Ouma Shu with a Thousand Faces: Guilty Crown and the Hero’s Journey

"Wait, you mean, I-I'm the protagonist?"

Guilty Crown has taken a lot of criticism since it began airing for falling into the trap of having beautiful production values, but a hollow story at its core. It has made the series highly entertaining to watch, although perhaps not in the same way as the creators had intended, since most of the entertainment comes from unintentional hilarity when the series decides to take itself seriously. This was none so apparent as in Episode 12 of Guilty Crown, where the series attempts to pull off a tried and true storytelling device and fails miserably.

*Note, mild spoilers for Eureka Seven

The basic story of Guilty Crown boils down to the very simple monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with One Thousand Faces. When progressing through the 17 stages one by one, Guilty Crown is shown to be following them rather fastidiously.

The Hero's Journey

Call to Adventure: In the first episode, not-so-coincidentally titled “Genesis,” normal teenage boy Ouma Shu’s life is inevitably turned upside-down by the arrival of Inori who has stolen the formula for the mysterious Void Genome. Shu ends up with the power of the Void Genome and his world is forever changed.

Refusal of the Call: This is dragged out for quite some time as Shu flip flops back and forth whether he should join Tsutsugami Gai’s organization Funeral Parlor or not.

Supernatural Aid: A portion of the supernatural aid that Shu is given is within the power of the Void Genome that is bestowed on him from the beginning. However, this aid can also come, and usually does, in the form of a mentor, who may or may not be supernatural. In Guilty Crown this mentor or guide is Gai.

The Crossing of the First Threshold: This occurs when Shu faces conflict with classmate Yahiro and his infected brother, Jun. He kills Jun at Jun’s own request, but is immediately unable to deal with the consequences. However, this also marks the point of no return for Shu. He is now on the journey proper, and has already begun his transformation.

The Belly of the Whale: Shu wallows in self-pity long enough to get yelled at by Ayase, a gun pointed as his head by Gai, and slapped by Hare (all three instances well-deserved). When Shu pulls himself out of his self-loathing, he is finally able to, as Campbell says, “The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again.” Shu has now completely separated himself from his previous life and is ready to undergo a metamorphosis.

The Road of Trials: This is where Shu currently is. There have also been glimpses or allusions to other elements of this Challenges and Temptations phase, such as The Meeting with the Goddess (Shu’s developing relationship with Inori) and Woman as Temptress (with recent revelations involving Shu’s sister, Mana).

Woman as Temptress

The main problem with Guilty Crown isn’t because it adheres to this cycle, some of the most well-known and beloved stories follow this storytelling method strictly and are very successful because of it: the original Star Wars Trilogy, varying tales of Arthurian Legend, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, innumerable Greek and Roman myths as well as Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic texts. Unfortunately, Guilty Crown is lacking something that all of these other stories possess, compelling and interesting characters, especially when the protagonist is concerned.

In Episode 12, Guilty Crown attempts to take on another important (but not always necessary) component of the Hero’s Journey that often occurs within the Road of Trials: The Death of the Mentor, by killing off Tsutsugami Gai. In order for the protagonist to truly undergo a metamorphosis or transformation, they first must shed their reliance on those who have helped them journey to their current point. Often this means that the mentor character is killed off, and their sudden non-presence as well as the protagonist’s anger over their death will spur the hero on to greater feats. A good example of this is in the aforementioned Star Wars Trilogy when Luke Skywalker witnesses the death of his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, at the hands of Darth Vader. Obi-Wan’s parting words encapsulate the entire purpose of the Death of the Mentor: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Another interesting example of the Death of the Mentor scene is the way it is subverted in Eureka Seven with the relationship between Renton Thurston and his grandfather, Axel Thurston. (Although, one could argue that Eureka Seven does follow through on the proper Death of the Mentor, with the character of Charles Beams.) Upon receiving the Call to Adventure, Renton had told his grandfather that his travels would be an extended training, with the promise that Renton would return to Axel and become a full-fledged mechanic. Shortly after the mid-point of the series, Axel is tasked with creating a new piece of equipment, a giant surf board, for the robot that Renton pilots. Before he can safely deliver the equipment to Renton, Axel is attacked by the military and performs a series of risky maneuvers to ensure that the board reaches Renton, nearly dying in the process. Throughout the entire episode the signs of Axel’s impending death are all there, beginning with a local girl voicing the feeling that she’ll never see Axel again, and building up to the point where I was screaming at the television, “Don’t die, Jii-chan!” when his car drives off of a cliff. In spite of all of the seemingly obvious buildup, Axel survives, and more miraculously, his survival does not feel forced in the slightest because the series has done such a fantastic job developing and presenting his character, as well as the character of Renton, the protagonist.

