27 May 2019

Future War Stories From the East: Armored Trooper VOTOMS

Many of the more famous anime and manga is often defined and remembered because of a certain iconic character, unique setting, or piece of machinery (which is often Mecha). Some imported Japanese animations or comics are lucky enough to be imported wholly to the West along with other associated products like models, video games, or toys. Others were not so lucky and came over to our shores in pieces and over a great length of time, forging fans along with way. Both statements above directly apply to one of the most mecha-based military science fiction animes of all time: Armored Trooper V.O.T.O.M.S (装甲騎兵ボトムズ Sōkō Kihei Botomuzu). After many requests by the loyal readers of FWS, it is high time to suit up and explore VOTOMS!

What is “Armored Trooper VOTOMS”?
VOTOMS is the brainchild of Fang of the Sun Dougram creator Ryōsuke Takahashi and despite being developed in 1983, VOTOMS is still an on-going Japanese military science fiction franchise encompassing anime TV series, OVAs, video games, models, and toys. At about the time that Fang of the Sun Dougram was ending its run on Japanese television, Takahashi and Nippon Sunrise animation studio would continue the mecha-centered war stories with the VOTOMS 52 episode television show that aired on TV Tokyo from April 1st, 1983 through March 23rd, 1984. The 52 episode epic is normally divided into four somewhat equal parts detailing the misadventures of former elite armored trooper Gilgamesh Confederation soldier Chirico Cuvie. Much like Fang of the Sun Dougram, Takashasi would work with the same animation studio and the same mechanical designer, the famed Kunio Okawara, who also worked on Mobile Suit Gundam and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Since the original TV anime series aired on Japanese airwaves in 1983 to 1984, VOTOMS has become one of the most iconic military science fiction animes of all time. This status as an anime legend resulted from VOTOMS being set in a great, more realistic war scenario, with a traumatized ace mecha combat pilot as the main character, and a kick ass mecha design to wrap in all up.     

The Plot and Setting of VOTOMS
Armored Trooper VOTOMS takes place in another galaxy called Astragius that had been relatively at peace for over 500 years with the two major galactic powers: the Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation since the end of the 2nd Galactic War. That was until 7113 AC, when the need for colonial expansion to provide for its large population forced Balarant into bitter and bloody conflict with Gilgamesh over the possession of a single star system on their border. The war (called the 100 Years War or the 3rd Galactic War) would be fought with soldiers, starships, and a new type of armored power suit: the Vertical One-man Tank for Offense & ManeuverS or V.O.T.O.M.S. Developed in 7118 AC, the “machine trooper” rapidly became the primary weapon in this long war and soon after being improved, these one-man powered armor become known as the "Armored Troopers".
In 7198, the most famous Armored Trooper mecha model of the 3rd Galactic War was put into the field: the ATM-09-ST “Scopedog” of the Gilgamesh Confederation. Just a few years prior to that, the main character of the VOTOMS universe was born, Chirico Cuvie on planet of Melkia. In the original 1983-1984 TV series, the former elite Red Shoulder Battalion pilot was questioned, tortured, imprisoned due to his unique nature and involvement in an off-the-books mission. As the 100 Years War ends in an uneasy treaty, Chirico breaks out of prison and is on the run in the ruined city of Uoodo on Melkia. Throughout his journeys and the new people he meets, Chirico learns his destiny and a hidden force controlling current events. With the success and loyal following, the original 1983 TV series formed the spine that the rest of the VOTOMS titles are centered around. Most of other titles in the vast VOTOMS franchise focus on Chirico or other people during or around the 100 Years War era.           

