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Old 2012-06-20, 22:24   Link #1
Marcus H.
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The Relevance of Suffering in Character Development

There's a famous phrase that goes, "Being Meduka is suffering." Although totally memetic, it tells us about how the real story of Puella Magi Madoka Magica goes — not just a simple story of friendship, but also of struggles, dilemma, and saving the world from evil... and themselves.

Madoka Magica is among those series where suffering is depicted to drive the titular character to make decisions that ultimately made vast changes to her world. And I'm pretty sure that there are other series who drives their characters to undergo changes through the experience of death, pain or loss.

But are there times when suffering ended up as a bad choice in determining the route of a particular character's development?

I know of Gen Urobuchi (or Urobutcher to some) and Shoji Kawamori; Urobuchi made Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica, and is famous for loving scenes of suffering on his works, while Kawamori is said to troll the fanbases of his works by putting its most famous characters in rage-inducing situations. Regardless, their works often stir quite a discussion.

Has it occurred to you guys that their styles might have been overused and have considered an alternate retelling of a particular scene from another writer's perspective? And on the other hand, why have other series integrated their stories with suffering and failed in making a good story?



This is not really a criticism against the success of PMMM sales-wise. I just have to wonder why comedies or any other series with a mood that is less serious (probably except for Nisemonogatari) sell five digits.
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Old 2012-06-20, 22:45   Link #2
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Suffering, inconvenience, or other hardship is something all living things experience. Because it can be a powerful experience for many, stories of overcoming said hardships tend to be one that resonates through the minds and hearts of most people.

This is why so many stories have people start at the bottom and fight for whatever conclusion they get. Or they fall from grace and pick themselves back up. Nobody wants to watch stories where someone just emos in a corner and dies; on the other hand a story where a bunch of idiots just sit around and eat cake gets really boring. We want tension for a story to be engaging and inspiring.

So there is no doubt in my mind that I am more attached to characters that didn't have it all handled to them on a silver platter. Whether they fought for it and won, or lost, or just merely survived tell the tale can create stories of interest.

There are certainly many different modes of success and failure. And there are many like that in our lives. By following the characters' in their journey of their most difficult times, we may wish that we have the same kind of resolve when those times hit us, and develop more empathy towards others that may be fighting another difficult battle. That's just a message that can speak across different languages and culture. it's just reliving to see, say, someone that resented her broken family and saw nothing but violence to finally appreciate the people around her, or maybe someone that's had all but one friend while earning the disapproval of everyone else finally find warmth in other people, a girl that was rejected by her abusive mother manages to find another family and start a new career, or someone that keeps hitting the reset button when they have but a grain of time before they end up dying again actually make headway towards a faint hope, or someone that's only known how to use other people their whole lives give themselves up as to give some sobbing excuse of a man a chance to go on their last hope of a mission that has almost no chance of succeeding.

Because hope is sometimes the only thing people have at certain points.

It's definitely overused and used improperly if used in a hamfisted manner, but there's a reason why it's so widely used to begin with. The potential for depth and engaging thoughts is high.
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Old 2012-06-20, 22:50   Link #3
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Originally Posted by Marcus H. View Post
I just have to wonder why comedies or any other series with a mood that is less serious (probably except for Nisemonogatari) sell five digits.
Because they stir emotions too. Laughter is a great emotion to stir in people. It relieves stress, it can be high and low culture (very often back to back) and it also presents how ridiculous life is... by making it ridiculous or exaggerated. Comedy is suffering, too, the only different is in the characters' reactions to it.

Milky Holmes subjects its characters to a terrible fate, one that I'd be willing to argue is as bad, or worse, than any serious show. Scorned by nearly everyone they know and barely able to win the affection of the one person they want to, their powers being active almost at random times and with living conditions that make suburbia look luxurious. Yet, they go through it with a smile on their face, and that makes all the difference.

"Serious" and "good" are not exactly the same thing. Less serious series can also be thought provoking, just in a different way. There's an art to comedy as much as anything else.

I'm not even sure if the Kawamori thing is on the same wavelength as the rest of the thread. There's a difference between the miseries of the characters and the reaction of the audience. (Some of this stems from the fact that I can't really recognize "trolling", while everyone around me seems to be seeking it out.)

