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emmny

Reflection: Moran (2013-2015)

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It's your boy emmny…I’m not dead yet. It’s been almost two years since I dropped my last reflection (Kagerou 2002-2003), and I’m back for moar. It’s not that I’ve run out of ideas (real life is really busy btw, sorry!), but rather I’ve been thinking about particularly notable eras for bands I followed. Some bands are consistently good, and some bands have peaks and valleys which are kind of obvious. Choosing a band and time period to profile is challenging—I don’t want to give you anything obvious, but I want to bring light to eras which are underrated outside of a bands immediate fandom. Kagerou’s 2002-2003 phase was legendary—but the majority of their fame (esp in foreign fandom) came after. It was an era ripe with pickings—an avant-garde sound, striking visuals and some of their best songs—but I’d argue Kagerou are more closely associated with their 2004-2006 eras. The argument of placing their earlier days in the spotlight made the article interesting, and I’m not sure how much other eras are interesting in band histories. Selection is tough too—especially with bands that release intermittently and not giving enough musical ‘meat’ over the course of 2/3 years—which happen to be the most interesting (albeit financially strapped bands---*cough* yazzmad *cough*). Good music alone doesn’t cut it either—a reflection piece (in my own asshole opinion) is warranted by impact—Kagerou’s early years had influence literally a decade after they had moved on from that sound. Whether the following will have the same impact is TBD, but I will make the case that late-era Moran defined the zenith of art-kei, managing to sell out massive venues for a subgenre which was otherwise relegated to the underground and situated in a genre largely declining in popularity. In their dazzling sound, visuals, and approach, Moran kept their contemporaries on their feet and inspired subsequent kohai bands which continue to carry their flag, almost half a decade after they called it quits.

 

Moran have a storied history, but getting into it would take 1) skills I lack as a visual historian and 2) too damn long. 2013-2015 covers most of Moran’s second lineup output, and I’ll briefly get into the timeline. This is where I’ve drawn the rough boundary of time, so to coincide with Moran’s third-era all the way up to their disbandment. I’ll delineate three main eras: 1) 2007-2009, 2) 2010-2012, and lastly, 2013-2015. Era 1 is Moran’s original lineup (and probably their most beloved), which formed ~2 years after Fatima’s disbandment. Era 1 came to an end with the original guitarist Velo departing the band in 2009, and bassist Zill’s tragic death in 2010, following a short-term leave from the band in 2009. The only permanent members of the band’s history (and the OGs from Fatima), vocalist Hitomi (FKA Sanaka/Kanoma) and drummer Soan (FKA Towa) were left to carry the band. Moran took a huge beating, but as one of SPEED-DISK (Free Will subsidiary)’s flagship bands, they pushed on into their second era with support bassists and Sizna (ex-Sugar) taking over as kamite guitarist in summer of 2010 and a full-reboot at the end of the year. There was a substantial lull in activities, with almost two years passing between the two eras without music. They proceeded as a three-piece until the summer of 2012, with Ivy (ex. Dio) joining as a full-time bassist and vivi (ex-DragonWAPPPPPPER) as shimote guitarist. The band formally rebooted in December of 2012, and they released their first piece of music as a five-member group in early 2013 with Jen:ga, and that’s where this story will start.

 

Moran (2007.12.05 - 2015.09.21)

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Vocal: Hitomi

Guitar: Sizna

Guitar: vivi

Bass: Ivy

Drums: Soan

 

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Jen:ga (2013.02.20)

01 Barairo no jigoku / 薔薇色の地獄
02 benisashi / 紅差し
03 L'oiseau bleu / ロワゾ・ブルー
04 Bulbs
05 Melancholia / メランコリア
06 yakouchuu / 夜光虫
07 Wing or Tail
08 ReCover
09 Maybe Lucy in the Sky
10 Eclipse
11 Aru sakushi to no yuugiroku / ある策士との遊戯録
12 Fuyuubyou / 浮遊病
13 The last piece of the jen:ga

 

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Hollow Man (2013.07.10)