The Iconic Mecha of VOTOMS: The ATM-09-ST “Scopedog”
In the bitter interstellar war between Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation, the war was mostly waged with smaller CLASS-II Armored Powered Suits known as: Vertical One-man Tank for Offense & ManeuverS or V.O.T.O.M.S and it immediately became an iconic of anime mecha design.  One of the most often cited iconic elements of VOTOMS was that the primary mecha and it was not some massive transformer war machine like those seen in Macross or a towering pilot robot like Gundam, but more like the Marauder suits from the Starship Troopers novel. That was not by not chance, but was the vision of smaller combat mecha (about four meters in height) was laid down by both Takahashi & Okawara. This combat mecha, the ATM-09-ST “Scopedog”, would become the overall symbol of the VOTOMS universe and a longtime favorite among modelers and collectors. Even if you did not know the original source of the Scopedog mech suit, you knew intrinsically how good the design was. This was true of me when I would see the Scopedog model kits in the comicbook store in the 1980s. I knew of the Scopedog APS mech long before knowing the name of the source.
It would not be until an early issue of Animerica Magazine that I learned of VOTOMS. According to the source material, the Scopedog was developed in 7198 AC, nearly in the middle of the 3rd Galactic War, and it became the primary foot soldier of the war. To counter the Gilgamesh Confederation new Armored Trooper, the Balarant Union developed the lesser B-ATM series that was an attempted copy of the Scopedog. Some of the Scopedog CLASS-II armored power suit would fall into the hands of private military contractors during and after the war. Often these mercenary suits were painted a different color to differ themselves from the military issue mecha. According to technical data, the standard Scopedog was just under four meters and weight in at 6.7 tons when loaded for combat. While the powerplant is unknown, mecha of this type rely on “Polymer ringers” as a mecha muscular system that requires a liquid that needs to be recharged. The Scopedog has an operational range of 218 hours of the polymer ringers before needing refueling. When it comes to armaments, the Scopedog has a vast array of offensive systems that can be mounted and in-hand.
Classically, the Scopedog is pictured with the GAT-22 30mm heavy box-fed machine gun and shoulder-mounted, magazine-fed grenade launcher. What gives the Scopedog its odd name comes from the tri-camera lens turret system that is slaved directly to the pilot's helmet HUD. While these bipedal walking one-man tanks were impressive, they could be taken out easily by several clean shots and due to this, the Scopedog used rollers in the feet to increase movement speed as defensive maneuver. Since the original series ran in 1983, the Scopedog mecha has been a daring of the Japanese modelling industry and mecha fans alike.         

