Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Shoot Rambo, Smoke that sucka!

More or less, the tone that I try and keep here at Branded is one of an earnest optimism.  Personally I find a bit tedious to read articles filled with ranting and too much mockery, and when it comes down to it, it’s just more fun to talk about stuff that I love.  Every once in a while though, there’s something that I want to write about that stretches the limit of credible good natured excitement.  It might be something that I enjoy, but when it comes down to it I’m probably enjoying it for unfortunate reasons.  Like watching a particularly bad Ed Wood movie (yes, there is a range in his filmography and, no, Plan 9 From Outer Space is far from his worst film), or tuning in to the first couple of episodes of American Idol to see the current year’s crop of horrible singers, sometimes one can’t help but revel in stuff that is just gloriously bad.

For today’s Cartoon Commentary I’m going to take a look at an episode of Rambo and the Force of Freedom which originally aired in 1986.  Produced by Ruby Spears, and based on the action film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone, the Rambo cartoon is one hell of a strange nut to crack and was the keystone in one of the oddest merchandising machines of the 80s.  Throughout the 60s and 70s with the adoption of the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system, lines were being drawn around what was considered proper entertainment for children.  For the most part, most films and TV shows didn’t have a ton of crossover appeal when it came to their intended audiences, but there were some that landed in that magical spot smack dab in the middle of the age appropriate Venn diagram.  On top of this, with the amazing blockbuster success of films like Jaws and Star Wars, whole new avenues of merchandising potential were opening up.

So with the release of films like Alien, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Conan, all of which were aimed at an adult audience, the studios were seeing an interest from a much younger demographic and it was making the marketing of and merchandising of these flicks very complicated.  Bottom line, there was money to be made on R-rated films outside of ticket sales, and no one was quite sure how to tap into this pipeline.  With Alien we saw the release of a toy based on the iconic xenomorph (from Kenner in 1979) as well as a series of bubble gum cards and stickers from Topps also in 1979.  In 1982 we saw the release of an Atari 2600 video game based on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre where players strangely took on the role of Leatherface slaughtering npc’s while trying to hurdle fences and cow skulls.  More important to today’s topic is the proposed merchandising of the Conan film back in 1981-82.  Mattel toys were interested in acquiring and developing a line of toys based on the Schwarzenegger fantasy film, and this would eventually morph into the Masters of the Universe toy-line and Filmation cartoon.  Though not direct Conan merchandising, the He-Man and the MOTU franchise was indelibly influenced by the film and barbarian phenomenon of the late 70s and 80s.

So it shouldn’t be that shocking that with the success of the Rambo films, toys, lunchboxes, stickers and a cartoon were soon to follow…

The Rambo films are the quintessential over-the-top American action flicks of the 80s, the second of which is also the textbook definition of a cash-grab sequel.  Rambo: First Blood, Part II, though wildly successful, was an utter parody of the first film, ratcheting up the violence, gore and mayhem a thousand fold and turning movie’s protagonist into a live action cartoon character.  Hell, the title alone shows how commercial this film was intended to be both recalling the title of the first film while also adding the character branding, a colon and a comma.  So while the live action counterpart of the character was busy killing hundreds of characters on screen, it fell upon cartoon studio Ruby Spears Entertainment, and in particular head-writer Michael Chain’s shoulders to try and figure out a way to make an animated series palatable for kids and parents…

   

I can’t help but find this cartoon hilarious and horrible on so many levels.  Drawing on influences such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe A Real American Hero, Rambo and the Force of Freedom tries way too hard to appeal to kids and parents while also trying to stay true to its roots to absurd effect.  Though he totes around an improbably arsenal of combat knives, rocket launchers and machine guns, the Rambo character in the cartoon is more or less played as a pacifist (much in the same way He-Man was characterized in the MOTU cartoon) always looking for a non-violent solution when confronting villains.

Each episode opens with an animated suiting up montage swiped wholesale from the second film.  This is followed by some general plot narration in the style of the A-Team (performed by the legendary Don LaFontaine, here’s the theme song and narration), stating:

“Rambo!   Anywhere and everywhere the S.A.V.A.G.E. forces of General Warhawk threaten the peace-loving people of the world, there’s only one man to call.  Get me Rambo!  From the canyons of skyscrapers, to the canyons of remote mountain peaks, liberty’s champion is unstoppable.  Rambo!  Helped by the mechanical genius know as Turbo and the master of disguises named Kat, the honor bound protectors of the innocent.  Rambo, the Force of Freedom.”