01 Hollow Man / ホロウマン

02 Fukamidori / フカミドリ

03 Esther / エスター

 

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Mousou Nikki (2013.12.11)

01 Mousou nikki / 妄想日記

02 Lyric of the DEAD

 

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dark (2014.03.19)

01 Nozomenai to shiru ketsumatsu ni, riyuu ga boku o nagusameru / 望めないと知る結末に、理由が僕を慰める
02 The Hermit
03 Negai to uta / ネガイトウタ
04 Fairy Tale
05 Ikou, hakushi no chronicle / 以降、白紙のクロニクル
06 Haru no yoru no, hitoshizuku / 春の夜の、ひと雫
 

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but Beautiful (2014.07.16)

01 but Beautiful
02 Byouma / 秒魔
03 Break the silence

 

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Daraku e to Tsuzuku Hen’ai no Kanshoku (堕落 へと続く偏愛の感触) (2014.10.08)

01 Daraku e to tsudzuku hen'ai no kanshoku /堕落 へと続く偏愛の感触
02 Memorable
03 Grotesque Ride / グロテスク ライド

 

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Yoake Wo Mae Ni  (夜明けを前に) (2015.07.01)

01 Koufuku ni tsuite no shakudo / 幸福についての尺度
02 Reverse
03 Yoake o mae ni / 夜明けを前に
04 The scent of dreams

 

Moran have the distinction of being a pretty damn consistent band throughout their 8 years of activity. Their art-kei trademark of jazz/oshare/indie-rock/dream-pop/shoegaze/swing sound was a constant in their discography, with the specific flavour depending on the release. Moran largely presented a polished version of the ideas originally leveraged through Fatima’s output, which was largely experimental and toyed with combinations of genres and sounds. In my opinion, this polishing process continued into Moran’s first eras, with highs (most of Heroine and Replay) and lows (“Sea of Fingers”, “Stage Gazer”, “Party Monster”), but nowhere near as bipolar as some of Fatima’s highly questionable tracks. Early compositions were mostly Zill and Velo pieces with some Soan contributions, which diverged from their later eras which saw Sizna and Soan as key composers, with some vivi tracks here and there. Zill and Velo made some magic, but Sizna and Soan really made the band shine and polished all residual traces of odd melody and some awkward compositions. If you’re unfamiliar with art-kei, Moran laid the template for the sound in their early eras—give “Onaji yami no naka de”, “Element”, “Kimi no ita gosenfu”, “Helpless” and “Arikata” a listen for exemplars.

 

Hitomi’s voice is a gorgeously husky and also quite nasal, a total acquired taste. If you liked Moran, you probably loved what Hitomi did on their tracks. If you disliked Moran…you were probably deaf or just didn’t like Hitomi’s voice. Hitomi’s contributions toward 3rd era Moran were notable, as he actually composed a track on dark (“Fairy Tale”), and veered into some more experimental, spoken word type tracks like “Vega no Hana #2”. True Hitomi fans know he had a poetry column throughout Fatima and was an incredible lyricist, so it was amazing to get more longer-form musings. I will say that Ivy as a bassist was a downgrade from Zill, who basically set Heroine on fire with the most fascinating basslines, counter melodies, and solos to come out of a visual bassist in a while. He played with electrifying gusto and a sharp ear toward rhythm; I can only think of a few bassists in his era who had comparable basslines. His departure and subsequent death was truly a waste of talent, but Ivy did a job well done given the high standards Zill set. That said, I think Ivy definitely had his moments (holy shit “Eclipse”), and will be glad to point them out. Soan has a nicely jazzy twang to his drumming with some great fills and cymbal work. He’s far from a perfect drummer—don’t ask him to do anything technical, but his flavour suited Moran perfectly and Ivy danced around him with ease. Also notable among his repertoire is his piano skills for which he’s credited in Moran’s releases—I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the string/piano/other instrumentation arrangements were through Soan’s background as a classically trained musician. Moran’s more baroque leanings came in around the time Soan took the wheel, so I see it as no coincidence and attribute it to his taste.