This might be slightly off from the topic of the original thread, but the reason why comedies can be big sellers is much the same as the reason serious series sell - that strong emotional resonance. It's just a different emotion.
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Old 2012-06-21, 00:09   Link #4
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This might be slightly off from the topic of the original thread, but the reason why comedies can be big sellers is much the same as the reason serious series sell - that strong emotional resonance. It's just a different emotion.
I think you're absolutely right. The objective is to make a story that has an impact on people by playing on a particular need, desire, interest, or goal from the audience. People want to be engaged and captivated by characters they can love (and sometimes hate), and be presented with situations that take them outside the "mundane" of their day-to-day life in some way. But there are so many different ways to do this because there are so many different human emotions to play on and appeal to.

A story that revolves around suffering is usually also about some form of triumph or release -- even if the release is bittersweet. If you can identify with the pain the characters are going through, and cheer for them (and cry for them) as they go through their trials, then the message of the work can be more powerfully conveyed.

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...on the other hand a story where a bunch of idiots just sit around and eat cake gets really boring. We want tension for a story to be engaging and inspiring.
I think this is an interesting (and perhaps somewhat trollish? ) allusion that you're making here. I would suggest that even a story about "a bunch of idiots who sit around and eat cake" can still actually revolve around tension/conflict. Sometimes the biggest source of the conflict is actually "time"; sometimes the setting is portrayed as a sort of paradise that won't last forever (either for the characters and/or for us as viewers). The desire to go to that "happy place" where all the troubles of the world fade away and you can believe for a moment that anything is possible is a pretty powerful nostalgic and emotional force (sort of an emotional catharsis). So the tension here may not necessarily be entirely in the story, but between the viewer and the story. We can still be engaged and inspired by the characters in their little struggles (inane though they may be) because it takes us away from a little while from our own suffering. That's the basis of the whole "healing" genre, really.

So as was said above, it's about pulling our emotional strings, but there are many notes that can be played. What appeals to each of us will depend on our personality and circumstances in life.
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Old 2012-06-21, 00:16   Link #5
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While its true that "character development" seems to be linked with "suffering," I think its important that the most important determinant factor to character development is quite simply, good writing. It's not just a simple "oh lets have this character suffer and it will lead to character development."

And it's not just suffering in of itself, but how one responds to that suffering that leads to development. Just because a character has had a traumatic experience doesn't necessarily mean they will become a better and stronger person. Most modern horror movies are a good example of this. Lots of people die/have traumatic experiences, and they neither learn anything nor become any more sympathetic as characters.

On the other hand, you can take something much more lighthearted, like say Usagi Drop, and nothing catrophic happens to make these people suffer. Yet, they develop as characters because of good writing (Daikichai leans how to become a good father despite having no prior experience, his family learns to accept Rin, etc).

As I Mentioned before, it comes down to how the character is written and handled to determine if they are developing as characters or not. There are probably many examples of more lighthearted characters needing more "suffering" for them to be better as characters, and many more examples of the opposite. But if the writer is a good writer, we will connect to a character, and the character will grow and become something much more and greater, either through suffering, or some other experience.
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Old 2012-06-21, 00:39   Link #6
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I freaking love suffering in fiction. Muv-Luv, Madoka Magica, Brigadoon, Bokurano, Monster, Zegapain, I happen to like all these examples because they put their endearing characters through unimaginatively hellish trials. And it's all the more satisfying for me when these characters persist and break through the emotional and physical obstacles that torment them.

Is suffering overused? Hell no, it's just that some writers don't know how to pull it off.
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Old 2012-06-21, 00:40   Link #7
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On the other hand, you can take something much more lighthearted, like say Usagi Drop, and nothing catrophic happens to make these people suffer. Yet, they develop as characters because of good writing (Daikichai leans how to become a good father despite having no prior experience, his family learns to accept Rin, etc).
In that case, the "catastrophe" (such that it is) is in the premise/setup, and the rest of the show is sort of the journey to recover from that point. We have sympathy/empathy for what they're going through. The suffering is sometimes more subtle and implied than can perhaps be easily seen (it's not necessarily about bad things happening to them constantly from that point on), but it still causes the audience to cheer for them.

I guess you could say that it takes good writing to produce characters you can believe in and cheer for. To that end, it doesn't necessarily require explicit and constant suffering, but it does require the character to make an emotional connection with the viewer somehow.
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Old 2012-06-21, 00:53   Link #8
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It's ok that leads may go on hardships and any forms of suffering to bring out their inner self.. To make them stronger and be wiser... Just don't make them suffer and be killed in the end... It will really disappoint many fans....