  

All I can say is that Rambo like’s protecting canyons.  “Hey Rambo, a family is being held captive in a nearby suburban home!  Will you help?”  “I don’t know, would you consider the spaces between the houses to be canyon-ous?   If so, I’ll do it!”

Seriously though…no wait, this is the point, it’s hard to take this show serious on any level.  The episode I’m going to talk about today is called Terror Beneath the Sea, and it was written by Steve Hayes.  Typically I look at the first broadcast episodes when I tackle a cartoon, but I only have Vol. 4 of the DVD releases, and this is the one that really jumped out at me (of the eleven available on the disc.)  The basic plot of this episode revolves around a remote Eskimo village that’s being attacked by an insane killer whale named Corac.  Much like the horror movie Orca, the whale pops up at random, breaking through thick sheets of ice in the village and then skating along the surface gobbling up igloos and causing unparalleled havoc…

   

A couple military officers happen to be flying by and quickly land to see what the ruckus is all about.  The whale ends up dragging their plane underwater trapping them in the village.  Apparently when killer whales nonsensically attack an Eskimo village and strand two officers, there’s only one man you can call.  Rambo!  Incidentally, he just happened to be busy saving one of the dumbest children ever born from getting eaten by a grizzly bear at that moment…

   

My guess is that instead of adding a Rambo-hosted segment at the end of each episode teaching kids some general dos and don’ts ala G.I. Joe’s Knowing is Half the Battle segments, the producers thought it would be more effective to include them in the actual episodes.  But rather than trying to tie them into the plot of each episode, they’d just feature an unrelated scene of Rambo spreading him wisdom before having him receive the call that the world needs him.  In this particular episode, we get a chance to see a kid in a forest park watching a bear eat out of a trash can.  Even though there are like six million signs warning not to feed the bears, the kid gets out of the car he was sitting in and tries to feed the bear a hot dog.  Good thing Rambo was there to deter the bear and to point us to the very obvious signs.

Anyway, that segment wasn’t all that bad, but I found it hilarious that seconds after saving the kid, Rambo’s Force of Freedom team pulls up in one hell of a crazy vehicle.  Decked out with both a mounted machine gun and some sort of cannon, this set of wheels is what the team was using to tool around the forest cataloging the animals for the park rangers!  Were they expecting a secret terrorist cell during their scouting mission?  Jesus, talk about over-preparing for the job…

Learning of the killer whale attack and the stranded officers, Rambo and his crew make their way up to the village.  Of course they encounter the crazy killer Corac in a scene swiped right out of Jaws…

In this scene we get some of my favorite lines from Turbo, the master mechanic.  As their boat is bumped by the whale he shouts, “Holey pajamas, what was that!”  Wow, that’s an awesome exclamation that I’m going to have to try and work into my repertoire.  After Corac starts munching on the boat there’s also a great line where Turbo yells, “Shoot Rambo, Smoke that sucka!”  I find it fascinating that the writer was more or less penning dialogue for the characters that is very reminiscent of what you’d hear in an R-rated flick.  Again, it’s another example of the off dichotomy of adapting this sort of material.  Expanding on this weirdness a little is the fact that the production designers on the cartoon decided to include all realistic weaponry instead of taking the G.I. Joe route and creating more futuristic laser-based guns.  So instead of featuring a laser rifle that could be “set to stun”, Rambo instead chooses not to fire on the whale after he spots a weird box on its dorsal fin.  A bit later, after jumping out of the boat onto some floating pieces of ice, Rambo does use his machine gun to help secure his escape from the killer whale by shooting a ledge of ice creating an obstacle between them.  What really surprised me was the realistic firing sound effects, and even some spent bullet cartridges flying off of the weapon.  Weird.