 

In case you live under a rock, Sizna is a guitar god, and he basically carried Moran through pretty miserable circumstances and may or may not have been the glue that kept Moran together toward their end, with dueling egos from Hitomi and Soan leading the band to implode. Sizna’s instrumental and compositional prowess led Moran through what would have basically made any other band disband, and he had the tracks to back it up. I think vivi basically followed his guitarlines, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sizna wrote all the guitar parts himself, but vivi was an excellent rhythm guitarist. While the newer members were arguably weaker musicians, they breathed life into Moran and revitalized their sound—magic happens somehow somewhere—right?

 

I want to talk about individual songs, but Moran released almost 30 tracks between 2013-2015, so that’s kinda impossible too. I will speak more about major themes across the releases, with particular attention to stand-out tracks and larger releases. Moran, while playing with a unique, multicoloured palate, did release music that could be understood as variations of a broader theme. The 2013-2015 era saw Moran release their best party songs (because IMO, the prior ones sucked). These tracks are characterized by upbeat tempos, cheeky and catchy, jangling, dueling guitar lines, heavy yet tasteful synthwork, and soaring vocal melodies. These songs are Moran’s most accessible, but far from tepid, generic pop songs—take the funky bass/drum solo break and ascending vocals in the bridge of “but Beautiful”; the wailing synths, bridge breakdown and verbose sing-along chorus of “Eclipse”; the start-stop-instrumentation and killer guitar solo of “L’oiseau bleu”. The 1 minute 30 exuberance of “Melancholia”, sugary sweetness of “Bulbs”, “Reverse”, “Break the silence” are also exemplars of their charismatic charm. Across these songs, traditional structures are subverted, pacing is played with, and the listener is taken on fuckin’ journeys through textured verses, dazzling choruses, and layered instrumentation. No one is close to touching Moran on these tracks, and they stand out as highlights in their discography.

 

 

While these songs are Moran at their most polished, rough-and-tumble Moran is fun too. “Maybe Lucy in the Sky” is a rioting, gang-vocal mosh track meant to get the crowd jumping around, and “Esther” is a hella odd take on something between metalcore-kei and deadman, all ran through a lo-fi cassette playback---I’m not kidding. “Byouma” is also one of their darker tracks (not saying much, Moran are softies), marked by ominous synths, moody riffs, and a rap-sung chorus. It almost sounds like Moran doing Mejibray…in their own twisted way of course. I think what contributed to Moran’s longevity was their ability to stay true to themselves while still playing amongst basically everyone—oshare, abare, and art kei alike. They were chameleons within the visual circuit, and probably had a setlist for every occasion, reeling in curious fans of other bands with a range of styles and sounds. They weren’t outsiders playing to the same crowd at Ikeburkuro Chop every week, and they were able to spread their sound accordingly…the residual fame/notoriety from Fatima (and ikemen good looks/fanservice) likely helped as well.

 

 

Next is the jazzy/bluesy/swing/calypso (yes) bangers, being fellow A-side singles “Benisashi” and “Daraku…” and “Hollowman”, which to me, always had a more jazzy flavour than the other upbeat bangers, but was too rock-ish to fit in among the jazzy tracks. Another nice crossover honorable mention is the band’s cover of SiD’s “Mousou Nikki”, which they infuse with extra urgency through tremolo picked riffs, complex lead fills and extra dramatic vocals from Hitomi. SiD’s early years were notable for jazzy leanings, and Moran’s cover picks up with even more jazzy touches with an extra quirky rock flavour—which fits the stalker fan concept of the lyrics. Of special note is the calypso flavoured interlude of “Hollowman”, which they took all the way in the romantic mid-tempo “Daraku”. Hitomi’s vocal line is delicate as the acoustic guitars and tempered percussion, with an energy that hearkens back to the more rock-but-pretty-acoustic “Ningen no ningen no ni yoru ningen no tame no koiji”. Moran, throughout their lineup changes and style fluctuations, were always conscious of their roots, and for them to revive that sound is a treat.