The Historical Context of Armored Trooper VOTOMS
VOTOMS would be developed and broadcast in the Land of the Rising Sun during an interesting time in the history of anime that began in 1972 with Mazinger Z, but came into full bloom with Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross. This anime forged the long running passionate love affair between anime and mecha that bore many offspring and endless plastic statues attesting to the idol worship of the adoring masses that included me very much back-in-the-day. This was also a time when anime studios and creators took more chances with regards to subject matter and more of these titles were being condensed into OVA format rather than lengthy and expensive TV series. Of course, it helped titles like VOTOMS to be funded due to the titanic success of Star Wars that injected new fans and cash into the genre of sci-fi. Helping VOTOMS specifically was the success of Ryōsuke Takahashi’s previous work, Fang of the Sun Dougram, along the popularity of those mecha model kits. Also at the time of VOTOMS release was that the United States market for anime and related products was heating up with the US going through their own Giant Robot Craze fever. While Japan had a developed system for retail sales of anime on VHS and LaserDisc, the market for home media in the United States was still waiting to boil.
This brings about an interesting element of imported anime titles in the US market during the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Before the advent of DVD, anime was sold on VHS or the rarer LaserDisc format. For anime in the typical TV series format, like VOTOMS, the US import companies like US Rendering would package two episodes of the anime on one VHS tape and sell it around $20 at various retailers like Hastings and Suncoast. For smaller series, like Bubblegun Crisis or even the compact OVA titles, the retail anime market in the US was more agreeable rather than the full TV series that would cost the consumer hundreds of dollars to collect.
These mammoth VHS series would also eat up a great deal of shelve space at the local Suncoast Video store, which could have been used for more OVAs. And it never failed that you would trip down to the local anime-friendly video retailer and they were sold out of the very tape you needed and then you would have to order it and it would take fucking six weeks to get it! That happened. Given the time and the state of the internet, it was extremely difficult to preview these series to see if they were worth the cash commitment. At times, you could rent a few of the episodes at your local Block Buster, as I did with Bubblegum Crisis. However, that varied greatly from region-to-region and store-to-store. These were some of the challenges that were overcome by the advent of DVDs, anime on cable, and the improved technology of the internet.                         
Armored Trooper VOTOMS in the West
When it comes to what anime titles were imported to the US back during the 1st and 2nd Wave of Anime in America, it was often more subjective and frankly odd than one might think. After all, the only reason Voltron is the Voltron that we know is due to a mistake made by Toei Animation resulting in World Events Productions receiving the tapes for Beast King GoLion rather than Future Robot Daltanious. Oddly, we did not get a dubbed Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, but somehow, we got Star Musketeer Bismark?! As we discussed in the article on Fang of the Sun Dougram, it almost does not seem fair to us fans of mecha anime that Dougram was never brought over to the western market and I think that same about the various VOTOMS titles that were never imported. For some reason, titles like Beast King GoLion, Macross, and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman were brought over to the shores of America, dubbed, altered for American media consumers, and then aired, feeding the Giant Robot Crazy. However, on the flipside, iconic military sci-fi mecha anime series like VOTOMS and fucking Mobile Suit Gundam were not given the same treatment. Much like Takahashi & Okawara other production, Fang of the Sun Dougram, VOTOMS would never be given the ROBOTECH treatment, but unlike Dougram, the original 1983-1984 VOTOMS TV show would be released for the home video market on VHS tape by Central Park Media’s US Manga Corps at around 1996 as the market for anime on VHS was heating up.
According to scans of the 1996 US Manga Corps one-page ads in publications like Animerica, the original VOTOMS TV show was being sold on the common format of two-episodes per tape. This made owning the *complete* Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV series comprised of 52 episodes an expensive venture, especially considering that each tape retailed at $24 or the boxset of each “stage” (example: the Kummen Jungle Wars) at a lower price point of $99. I did see some of the VHS tapes for Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV series at Suncoast stores in the DFW area, but they were not the complete collection and I did not take the plunge despite my love for military sci-fi mecha-based anime. Video tapes were not the only arrow in the VOTOMS quiver, there was the manga, video games, RPGs, and model kits to draw upon. With US Manga Corps rolling out the VOTOMS TV series on VHS, they also attempted to also print a VOTOMS limited comic book series via their “CPM Comics” imprint. I say, “attempted”, because it seems that only one issue was printed by CPM Comics and any information is extremely limited and/or conflicted.
According to the cover of CPM’s “Armored Trooper VOTOMS #1”, it was intended to be a limited four-issue series, but the only the first issue seems to exist. No online retailer or comic book data site has anything other than the first issue. This seems to me that it is highly likely that only one issue was printed. Then in July of 1997, CPM published a tradepaper back graphic novel collection called “Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Supreme Survivor” which is a prequel to the 1983 TV series that might have originally printed in Japan and then exported to the west via US Manga Corps. Today, this 112 page trade paperback commands a heavy price of nearly a thousand damn dollars and speaks to the rarity and popularity of VOTOMS in the US. But just the hell is it? From the Amazon preview of this expensive graphic novel, new information is presented inside via editorial by Tim Eldred. It seems that this was Supreme Survivor graphic novel was indeed a collection of the aborted comic book series with some nice extras thrown in, but VOTOM superfan Tim does not inform us why the limited series was halted at issue#1. Also from the limited preview on Amazon, I can safely assume that Tim Eldred and CPM Comics developed this VOTOMS work wholly in the United States and is not an translated manga. Given the subject matter of mechs battling one another, the MSF universe of VOTOMS lends itself easily to a video game shooter. At present, about 20 videos have been released with a VOTOMS theme for the Japanese market, with the majority of titles being released on the original PlayStation and PS2 consoles.
As far as I know, none of the VOTOMS games were officially released in the States. Now, there can be no real separation between the iconic mecha of VOTOMS and the fictional universe itself (just like Dougram). The Okawara designed  Scopedog served as the ambassador to the Takahashi’s military sci-fi franchise, and to this very day, model kits and display pieces are made in lovely detail of the Scopedog APS at all price points. Since 1984, imported model kits of the mecha of the 100 Years War have been for sale in the US, and for many, this is how they learned of Armored Trooper VOTOMS (as the same was for Dougram). For more 12 years, the models were the only real product of VOTOMS in the US. In this new era of information and commerce, Armored Trooper VOTOMS has finally been able to be enjoyed in the west…just some 30 years late.