   

Similarly, after they find a secret base where they realize the officers they’ve been looking for have been kidnapped and stored, the team is confronted with a locked door.  Instead of having the mechanical expert pick the lock, Rambo just pulls out his rocket launcher (which he affectionately named Hanna) and from point blank range fires on the door!  Though the writers were trying to be clever in how they showed Rambo using his weapons in a non-violent manner, they only really succeeded in illustrating how insane and unintentionally violent his problem solving skills are.  Again, the unintentional hilarity of a scene like that is just astounding to me.  What’s even sillier is that moments after trying their darnedest to portray Rambo as non-violent, they write a scene where in order to get some information they need he dangles a villain scientist over a pool that houses the killer whale.  Threatened with the fate of being eaten, the scientist tells them what they want to know, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the length to which the writers were willing to basically show Rambo torturing someone to get information.  Granted, I see that it’s tame, especially compared to what Jack Bauer might do to someone on 24, but for a kid’s show in the 80s this was extreme…

   

Also, there are some crazy scenes with the whale furiously writhing around in pain that are both sad, and sadly hilarious…

Anyway, Rambo ends up realizing that the scientist was using a pain-inducing box to train the whale to attack the nearby villages, so he scuba-suits-up (with yet another montage), and makes friends with the whale by removing the box.  After some fun bonding scenes, he and the team take the whale out to General Warhawk’s second hidden underwater base so that they can try and end his wintery evil scheme…

   

   

There was some surprising talent on this show.  In addition to some great voice talent including Alan Oppenheimer (Skeletor), Neil Ross (Shipwreck on G.I. Joe), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Frank Welker (Megatron), and Michael Bell (Duke from G.I. Joe), Gil Kane and Jack Kirby also worked as consultants, I’m sure designing the look of the series and characters…

   

All in all, this series is beyond ridiculous, and lacks all the style and panache of series like G.I. Joe and He-Man.  The characters are ridiculous and the plots are gut-splittingly funny, and honestly I can only recommend the show as an example of 80s excess gone horribly (and hilariously) wrong.  Yet, even so, I still watch it as a piece of my past…

If you’re curious, all 65 episodes were released by Anchor Bay back in 2005 over a series of 6 single disc DVDs (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Peel Here #109: In monster baseball you use grave markers as the bases…

Well, a bit delayed, but finally here is the 1988 Donruss/Leaf set of Baseballs’ Greatest Grossouts sticker cards that I teased a couple weeks ago

This set is the second series and the sister set to the Awesome All*Stars stickers from 1988, and again features the artwork of B.K. Taylor.  Like its predecessor, this set is huge and featured 88 stickers as well as a ginormous 36-cardback poster.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to procure the poster as these puzzle-backs were all on doubles of the main cards in the set. It was hard enough tracking down all these cards.  Because of the size of this set and the fact that one needed a ton of doubles to get all the puzzle pieces it probably drove kids batty back in the day trying to collect them all.  It’s probably also a factor which lead to the downfall of sets like these as both this and the Awesome All*Stars came out in the same year…

   

One of these things that I really dig about this second series is that Taylor took the monster designs a bit further into a more creepy/scary territory.   There are a metric ton more sharp fangs and brutal-looking monsters which is pretty gnarly.   There are also more direct baseball parodies with obvious nods to team mascots which is an improvement over the last series…

    

    

Even though Topps has been the king of cool painted sticker cards over the last 50 years, Leaf/Donruss sure did give them a run for their money, if not in quantity, then in quality with these two monster baseball themed sets as well as their Zero Heroes stickers.  It sure beats the heck out of what Fleer had to offer with their Grossville High and Robot Wars sets…

    

   

I wonder why they never produced any monster themed footballs sticker card sets?  You think it’s be a no brainer…

Wax Paper Pop Art #24, T-M-N-T-Turtle POWER!

So, I thought I was going to be able to get to scanning the Baseballs’ Greatest Grossouts stickers earlier in the week, but that fell through so I thought I’d bump up this week’s Wax Paper Pop Art.  Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle those stickers tonight.