 

 

“Benisashi” opens up with tight bluesy, melodic-yet-dissonant lead guitar work from no one but Sizna, leading into Hitomi’s crooning over the jazzy verse and bombastic chorus. I wish I had more words in my vocabulary to describe the nuances of their sound, but I’m not well versed enough in jazz/blues lingo. What I can say is that its fucking awesome, give it a listen. The jazz tracks on Jen:ga are by far the most balls-to-the-walls, with the elegantly restrained smoky cabaret opener of “Barairo no jigoku”, to the maddening swing-your-partner-by-the-arm jig of “Aru sakushi to no yuugiroku”. This is easily some of the jazziest/bluesiest music I’ve heard from a visual band—far from the shitty metalcore-swing transmutations of recent years.

 

 

Moran also had a good repertoire of slower, dreamier tracks. Jen:ga outtake “Yakuchuu”, “Wing or Tail”, “Fuyuubyou” and Hollowman b-side “Fukamidori” compliment each other well in their delicate, romantic style and . Speaking of midtempo (and slowwww), Moran pulled out all their stops for the ‘ballade’ concept mini-album dark. They literally made my art kei dreams come true and dropped A WHOLE FUCKING MINI ALBUM’s worth of ballads. I will preface this by saying that I’m a ballad person—If you’re not *cough* like @saishuu *cough* then you better sit tight because I’ll try to fuckin convert you. There is nothing better than some sad fucking guitar chords layered over some slow, moving rhythms and subtly ornamental basslines and a beautiful comforting vocal line. Moran give me all that and more with dark. “Haru no yoru...” is the spiritual successor to my all-time fav Moran ballad “Snowing”; “Negai to uta” is a quasi post-rock, spoken word-y duet with female vocals complement Hitomi’s crooning; “Nozomenai to…” is  driven by charging drums over weeping strings, bringing to life a heartwrenching narrative of lovers split by the sea shore. The whole album stands out for being a dazzling display of Moran's compositional prowess, with each song having its own taste despite the otherwise monotonous theme of balladry. "Fairy Tale" is a barebones acoustic track, "Ikou, Shirakami..." plays with dynamic shifts and swelling delayed guitars like Mono, while "The Hermit" is a shoegazy piece with a hard-ass breakdown toward the end. Moran's ballads are removed of visual cheese, with attention paid to maintaining a bitter sweet sound, in which they remain melancholic but not absorbed by melodramatic displays of emotion. If you've been shy to approach ballads because of the affective excess ever so present in visual kei, I'd urge you to give Moran a shot.

 

 

You can’t talk about ballads without their goodbye single, “Yoake wo mae ni”,  which places Hitomi as the proverbial prince in the fairy tale that was Moran. While he was going to close the chapter of Moran, he wanted to leave their fans with something to remember and his hand to hold on to. The PV reaches Malice Mizer drama heights, with the band members disappearing one-by-one as the song comes to an end, a-la "Au revoir" or "Le ciel" (an ironic touch, given Hitomi's entry into VK as a MM roadie). My favourite part is the end interlude where most of the instrumentation cuts out and Hitomi delivers an uncharacteristically dynamic vocal solo, which is even more goosebump-inducing in the footage for their last live (linked below!). As Hitomi delivers the vocal line, the audience belts it out with him, and you can clearly hear them holding back tears as they sing “I silently listened to your heartbeat; its very steady; in this way, I can share the loveliness of the night with you”. English translations (thank you translation blogger) don’t do it justice in the least; the verbs used in the Japanese version like “resonance” and the use of “beloved” with “night” sounds like Hitomi kissing his fans goodbye in his ever-romantic, poetic style.

