Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

11:58:48 pm , 525 words, 1292 views     Categories: Animation, Animator, TV

Furuya's Arusu

I long wanted to be able to see the credits for Tweeny Witches, to see who is behind the animation and how the teams rotate and so on, and to try to pinpoint who might have been responsible for the parts that interested me. I've managed to see most of the credits by now, and among the more interesting discoveries was to see the extent of Shogo Furuya's involvement in his eps. In ep 33, for example, there is only one other animator listed, Kazuya Nomura, which shows that Furuya is obviously an individual with a strong need to control every element of the production. I've heard rumors that this may have had an ill effect on his involvement in another series. It's good that he had the chance to do a little work in his own way, and I don't know of any other show that would have allowed him. Arusu was good leavening for the talent of a number of good up-and-coming animators.

I enjoy Furuya's drawings, but they were a shock at first, after having grown used to the more cartoonish look of the other animation directors on the show. In comes Furuya with his pouting, swaying, realistically proportioned characters, and it completely changed my view of the show - for the better. It gave more impact to the actions of the characters. Yasuhiro Aoki also grows towards a more realistic rendering with each episode, with the protruding eye sockets and so on. The lightspeed evolution of Yasuhiro Aoki's style over the length of the series is astonishing enough as it is, but by his last episodes it's downright confusing, as the characters go from cartoon characters in one ep to mature young women drawn in a realistic manner in the next. Aoki seems to have continuously re-invented the characters in his head as the series progressed. Other people's drawings evolve unconsciously, but you get the impression of Aoki willing his evoluion. I don't know whether the decision to draw the characters that way was just Aoki's initiative, but his drawing them this way emphasizes how they mature and grow over the length of the series, both mentally and physically, giving the denoument more resonance. Unfortunately none of the other ADs seem to have taken this into account. Together, Aoki and Furuya gave the show a dimension it didn't have under any of the other ADs.

I was happy to discover that Furuya was credited as an animator in ep 5, meaning that he was quite likely the person responsible for the piece of animation that perhaps most impressed me in the entire series - the explosion. There are times when you know a piece of animation has to have been done by someone you've heard of, and this was one of those times. I had an "of course!" moment seeing his name in the credits. All of the little details - from the sudden color changes to the shrapnel flying through the air to splashes in the water - were too lovingly handled and well calculated to have been the product of chance, the work of someone not deeply studied in realistic movement.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

09:19:24 pm , 527 words, 1153 views     Categories: Animation, Misc, Movie, TV

Looking forward to Tokikake

I see that Mamoru Hosoda's Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The girl who could travel time) is hitting theaters in Japan in just a few days. Initial reactions seem good, and I'm looking forward to it. As a full-length, non-franchise feature based on a solid story, and not a featurette, a promo short, or a TV episode - unlike the various items Hosoda has directed in the last few years, which have all been wonderful, but have all been very 'minor' and seen mostly by die-hard fans - this film will probably finally bring Hosoda some well-deserved recognition. It seems like a film that might go some ways to filling the big shoes left empty by the absence of Isao Takahata from the stage now that Ghibli seems to have turned their back on their formula of alternating fantasy Miyazaki films with more realistic outings - a formula I thought lent the studio such a good balance. It won't be quite the same thing, of course, but Hosoda is a new voice for a new generation, and I think he'll be able to connect with a lot of viewers.

I sampled a few new shows, and was particularly hopeful about a new show from Telecom entitled Muteki Kamban Musume featuring Kazuhide Tomonaga doing animation, but was not terribly impressed. Telecom has the people to make the interesting movement, they just need someone to create some interesting stories so that the animation will actually have an impact. Like all the other studios out there these days, it seems they feel they have to base their shows on mediocre manga to attract viewers. Their previous effort using an original story had promise, but didn't live up to that promise for whatever reason, even though it felt like a good direction, so perhaps they gave up on that direction in despair. Angelique was interesting for being a new show mostly done by women. It was only missing a woman director. Content-wise it barely held my interest for a moment. I enjoyed ep 13 of Ouran High School Host Club, directed by chief director Takuya Igarashi. The stylistic resemblance to Mamoru Hosoda was even more striking than in the first ep, and there were interesting animators spicing things up, including op/ed animator Norimitsu Suzuki and Takaaki Wada. The sequence before the title was likely done by one or the other of these two. I liked the feeling of weight in the movement there. Clear effort went into making it look like each part of the body was moving in a different vector. As a movement it felt great. Whoever it was, they stood out big time, without being flamboyant. They stood out because the movement was incredible, not because the drawings were idiosyncratic. Even the short shot of the rabbit walking in front of the door stood out. I've never seen a stuffed rabbit walking, but after seeing that shot, I'm sure that's exactly what it must look like. In that sense it reminded me of Masahiko Kubo's animation of Maromi in ep 1 of Paranoia Agent, which literally brought Maromi to life as a living and breathing stuffed animal. A satisfying ep.

