The Real Folk Blues Part 2 : Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take


This deals with The Real Folk Blues Part 2.
The ‘Alternate Take’ is basically a reanalysis of Spike’s story and for more context on it, please click here.

In an interview, Dai Sato says that Shinichiro Watanabe feels people will eventually understand his works when they revisit them 10-20 years down the line. Coming back after 15 years, I am people. Relooking at Bebop from the lens of Julia as an antagonist. This is the second part of a two-part post. You can read the first part here. If you’re a fan of Julia give this a skip please.

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Spike goes to meet Julia in the graveyard. We see him pick up a conveniently-placed red rose, identical to what he dropped when he left his previous life and Julia supposedly ran away. He is not dressed in his trench coat getup which he gets into every time he goes back to his past signifying that he goes to her as the Spike he is now and not the one she knew long ago. He has changed.

It’s also symbolic that he is not shown giving the rose to Julia but holds on to it. She has a gun pointed at him while he’s only holding a rose, open and vulnerable. It’s symbolic of their relationship.

At this point, I feel Spike meets her because she is a stray bullet and can be dangerous. He needs to see where all of it is going, what the plan is. With him out in the open he knows the attention is on him now, away from his friends. Isn’t it strange that the moment Spike leaves the Bebop and goes to meet Julia, the attacks on the mothership cease? Faye and Jet are never bothered again by anyone? Almost as if Vicious is aware Spike is no longer on the ship? I mean, just saying.

Julia says the line about rain and he replies sarcastically to her. She gives her explanation on why she disappeared and he responds asking why she chose to become hunted. Julia does not respond back saying it’s because she loved him but asks him why he loved her. Looking at it now, this seems less a confession of love on her part than expressing the weight of his loving her. The whole scene always struck me as….off…but I get it now. It’s almost like she is simultaneously guilty and burdened by his love which forced her hand at betraying him and working against him. We know they were friends once, we have the art from Spike’s past which shows him, Julia, and Vicious in amicable scenarios. This scene sounds to me intended less as her saying ‘I chose to become hunted because I loved you like you loved me’ and more her subconsciously saying ‘Why did you love me? If you had not, none of this would have happened.’

She comes to embrace Spike and asks him to run away with her. We are specifically shown that he does not do anything to embrace her back, console her, or show any kind of affection. Think back again to him in Jupiter Jazz (I know I sound like a broken record but just do it dude), his eagerness to find her, fighting with Jet over her. If he was to be having the same reunion back in Jupiter Jazz, would this have been his reaction? He would have probably interacted with her in a manner similar to the flashback interaction shown of him with her, where he asks her to come away and have a life with him, one where he is affectionate, trusting toward her. In JJ also we see him still retaining that trust and belief in her which seems absent by the time this interaction is taking place. We cut to Spike’s eyes which are cold and passive.

The Real Folk Blues Part 2
cowboy bebop

One can argue that he is passive because of the circumstances with the Syndicate during their meeting, because he anticipates the end is near for them, but if you meet someone you have cherished for so long, even at a time like this, someone you believe to be pure and good, you will at least do something to comfort them, show them some affection. It is, of course, fairly common for people to shut down emotionally during situations of extreme stress or trauma but we have not been shown Spike as someone who becomes overwhelmed by dangerous situations. That meeting in the graveyard does not look like a man reuniting with the woman he loves. Something looks changed-the trust seems missing. This also goes back to what I mentioned in the first part around the Director asking the standalone art corresponding to this scene to be shown a certain way.

We next get a scene where Shin has made his way back to the Syndicate to find the Van dead and Vicious asks him about Spike. He informs Spike got away.

Vicious then asks him where Julia is and Shin says he does not know. Vicious seems to speak in a manner which seems more casual than the way he asks about Spike. I always get a sense from that scene of Vicious speaking as if asking about someone who is currently a presence rather than a woman who has been absent for three years. Not saying Shin is in cahoots with him but it feels more like Vicious not really bothering too hard with the act anymore since he has already reached the top.

We cut to Spike and Julia driving to Annie’s…again, all passive Spike-resigned, cold, and calculated. He asks her to wait outside and goes into Annie’s shop, where we are shown him exhibiting emotion for the first time in a while. We see him worried for Annie, trying to stem the flow of blood. Julia comes in and Annie is happy to see them united but Spike does not even bother to acknowledge Julia’s presence much. Annie dies and he goes to collect ammunition.

