes deep into Dragon Crisis and I do want to see what happens in the next episode, if just too finally learn what the hell it means to be a level 10 breaker. However, making the audience watch just to get information they should already have is not a good way to structure a show. I suggest avoiding it unless you feel overwhelmingly compelled by the basic outline. There is some good here; it’s just buried under a mountain of bad.

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First Impressions: Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

Summary: Aikawa Ayumu is a normal high school boy. One day he is killed by a serial killer and revived as a zombie by a necromancer named Eucliwood Hellscythe. He starts to serve Eu as her guard but he happens to deprive the mahou shoujo Haruna of her magic power. Haruna orders Ayumu to fight against the anti-mahou shoujo system “Megalo” in her place.

Review: The show is a slapstick comedy that again dips into the “meta” humor that has plagued the medium since the success of Haruhi Suzumiya. The shocking element of Kore wa Zombie Desu ka is that the insane premise is the normal. The story starts with Ayumu already turned into a Zombie and the narrative springs from him inheriting the powers of Magical Girl Haruna. I found that kind of premise extremely bold, if it is simply combining as many genres as possible in order to please the maximum number of fans.

There isn’t much to this show. It’s filled with clichés, panty shots, and absolutely no shame. There isn’t much here we haven’t come to expect from Ecchi with the exception of a lot more slapstick humor than one would normally find, plus the Moe element of having many different types of cute young girls gathering together, an obvious attempt to pander as wide an audience as possible.

I found myself mostly unimpressed because I’ve seen this type of show a hundred times before. It’s still meta-humor no matter how differently it is presented. There is some hope in Ayumu himself. Living as a zombie has given him a dry wit that makes him a funny character but that is wrapped in a comedy that continues to exploit the fact that he can be continuously maimed and suffer no consequences. Going back to that one joke again and again became tedious in the first episode and I fear it will be more severe as the series goes on. It was also enjoyable seeing a Magical girl dig into a monster using a chainsaw, and in fact going right through Ayumu in order to get to her pray. Those gags have a lot of potential as they play with familiar images and twist them during the slapstick gags. There are some twists I could have done without, such as the abundance of male panty shots when Ayumu transformed into his Magical Girl form.

Verdict: Kore wa Zombie Desu ka Is an anime created by committee. The number of tropes and character types jammed into even the first episode made my head spin. There are some pretty good sight gags that play with standard anime tropes well, these are small gags stand out in a sea of mediocrity. If you’re a fan of intense slapstick and some bizarre images you may enjoy Kore wa Zombie Desu ka, but if you’re looking originality or any kind of substances I suggest keeping far away.

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First Impressions: Beelzebub

Summary: The story follows the “strongest juvenile delinquent”, Oga Tatsumi, a first year in “Ishiyama High” the school for delinquents. One day while sleeping next to a river he sees a man floating down it, he pulls him to shore and the man splits in half revealing a baby boy. This boy is the son of the demon king and he has been chosen as the one to raise it with the baby’s demon maid Hilda. The story follows his life with the child and at the delinquent school.

Review: Beelzebub’s set up reminds me of Chromarte High School, being set at a school just filled with “delinquents.” It has the same kind of style of bizarre humor where the characters seem to be attempting to out weird each other the whole way through. Oga Tatsumi wins this with his tale of a man splitting open and producing this baby who immediately becomes attached to him.

The first episode rode off the hilarious description of how the strange child came to be with Oga but beyond that the humor started to get repetitive. The only jokes, so far, around the baby is that he is attached to Oga and he likes to electrocute people, which really just makes him a weird naked baby version of Pikachu. Nothing really happens in the episode other than the description of the baby’s arrival and simple set up of the show. I saw no long term narrative being established and it I doubtful that the jokes will move past exploiting the awkwardness of the basic set up.

Most of the charm from the show came from the strange story of how the child was found by Oga. The actual interactions from the school and with the child itself suffer from lack of imagination. The only thing humorous the baby has done so far is cling to Oga and electrocutes people. If they are building a show completely based on those two jokes there needs something else to keep interest in this show. The tone was light and fun and that bizarre sense of humor carries a lot of weight but there needs to be some more depth to the series to keep me watching beyond the second episode.