Monday, July 10, 2006

07:22:26 pm , 1200 words, 2271 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

Stormy Night thoughts

Back after a stint in the woods where animation was hard to come by, I find it takes a little limbering up to get back into the rhythm of things. It's amazing how much you lose when you don't write a little every day. Like with drawing, I suppose. And I realize how much I missed writing something every day. It's not only satisfying, but stimulating, forcing you to organize the thoughts you're otherwise too lazy to bother to organize. In the process you stumble across things that half the time are more interesting than what you had when you started.

In the two years since I started writing this thing it feels like there's been a big increase in interesting and in-depth discussion of animation, and effort to shed light on interesting animation, all over the net. I've been a bit too busy with work to do much watching or writing in the last few months, but part of me has just been kicking back and enjoying the show. I don't want to write if what I'm writing is superfluous. But writing got me out of times when I was feeling down, so I'm going to try to whip myself back into shape. Not that I'm too deep down, I'm just feeling the need to write. That's what it's all about. Feeling that need.

Last night I had the chance to watch Gisaburo Sugii's Stormy Night. I was delighted by it. One of the first things that stands out in my mind is the art by Yukio Abe. Yukio Abe was the art man behind all of the big Sanrio Films movies like The Legend of Sirius and Ringing Bell. He's certainly one of the great art directors of the last few decades in Japan. He's the only one I can think of who carried on the storybook naturalism of Disney, adapted to his own time and environs. At the time, about the only art director I can think of who was doing anything remotely as aesthetically thought-out would be Shichiro Kobayashi. Kobayashi was more daring and original, but Abe was equally unique in Japan. He's probably the only one who managed to take that style, so perfectly evolved for animation, but so alien to Japan, and bring it to a level of perfection in his own country and personal manner. Like the Sanrio Films movies themselves, it's an art style that seems to run counter to aesthetic trends in Japan - perhaps for the best - but Abe's obvious artistry and conviction raise his work to a high level that deserves recognition.

Abe's art sends you back to your childhood. In Abe's art you get a deep feeling of mythology, a whiff of another world, of distant lands waiting to be explored. The colors are rich and warm and deep and alluring, inviting you on an adventure bound to be full of magical and exciting discoveries. It's naturalistic, but romantic as opposed to realistic. It's a good thing that animation is no longer limited to dwarves and big bad wolves, but it seems like Abe's approach might offer some lessons that could help to balance things out a bit by wedging open the excessively narrow stylistic range of anime at the moment, reminding us of our roots at the same time.

Apart from Abe's art directing, I thought Marisuke Eguchi's characters were adorable and dynamic and original, and there were numerous moments where the animation stood out, particularly the animation of Mei's fanny during the 'Marilyn Monroe walk' he mentions in the interview on the web site. I've never seen such meticulous care put into animating an ass. It is a fascinating mix of ideas, all seemingly contradictory - Marilyn Monroe's ass? On a goat? - that simply work to express the theme at hand; you can't rationalize it. The animation of Mei jumping around the screen as he runs down the hill at the very beginning was exciting and full of interesting drawings and movements. The effects for the avalanche at the end were stunning. Interestingly, Shinichi Tsuji and Shoetsu Hane were the first two animators listed, as they were in Belladonna more than thirty years ago. Group Tac was famously the studio that Gisaburo helped form after Mushi Pro imploded in 1973. Oh Production also participated, with Oh Pro head Koichi Murata in the creds. Most interestingly, AD'ing was split into character and effect, as it was in the old Sanrio Films movies.