Anyway, in keeping with the slight theme of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I thought I’d share my collection of TMNT wax wrappers.  Before I get to that though, I wanted to give an update for the postcard project I started on Tuesday.  22 of the 24 postcards have been claimed, and so far they’re being mailed out to twelve different states and provinces in the US, as well as four other countries spanning three continents.  There are two left, an April O’Neil and a Splinter, waiting for homes to be mailed to, so check out the post below for details.  I’m super excited at the response to this idea and I think I might do some additional postcard runs in the coming year (I already have an idea for this coming October…)

Now, on to the WPPA.  First up we have the four wrappers from the 1989 Topps cartoon stickers and cards set…

  

   

Next up is the wrapper for the 1990 Topps movie cards and stickers…

I must have seen this movie at least a hundred times over the years.  It’s been one of my go-to comfort classics and it reminds of a lot of when I first left Florida as a preteen.  In 1990 my family pulled up roots and moved to New England for a year, and coming from the sunny beach minded southern peninsula it was a shock to my system.  Not only was the weather and landscape different, but the general vibe I got from the kids up there was a whole heck of a lot different as well.  That summer when the TMNT movie came out in theaters, it felt like a link back to my childhood in Florida.  My introduction to the toys and cartoon series was one of my last memories with my longtime friends down there and collecting the movie cards when they came out brought me out of an isolating funk…

This next set of wrappers jumps back to the cartoon series.  The first one is for the 2nd series Topps cards that came out in 1990…

…and these next three are also from that series of cards, though they’re a bit different.

These are from what I believe is the Canadian variation of the 2nd series cards.  Though they’re not labeled as O-Pee-Chee (the Canadian version of Topps), I’m taking clues from the title change (these are Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles), and the ingredients for the included gum which have the classic Canadian/UK spellings of flavour and colour with the added “u”.  The Michelangelo wrapper above also has an alternate illustration, whereas the rest of the wrappers feature the same imagery from the 1st series packaging.

  

Last up today is the Topps wrapper for the 1992 live action sequel to the TMNT movie, Secret of the Ooze…

This flick also marks a strange place in my nostalgia as the end of my toy collecting for the most part.  By ’92 I was more into comic books and roleplaying (not straying very far from the Turtles though as I was a Palladium TMNT and Other Strangeness junky throughout high school), and toys were taking a backseat.  Add to this the weird toyline from this flick with all the freckles and the goofy vibe of Vanilla Ice, and I pretty much lost interest in the film series and collecting the action figures.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the flick now, though it was a long time in coming…

Wax Paper Pop Art #23, They should call it Monster Ball…

So for this week’s Wax Paper Pop Art I thought I’d provide a teaser for a set of stickers that I’m going to share on next week’s Peel Here column.  1989′s Baseballs’ Greatest Grossouts sticker cards were the follow-up set to Donruss/Leaf’s 1988 sticker set Awesome All*Stars

The illustrations on these wax packs were done by (I’m 99% sure) B.K. Taylor, an artist I’m becoming increasingly familiar with due to my explorations into the Scholastic newsletters and their publications like Maniac, Dynamite and Hot Dog.  Taylor did all sorts of artwork for Scholastic, from sticker sheets to comic strips, as well as illustrations for some of their books.  I believe he also did the artwork for the Zero Heroes sticker cards (based on his art style and relationship with Donruss doing their Odd Rods stickers in the late 60s and 70s.)

So check back next week for some of Baseballs’ Greatest Grossouts…

Peel Here #108, These stickers are Maniacal

So, continuing with the slight Valentine’s Day theme and as a preview for the Maniac post I hope to have up this week I thought I would break out my meager collection of stickers that were available in issues of the magazine.  This first set of stickers are kind of Valentine’s day related, so it seemed like a good place to start.  These came inside issue Five of Maniac, which was the Jan-Feb 1985 issue available only through the various editions of the Scholastic Book clubs in middle and high school…

I’m 99% sure that David Coulson did the illustrations for both sets of stickers I’m going to feature today (based on seeing his work inside the magazine), and I’d be willing to bet that ‘ol Jovial Bob (R.L.) Stine came up with the gags.  Oh, and even though both I and the magazine called these “stickers”, they’re better defined as stamps since you had to lick the back to stick them.  I’m loosely including them in Peel Here since I’ve featured a few Sticker Fun books in the past that use the same sticker/stamp technology…

I ended up winning these in a lot on eBay and only two of the magazines still had their stickers intact, issue five and four.  Here’s a look at those covers…

   

This second set of stickers was in the Nov-Dec 1984 issue, and had a much more general theme.  I can say one thing for certain, in this day and age you’d never see a sticker with the slogan “Make My Day” next to a drawing of a handgun in a school-based magazine.  Oh and I love the “I’m a Hip Hop Maniac” sticker on the bottom right.  That dude tied himself into a human pretzel with break dancing!