 

 

With that, Moran bid us farewell. Basically, the tensions between Hitomi and Soan probably drove the band crazy and they peaced out. I’m no expert on Moran’s member drama, but a glance at the band news threads on here should offer a healthy dose of visual tea. Hitomi and Soan are apparently good now, with Hitomi’s solo projects Ameyasame and Umiyuri having played with Soan’s solo project (Soan Project with Akuta; Temari) on occasion. Should Moran come back? Vivi’s hands are tied with DEZERT’s current fast-track to visual major fame, Ivy is juggling side projects with Yoru (Temari, ex-amber gris’s solo project) and Tenten’s Lack-Co. Sizna has mostly left visual outside of a Sugar one-night revival, and is now teaching guitar in his own business. The funniest part of it all is that Velo had a guest appearance on Umiyuri's debut EP and is currently playing with Ivy in Yoru. I’d like to think of this as no bad blood between the art-kei dudes. The talent that graced visual kei from 2013-2015 is still present in some form in the indies circuit, although no solo project has reached the heights of Moran’s fame; routinely selling out AREA, playing onemans at O-East and ending their career at a packed Zepp Tokyo.

 

 

Oldheads on here will remember that amber gris died shortly after, and with the deaths of cocklobin and 9GOATS BLACK OUT in the near past, no major art kei band was left to carry the scene, the splintered solo projects and off-shoot bands haven’t been able to drive up interest like before. This may just be that the bands aged out of the super-touring style of SPEED-DISK bands—Hitomi and Soan were around 40 when Moran called it quits, and by then, most of their fans that followed them since Fatima were probably retiring as bangya. Luckily, the youngins behind Develop One’s Faculties have been able to carry the torch of Moran, reaching similar peak venues without members deeply rooted in art-kei like Moran. Yuya’s charismatic vocals, perplexing lyrics and intricate guitarlines certainly give him the starpower to take over Moran’s legacy while being different enough. I’d argue there are lots of parallels between current DoF and later day Moran, especially with DoF’s ability to be visual chameleons while staying true to their sound. The same can be said for Chanty, who have a distinctly indie-rock crossover flair and straddle the boundaries between j-indie and visual kei. Hell, Akuta, the vocalist of Chanty is also the star of the more rock-flavoured part of Soan Project. Belle has a slightly jazzy twang to them too, but they remind me more of classic Oshare than the former three bands. I can’t think of any other notable bands that followed in Moran’s wake, but I think as visual’s popularity continues declining—there will never be another Moran. I’m not entirely okay with that, but DoF and Chanty are doing god’s work. In the meanwhile, we can look back fondly at Moran’s later years, smiling, dancing, bopping and shedding tears with some of the best visual kei of the 2010s.

 

I want to hear your opinions? Are you a holic? What are your fav Moran songs? Are you with me and think their best era was 2013-2015 or are you a diehard first lineup fan? Will art-kei live forever? Do you happen to hate Moran (YOU MONSTER!!) for some odd reason? Let me know! Ps thanks to @peffy for the lyrics and @The Moon for literally being a whole Moran street team in one person.

 

xx

 

emmny

Edited by emmny

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Moran is a very special band to me - in my opinion, they developed their particular brand of VK into something that felt genuinely elevated. There's plenty of cheese, but they were very particular in how they applied VK cliches into their own brand. Like Dolly and amber gris, every Moran song has an incredibly unique atmosphere. Hitomi is a fantastic poet, but his lyrics can be difficult:  I really think that while Moran had plenty of hard-hitting tracks that could resonate with anyone, their main strength was in subtlety, and lyrics play a big part of that. The problem was that the majority of the overseas Fatima/Moran fandom was already Japanese literate or close to it, so while I did my best to promote the band, I knew that unless you spoke Japanese, a huge part of their appeal was going to be lost. Moran songs are very lyrical, with many changing keys or reaching climaxes in tune with the lyrics, and while I know that many bands do that also, in Moran's case, it was done in a much more "quieter" way, if that makes sense.

 

I also think that songs that are heavy on the atmosphere, without loud breakdowns or super-poppy choruses are not going to resonate with the majority of overseas fans, which is a shame, because mid-tempo tracks with emotive instrumentals are where Moran truly shines. Bulbs and Wing or Tail are good examples of this, not to mention their dark EP, which is one of my favorite VK albums of all time. I think dark is an absolute classic, an equal to albums like Merveilles by Malice Mizer and GAUZE  by Dir en grey. The whole EP reads like an exploration of sorrow: there are songs that deal with loneliness, of being abandoned, of losing a loved one, of longing for an impossible ideal. Even though there's plenty of drama, the whole album feels raw, and human. 