However, although we're dealing with a film about talking animals, Group Tac is no Disney, and the lack of resolution in the movement of the squirrels jumping around the trees acts to remind us that minute and fluent character acting are not among the legacies of the Mushi Pro school. Otherwise the film succeeds eminently in going its own way without needing to be compared negatively to a completely different filmmaking approach. Mostly it does not feel lacking in the animation department. The characters feel alive and present. The depth of detail provided by Tsuneo Maeda's digital tinkering and ingenuity in creating the layers for the fur undoubtedly helps a lot here. And Marisuke Eguchi has definitely come a long way. The characters here are a nice balance between realistic and cartoonish, the wolves spindly and bushy, the goats petite and voluptuous. He manages to pull off the trick Isao Takahata and Yasuo Otsuka pulled off in Jarinko Chie, having the four-legged protagonist stand up on his hind legs on occasion, but timing it in such a way that it seems entirely natural.

But I suspect none of this would have come together without Gisaburo Sugii's unique directing touch. As I began watching, I was worried about whether the film would work, whether Gisaburo's style would be identifiable, and quite simply whether he could still make a film. But the opening scene set my worries to rest. It established the tone perfectly, and succinctly translated this pivotal scene from the original novel into emphatic visual form. The camera zooms through the darkness to each of the two characters as they take turns exchanging compliments, the irony of which each remains blissfully unaware throughout. The pacing is slow, deliberate, all about getting into the mind of the characters and savoring each word and feeling, rather than merely attempting to push forward a story. That is what defines the film, sets it apart, makes it the work of Gisaburo Sugii. Rather than dwelling on the various obvious gags that could arise from the contrived situation, he focuses on exploring and conveying the very complex emotions that play through the two characters as their situation evolves, and that is what makes the film satisfying. He does so through understatement and irony rather than exposition and overemphasis. Gisaburo's basic style has often been described as detached and unforced, particularly his work on Tales from Old Japan (Manga Nihon Mukashibanashi), and I think you can see that here, in very refined and polished form. I thought the ending could have been more satisfying, but overall it's a finely crafted little film, and it was nice to be able to see another film from Sugii Gisaburo.

Related: Marisuke Eguchi interview

Friday, June 2, 2006

12:55:01 pm , 200 words, 3608 views     Categories: Animation, Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Yuasa Chibi Maruko-chan op

MouCripes! There's a Chibi Maruko-chan opening by Masaaki Yuasa that I'd never seen before. It's the most amazing one, too. The round drops and the style of coloring/shading are strongly reminiscent of Cat Soup, so it must have been one of the last if not the last one he did. I still haven't been able to find the original opening and ending, though, which have massive nostalgia value to me, since I remember watching the show when it first came out and remember that a lot of why I loved the show so much was for that crazy opening and ending. The opening has Maruko flying through the air in one continuous sequence on this odd creature, flying through a koi-nobori flag, the camera just zooming around her as she's flying in the air. At the end she reaches her destination, which for some reason is a massive elephant who unzips and out of his body comes flying a huge flock of glowing golden birds. Wonderful oneiric madness the likes of which I'd never seen before in anime, and I remember watching that op over and over. Before I even knew his name, I was in love with Yuasa.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

05:02:58 pm , 370 words, 2396 views     Categories: Animation

Junk Town

It seems Studio 4°C producer Eiko Tanaka has started a blog. I haven't had time to read through it yet, but I look forward to doing so. Recently she mentioned that Mind Game was going to get a screening with English subs soon. What really caught my eye was that she says Nobutake Ito's directing debut Garakuta no Machi (Junk Town) is going to be shown along with four other shorts. I have to commend the studio once again for picking out one of the most interesting animators active right now and getting him to do something, even if it's just a short. To top it off, Mamoru Hosoda is the audio director for some reason. Anyone looking for an introduction to Ito's work need merely consult the climactic escape scene of Mind Game, which Ito animated, or episode 21 or 25 of Samurai Champloo. Ito was animation director/animator on the former and animator of the fight on the boat in the latter. Ito's work as an animator is incredibly assured and personal without being ostentatious or showy. You get a sense watching his work of someone with conviction, boundless patience and the willingness to do what it takes to create movement he's got in his head, no matter how much work it entails. Stylistically his work can seem to hover somewhere around the realistic school of a Hashimoto or an Ohira, but without going too far into the expressive realm. He seems to have a genius instinct for realistic timing, especially with natural phenomena like water and splashes, but one look at his resume is enough to realize that anything he's got is the result of long years of experience as an animator. He also has the flexibility and breadth to want to try other things, as witness his warm-up sally in 4°C's Kimagure Robot short-short series. I look forward to seeing what he will do as a director. Ito is also apparently going to be the character designer of Masaaki Yuasa's new TV series, which is going to start airing later this summer. (You can see a short clip of Ito animating water in the escape sequence of Mind Game on the Remixed DVD.)