Hopefully I’ll have the main Maniac article up sometime this week…

Wax Paper Pop Art #22, the girly romance edition!

So even though I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s day, it is just around the corner and I thought it would be a great opportunity to share a couple pieces of truly awesome Wax Paper Pop Art that I recently acquired.  They’re pink, girly, and just plain rad.  It doesn’t hurt that I had the biggest crushes on both Helen Slater and Cyndi Lauper growing up.  Between Supergirl, Secret of My Success, and the Legend of Billie Jean, Mrs. Slater just knocked me out, and who doesn’t love Cyndi Lauper?

First up is the wrapper for the 1984 Topps Supergirl sticker card set (which I’ve talked about here.)

Seeing this wrapper, and juxtaposing it against the extremely yellow borders of the sticker cards, it makes me wonder why the designers at Topps didn’t just go with a pink bordered theme…

Our second wrapper comes from the 1985 Topps Cyndi Lauper cards and stickers…

This is actually only one of two designs that were available for this set, but it’s the only one I’ve come across that was included in an affordable lot.  I’ve posted about the sticker portion of this set here

Wax Paper Pop Art #21, Where no Spock Mego figure has gone before…

A little while ago I agreed to take part in a fun project for Charles over at Eclectorama called Spockcation 2009.   The whole idea is that Charles would mail out one of his Spock Mego figures to various people in different states who would then take Spock around their area to get some fun photos as he traveled around the country.  Well, Spock has been on vacation for a couple years now and he’s finally beamed into Branded HQ.  Since the wife and I have been taking him around town, I thought it would be apropos to share some Spock-centric Wax Paper Pop Art this week…

This first wax wrapper is from the Topps Star Trek Series, circa 1976.

This second wrapper hails from the Topps Star Trek: The Motion Picture set, 1979.

Click on the banner below to visit Eclectorama and see all the places Spock has stopped so far…

Wax Paper Pop Art #20, More wrappers saved from the garbage pail (pun-tastic!)

Been doing a bunch of collection culling, house cleaning and framing these past couple of weeks (trying to get a jump on Spring cleaning I guess), and in the process I’ve been digging back into my collection of Garbage Pail Kids.  I’ve always wanted to find a fun way to display some of the GPK card art on the walls of the Branded abode, but I didn’t want to go with an uncut sheet or one of the checklist style posters that was released back in the day.  The cards themselves are a bit too small to really pop on the wall too, so aside from trying to procure some of the original artwork (way too pricey) my thought has always been to pick up some of the 5″x7″ Giant 1st series cards.   Up until recently though I’ve resisted this urge since I wasn’t as familiar with that set (having missed in while collecting as a kid), and I felt a little weird framing some of those pieces.  After stumbling onto the majority of the 1st series by chance this past year though, I decided ‘what the hell’ and picked up some of my favorites from the set to frame.  I haven’t hung them yet, but they look freaking spectacular in the frames so I can’t wait until they’re on the walls peppered throughout the rooms…

I figured this would be a good time to share some more of the GPK wax wrappers in my collection, so beginning where I left off with the 1st WPPA, here is the 6th series pack released in 1986…

It never occurred to me that it was a little weird that Topps switched from using the Adam Bomb imagery for the wrappers with this set, but now that I think about it, it is a little weird that they switched to an image of Potty Scotty.  In the sets following the wrapper designers started highlighting a new sticker from each set as the wrapper image, so I wonder why they chose to dip back into the 1st series for this 6th wax pack?  Especially when you consider that this set featured an updated variation on the kid-in-a-toilet concept with JOHN John & Flushing Floyd.  Actually, there was also an updated on the Adam Bomb concept with Dyna Mike & Newlydead Ed that would have been pretty damn cool for the wrapper.  Guess it can just be chalked up to a missed opportunity…

The 7th series was released in 1987 and was one of the last series that I heavily collected back in the 80s…