The episode ends with Hilda, an extremely attractive blond woman wearing a gothic Lolita dress, showing up and telling the entire story that involves the demon king being too busy to destroy the earth and sends his son instead. Hilda is to act as nanny while Oga is now tasked to raise the child. That might be the source of some character development and relationship drama but none of that came through in the first episode.

Verdict: Beelzebub has a great tone and light hearted air about it. The bizarre humor in the episode was delightful but I couldn’t see how they are going to develop the concept into a full series. In the next episode or two they must establish something more to the narrative than this initial set up, otherwise I can’t see the show going anywhere beyond its three or four gags.

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First Impressions: Wandering Son


Summary: Shuicihi Nitori appears to be a shy and quiet preteen boy, when he transfers to a new school he quickly makes friends with the tomboyish Yoshino Takatsuki who sits next to him. It soon becomes apparent that both Shucihi and Yoshino are more than simply a sensitive boy and masculine girl, they both are transgendered. Together they decide to take the first steps toward becoming the people they want to be.

Review: The descriptions of Wandering Son don’t really do it justice. Most of the short blubs and the description on MAL talk about gender confusion dealing with Transsexualism. It definitely covers those issues but the way it is stated so bluntly had me thinking of skipping the series. Wandering Son has perhaps the sweetest and most genuine first episodes I have ever seen. What the show is about is the pains of growing up and discovering yourself, beginning to find your own identity. Yes, that is expressed through a boy who wants to dress in woman’s clothe and s a girl who dresses like a boy. However, gender swap becomes a representation of the themes that Wandering Son is dealing with more than anything.

My favorite scene of the first episode was when Nitori decided to try on his sister’s new outfit. She discovers him doing it and freaks out, attacks him, and calls him a freak as the young boy runs out of the house and into the city wearing an undershirt and a tiny pink skirt. During dinner his sister silently gives him one of her fried shrimp. That small gesture is so encompassing of a sibling relationship, the two could have this devastating fight and yet settle things without a word being said to each other. That genuine feeling runs between all of the character relationships which enable the gender issues to be a compelling aspect of the show. Wandering son isn’t attempting to be edgy by bringing up gender issues, it is attempting to treat this traumatic time in Nitori’s life in an authentic way and his issues with gender are simply an extension of the honest way the show is attempt to present his life. The first episode was a joy to watch and this is the only show this season where I’m eagerly awaiting new episodes.

The art of the show is incredible. It is in a water color style which gives the show a whimsical feeling, almost like a memory. It also serves to give the show a unique and memorable look to help it stand apart from the mostly generic looking shows this season. Granted, the character designs aren’t anything special they are simple painted with light, almost pastel, colors in the non-uniform look that water colors give an image. It is striking compared to the universal polish that computer aided animation is able to give to modern anime.

The narrative is where the series starts to run into problems. The first episode hints at an event that happened off screen, but in a limited way. The entire second episode is about dealing with the event and from a person who is new to these characters I was overwhelmed and lost quickly. The anime doesn’t start at the same point as the manga, rather decides to show a single arc in the middle. The narrative so far shows the problem with that; the audience lacks information required to understand the characters and the drama.

Verdict: I desperately want to like Wandering Son but the structure of the series makes that difficult. If anything, it makes me want to go and read the manga in order to understand what is happening. It commits some serious narrative errors by tossing the audience into the middle of an ongoing story arc. If Wandering Son is to recover they need to give the audience time to figure out who the characters are and where the conflict is coming from. Failing that, the series serves as service for fans of the manga.