I read an interview once, where the band explained that their name came from a particular character in the Moomin comic series, named Mårran. From Wikipedia:
 

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She is cold and ghostlike, and represents loneliness and all that is scary in the world of Moomin. She seeks warmth and fire, but is unable to do anything but to put them out. She has a scary appearance and is dangerous to approach due to the cold that she radiates, and yet, she is not truly evil, just very lonely.

 

This is Moran's essence. No matter the song, there's always an element of lacking connection, of wanting something but being unable to achieve it - a longing. To listen to Moran is to is yearn for something that is unattainable.

 

Edited by The Moon

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Why didn't I see this earlier. Moran still can't get into my radar (God knows I tried). Maybe I'll give them a chance soon! Thank you so much for this pieces of historianship!

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On 1/19/2020 at 2:48 AM, saiko said:

Why didn't I see this earlier. Moran still can't get into my radar (God knows I tried). Maybe I'll give them a chance soon! Thank you so much for this pieces of historianship!

have you tried the 'dark' mini? IMHO is peak experimental, melancholic Moran. Great stuff, really

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I've just ended up a whole listen of a list with all the Moran PVs. Pleasant stuff, many sweet sounds picked my ear at moments, but definitely it is not something that goes beyond good generic stuff:  good compositions, good musicians, but nothing far good from your average formulaic jazzy J-rock.

 

4 hours ago, chemicalpictures said:

have you tried the 'dark' mini? IMHO is peak experimental, melancholic Moran. Great stuff, really

 

Maybe my appreciation above came because, in the will of having a compressed listening/watching of a whole career in a matter of hours, I've ended up digging their A-sides only, let's say, their commercial-oriented stuff. So I'll try the B-sides you recommend here, to challenge the opinion I've made up till this point.

 

In the other hand, this song from Hitomi's recent project caught strongly my attention from the first second, for sure: 

 

 

The synth and chorus work is REALLY beautiful. Reminds my of some 90s J-pop songs, like the one that made the opening of the Serial Experiments Lain series.

 

 

Btw, Does anybody know why is there so little material from Umiyuri uploaded to the web?

 

Edit: I've digging into Moran a bit more, and I've discovered actually beautiful and amazing songs!

 

This is actually really complex for a pop-oriented A-side.

 

 

 

And this is all about the musicianship composition wise I was looking for!

 

Now I'm really looking forward more stuff from this talented guys!

Edited by saiko

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A really great description of Moran's sound! I appreciate the early sounds of Moran, but this is one of my favorite eras from them. They produced some great and memorable tracks. I'd have to agree that Sizna was a powerhouse with his guitar. Some of those notes and riffs he produced are amazing. Even though he's pretty much left the visual scene, I still have (perhaps fruitless) hope that he'll come back one day with his amazing guitar skills. (Not to mention it would be great for Moran to somehow make a comeback despite the circumstances as mentioned in the original post.)

 

It reminds me of when I saw them live during their jen:ga tour, and they put on a fantastic show, presenting their talented skills as musicians. They never failed to be both entertaining and energetic all while bringing out their unique sound, which was perfectly described above. Hitomi's voice was also heavenly to hear in person.

 

Reading this brings back some great memories, so thank you very much for the post! It was a great read.

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Awesome thread, thanks for this! Hitomi's always been the sort of singer who just effortlessly emanates the raw pain and passion in his heart when he sings, like you can feel the melancholia he felt when he was writing his songs. That, and he's always worked with the exactly the right musicians to complement his lyrics and style. He has that perfect mixture of heart and technical skill. Speaking of technical skill, Sizna has to be my favourite musician in terms of that. Moran honestly had something no-one else had and I don't know if anyone's gonna be able to capture that lightning in a bottle again.

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