Related: Nobutake Ito

Sunday, May 14, 2006

10:28:00 pm , 1431 words, 4612 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, post-Akira

Revisiting 3x3 Eyes

I recently had the chance to rewatch an old favorite of mine, 3x3 Eyes. This was one of the shows that I watched in the very early days alongside Akira and Warriors of the Wind that lured me into anime. I remember not only buying the soundtrack(s) but also buying the original Japanese manga and attempting to read it with my then-rudimentary (nonexistent) Japanese skills. Mostly I just marvelled at Yuzo Takada's art.

I had completely forgotten what each of the 4 eps in the 1991 OVA series was about in the intervening decade, but as soon as I started watching, it all came back to me. The music in particular. The music is by the composer Kaoru Wada, and I'm surprised to find that my appreciation of it hasn't changed too much in the intervening years. It's still great, driving, exciting stuff, greatly contributing to the epic aura, and so much more musically substantial than most anime soundtracks. It's a big part of why the show had such an impact on me. I'd recommend seeking out his orchestral compositions to anyone who liked the soundtrack and wanted to hear more music like it. What I've heard is similar, and even better, in that it stands alone as drama-in-music. He's another great Japanese orchestral composer who also happens to have done soundtracks, like Akira "Godzilla" Ifukube.

Apart from that, I'm glad to say that my evaluation hasn't diminished. This is still a very memorable and enjoyable series watched today, and in fact I found it more genuinely engaging than most of what I see being made nowadays. It succeeds in creating a convincing feeling of adventure and epic grandeur, which seems to have become a lost art today. Here the spirit of adventure is natural and unforced and unselfconscious, which is unbelievably refreshing to see today. The people behind the unique feeling of the show, apart from Takada Yuzo, who wrote the original manga on which it's based, are director Nishio Daisuke and animation director Koichi Arai. Watching it you really feel that the directing and animation are working together as a unit to create this unique feeling.

Nishio went on to direct lots of Dragonball and more recently Kindaichi and a number of other shows with the Himeno/Araki animation director duo. What I like about the directing here is that the characters don't feel like they're going through paces. Each development is truly unexpected, and you're actually watching wondering what's going to happen next. A lot of things are elided over, unfortunately, and go unexplained, which leaves you scratching your head in spots, presumably because of the need to compress the massive original comic, but he manages to do it in a way that it seems natural, so it doesn't feel like the show has holes. Just the opposite, it feels good to watch something that doesn't feel like it has to fill in every little detail. It keeps moving to new places instead. Nishio's directing doesn't feel insulting or pandering, and never gets boring. It's truly balanced stuff. It's unfortunate that I haven't seen much from him since then.

What I came away from upon rewatching the OVAs was a feeling of a promise unfulfilled. I'm not talking about the fact that the series gets cut off right when it's getting good. I may sound perverse for saying so, but I kind of liked that things remained open that way. It's sad to see a story you like come to an end. I always found that unresolved mystery of what was going to happen somehow pleasant. What I'm talking about, rather, is that this show had a certain feeling of expansive adventure convincingly directed that I expected to find in all anime, and haven't. That's the downside to starting high. It's downhill from there. Most anime I've seen since then is predictable in story and characters and never succeeds in creating a genuine feeling of dramatic scale. That feeling of truly enjoying each moment of a long saga, of getting into the characters, isn't something I've gotten very often since then from anime, which is surprising since so much anime has attempted to create that sort of thing.