Everyone has to pass struggles in life and many will praise you if you succeed...Like in fiction, no one will be happy if after the struggles, you still end up dead? damn..
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Old 2012-06-21, 00:56   Link #9
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Hell no, it's just that some writers don't know how to pull it off.
That's often the problem, really. Another problem is probably how vocal the suffering character is in proclaiming his status as the Great Suffering One. Honestly, I don't like it when the empathy that a person needs is begged by the circumstances (and at times, by the character itself); anything forced upon us is not really an enjoyable experience.
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Old 2012-06-21, 01:01   Link #10
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Personally, a big barrier for me in enjoying Japanese comedies in general (be it live-action or anime) is the language barrier. Some subbers help by writing TL notes during the lines, but if you have to explain the joke, then it becomes unfunny. Combine that with the fact that Japanese comedy (and Asia in general) tend to be very gag-centric doesn't help either because once again, you have to explain the gag. Manzai comedy is another, which I don't get unless explained.

It also doesn't help that my preferred type of comedy is deadpan, black, sarcasm etc, which anime tends to really be short on, unless if it's parodying an inhouse series that the same production studio or sponsor produced. Or slapstick... way too much slapstick comedy in anime in particular but is also very prevalent in live-actions too (with special effects making it either bad or so bad its good most of the time).

So unfortunately, I can't relate to it, nor does it play on my desire or interest. Explains why I have a hard time enjoying slice of life/comedy anime in general unless if it involves some drama or significant conflict.

Suffering, despair, drama or conflict on the other hand, I can relate to very well. Particularly the notion of the underdog rising up to be a hero. Predictable, but execution of this theme varies tremendously. Do it poorly, and you get labelled a "generic shonen" .

Quote:
I think this is an interesting (and perhaps somewhat trollish? ) allusion that you're making here. I would suggest that even a story about "a bunch of idiots who sit around and eat cake" can still actually revolve around tension/conflict. Sometimes the biggest source of the conflict is actually "time"; sometimes the setting is portrayed as a sort of paradise that won't last forever (either for the characters and/or for us as viewers). The desire to go to that "happy place" where all the troubles of the world fade away and you can believe for a moment that anything is possible is a pretty powerful nostalgic and emotional force (sort of an emotional catharsis). So the tension here may not necessarily be entirely in the story, but between the viewer and the story. We can still be engaged and inspired by the characters in their little struggles (inane though they may be) because it takes us away from a little while from our own suffering. That's the basis of the whole "healing" genre, really.

So as was said above, it's about pulling our emotional strings, but there are many notes that can be played. What appeals to each of us will depend on our personality and circumstances in life.
I think it just comes down to personal tastes and thresholds. I'm assuming Archon Wing was implicitly bashing K-on here (), but I can surely emphasise with him, because I too found K-on incredibly boring. Inoffensive, but really boring. I've actually been trying to finish the second season of K-on for a long time now (I make it my goal to finish series that are "popular"), but this quest has been a struggletown. I'm on about episode 16 atm, finishing about 1-2 episodes a month for the past year or so.

I'll put this down on the table. I don't dislike slice of life. In fact, well done slice of series (almost always with some drama) are amongst my preferred genres alongside drama and hard sci-fi. Usagi Drop for example was one of my top favorite TV series of last year alongisde Madoka and Steins Gate.

Sticking with "near-pure slice of life" (minimal drama or romance elements which slice of life tends to implement frequently), but there is a difference between "cute girls doing cute things" for the sake of it and sometimes it appears to force down "moe" down your throat, and "cute girls doing things" as a supplement, though it undeniably is still a significant part of it. Series like K-on, Working and Minami-ke fall in the first category (though I actually liked Minami-ke first season, probably was because of Hosaka lol). Series like Hanasaku Iroha, Natsuiro Kiseki and Tamayura fall in the second. I enjoy the second category, whilst I tend to be get very bored with the former. So that's my threshold.

There may be conflict regarding the former category, but it can be so mundane and "stupid" that makes it lead to unnecessary drama or other times lead to "unintentional lols" because you can't take it seriously. Part of it was because of how "over-the-top" lighthearted the series was at the beginning. Big reason why I have trouble enjoying "Key" series in general for example.