Next up is the wrapper for the 8th series also released in 1987…

The 9th series is pretty much where I stopped buying.  It’s also the last “classic” series that featured the original GPK arched logo, Cabbage Patch Kid inspired eye design, and the softer imagery of plush dolls for the kids.  It was around this time that Topps settled a lawsuit with the makers of the CPKs, part of which was to augment the artwork to feature harder looking dolls with larger, rounder eyes and cracked skin.   Though I wasn’t aware of the impending changes at the time, I’m sure I would have scoffed at the coming 10th series as too much of a change.  25 or so years later though I find that I have a soft spot in my heart for the last six original sets and have been able to get over the imposed changes to the series adding a bunch of them to my collection.  I guess being a completist is a stronger urge than a traditionalist…

Last up today we have the 10th series wrapper, which was the second to last one released in 1987…

Wax Paper Pop Art, Tron edition!

As a slightly anticlimactic close to this mini Tron nostalgia week, I decided to close out with the wrapper to the 1982 Donruss Tron card set (as a bookend to the stickers I posted on Wednesday.)  It’s not the most engaging wax wrapper design.  In fact I believe other than the neatness of the logo, this is probably one of the more boring card pack wrappers out there.

I think this is a bit indicative of the marketing issues I’ve noticed with the original film.  Most of the merchandise I’ve seen used the same hands-on-hips static pose of the Tron character blankly starring, or it uses that image as the center piece surrounded by a barrage of small screencaps that don’t really capture the excitement of the lightcycle race, or the emotional resonance of watching a program get de-rezzed.

I know Disney wanted a big push with the merchandising of the flick, but I’m wondering if people just didn’t know how to market a movie like Tron?

Well, the new flick opens tonight and the wife and I are going to try and catch the 1st screening in the morning.  Here’s to hoping it does the original some justice…

Peel Here #107, Hey, hey, hey, it’s the big Master Control Program everybody’s talking about…

Well, 2010 is shaping up to be one hell of a year.  I’ve had some of my highest highs with personal projects and experienced some personal family tragedies that I had hoped never to live through.  Though I still haven’t recovered from the latter, I don’t want to lose track of Branded, so I thought with the upcoming Tron Legacy sequel hitting theaters this weekend it’d be a good time to share some ephemera from the original film.  So for the rest of this week I’ll be sharing my meager collection of Tron goodies.

Before I jump into that, I did want to make note of a milestone that Branded recently crossed as the site has had over one million distinct page views.  When I set out to work on this project, the million page views mark was one of my personal goals, and I’ve made a promise to myself that once I reached it, I’d stop looking at stats and stuff.  So next week, I’m going to shed the hit counter, dropping off an outdated bit of old school web design in the process.  A very heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who has ever stopped by to read some of my ramblings or to take a gander at some of the magazine, stickers, and advertising scans I’ve put up.  I’m just glad this stuff has gotten out there.

Anyway, back to Tron.  Today I’d like to share the complete Tron sticker card collection from the 1982 Donruss card set…

 

The sticker set only consisted of 8 cards, five featuring screenshots of the Tron video game, two images from the movie, and a pretty sweet logo sticker.  Each of the five video game stickers also featured “tips” for the game on the back (as you can see below), though they aren’t so much as Nintendo-Power-esque game tips as they are straight up descriptions of the various levels in the game.  I’m sure there was a legion of kids disappointed in these less than helpful descriptions.

I’m glad the Donruss design team included the game screen shots as stickers because I’ve never had the opportunity to play the Tron game and I at least get a sense of what the game looked like.  I am kind of surprised that they didn’t make the sticker set a little bigger though including other scenes and characters from the flick.  I’m glad we get a sticker featuring Tron and the lightcycles, but I would have loved to have some stickers featuring Sark and Flynn, and maybe even the ugly mug of the Master Control Program…

 

Though I’m sure there are a ton of sites providing commentary on the Tron legacy this week, I’d like to take a second and point to one of my favorite spots on the web, Neato Coolville.  Run by Mayor Todd, Neato Coolville is featuring a whole week of posts with all sorts of great stuff including vintage magazine articles, artwork from the film, some of the regular trading cards from the 1982 Donruss set, and much more.  If you get a second stop on by and tell him Branded sent ya…

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