Axel Thurston: Not-so-secret badass.

Going back to Guilty Crown, Gai’s death is about as dramatic as you can get. Not only does he pass on in order for Shu to regain his lost confidence and transform within his journey, but Shu literally stabs Gai in the back in order to attack his own sister who is apparently the cause of the majority of what is wrong in the world of Guilty Crown. If that sounds like a lot to take in during the course of one episode, it’s because it is. If it sounds ham-fisted how Shu kills off his own mentor (in spite of the fact that Gai was going to die regardless) it’s because it is. It’s not hard to follow or understand, but certain plot elements that are introduced appear with little to no buildup, while others have been telegraphed from the very first episode so that, upon their dramatic revelation, the audience can only sigh (and possibly laugh, if the show is taking itself particularly seriously at that moment). Guilty Crown has none of the subtlety that it needs when developing its relationships that even its adherence to such a tried and true formula as the Hero’s Journey can’t save it.

Which is why my personal reaction to Gai’s death wasn’t one of tears or sorrow, but a slight chuckle at the sight of Shu and Inori crying at the end of this episode. If Guilty Crown continues to meticulously follow the monomyth, I can’t wait to see how the Woman as Temptress (Mana’s saga) ends up playing out, followed by the inevitable Atonement with the Father (which has also seemingly been hinted at since the beginning of the series).

Recommended Reading:

The best Guilty Crown post I have had the pleasure of reading, courtesy of Draggle.


Filed under Editorials, Guilty Crown

42 responses to “Ouma Shu with a Thousand Faces: Guilty Crown and the Hero’s Journey

  1. I’ll leave you with the impression that leave on both RandomC and Metanorn after watching Guilty Crown. It sums up my feelings of the entire program.

    Zero Tsgumi Time. Mentioned Once. No Screen Time. Total Episode Failure.

    • Tsugumi really is the best character in the series, in spite of the series’s attempt to exploit her for fanservice alone. Thanks for the comment!

      • I found the character to be in turns; cool, sexy, dependable, enjoys her work, confident, and exuberant. Besides Ayase, she was the character that needed to be developed the most, as your review so amply points out; time spent on the others looks to be time ill-spent.

        I find nothing wrong with fan-service in and of itself as it depends on the context it takes place in as a whole. That being said, even I.G.s attempts at using her for that purpose is…sparse. Sexiness, with all the other qualities I mentioned above make for good character.

        From the previews it looks like my want may be granted. If so I’m also looking forward to seeing what creates the deep and abiding friendship that Tsmugi and Ayase have; cause that looks far better than Shu and Inori.

        • Hnnn…perhaps it’s because of their characterization that Tsugumi (and Ayase to a lesser degree) have become the most intriguing characters to me: they are the most subtly developed in the series. While Guilty Crown tries to bludgeon us with Shu’s angst or Inori’s lack of personality entirely, Tsugumi and Ayase have shown glimpses of being genuinely interesting characters through their interactions with each other and others.

          Which is why it’s a shame that the series hardly spends any time on them, and when it does spend time on them, it’s under the direction of the male gaze. I don’t mind fanservice either, it’s more that I’m sad to see that this series seems to want to pidgeonhole these two into strictly fanservice roles.

      • Break

        so true. well, maybe she’ll be important in the “lost christmas” VN they are making? given that its done by nitroplus, plays 10 years before the TV-Anime (so no Shu i guess) and all, i guess it has more potential now to actually go well. though the character shown as the mainchar in the PV for it looks shockingly much like a grown up shu, or with hsi raincoat an ddetermined expression, like a shu that grew and completely went down the aforementioend road of the hero. i suppose its either gonna be his father or some kidn of time travel plot, both of which wouldhave potential. personnaly im hoping they are goign for a time travel plot since i could actually see quite some potential in it, the anime-story forming whimp shu into a proper hero so he can embark on a proper journey/story in this lost-christmas visual novel, which could then have some actual potential.