In regards to "healing" anime, tbh I think it's the second category that falls under it and not the first.

Now if we extend "slice of life" to drama or romance, then by default there is conflict and often times, despair or suffering of some sort, which makes it (imo) a lot more engaging.
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Old 2012-06-21, 01:17   Link #11
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There's a famous phrase that goes, "Being Meduka is suffering."
that phrase is derive form "Being Lancer is suffering" and i fail to see how Lancer suffering adds to his character development

as for Meduka, i don't think she suffer that much. it was the people around her that suffer. One lost her sanity and another her head.
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Old 2012-06-21, 01:27   Link #12
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While living in today's society where everything is "expected", people tend to forget the relevance of suffering as a key component to character development. Often, we may want things to be "easy", or we demand our desires fullfilled "now". Well, sorry, "life ain't easy", and "sometimes, we have to wait".

That's just how things go.
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Old 2012-06-21, 01:40   Link #13
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Originally Posted by Xellos-_^ View Post
that phrase is derive form "Being Lancer is suffering" and i fail to see how Lancer suffering adds to his character development

as for Meduka, i don't think she suffer that much. it was the people around her that suffer. One lost her sanity and another her head.
I'm pretty sure "Being Meguca is suffering" was first and meguca=magical girls in general.
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Old 2012-06-21, 02:29   Link #14
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I'll put this down on the table. I don't dislike slice of life. In fact, well done slice of series (almost always with some drama) are amongst my preferred genres alongside drama and hard sci-fi. Usagi Drop for example was one of my top favorite TV series of last year alongisde Madoka and Steins Gate.

Sticking with "near-pure slice of life" (minimal drama or romance elements which slice of life tends to implement frequently), but there is a difference between "cute girls doing cute things" for the sake of it and sometimes it appears to force down "moe" down your throat, and "cute girls doing things" as a supplement, though it undeniably is still a significant part of it. Series like K-on, Working and Minami-ke fall in the first category (though I actually liked Minami-ke first season, probably was because of Hosaka lol). Series like Hanasaku Iroha, Natsuiro Kiseki and Tamayura fall in the second. I enjoy the second category, whilst I tend to be get very bored with the former. So that's my threshold.
Well, I think there's a whole other conversation here about the difference between "slice of life" and "drama" (not "melodrama") that has been had before in this section of the Forum. I think people lump a lot of things together in one genre because they seem on the surface to have similar themes and approaches, but really what is driving the plot is entirely different. But this is why genre classifications are only useful to a point, and there's no real perfect way of classifying things.

But this is sort of why I wanted to point to other sources of conflict/tension that aren't necessarily inherent to the plot, because it's those sorts of "less tangible" elements that can really be a big dividing factor between various people and their interpretation/appreciation of shows. When you're talking about shows that prominently feature "suffering" as a major plot element, then I think it's rather easy to see what the tension point is. If this element is over-used, it could across as heavy-handed or cruel, but that notwithstanding it's rather clear and visible to everyone in the audience, and their only decision is whether or not they can sympathise/empathise with the character's visible/tangible source of pain and conflict. But some of these other shows depend on other sources to generate the same sympathy/empathy that aren't as immediately visible to everyone. I guess it's not so different from your "sense of humour" example, to be honest, except that sometimes it may require either certain personalities or certain life experiences to "get" instinctively.

In the end, as you said, it comes down to personal taste. I sort of hesitate to say "threshold" because that sounds like it's on a scale; I think it really depends on what resonates with you, and even two shows with ostensibly similar themes and pacing could result in different reactions within a person if it doesn't hit just the right notes.
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Old 2012-06-21, 02:56   Link #15
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Well, I think suffering (little or great) is a necessity for a character to develop or “grow up”. Nonstop happiness will only make people spoiled. Just like the old saying “you can’t make scrambled egg without breaking it first” or so IIRC .
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Old 2012-06-21, 04:34   Link #16
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Suffering is often a good means for achieving character development, and/or of forwarding compelling conflict, but it's not the only method.

And too much reliance on it can cause more harm than good, really. I can think of two good, current examples of this.


One is a character in Aquarion EVOL that's become practically defined by her unrequited love and having the plot constantly kick her while she's down. This hasn't pleased many EVOL viewers, and in fact has been a major bone of contention for a lot of us.

