Sunday, 25 September 2016

On: "Knights of Sidonia" Anime (and Related Current Affairs)

"Knights of Sidonia" totes plenty of whizz-bang space battles with giant mecha suits piloted by teenagers repeatedly fighting incomprehensible space monstrosities that attempt to tentacle humanity to death.... But! Push past the facade of these overused anime tropes and be rewarded by a rich, engaging space opera.

Summary - Components of This Well Assembled Pastiche:

There's a strong 'hard sci-fi' undercurrent carrying the story along and underpinning a decent amount of attention to detail.

Then there's teenage awkwardness, of course, and tensions in a kind of high school-ish setting (of the pilot academy). The socially inept protagonist, chosen-one (Nagate), who alone can pull the joysticks of the legendary armour suit to it's full potential... But thankfully it's never as paralytically morose as NGE (Neon Genesis Evangelion).

It is respectably gritty, but not like the gratuitous gore of Akira. It has decent depictions of the brutal suddenness of war. This is brought home via the perspective of sympathetic characters, mostly very young, like the unlucky soldiers of real wars. But, of course, the fantastical space setting and perversely monstrous threats make it psychologically gentler (safer) for an audience to engage with emotionally.
Yuhata Midorikawa's different faces.

It also avoids being too bleak via juxtaposing the relatively low key social tribulations of the pilots, burgeoning on adulthood. Prime example of this is Yuhata. She swings between command responsibilities, gambling everyone's lives, to then be the star-struck, boy obsessed, teen girl. (Also gluing together geeky toy models kits in her spare time.)

There's a definite 'harem' sub-genre element running throughout, adding lighter notes, with support character developement and romantic intrigue. With three main contenders for Nagate's attention, there are few other females encountered who don't also make a play at some point, brood over him or have a twinkle of possible interest. These are mostly relatively subtle, making sense in context, since our protagonist is deliberately set up to be an inspirational hero who necessarily appeared mysteriously from no-where. An attractive combination, I suppose. But then this blank slate POV character with an open selection box of different flavoured lovers meshes rather neatly with the psyche of the core young-ish male demographic. Who would not love to imagine themselves as an overlooked darkhorse hero themselves? (If only they had their moment to shine or step out of themselves!)

Residential interior of Sidonia - caricature of the 
dense, hilly urbanisation of 'spaceship Japan'?
The flip side of all these female characters is that there are a whole lot of complex, strong female characters. In fact, they run the ship, from captain to XO, to commander, chief engineer, dorm mother, genius doctor/scientist. So, I suppose that even if this is basically down to the Manga artist/author enjoying drawing the female form more, then so be it. The result is good overall, although the bias towards showing only female communal 'photosynthesis' room scenes feels a little exploitative.

Also thrown into the pot are the unavoidably ubiquitous anime tropes of instant karma for (accidental) male lechery, always receiving a bloody nose, usually quite directly off a fiery female. Plus an alpha dog bully antagonist with long, grey/white hair and a massive family inheritance. But even he has an interesting story arc.

Finally, the art style is seamless 3D CGI. It's more noticeable in the space action scenes, when things look a little bit Tron - monochrome with neon highlights. But then it blends into a more rustic feel while inside sidonia's city spaces, with familiar cartoon stylings. The characters faces generally appear unnoticeably traditional. There's a retro aesthetic flavour, too, with the uniform outfits: almost storm trooper-esq, with stuffed up gear. There's some disconcertingly high flung, pointy boobage going on, but we'll put down to genetic engineering and/or reduced gravity, and move swiftly on...

The marriage of high tech space mecha, moving city(ies) of giant rusty pipes and cthulhu-ish space monsters is similar to, though far less gordy than, 2013's "Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet".

Original Manga vs Anime:

The anime appears to follow the original manga (comic) publications very closely. Almost shot for shot, with only some minor sequence juggling and tweaks here and there. So while I'm talking about the Knights of Sidonia (KoS) anime here, most comments apply to both.

Given that the manga has concluded already, it's a little tempting now, after watching season 2, to just read the final third (volumes 44-78, or thereabouts), rather than wait while the animation studio is apparently finishing up with a different project. It would save totally forgetting the plot details a second time.

But the video format is more compelling and I often struggle more to figure out what's supposed to be happening in the strips. It's a far more mentally tiring and different experience. At only 20 minutes per episode and a dozen per season, it's probably almost as quick for me to watch as read and digest the corresponding 20 odd manga volumes with 30 or so pages a piece. Plus you get to hear the cute Japanese voices and groovy theme tunes.

Season 1 Versus 2 (Spoilers Are Coming):

For me, season 2, "Battle for Planet 9", lacked the luster of the first season in various ways.

Right off the bat, the intro and exit themes seemed a little more bland, perhaps more polished in a way, but less distinctive. But like most upbeat little Japanese anime tunes, they're catchy and do grow on you. But it's the soaring female vocal of the original exit music, over electro-prog-rock-metal instruments that sticks with me - bidding me listen out the full length of each episode, while almost taking me back to the rocking credits music of The 1986 Transformers Movie (which I used to air drum to, before I even learned the kit). (Of course I still quickly avoid the 'in the next episode' spoilers after that.) This superior tune makes a welcome reprise at the end of the second season, hinting that the producers think so too.