Julia is shown asking him why he is taking up ammunition if he will be running away with her. She seems a bit too fixated on getting him to run away with her and doesn’t seem too keen on him arming himself. Again such a weird thing to show her saying. Even if they’re running away, they would still need to defend themselves. She should want to stock up on more arms, not be stopping him from arming himself. Heck, if I was her I’d tell him to take all the guns, locate a frigging tank if he could, and recruit some Ninja bodyguards while he was at it. They’re up against the entire effing Syndicate now for God’s sake and her combat skills are shitty as hell. If she was genuine at this point, what was she planning to do if they came after her? Drive badly at them till they went away?

The only way she would not want him armed at this point would be if she wanted him to be easier to handle, less dangerous, till she was able to deliver him where she was supposed to.

I’ve mentioned in earlier pieces as well how odd and tone deaf Julia’s request to run away seems at this point, especially when she knows Spike has comrades. It is extremely odd of her to seek Spike out at a time like this, without a word exchanged in three years, to send the message through Faye, someone she is not supposed to even be aware of.

It’s like she doesn’t even realize she is revealing her hand too much.

We see a consistent strain through the show of Vicious and his people underestimating Spike, or being unable to predict his actions and motivations, ever since Ballad of Fallen Angels. They kidnap Faye with the intention of luring him out when in fact he has no reason to give a damn about her at this point. He barely knows her, doesn’t like her much, and couldn’t care less if she dies. He comes to the church because he chooses to. Once he is there, Vicious’ henchman is again shown to misread him, asking him to lower his gun or they will shoot her, to which he responds by calmly shooting the man who is holding her instead.

Vicious, for all his calm composure and ruthlessness, is still shown an inferior man to Spike from the perspective of the series and the values it holds. The philosophy of Bebop, and especially for Spike, is routed in Taoism, Jeet Kune Do, Buddhism, and Bushido-the code of the Samurai. Vicious and his men cannot predict Spike’s actions because they do not operate from these spaces. He acts in the moment, he is empty of false ego, and he is honorable.

The series even mocks Vicious through the screenshot of Spike walking by the screen playing an old samurai movie with the words “Only a true samurai can kill him like that.” This is generally taken to mean that only Vicious can kill him since he wields a Katana. But Samurai are not made simply by the use of a Katana. Vicious is not a Samurai, he is a Ronin. The most important tenet of Bushido is loyalty to the Daimyo or overlord. Spike, for all his leaving the Syndicate, continues to stay loyal to his Daimyo Mao while Vicious betrays and kills him.

There is a deception here, a duality, because one becomes a Ronin when one becomes masterless through death of a Daimyo or desertion. So by that logic, Spike is a Ronin because he leaves the Syndicate while Vicious stays on. However, in fact, Spike is the true Samurai because his loyalty to Mao continues. He even calls out Vicious on his lack of loyalty and betrayal of someone, presumably Mao, who saved him.

Of course, we can’t consider Spike’s character depicted as completely flawless here either but that’s a conversation for another day. Overall, the series mocks Vicious as a posturing megalomaniac. He is skilled with the Katana but he is not a true Samurai, not by a long shot. Below are the 8 tenets of Bushido, of which except for courage I really don’t see him embodying any others.

  • Rectitude or Justice
  • Courage
  • Benevolence or Mercy
  • Politeness
  • Honesty and Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Character and Self-Control

Anyway, long story short, Vicious misreads Spike because he operates from a very different place than Spike. He continues to believe Spike is exactly like him, the same blood runs through them etc. but they are not the same. Maybe he wants them to be and that’s where his envy and hatred of his former friend comes from.

This translates to flawed planning when it comes to Spike, flawed on both his part and, by default, translating to Julia’s actions as well. Julia assumes he is still in love with her and will come with her when she asks but he is smarter than that. He is detached from things and objective enough to be able to see the patterns and understand what is going on. Perhaps her plan is to lure him under the guise of running away with her, something she and Vicious are both aware he wanted dearly, and lead him to Vicious. She seems to get confused when she sees him not playing along, trying to enforce her loyalty to him further by saying she will be with him till the end.