        • Are they making a visual novel? I had no idea.

          As for Shu’s characterization, I’m not sure if they would improve that for a VN, or take out even more of his character in order for the player to have a wider entry point into the story. Either way, Shu’s characterization in the television series is atrocious, hero cycle or no.

          I have the feeling that we’re going to be finding out more about Shu’s father in the series very soon.

          • Break

            they announced it before the naime even started. which was actually the main reason why i followed the naime anyways…

            i guess so too.
            ah, here is the trailer for the VN.

  2. Guilty Crown’s lack of subtlety has bugged me since the beginning, especially since the story takes itself so seriously. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head.

    If you look at Guilty Crown as giant joke, this episode was a decent punchline. Too bad it’ll be dragged out for another 10 episodes. :(

    • Your last two sentences made me laugh heartily, so thanks for that. ^ ^

      Yes, Guilty Crown has been none to subtle about anything, opting to tell us outright certain things instead of letting them develop slowly (so that we, as the viewer, would care more) while also telegraphing certain other events with the delicacy of a sledgehammer. The best (or worst?) examples of this are in some of the dialogue, especially during the episodes where Shu is waffling around about joining Funeral Parlor.

  3. It also didn’t help in making me take Gai’s death seriously that he already got shot half to death ten minutes earlier. And there was no readily apparent reason why Shuu couldn’t take the five minutes he spent chatting with Gai to step around him and shoot his sister directly.

    I had a chuckle at Gai’s death too. And then a grimace as I realized they were making out with each other before the body was even cold. *sigh* “best friends”

    • I also loved Gai’s excuse for that, “The cancer crystals saved me.” Uh…okay, sure looked just as painful and bloody as being stabbed by said crystals controlled by Shu’s sister. Then again, maybe it’s like diamonds, where the density is such that it can only be scratched by it’s own kind…

      I had a chuckle at that too. It’s okay, Shu didn’t remember that Gai was his friend until about a half hour before anyways.

      Thanks for the comment and your fabulous last two Guilty Crown posts. ^ ^

  4. I guess Gai’s cancer nuggets weren’t strong enough to cure 17 stab wounds to the back! Should have put him in cryogenic freezing like Mr. Burns.

    Anyway, despite the dumbness of the plot, I will say that I admired the visual insanity. The eyeball tentacles are a neat, creepy visual, and I was totally grossed out when they blinked — that’s a disgusting noise! The pools of blood is a very Evangelion touch, too. Always appreciate that. Guilty Crown may have delved into utter insanity, but at least it did it with some style!

    • Throughout the eye tentacles, all I could think of was the first monster, Gohma, in Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

      Guilty Crown has always had style. What it lacks is tact, and proper character development, which is what makes it so hilarious to watch. ^ ^ I like how Renn put it in their comment above that this episode is a nice punchline to the previous eleven. I wonder what Guilty Crown is going to do next? Can they top this insanity? I can only hope that they’ll try, and that it too will make me laugh.

      That being said, my favorite part of this “everything AND the kitchen sink” episode was the fact that they had to throw in the incest somewhere, with Mana going crazy (due to the virus?) and wanting to create a new race with her own brother. Why all the incest, Japan? Why?

  5. >’And there was no readily apparent reason why Shuu couldn’t take the five minutes he spent chatting with Gai to step around him and shoot his sister directly.’

    The above line is quoted for truth.

    My objection to Guilty Crown is not that it takes itself seriously, nor that it has bad characters. My objection is that the logic resembles a sieve, and things end up happening because the writer dictates that the story must proceed.

    So, yes, Shu could have just gone around and stabbed her, and then let Gai die of cancer. But presumably Shu was honoring Gai’s desire to die at the same moment as his beloved Mana. I guess.

    Then Shu and Inori float away in a magic sphere of light, apparently because Glenda, Good Witch of the North was in charge of extraction.