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First Impressions: Gosick


Summary: Kazuya Kujo has been studying abroad at the prestigious Saint Marguerite Academy, where urban legends and horror stories are all the rage. Most Kazuya ignores but the story of the Queen Berry, a mysterious ghost ship, really gets to him. Of course, his brainy friend Victorique is much more intrigued by true stories, and she uses her unrivaled logic to solve mysteries even the town’s famous detective can’t. Ironically, it is Victorique’s inquisitive nature that leads the duo to board a ship that matches the Queen Berry’s description to a tee, a ship that might just hold the key to solving a sinister mystery…

Review: There is a lot to like about GoSick, Is it well animated, has a gorgeous art style, and some interesting character designs. The setting is beautiful, the private school is nestled in a central European landscape, the architecture is designed to appear grand, and even the insides of the buildings from simple classrooms to Victorique’s atrium above the library are designed with a skilled hand. The setup even provides a great hook; a transfer student befriends a young girl who turns out to be a brilliant detective.

The characters have a great relationship with each other from the moment they meet. They play off each other well with Victorique’s standing as a spoiled girl who is intelligent beyond her age and Kazuya as the sensible down to earth anchor of the pair. Their interactions made otherwise painful scenes, such as the scene with famous detective Grevil, tolerable. If the relationship continues to build from this powerful start they have the potential to be one of the most memorable duo in the medium.

GoSick goes out of its way to ruin itself. It starts off by giving Kazuya the nickname Springtime Reaper because he suddenly appeared in the spring and that has something to do with a ghost story that his teacher tells him to look up in order to grow closer to his classmates. It takes a lot of time and concentration on the part of the audience and it ultimately leads nowhere, except for a roundabout way of getting Kazuya alone with Victorique for the first time. The main story may have something to do with ghost stories but I saw no evidence in the first episode, if they were introducing ghost stories as a theme the show failed to express their importance to the audience.

But that pales in comparison to Victorique’s first mystery. Grevil struts into her palatial room on top of the library and gives her the first mystery of the series. Now Grevil is a profession detective… a famous professional detective and he comes to Victorique because he can’t figure out what I’d call the most obvious mystery in the history of mysteries. I was able to figure it out before all the evidence was given, and I’ve heard the same from a dozen people who watched the first episode. Including such a silly mystery in the first episode puts the entire show into question, not only on the quality of the mysteries but of the strength of the episodic structure for this type of show.

Verdict: Gosick has some strong elements to ride of including some fantastic art and a wonderful pair of main characters. However, the narrative has some pacing and development problems on top of the fact that the first mystery of the series was painfully easy to solve. If you enjoyed the characters of the first episode, as I did, you’ll probably want to keep going. Other than that there doesn’t seem to be much here worth sticking around for.

First Impressions: Infinite Stratos

Summary: Japan engineered an armed powered exoskeleton “Infinite Stratos” (IS) and it became the mainstream of weapons. Since only women can operate IS, women dominate the society over men. Orimura Ichika is a 15 year old boy and accidentally touches an IS placed in the IS pilot training school. He is found to be the only man who can operate IS and forced to enter the training school. Ichika’s busy school life surrounded by girls has begun.

Review: Infinite Stratos starts off with a stunning battle scene between two heavily armored mechs rendered in a beautiful CGI that, surprisingly, doesn’t clash with the 2D animated pilots. That initial battle scene had me eager for more but that, unfortunately, isn’t what we received. The rest of the episode turned out to be a standard school harem comedy, just with the prospect of mech battles looming in the background. Ichika, being the only man who can pilot an IS, is tossed into a school filled with woman who find him fascinating. The only girl who doesn’t is his childhood friend and, of course, that is the only girl Ichika is really interested in.

Infinite Stratos accomplishes some amazing feats as it builds cliché on top of cliché setting up the premise in the first episode. We have a protagonist surrounding by beautiful woman, a Tusndare main love interest who is the protagonists childhood friend who ends up sharing a room with him, the protagonist’s sister is a popular teacher who reacts violently to anything the protagonist says to her, and we have the preppy girl who thinks she is better than the protagonist because of some upbringing blah blah blah.