Why is VOTOMS Considered Military Sci-Fi?
At times, the label of military science fiction is loosely applied to a work to jazz it up or it is debated by the fan base, as the case is with Star Trek. However, it is amazing to read how many times the label of "military science fiction" is applied to the entire VOTOMS franchise by many sources. All of the titles, across all media types, are firmly rooted in military scenarios, military sci-fi tropes, and packed with service personnel, along with cool combat mecha. In addition, VOTOMS includes the cost of war on both society and the individual as we have seen with pilot Chirico.

The Impact and Legacy of VOTOMS
It did not take long during researching the subject of Armored Trooper VOTOMS that its impact and legacy are repeatedly praised in the genre of military sci-fi anime and mecha-centered anime. The majority of mecha in Japanese media were similar to metal giants like the Veritech, the RX-78-2 Gundam, and the prototype Combat Armor Dougram. However, the powered armor suits used in VOTOMS were only about four meters in height, did not tower over urban centers like the mechs from Battletech. Instead, they were on the ground and in the thick of battle, like normal infantry and the Scopedog APS were cranked out of factories like Ford Model Ts and were NOT customer one-off rare mecha, like the Dougram.
This set Armored Trooper VOTOMS apart automatically from the herd of giant-armed-robots-piloted-by-teenager trope populating anime and manga along with the main character. The adult Chirico is deeply affected by his actions during combat, he is haunted by the horrors of war, and he is in search of some sort of peace from his talent. This reintegration back to civilian society for a warfighter is a very topical issue today and it was rather refreshing in an anime of the time, but not isolated as some have claimed. VOTOMS had similar themes as Fang of the Sun Dougram, Space Cruiser Yamato, and even Macross. The themes and more realistic mecha design influence a whole generation of creators on both sides of the Pacific, including Dynamo Joe creator Doug Rice and the creation of the Heavy Gear Canadian mecha combat RPG.

The List of VOTOMS Anime:

VOTOMS: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)
On August 21st, 1985, Sunrise would immediately go back to the VOTOMS universe after the end of the original VOTOMS TV show and tell the tale of the time between Part 1 and Part 2 of the original anime series via this hour-long OVA. From the comments made about this OVA, it seems to be a critical and important part of the overall story of the central character of Chirio as well as VOTOMS universe as a whole. I do not believe that this was imported into the USA.












VOTOMS: Big Battle (1986)
Released in July 5th, 1986, this hour long OVA took place just after the events of the 1983 TV series, but before the epilogue of the original series and further develops the “Perfect Soldier” program. From the comments made about this OVA, it seems to be regarded as just another VOTOMS episode. Once again, I do not believe that this was imported to the Western market. 











The Red Shoulder Document: Roots of Ambition (1988)
Airing in March of 1988, the Roots of Ambition OVA was a story taking place while Chirio was in the service of the Special Operations Red Shoulders unit. This was a much requested storyline by the fans since the original TV series. Chirico and others new in the "Red Shoulders" Special Operations unit were pitted in a virtual battlefield to test their abilities. Again, it was likely this was not imported and some have written this off as just okay.












Armor Hunter Mellowlink (1988)
This 12 episode OVA that aired from November of 1988 to April of 1989 and the first VOTOMS title that did not include the character of Chirio. Instead, the OVA focuses on Mellowlink Arity, soldier blamed for taking military equipment on the path of revenge. This OVA has positive reviews and it does not look it was imported due to an interesting developed. According to the translator for the fansub of Mellowlink, the masters of this VOTOMS entry were destroyed in a flood. It is hinted that US Manga Corps was eyeing this for release and may have done some work on it prior to the flood. 


Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Brilliantly Shining Heresy (1994)
This marks the only entry into the VOTOMS franchise in the 1990s, and continues the story of Chirio and Fyana after they went into cryo to avoid a new war. They awake some 32 years after the events of the original series to take on the Church of Marteal. This was imported to the west just this year. Some have claimed online that this entry failed and prevented anymore VOTOMS anime projects until the 2000’s.







Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Pailsen Files (2008)
To somewhat save VOTOMS, the original production crew of the original TV series developed an entry of Chirio during the 100 Years War, but with then “cutting edge” CGI effects. Yeah…I'm sure that aged well. The reviews are all over the map on this 12 part OVA series, and many criticize the dated and hated CGI effects. However, many have praised the story and what the OVA shows of the universe of VOTOMS.












Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Phantom Chapter (2010)
I’ve always been surprised by the lack of the overall cohesion in the VOTOMS franchise and the six-part OVA only reinforces that. This has the three friends of Chirio reuniting and yeah…that’s not why I would want to watch VOTOMS. A number of reviews speak of nostalgia and an semi-ending to the original VOTOMS storyline, but that was replaced with the 2011 entry: Alone Again












VOTOMS Finder (2010)
This is an odd entry into the whole of the confused VOTOMS universe. Finder could take place in an alternate universe of VOTOMS, we are not 100% sure, and it does not involve the typical players in VOTOMS works. The main character is a mecha junk finder and deal, but when he is tapped to rescue a kidnapped girl, the plot thickens. This has yet to be imported and it is a stand-alone, spin-off title one hour long OVA.




Case: Irvine (2010)
There have some bold experiments within the VOTOMS spin-off media and Case: Irvine was one such attempt. The story was centered around mech technician Irvine Lesterand and those much featured gladiatorial mecha games. While somewhat interesting from the review, it was never imported in the west and it never led to another work based on the character. 



Alone Again (2011)

This is a OVA love letter and goodbye to the main character of the VOTOMS series, Chirio. In this hour-long OVA from 2011, Chirio visits his friends for the first time in over 30 years in a dusty western town. Of course, some violence gets kicked up. From what I read, this ends the Chirio character in VOTOMS and allows for a new beginning. At the time of writing, this was not imported to the west and is the last/current VOTOMS title in the franchise.











The VOTOMS Video Games
In the west, we are often not treated to a vast collection of Japanese video game titles on many of the home consoles and for one reason or another, they were never imported. One of those was the entire VOTOMS video game catalog. It seems almost natural that the VOTOMS universe would translated into mech shootin’ video games!  The first three titles on the VOTOMS video game library are confined to Japanese PCs like the Sharp X68000 Computer, which were not imported to the western market and that makes sense. It wasn’t until the fourth title that the VOTOMS video games came onto a system that we know and love: the SNES.
The apex of the VOTOMS mecha-combat centered video games came on the Sony PS and PS2 systems. The odd thing is that a full 11 titles featured some element of VOTOMS, likely the Scopedog APS, as a guest character. After reviewing gameplay footage of the VOTOMS games on YouTube, the majority of games are centered on a third-person POV mecha combat, while other titles (like the SNES title) are focused more on  gladiatorial style arena game. After watching the footage, I wished that some of the PS2 titles had been given the western treatment and imported so that they could have been sold alongside works like ROBOTECH: Battlecry and MechaAssault series (FWS needs to talk about these titles!).

The Models and Toys of VOTOMS
When VOTOMS came on to the airwaves of Japanese TV in 1983, it was a time that some of the most iconic mecha was designed and developed and then recreated in plastic and metal. It would be impossible to catalog and explain each of the Scopedog (and other mecha) kits that the Japanese model industry pumped out and this speaks to the popularity of the VOTOMS brand. Muddling the waters much like Macross and Gundam, is that the VOTOMS franchise is ongoing to this very day, allowing for the demand to keep pushing more product into the market place. This market place also includes the west as well. What it is interesting is that VOTOMS, like Dougram, had their Takara made model kits and even some of the diecast toys come over to American shores without the show airing here. In VOTOMS case, it was more than a full decade before US Manga Corps released the original TV series on VHS and Laserdisc in 1996. This was not a full-on assault like the Revell ROBOTECH Defender model line, it was more a local effort by importers. Today, you can buy the iconic OD green Scopedog APS in all shapes, sizes, and price points both in Japan and in America.