    • You know, as much as they also annoy me, these leaps in logic are also what usually end up entertaining me the most when I watch this series (although as I mention in the post, it’s probably not the reason that the creators intended). Poor characterization is one thing that I rarely forgive a series for possessing (it is my kryptonite, if you will) so while the leaps in logic at the very least make me laugh, the characterization of nearly everyone is what makes me want to throw things. Both problems stem from the same root issue, and that’s Guilty Crown’s lack of subtlety, whether developing a coherent narrative or its own characters.

      Glenda the Good Witch! It all makes sense now. ^ ^ Perhaps if Shu clicks his heels together and says that there’s no place like home, he’ll end up in Kansas.

  6. Amazing post! Right on about Shu’s journey up to this point, while everyone including myself loves to rag on ole OH MA SHOE! King of shoes! I really liked what has happened so far…even thou I can’t help but question what happens with the rest of the series!? Episode 12 feels like a season ending to me due to all the drama! I would love a damn time jump like TTGL.

    Sadly I do not see that happening…Speaking of TTGL to avoid spoilers Simon has to go through a heroes journey too! Along with countless other main characters depending on themes and series. The Star Wars and Eureka seven comments are really perfect, Renton has to grow so much to become great.

    I would love to see Shu “develop” more in the next few episodes, but I saw the preview for episode 13! And I just face palmed after seeing everyone back at school….THE CITY EXPLODED yet they go back to school?! Maybe a week passed? LOLOL

    Great post! I have to link back this post when I get my review for episode 12 out xD

    • Yeah, after the city blows up real good, the best thing to do is go back to school ::headdesk::

      Actually, yeah. If I had my city turned upside down, remembered my lost bakemono sister, killed her and my best friend in one stoke…the tedium of desks, and exams and chasing skirts would be a nice change of pace…

    • I’ve heard that TTGL forces Simon to go on a hero’s journey, as well as some spoilers in regards to specific plot elements that are mentioned in this post *cough* Death of the Mentor *cough* As for Renton, he is a fantastic example of a character that begins the series as immature, irrationally stubborn, and a bit whiny, and grows into a fine young man, capable of truly great things. Shu is just whiny, and makes no concerted effort to improve himself. Even when other characters are telling us that Shu has changed, we don’t actually see that Shu has, in fact, grown at all.

      Gotta get those school hijinks in somewhere, I suppose. I wish Tsugumi and Ayase were going to the school as well. Inori is so boring!

      • >’Inori is so boring!’

        I had initially hoped that Inori was going to turn out to be a very spooky girl, sort of like Witch Hunter Robin but with a good singing voice. The singing angle is probably not going to get developed.

        However, with this latest episode, I suspect that the writers are trying to make Inori into a new iteration of Rei Ayanami. And Rei was a decent character, but once was enough.


        There is some bizarre, deep-seated need in our souls for Emotionless Girl characters. I accept that. But Guilty Crown doesn’t even bother to file off the serial numbers when it steals the gimmicks.

        • Do any of them bother? Familiar of Zero? Shana? Negima? Rei Expy abound…

          • Not all expys are lazily written.

            Yin from Darker Than Black was well-written – she made a lot of viewers want to see her get a happy ending. Vanilla H from Galaxy Angels was a very distinct character – her abilities and attitudes were very different than those of Rei.

            So, it’s possible to make a character than substantially rips off the old while adding a lot of worthwhile new ideas.

            Of the series you mentioned, I’ve only watched Familiar of Zero, and I can recall the blue-haired quiet girl you’re referring to. She was a pretty shallow expy. Blue-haired, pale, quiet – but more intellectual than Rei, and way more comfortable with expressing emotional needs.

            The Rei Ayanami expy often shades into various kinds of Bookworm girls – e.g. Yuki Nagato probably started off as a Rei rip-off, but developed into more of a hyper-competent bookworm character.

  7. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what bugged me about Guilty Crown until you nailed it on the head. It’s not subtle at all. Gai’s death, while not telegraphed from too far away, seemed pretty inevitable. It felt like they squeezed every last bit of potential out of Gai before he died in episodes 12 and 13.