Last but not least, the other element is Koichi Arai. It's through his pen that those characters come alive. Not only are his designs a great interpretation of the original manga, I really feel that it's because of his drawings that interest is maintained constantly. Naturally it wouldn't work without Nishio's directing, but they work perfectly in sync. Right before this Arai drew all of the animation for an episode in an OVA series called Hanaichi Monme, and Nishio was the director of the episode. I've heard good things both about Arai's animation of the episode and the potent, realistic directing of Nishio, and so it's clear they had a wonderful symbiosis going. That's the sort of thing I most like to find - a great director/animator team. Nishio and Arai were the best together. I can't think of any other show on which Arai's style has been featured so prominently, as since then he's gone back to focusing on working as a solo animator. It's good in a sense, because I'd rather see him work as an animator, but part of me would like to see another short assay like 3x3 Eyes from Arai, to see what he'd do with it today.

What is it about his characters that I like so much? It's that they're expressive, and their expressions don't feel hackneyed, taken from the repertoire. They feel genuine. They feel like his own work. That's another broken promise - most anime I've seen since then can't be said to have that feeling of uniqueness. I find the difference especially stark in comparison with the bulk of anime being made now. There are very few times when I feel an animation director has come up with his own set of expressions and his own approach to form and so on. In Arai's hands each drawing feels right. Even in cases where drawings have been extensively corrected nowadays, I still don't get that feeling. It's a question of whether you have that touch or not. It also may have been a product of the era. Utsunomiya Satoru's Gosenzosama Banbanzai had just come out the year or two previously, so perhaps we're seeing the early influence of its unique approach to character animation in 3x3 Eyes. There's a strong feeling of three-dimensionality in the characters that seems similar, and a different basic approach towards what to move and when. The faces are modeled in a realistic fashion that reminds a bit of Otomo, so Akira may also have been a recent memory.

I also had a chance to watch the continuation that was made about four years later, this time three 45-minute eps. Perhaps nostalgia is a factor in there somewhere, but the continuation didn't have the magic of the first series for me. It was simply anime. It was Arai and Nishio who made the first series so unique, and without them it was just anime. Even Kaoru Wada's soundtrack seemed a little limp this time around, almost like a watered down version of the first. Exemplary of the stark difference are the designs, which did very little for me. There wasn't that feeling of enjoying the drawings throughout that there was under Arai. The contrast is actually helpful since it throws into relief the unique nature of Arai's drawings.

What's interesting is that the second series had about three times more animators per episode, yet it didn't have that feeling. The first series had Hideki Hamasu in each episode, clearly acting as the unspoken "main animator". I couldn't pick out his work, but he presumably must have done the main action sequences. Each episode of the second series had a number of interesting figures, and the action scenes were fairly good quality. The best was easily the bit around the 30-minute mark of ep 1, from the point where Yakumo summons Tochao to where he's stabbed, about thirty seconds in total. Toshiyuki Inoue is in the credits, and going by the date of production, 1995, I think it jives with the sort of movement Inoue would have been creating by that time. I also rather enjoyed the gesticulation around the point where the little girl is hit by the car in the second episode. To list interesting names I noted: ep 1 has Toshiyuki Inoue, Yasuhiro Aoki; ep 2 has Jiro Kanai, Yasuhiro Aoki, Aoki Mariko, Masami Goto; and ep 3 has Tatsuya Tomaru, Masahiko Kubo, Keisuke Watabe.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

11:41:02 pm , 8 words, 1258 views     Categories: Site News

Finished

Seems to have worked for the most part.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

11:56:45 am , 62 words, 1332 views     Categories: Site News

Software upgrade

I had to update the blog software to see if it would combat trackback spam. The reason for the change in layout is simply that it's the default. I have to actually install it first and then port over the old layout manually, which is kind of annoying. So apologies if the site looks kind of un-Anipages as I wrangle with this.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

05:02:25 pm , 604 words, 2883 views     Categories: Animation, OVA

SFA Generations

A little curiosity that many people may have overlooked over here is the Street Fighter Alpha: Generations OVA released here not long ago. Normally I would hardly have been curious about it, but the preview caught me off-guard. It was easily some of the best fighting action I've ever seen. My first reaction on seeing it was surprise that Shinji Hashimoto was involved and I hadn't heard about it. In fact, he's not, and most of the animators were unknown to me, but anyone interested in that school of animation will want to have a look at this, because this is obviously of that lineage.