I always find it strange that it is shown the Syndicate attacks Annie’s shop a second time. They have just been there a little while ago and have killed Annie. Of course, it could be that they left someone to stand watch at Annie’s and they called for backups when they see Spike at the shop but it could also be done as a result of some alert sent through Julia. Of course, the question would be of why Julia is attacked as well. First off, during the fight we see her take the lead and largely stay out of the way of fire. When she is finally shot, it is by mistake and through stray a bullet aimed at Spike, not intentionally. Also, since she is a wild card for Vicious, all his people would not be aware of her role here. He’s just taken over…would be kind of difficult to do that sort of communication lickety split without panicking gangsters already at edge due to all the events happening currently. Even when he shows up at the shop later, the guy who hands him Julia’s coat speaks as if she is a target and not an ally.

Whatever reason leads Julia to continue to work with Vicious, whether a sense of self-preservation or love for him, she would remain dispensable for him. Even if she dies in this mission, he is not likely to be too bothered given the kind of person he is. I feel their relationship is one of Stockholm Syndrome and she is a woman unable to break away from the abusive equation with him.

Anyway, back to the scene in Annie’s shop. I find the contrasts we are shown here rather telling. Julia says she will stay with Spike, will be with him till the end and the only reaction he has is to pause in loading a bullet. The pause also feels skeptical. Emotionally jacked up as you may be, hearing your beloved say something like that would cause you to at least give her a smile or a word of assurance. Spike has been ignoring her the entire time she has been speaking and his reaction to this is to take a pause in loading his gun and then continue on. To me, that scene oozes unvoiced skepticism and contempt on his part. It’s offset in the every next shot as he moves to the window and apologizes to Annie’s dead form with a subtle tenderness, saying that he is about to create a scene. Not speaking to Julia looks like a deliberate choice. We have never before seen him to be an abusive man, as the way his ignoring her in that moment indicates. It’s abuse through lack of words.

Spike is a dangerous man and, misread him as they do, they are still aware he is better dealt with care. We may have a question of why Julia doesn’t just shoot him while she has him around but we do know by this point he is not that easy to kill. In the shootout that ensues, it is also established that his combat skills are far superior to hers. Anyway, they are attacked and Julia makes her way up, followed by Spike. She shoots the Syndicate man pointing the gun at them…for a plan with so much at stake, this would be plain and simple collateral damage.

They move across to the terrace and then we get to the scene where Julia is shot. Julia is not given a heroic death by the show. It’s not the kind of death we are used to seeing for key characters…the kind of dramatic one we see for Vicious or, if you believe he is dead at the end, for Spike himself. She is getting up, trying to get her bearing, and is shot through the back by a random henchman. I always find it interesting that the series chooses to give her the death of a coward, of a dispensable individual. She does not die to save Spike, is not killed by anyone of significance. There is no blaze of glory for her, just a quick, single shot to the back. Annie’s death of just a few moments prior, dying because she did not betray Spike, is a much more honorable one juxtaposed against Julia’s. Incidentally, Julia’s death is the same death as that of Vicious-a single, quick, fatal gunshot with the only difference being that Vicious is shot through the front.

If we continue by this version of interpretation, this can indicate that he is shot through the front because he is overt about his antagonism toward Spike while she is shot through the back because her story is entirely one of betrayal and deceit. Spike’s reaction to both deaths is identical, looking up at the sky.

This is the first time we see any emotion from Spike toward Julia since the start of the episode. While it is easy to assume this is his reaction to seeing his one true love lost, this would be his reaction to her death under any circumstances. They were friends once, he cared for her for a long time. Even if she has betrayed him, all of that history matters and seeing her die would not be easy for him. Till now, we have seen Julia through Spike’s left eye during the flashbacks but as we flash into it we see it empty. This is the eye that sees his past. To me, this seems symbolic of his being free of his past now. She is gone-there is nothing he can do for a dead woman. He is free of her.

She says her dying words “It is all a dream.” and he agrees with her that it is a bad dream. This woman has had a long association with him, they had happier times as friends and lovers once. They must have shared a philosophy, an ethos. Her death was not planned, not built up, just a sudden hit. It’s a difficult parting for both regardless of whatever happened between them but it feels like the parting of friends, not lovers. We see Spike mourning her. A lot of people have died because of him by now and Julia dying is the final trigger for him because even if she chose a different path from him, she was someone who mattered to him and he had an active role in setting her on the path which eventually led to her death.