    It reminded me of the old captain from the first two episodes of Gundam AGE. He did everything possible to save the people of the colony in those episodes, and all those things involved staying behind and going down with the colony. Guilty Crown was just as subtle, but Gundam AGE is aimed, I believe, at a much younger audience than Guilty Crown. And that’s the problem.

    The series feels like it’s too in love with its own made up mythology to spend time on the characters who could be very interesting. I guess there’s another half of story to tell, but I’m no longer interested.

    Good post.

    • If I continue watching this series, it will be for the laughs (much like how I watched the previous 12 episodes). The thing is, as you and Renn both allude to, the series has become so ridiculous that it may soon become unwatchable. Thus far, I’m still enjoying myself while watching it, and I’m now curious to see just how closely it’s going to adhere to the monomyth, so I’m going to keep watching it for a bit.

      I only saw the first episode of Gundam AGE (I didn’t drop it because I didn’t like it, but because I had Penguindrum and a ridiculous work schedule) but from the way you describe him, it sounds like another thing at play in Gundam AGE is the mentor’s character development. Even with little time, it seems as if Gundam AGE made staying behind, helping the colony, and his eventual death (telegraphed or no) part of this character’s development. So while his death may have been simple and easy to predict, the old captain also seems to have been developed a bit more than Gai (which is sad considering that you mention that the captain had two episodes to be developed whereas Gai had 12).

      Perhaps it’s because character development is what I pay attention to the most, but maybe this is another reason why Gundam AGE’s handling of the same premise didn’t seem as forced?

      Thank you.

  8. Marcomax

    If anyone wants to hear more about the Hero’s Journey. Here’s an interesting article from a film critic known as Film Crit Hulk.


    Just a warning:
    1: His gimmick is that he transforms into the hulk whenever he does film analysis. So the posts are written in the first person and all caps. I personally love the style but I can understand some people find it annoying so you can use this to convert it http://www.convertcase.net/
    2: His articles are long essays so just be prepared to read for a while.

    Why do I bring this up? Because after reading this post it feels like Guilty Crown is an example of a story that just follows the hero’s journey without a second thought. If the show put a little more thought behind why these ideas are used we would end up with a better produce.

    • Honestly (as I mention in my comment response above) this attempt to follow the hero’s journey so religiously is one of the reasons why I’ll (probably) keep watching Guilty Crown.

      Thanks for the link! The article really hits the nail on the head in regards to the fact that it’s not about adhering to some sort of storytelling cycle, but the competency and flow of the storytelling itself which, in my humble opinion, Guilty Crown does not possess…

  9. I’m waiting to see how far they take the “science” in this. It looks like the term “genetics” is as good as magic so far as the mythology goes. I’m endeared to magictek myself. I like seeing what rules they make up for it, how they adhere to it, and then how they break those rules.

    So far, it looks like they’ve only scratched the surface. Or they might just be pulling it out of thin air as they go along…

    • Break

      well, the “genetics are as good a smagic” thign in thsi doesnt really bother me, mainly because there are more than enough other series usign soem random science to be as good as magic.. just remember pretty much every second american comic treats radioactivity just the same….

      though some examples have very interestign approache sfor that. kyoukai senjou no horizon, for example, has technology thats mimckign magic and supernatural stuff simply because the people in that series are re-playing history, and due to not knowing whats real and whats just ,legends, they believed that there wa smagic in the past, so to properly replay earth’s history, they created technology that mimicks magic, as well as gods and even fantasy-races like angels and demons solely because they falsely believed that we actually had those in the past. i think thats a preeetty interesting approach.

    • I’ve actually been quite disappointed on this front. Guilty Crown doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about world-building, especially in its most recent episodes. The first few showed promise, with the post-apocalyptic feel, the backdrop of the destroyed city in comparison with the school; however, the production team has done little to nothing to add to this.

      Take, for example, the series that my blogging partner has been taking a look at: Moretsu Pirates. There’s a lot more hinted at about the world that Marika and company occupy than Shu’s world in Guilty Crown, and that’s just comparing the first two episodes.

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  11. The only argument I have against this is that we as watchers expect Shu to behave in the same manner as The Hero of a Thousand Faces, but Shu, at least from the beginning, can easily be classed as an anti-hero.