Worse yet, the back story for the show is explained entirely through expository dialogue, just about the lowest form of world building possible. Whenever a character says something that should be obvious to them and every character they are addressing it completely takes me out of the show, for example the preppy stuck up girl was bragging that she defeated a teacher in the IS during the opening ceremonies… and that allows the protagonist to bring up the fact that he did as well. They were at the same Ceremony! Wouldn’t they both remember what happened?! Why does this bit of dialogue need to exist! The opening ceremonies are brought up so much that it is shocking they didn’t just start the series at that point. That is the launching point for the entire narrative. The Ichika is at this school because of what happened that day and yet the show skips ahead to the harem comedy portion of the series. Clearly, Infinite Stratos isn’t striving to be anything more than that.

Even so, I didn’t find Infinite Stratos too offensive. Remember that you are getting into a dumb haram comedy, shut off your brain and you should be able to get through the first episode. I’m holding on for a little bit just for the prospect of more Mech battles like the one teased before the opening credits. The art is nothing special but the character designs are extremely pleasing to the eye, if a bit generic. The show is escapist anime at its height, a dopy guy gets to be around beautiful woman AND pilot mechs! If I was thirteen again that set up alone is good enough to make this the last show I’d ever need.

Verdict: Let’s just lay it on the line; Infinite Stratos is a dumb show. The setup is painfully cliché and the majority of the characters fall neatly into anime stereotypes that go back twenty years. The mech battle and character designs are extremely well done and while that doesn’t make a good show it might be enough to sustain a guilty pleasure. Hey, it’s still better than Jersey shore.


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First Impressions: Fractale


Summary: The story takes place on an island, where a “Fractale System” is beginning to collapse. One day, Clain finds an injured girl called Phryne under a cliff. She disappears leaving a pendant. Clain sets out for a journey with the girl-shaped avatar Nessa to look for Phryne and discovers the secret of the Fractale System.

Review: The designs of the Doppels, the avatars people use as surrogates in the physical world, are eye-catching and they smartly start off the episode by showing off some of those designs. Unfortunately, they are tossed into a show with pretty generic art design and animation. The design of the doppels do serve as a nice separations between the “real” world and what will be the ever increasing importance of the “fractale” or virtual world that seems to be hugely important in this society. The visual contrast between generic and bizarre probably will serve the narrative further down the line.

Fractale feels like a great mash up of concepts and tropes. The opening battle scene between an airship and a one-man glider gave off Miyazaki vibes, the cyberpunk based concept for the world, hints at time travel, and Villains in the style of the Grandis Gang from Nadia Secret of the Blue Water. These mashed together styles don’t completely form a strong whole, partially because they so obviously represent the works that inspired them. Even the set up for the show can’t decide which Trope to use. At first it seems like the set up will revolve around the girl the gang of idiots was attempting to kidnap. She came off as a strong character with a lot of potential but unfortunately leaves before the first episode is over and gives Clain a small stone and that holds a younger girl who is now going to be the focus of the narrative? I’m not even sure…

Even with all the clashing elements and overcomplicated narrative building Fractale has good writing, interesting characters, and a fascinating world that I want to know more about. The combing of these elements may all be a part of a larger plan for the series. The narrative may take after its name and build upon small elements to become more and more complicated. It also had a sense of humor about what it was doing. When the three villains arrive at Clain’s door there is a humorous face off where he keeps closing the door on them and reopening it to a new scheme they thought up to get inside his out. Including such familiar elements may be Fractale’s way of, like so much anime does, make meta-jokes at the medium. Tossing together different concepts, no matter how interesting, doesn’t make a good show if it doesn’t have a strong narrative to string them together and I didn’t see one even begin to emerge from this first episode. I will continue to watch because what they are attempting to do is innovative and inspiring.

Verdict: While Fractale’s quality is obviously extremely high the narrative feels like it has been hobbled together from a dozen different sources. I’m hoping that Fractale is able to control these elements and fashion an innovative, perhaps new, form of meta anime from this shaky beginning. However, Fractale can certainly go the opposite direction and fall apart at the seams. It is just too early to tell exactly what this show is going to be. 


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