In this context, the next sequence we see is of Vicious in Annie’s shop and someone shows him Julia’s coat with her passport still inside it. They don’t seem aware she is dead. Vicious then speaks of a beast who has lost his place in the world, who has nowhere to go, and will come. This is an odd thing to say considering he does not know Julia is dead. All he knows is she is with Spike, presumably informed by the ambush party before they showed up at the shop.

The first time I saw this, I assumed it to mean that Vicious is saying Spike has lost Julia so now he will come but it doesn’t make sense to me now when I spend two minutes thinking on it. There is no blood on the coat and no Julia-shaped chalk outline on the roof. Everyone who ambushed Spike and Julia was likely killed before she died. If there was someone left who saw her die, they would have informed Vicious and his men who show up at the shop but they seem unaware she is dead, stating instead that her passport is in her coat so they are not likely to get far. Therefore, I now feel Vicious is talking more about Spike’s general place in the world, implying that Julia has been successful in taking Spike away from the life he has been living for the last few years, his “place” in the world, believing he has agreed to run away with her. So, he will come to Vicious. Either she will lead him there or he will come to protect the new future he feels he has with her.

There is a brief shot of rose petals sweeping away with the wind which always seem to me indicative of the end of a fickle love, closure of Spike’s association with the rose he dropped so long ago.

Spike shows up at the Bebop to meet Jet once more. He tells him the story of the cats and I’ve mentioned in this essay, why this story potentially signifies his negating the idea that he will die now just because Julia has passed away. Julia is another of the many masters who possessed him before he became free, one he could not break away from in the same way he could not break away from Vicious, Mao, and the rest of the Syndicate drama.

At this point, to both Spike and the audience, the Bebop is an oasis. With all the raw emotions of what is going on in his life, this place has not changed. It’s still a home where he is welcomed and cared for. We wish for him to just stay here and go on with his life the way he has been but that’s not possible. The water is over his head and conclusion of the journey to the “west” which he started in the earlier episode is inevitable (Tharsis is adapted from Tarshish, which is a city in the Bible located at the western-most extremity of the known world). Incidentally, Tharsis and Alba are all actual locations on Mars mapped by scientists. Tharsis is a giant volcano.

Tarshish also has an association with the story of Jonah in the Bible, who escapes toward it, disobeying the order of God and ends up being swallowed by a whale on the way as a punishment. He survives, but the association in his case was also of confronting one’s fate or pre-ordained path….though this can be coincidental as well.

The story which Jet tells him earlier on the bridge is a loose, somewhat distorted version of the short story “The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro” by Ernst Hemingway. In that, the protagonist Harry is dying of gangrene and his partner Helen tries to get him to hold on to life. The sequence with the plane happens in his dream. He dreams a plane has come to pick him up to save him and it takes him toward Kilimanjaro. In truth, he is unconscious and has become unresponsive. The plane and Kilimanjaro are all happening to him in his dying dream.

As Spike heads out, he is confronted by Faye. The exchange between them is somewhat reminiscent of the one between Harry and Helen where she desperately and futilely tries to get him to cling on to life. But Spike is not Harry (Harry in the story is really not a very likeable guy). He has not given up on life-he is just indifferent to death because, once again, Bushido. A Samurai is expected to live life as if already dead so he does not fear death.

Spike has to do what he has to do and that’s about it. He offers Faye the best explanation he can in that moment but actually nothing he could say at that time would really make much of a difference. He is depicted as the kind of individual who is not very expressive and even Watanabe has mentioned this. When he wants to show emotion, he will do the exact opposite of it. That’s why I believe the reason why he is shown to not look back at her as she shoots her gun behind him is because he cannot afford to. He has no option to stay and turning back would just elongate the parting for both of them. It might even weaken his own resolve to go.