    You talked about Star Wars and E7 but the thing that distinguishes them is that Renton and Luke WANTED to travel into space and forge their own legacy. I don’t feel like Shu has such motivations. Thus he is an anti-hero character thrust into the heroes journey story archetype; an increasingly common trope in not just anime but all fiction.

    • I don’t think the classical hero necessarily wants to be a hero. Many traditional heroes aspire to heroism, but many others have heroism thrust upon them.

      I strongly recommend _Kamisama no Memechou_ for an example of a boy who eventually becomes heroic. I don’t think he wants to be a hero I *do* think his story is well-written.

      • Yes but was the lead in Kamimemo particularly flawed? (I should be frank here when I say Kamimemo didn’t have a particularly large impact on me and certainly not its lead) I agree though that there are heroes of the archetype that have heroism thrust upon them, but I would argue that often they don’t become flawed until after the “call” portion of the story.

        Shuu starts out a pretty damaged kid and only gets more damaged as the the story goes. Most people disliked him from episode 1 and that’s where my theory that he is meant to be thought of as an anti-hero largely comes from.

        • Break

          well the kamimemo anime wasnt anywhere near as dark as the novel, bu your right, the lead is mainly mant to be special in the wy that he is juts anormal guy who takes on a “mission” dfor himself, a sto say.

          as for shu, i’d say the hting is that he was flawed since the lost christmas where he was traumatized, a swe see he was much more of a brave kid before, and he just… went around beeign flawed for 10 years withotu nay means to get better, so iguess its pretty hard geting better for him even after actually gettign a means to get better now..

    • I would argue that Luke actually didn’t initially want to get involved (his “refusal of the call” is right along with the hero’s journey cycle) but I’m going to use a different example, one which I was loathe to use in the article due to all of the baggage that usually accompanies his character: Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

      The reason why I bring Shinji up is that he can also be seen as a boy thrust into a situation where it is expected and assumed of him that he will act heroic, only he does anything but. He whines, he cries, he lashes out, he quits, he returns, he quits, he cries some more, et cetera, et cetera.

      Going along with the point I was trying to make in my post, the difference between Shu and Shinji is that Shinji is subtly developed while Shu is not. Nearly everything we know about Shu is told to us, instead of watching him develop in subtle ways and leaving it up to us to determine his character. Does Shinji annoy the living snot out of me while watching Eva? Sometimes, but regardless of whether I like him, I would never argue that he is not a strongly-developed character. His initial mopey nature and inner monologue are one of the main reasons why that series works so well. I can’t say the same for Shu.

      When I think of an “antihero” I think more along the lines of, say, Satan in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” or, for some more recent examples, Snape in the “Harry Potter” series or The Operative from “Serenity;” characters who are initially presented as villains, but are shown to also have their own moral codes and therefore cannot be written off as true antagonists or evil. I don’t think Shu fits the bill here either.

      Thanks for the comment! It really made me think! ^ ^

      • Extremely late but I actually do think Shu is developed subtly. If you read Otou-san’s posts on seaslugs he makes note that each episode takes something away from Shu throughout the first 12ish episodes. To me this is similar in principle to Shinji’s repeated waffling.

        When I think anti-hero I think of a character who is usually the protagonist or supporting character that is necessarily flawed in some way. Not always just in an evil sense. I was going to give an example of Rincewind from the discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.

        I’ve just run into a problem though a character like Rincewind, Arthur Dent, or Ash from Evil Dead are considered Anti-heroes.

        They are also considered Unlikely heroes.

        Frodo is also an unlikely hero but he’s not an anti-hero.

        Somethings off there.

  12. This post further reinforced my lack of interest in Guilty Crown (which I was comparing to Eureka Seven, unfavourably, from the first episode summaries) – and made me want to watch Eureka Seven again. I love that show for so many reasons <3

    • Eureka Seven is amazing, and I would recommend it to nearly anyone. Enjoy rewatching it!

      As for Guilty Crown…I just watched the latest episode last night. It’s, uh, not getting any better, but parts are still entertaining to watch.

      Thanks for the comment!

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