The direcor is Ikuo Kuwana, who started out at Ghibli but quickly escaped and went freelance. I'd seen his name before, but didn't know anything about him. It feels like with this film he's officially announced his presence. It's his directing debut, but he shows that he can create some potent and convincing drama. I came away from the film feeling he had studied Hamaji's Resurrection very closely. It feels like his attempt to make the new Hamaji's Resurrection, both in terms of the realistic movement and the drawings that change dramatically from one animator to the next, and in terms of the subdued realistic directing.

The drawings are wonderfully stylized in certain cases, like the old man pictured here, with lines well used to create realistic features. In close-ups in particular they put great effort into little details that differentiate each face. It's curious, though, because at other times the drawings are sub-par and clearly went uncorrected, and it becomes obvious that they must simply not have had time to get around to it because they spent such an inordinate amount of time on the rest of the drawings. The unevenness actually feels good. It makes for a nice variety of touch.

Naturally the action is the main attraction, but what makes me happy with the piece as a whole is that the directing and drama are fairly well handled, which wasn't a given with this material. Early on, the narrative jumps without warning between different times the way the first ep of Hakkenden did, which can make it difficult to follow, but it's still effectively done, and actually reinforces the parallels. According to the interview on the disc, the voice-actors didn't understand the character interrelations until they talked about it in the interview. (I'm very disappointed that they interviewed the voice actors but failed to interview the director.)

I can't identify who did which scene because I've never heard of most of the animators except for Hiroyuki Imaishi, whose simple drawings make his scene stand out from the rest. He actually sticks out, because the emphasis otherwise is on drawing lots of lines to create realistic-seeming detail, at least in a Fist of the North Star kind of way. What's interesting about the drawings here is that they're a step beyond that sort of stereotyped drawing in a more realistic direction.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn't hear about it was that it hasn't even been released in Japan yet. I don't think I've ever heard of such a thing. Ikuo Kuwana has shown that he could do some interesting work with this piece, so I look forward to seeing what he does after this.

Street Fighter Alpha Generations
Director & Character Design:
Ikuo Kuwana 桑名郁朗

Script:
Mitsuhiro Yamada 山田光洋

Animation Directors:
Masahiro Kurio 栗尾昌宏
Toshimitsu Kobayashi 小林利光
Daisuke Takemoto 武本大介

Key Animation:
Hajime Shimomura 下村一
Takeo Oda 小田剛生
Hiroyuki Imaishi 今石洋之
Takehiko Matsumoto
Kazuhiro Sato
Daizen Komatsuda 小松田大全
Kazuhiro Ota 大田和寛
Akinori Hosaka
Tsutomu Kikuchi 菊池勉
Shinji Shimizu
Yukikazu Yamagishi 山岸徹一
Keiichi Sasaba 笹場啓一
Takahiro Nakayama 中山岳洋
Masahiro Higashio

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

02:47:50 pm , 213 words, 1322 views     Categories: Animation

Bunny & D'Avino

Sounds like the name of a band.

I haven't had time to do much digging into indie animation lately, and also just haven't had much luck running across stuff, but luckily I recently discovered that Jeff Hasulo does the job for me over at hydrocephalicbunny, a great blog about indie animation that has not only alerted me to lots of very cool obscure animation on and off the web that I'd never heard of, but additionally keeps me giggling like a schoolgirl all the while - no mean feat.

A while back my main man Philip alerted me to this page featuring a number of videos made by a very cool indie animator from a few decades back named Carmen D'Avino. Of the few I've managed to check out so far, I get a strong vibe of Kandinsky/Klee influence, touched by a great droll sense of humor.

The yearly Image Forum festival happening over in To/Kyo/to over the next few days is giving top billing to a film I've been wanting to see for a while, Run Wrake's Rabbit, which is playing in a program of English shorts. They're also showing a program of abstract masters Fischinger/Lye/Whitney and premiering Koji Yamamura's omnibus Tokyo Loop. Wish I was there.

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