And as much as I love Fate/Zero, and as much as I think that suffering added a lot of depth and poignancy to a lot of its characters, there is one particular character in Fate/Zero where I felt the suffering heaped upon him frankly reached the levels of self-parody. At some juncture, it can seem excessive or pointless, imo.

Like Archon said, most people don't want to watch a story where a character just emos in a corner and dies.


That being said, when looking at anime as a whole, I don't think this is a major issue. For every Urobuchi work where a character just emos in a corner and dies, there's plenty of shows where people just happily sit around and eat cake.

North American entertainment has a much bigger issue with being too in love with gritty and grimdark than what anime has, imo.
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Old 2012-06-21, 05:09   Link #17
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It is all about the pathos, drawing out emotions of the audience.

Your example of Madoka is a typical tragedy and tragedy usually draws the most pathos from the audience. Invoking emotional response is the best way to engage the audience, grabbing hold of their attention and allowing them to relate to the characters and story.

The suffering experienced by the character is needed so that he/she will be able to undergo a catharsis in the ending, the final surge of emotions that completely changes and 'cleanses' the character. Madoka went through that catharsis as well, realising she has to become a god to end it all.

EDIT: also like the others has mentioned, the direct opposite of a tragedy is comedy, which also involves drawing emotional response from the audience.
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Old 2012-06-21, 05:10   Link #18
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And too much reliance on it can cause more harm than good, really. I can think of two good, current examples of this.


One is a character in Aquarion EVOL that's become practically defined by her unrequited love and having the plot constantly kick her while she's down. This hasn't pleased many EVOL viewers, and in fact has been a major bone of contention for a lot of us.
It really helps to have some happiness and rainbows before you start kicking your characters in the gut.

Brigadoon and Madoka Magica start off with a few episodes showing how the characters live their happy, "normal" lives, while only spicing things up with the occasional minor fight scene. This is before they unleash the hell train of suffering.

The Muv-Luv VN trilogy takes this concept to its extreme: almost the entire first entry is a wacky high school harem comedy. Then the second entry turns the tables by introducing a new, terrifying conflict, and the third ramps up the suffering to the max.
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Old 2012-06-21, 06:00   Link #19
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I think this is an interesting (and perhaps somewhat trollish? ) allusion that you're making here. I would suggest that even a story about "a bunch of idiots who sit around and eat cake" can still actually revolve around tension/conflict. Sometimes the biggest source of the conflict is actually "time"; sometimes the setting is portrayed as a sort of paradise that won't last forever (either for the characters and/or for us as viewers). The desire to go to that "happy place" where all the troubles of the world fade away and you can believe for a moment that anything is possible is a pretty powerful nostalgic and emotional force (sort of an emotional catharsis).
Oh sorry, I recently finished eating a slice of cake (and was disappointed) at the time of posting. Thus it was the first thing that came to mind. I don't think anyone would find a story about me eating a cake exciting. I was more alluding to the extremes of not very interesting outcomes. Imagine someone wrote a story about Spiderman where he gets bit by a spider... and dies. We'd be like "so? what's the point?"

But I still think what you described above could lead to interesting things. If somehow one could wax philosophical over such a situation (And it actually has happened) before, then you'd have something interesting to talk about. I guess I usually consider the journey more important than the outcome.

Then again, we can always take the obvious path and make an anime about cake baking contests. This isn't really that far fetched; in fact Mai-Hime actauly did have an episode about that.

Still, I suppose one can argue that any struggle, big or small can be made into something that leads to further discovery. It requires more finesse for the smaller cases.

Then again there's at least one anime I love that revolves around a popular table board game, and another over a card game, so... But I do realize the path to success can take many forks and depends on the audience. I can just speak for what I know best-- for myself.
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Old 2012-06-21, 06:51   Link #20
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Originally Posted by Triple_R View Post
For every Urobuchi work where a character just emos in a corner and dies, there's plenty of shows where people just happily sit around and eat cake. .
But lets not forget that you can have a character face some huge challenges and suffer but instead of emoing in a corner and dying they can overcome these challenges.
I'm only on episode 18 of Beast Player Erin but what I like most about it so far is that if this were a Urobushi story there would probabably be 3 characters that would have killed themselves by now (includuding our loli protagonist) but not here,the characters fight on as best they can with more or less success,of course there's still more than 30 episodes to go so there's a long way to go.
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