So he leaves and we see him flashing back to his past. This scene is often interpreted as him being alone with the memory of Julia, the Bebop crew no longer a priority for him any longer compared to his grief and love for Julia, who has passed. Now, first of all, he flashes back to both Julia and Vicious in happier times. Times when they were his friends. He flashes back to both, not just one. He does not flash back to Annie or to Mao, people who were also important to him, a part of his past, and who were true to him to the very end. He is not remembering his past as a whole. He is thinking specifically to the two people who meant a lot to him, both of whom betrayed him. He has lost one of them already today and the other he is heading off to kill. Yes, he is alone in that moment but it is with that memory of betrayal and loss, and not with the memory of those who cared for him. Anyone who believes Spike is intended to be a character who does not care for people or his companions needs to watch the show again. The scenes are also interspersed with images of Faye and Jet dealing with his going in their own ways.

I find it very strange when I read in places that this flashback indicates the Bebop crew could never take the place of Julia. This version only makes sense if we view Spike as a toxic, ungrateful character but he is not that. He embodies Bushido, he is loyal. We don’t see him brush away Mao’s affection to him even after he has left the Syndicate. He honors Mao’s memory when the time comes, even knowing he is already dead. Similarly, he knows the value of Jet’s friendship, of Faye’s care for him, and he comes back to honor both. Albeit, he meets Jet and his meeting with Faye seems to happen more by accident but I feel he may have sought her out before he left if she had not confronted him in the hallway.

After Julia’s death, he could have gone straight to the Syndicate and shot the whole place down. He had ammo at Annie’s shop already and we don’t see him loading up on it at the Bebop. There is no reason for him to come back to the ship at this point except for the people there. He doesn’t know if he will survive or not so he comes back to visit them one last time. It’s similar to him honoring Annie dying for him by apologizing to her before making a mess of her shop.

He doesn’t honor Julia similarly, dismissing her as a dead woman he can do nothing for. He does not honor Vicious, telling him simply that Julia is dead so let’s just end this. The manner of him mentioning Julia at this point to Vicious is especially critical for me. If she was still the pure love, the other half, in his mind then he has no reason to mention her to Vicious in this manner. If that was true, Vicious was the antagonist in their story, and Spike is here to avenge her death by killing him. But he does not speak of her in a manner of possession or accusation, as if saying ‘I lost her because of you.’ He says “Julia is dead. Let’s end it all” as a matter of fact, like saying…one player of this game is already down. It’s just you and me now. Let’s end it, the jig is up. And no, I am not going by the tone of Steve Blum’s voice here. I’ve seen it both in English and in Japanese. It’s the words themselves, not how they are said.

After he kills Vicious, we see Julia’s death again through his right eye which sees the present. Her death is his present now. Closure from his association with her, with the Syndicate, and with Vicious. He is finally free. The lyrics of the song Blue which plays after he falls down indicate that he is now unencumbered to live free. If we believe he died then that’s the blue of freedom in death (though I still don’t think he did).

If we look at the associations in Spike’s life, there are two trifectas. Syndicate trifecta-him, Vicious, and Julia and post-Syndicate trifecta-him, Jet and Faye. Faye and Jet are the polar opposites of Julia and Vicious. Faye backs him up and is side by side with him versus Julia who could not stand her ground for him. Jet forgives him again and again and takes him back in while Vicious made a huge deal out of one transgression and refused to let it go.

The end card of “You’re gonna carry that weight” is a line from a Beatles song, which they recorded while they were going through conflicts and was one of the last songs before they broke up as a group. It has multiple interpretations but one is that each of the members of the group will carry the weight of their association with each other after they leave, that the sum is much more than the parts. The Bebop friendships are still very much intact for Spike. This end card seems a hark back to the Syndicate trio. Each of them carried their past association to each other with them, its burden weighing them down, and eventually resulting in this end. Yes, of course, it’s intended for the audience as well since we do end up carrying the series with us long after it ends.

Each of the main characters in Bebop has the arc of confronting their past, resolving it, and coming back. Jet leaves to meet Alisa, carrying the broken pocket watch with him. He meets her, realizes that’s over, and chucks the watch in the river before returning to the present. Faye gets her memory back and goes in search of her home only to find it gone and finally puts it behind her, coming back to the ship with the realization that this is where she belongs. Ed has gone away on Faye’s misguided advice but may eventually realize that the father who keeps forgetting about her because he is so engrossed in pointless work does not compare to the surrogate father she has in Jet, who notices her absence, worries about her well-being and could make her way back soon (she has no trouble finding them). Similarly, Spike who has finally confronted his past head-on may eventually heal and come back to the ship as well.