The VOTOMS RPG
Another nearly organic product evolution of the VOTOMS was into the realm of tabletop mecha combat game in the same vain as BattleTech or MechWarrior. After all, Dougram had no less than two mecha 3D combat tabletop boardgame made for the Japanese market. The first was Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Battling that released by Tsukuda Hobby in 1992 and was rooted in the gladiatorial mecha combat featured in the original series. This hex-and-counter game was noted for being very complex and not released in the USA. In 1997, Washington state based R. Talsorian Games finally developed and release an official VOTOMS RPG using their own mecha Fuzion system and under license from Central Park Media. There are no sources on how popular the game was, but it seems to have only had a single game released with no addition modules or miniatures (some 10mm VOTOMS mecha miniatures were released in Japan though). This was likely an marketing strategy on the part of Central Park Media as this was the time with the VHS tapes were released along with the comic book “series”. One of the things that the R. Talsorian VOTOMS RPG is known for today in VOTOMS circles is that game manual is packed with tons of information on the VOTOMS universe. Until the release of the R. Talsorian gaming system, the Canadian mecha RPG game, Heavy Gears, was developed in the image and influence of VOTOMS in 1994.

Is VOTOMS Worth Watching Today?
Many speak of the legacy and impact of the original 1983 series along with the many VOTOMS OVAs, but it is important to take those praises with a grain of salt. The original series is very good in parts and does often earn its legacy…however, it is also muddled, wandering, and the focus on “prefect soldiers” is a well-worn trope of military science fiction. The majority of the OVAs were not imported and the fansub on these is hit-or-miss, but the OVAs containing more about the 100 Years War seem to the better of the lot. I think if you are a fan of classic mecha anime, it is worth checking out on a streaming serve first before making the investment in the hard media. One of the elements I was not expecting in the 1983 TV series was the quality of the animation was not as good as other anime titles of the same time or even before. This was true of Dougram as well, though…maybe it has something to do with Sunrise? Another element I found odd was the mecha combat. Some of the scenes were dynamic and compelling, but some lacked any energy or assumed realism. Anyway, there is something in the vast VOTOMS universe to satisfy your mech cravings that was developed by one of the masters of mecha-centered anime. 

Next Time on FWS...
From the castle sieges of the 15th century to the modern battlefields of the 21st, one of the few remaining weapon systems used then and now is the mortar. Today, the mortar is a critical infantry support indirect fire weapon that is deployed and improved. However, this important weapon system is poorly represented in science fiction, making one of the rarest weapon systems in all of science fiction. In the next installment of FWS Armory we will be diving into the mortar!

5 comments:

  1. Fun fact, Suidobashi Heavy Industries Kuratas primary inspiration was Armor Trooper VOTOM. Kogoro Kurata was a big fan of the show as a kid.

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  2. Cool dude! Wish the future post is about smart munitions from the 50 cal EXtreme ACcuracy Tasked Ordnance (AKA EXACTO) to the 155mm M982 Excalibur!

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  3. Really love the VOTOMS series, always have. And the Scopedog is just a great mech design.

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  4. The name is a cross-language pun.

    In the VOTOMS universe, AT are treated more like individual infantrymen than like vehicles. They are mass-produced in incredible numbers, easy to operate with minimal training, and cannot be effectively armored against common weapons of the time (you mention Mellowlink, which shows that a man-portable rifle weapon is able to defeat AT armor). As a result of this, AT tactics tend toward infantry-wave assaults and attrition warfare.

    This means that AT pilots are generally not thought of very highly. They seldom live through more than a few battles, they receive little training or pay, they certainly don't give orders to anyone or take part in tactical planning. As such they're often called "Bottoms", seeing as how they're at the bottom of every conceivable heirarchy.

    And the Japanese tongue generally confuses "B" and "V" sounds, so "bottoms" becomes "vottoms", and that became "VOTOMS"...

    The acronym, as with most JSF acronyms, was thought up to fit the word. GUNDAM has an acronym--"General-purpose Utility Non-Discontinuity Augmentation Maneuvering-weapon System. The Veritech Fighter's "Guardian" mode is called the "Gerwalk" in the original Macross property, and the acronym there is "Ground Effective Reinforcement of Winged Armament with Locomotive Kneejoint".

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  5. Thanks for sharing, nice post! Post really provice useful information!

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