All of this is linked somewhat to the scene with Alfred’s mother at the start of The Real Folk Blues. Each of the Bebop characters have their moments of feeling like they are not cared for by the others. Faye runs away thinking no one gives a damn about her but they do. She sends Ed away thinking she does not belong on the Bebop either but we see Spike keeping a tab of each of their disappearances, Jet worrying about their food, and eventually see the boys end up “eating their feelings” when they feel they have been abandoned.

In Jupiter Jazz, we see Faye feel she is unwanted but Jet is worried for her safety in a dangerous area and goes to find her, towing her back like a sleepy child. In the first part of The Real Folk Blues, we see Spike reach out to her to come take care of Jet like one would to an errant family member who is going through a mood but he seems concerned for her safety as well. We see her put her currently ongoing issues aside to come back and relay Julia’s message to Spike and defend the ship with him. Spike starts off believing Julia and his past are where he truly belongs but over time we see him develop real bonds with his comrades. Jet believes he is taking care of strays who don’t care for him and come and go as they please but Spike prioritizes him over everything else when shit truly hits the fan. Faye acts like she doesn’t give a damn about Spike but when he is leaving we see her give him a bitter fight and then break down crying. I do feel there is more to their equation though and wrote a magnum opus on that as well, which is here.

The scene with Alfred and his mother is about someone choosing to feel unloved, building a prison of their own mind where they feel uncared for, only to realize there is someone (or people) who truly care for them. It’s about people who have nothing much to give still coming together to be there for each other. Alfred’s mother is old and not a provider. He has just lost his job and is not much in terms of provider himself at the moment. But he wants to live with her and figure things out. The ragtag bunch onboard the Bebop don’t have much but they give what they can and take care of each other with whatever little they have.

It also translates to Julia and Vicious as a contrast, I believe. To the very bitter end, Spike thinks back to his friendship with Vicious, to the time he first saw Julia. Vicious had only to come out of the prison of his own mind, his ego, to get his friend back again. He was cared for but he chose not to see it. Julia was loved dearly by Spike but the prison of her own fear kept her from giving in to that love completely and having something beautiful with him. It’s a factor of their backgrounds and environments I guess which did not allow these choices.

So yeah I guess that’s the interpretation of the show which resulted from looking through the lens of Julia as an antagonist honestly it makes a lot more sense to me now than what I’ve known so far. It may make sense to you, or may seem like utter horsecrap. Either way is fine. At the end of the day it’s about what works for you. Any work of art is enjoyable by our own consumption of it and to each their own.

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PlutoMango

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14 thoughts on “The Real Folk Blues Part 2 : Cowboy Bebop Alternate Take”

  1. Holy moly this all makes so much sense. As a much more mature individual than I was when I first saw Bebop… This rings of so much truth and depth. It’s the head canon I’ve been brainstorming but wasn’t able to put down properly myself. It’s like I saw stars but you drew a constellation for me 💖

    1. Haha! Well I’m glad to see it made sense to another Bebop fan. While writing it I thought I was losing my mind finally. But it does make sense right? I kept wondering how she ends up at all these places. Would Keiko really be so loose with her writing?

      1. There were so many red flags (hahahaha again with red) we were shown throughout the show after JJ but the “Spike’s dead” / “Julia is his only love” gatekeepers kept dissuading me from believing what I hoped in my heart was true. You just lay it out so brilliantly!

  2. Why is it making more sense this way? OMG I need to go and think on this now!! This is broken down so well and just goes step by step. I can’t unsee this now.

    1. Haha! Again sorry for the super late revert. I do hope your thinking has given up some interesting perspectives. Would love to hear where you ended up. 🙂 Thanks for writing in!

  3. I liked reading this because it’s a very fresh take and it makes much more sense. Here’s me wondering why such takes don’t exist already but I never thought of it myself so I guess I can’t expect anyone else to have either.
    Kudos on writing this since it was a very cool read and I’m gonna be coming back to it again.
    I did see you’ve posted something around Faye and hope that’s the one that’s gonna answer my question around that finale bit.

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