The plot development starts pretty thick and fast, with revelations quickly coming forth to deepen details, moving things along. But then we've left in a kind of lazily limbo. Things seem to get a little too safe; there's only minimal discord and actual deaths from non-characters.

A few episodes drift into a comfortable, almost 'slice of life', style, while the puttering romantic developments take center stage. That's an enjoyable enough departure, in it's own way, if slower. We do continue to see more bits of the city-ship, even if most of those bits are virtually deserted.

It's definitely cool to be rooting for the novel male(protagonist)-intersex relationship. And the Harem aspect is taken to an impressive new apex in the last episode, as our hero rescues one member in his mech's arms, one in the hold and another in his lap (in the course of fulfilling the tactical plans of the forth).

It's the space fight action that gets most tiresome, with a little too much of the straight up tedious pseudo dialogue of the likes of "NAGATE!"..."IZANA!"..."TSUMGI!"... gasps, grunts, squeaks, etc. Culminating in over-used suspenseful crash landings (that somehow fail to liquify any of the pilots). Plus, how the hell are there floating islands of rock in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant?! It's more a landscape for a metaphysical demon dimension in some other show.
Fighting off tentacled monsters (and other horrors) amid floating islands in a gas giant's atmosphere.
With some cool moves, admittedly.
Season 1 is just that much tighter. Almost everything has dual purpose: developing characters more efficiently, in the context of also developing plot. There's better use of in-episode and between episode flashbacks for clever dramatic effect. It just seems better arranged in general, like a good movie, tightly plotted.

It covers so much more ground, looping in interesting back story, while S2 flails about a lot in the middle, with more disposable moments and needless slap-stick. The culminating battle seems more arbitrary, more plucked out of the air. Like the mech equipment upgrades that roll in thick and fast throughout the season, often for no particular reason, just the inevitable old inflation of capabilities and the odds to overcome.

There's a lot more philosophical soul searching, too, first time around: is a clone of a human made from weird materials still that person? How augmented can a human get before they stop being part of the rest of humanity? Are the aliens just trying to communicate, but are *really* incapable of comprehending us (mimicking violence, etc)? Why would one be motivated to choose to put their life in so much danger, as a pilot? If I loose my destiny in life, my raison d'etre what does that make me?...
Auld Lang Syne? Is it new years?

In S2, it's more: can we really get away with adding an anthropomorphised giant tentacle, from a 10 story tall friendly abomination with a squeaky voice, as a new harem member...? Somewhat amusing in it's zany novelty, but not so deep.

There's more about friendship... And friend zones; poor Izana. Who we spend a lot of time with. Who becomes even more cool with replacement robot limbs, along with spontaneously acquiring boobs! (One character representing for amputees and trans, how efficient!)

Physics Realism:

Sidonia is a mega-city continuously cruising through space, so without magical 'inertial dampeners' an emergency evasive maneuver is a rare and deadly event. They manage to convey the magnitude of the terrible consequences of a command decision to use thrusters in this way. For me, it was reminiscent of a section of Alastair Reynolds' "Redemption Ark", when the crew's tendency to get squished was a limiting factor on dodging obstacles at near light speed, that could not be a limit. KoS works into it's plot mandatory safety tether hooks and ubiquitous railings as part of it's texture. I suppose reassuringly familiar for a domestic viewer, echoing earthquake drills in 'spaceship Japan'.

On the other hand, the mechs supposedly accelerate faster through space, and reach further, the more of them that hold hands together. Right... But that's the worst sin against physics on hand, and it's utilised to poignant emotional impact, so is somewhat forgivable. And they do at least tend to turn and decelerate (to an extent).

I mean, it would be far less pretty if they each piloted rigid body fighter ships, or if they used drones. (No mention of why there's a total lack of AI in this deep future, by the way.) Mechs are somewhat justified by needing to hold 'kabi' tipped spears, since this these mysterious artifact fragments can not be machined or bonded, forcing a kind of jousting approach to combat alien slaying. So kinda fits the whole "Knights" thing.
Meme watch - uniquely potent spears, like the "Spear of Longinus" in NGE (pictured above).
The plot-central energy source/store of ship and guardian suits are 'Heigus particles'. This is a spelling deviation from Higgs (Bosons), sometimes spelt the same in various places, so presumably there's hints that they are supposed to be some kind of distillation of these elusive mass-giving quanta. Which could give rhyme to how the aliens are able to reconstitute their bulk - from tapping dense stores of them. Also, how they might be homing in on the super-dense magic materials (kabi) and heigus power sources: if they are detectable via an (unblockable) gravity signature.

"I'm neither!" :-) "Huh?!"
Third (or Rather Non) Gender:

For any (I.M.Banks) Culture fans, autonomous in-vivo gender switching should seem pretty old hat. But I don't think it's an idea that's really been seen in anime, let alone mainstream Western media (certainly not in a non-fetishised manner). But rather than switching freely between binary identities, Izana is naturally gender neutral. This is somewhat closer to the surgically reassembled sexless 'nute', "Tal", in Ian McDonald's 2004 "River of Gods" than the dominant, intermediate 'apex' gender of the Azadians (with invertible vaginas) in Bank's 1988 "Player of Games".

It's a cool concept: once having genetically engineered a generation of kids to photosynthesise, some developing super-fast, and all apparently looking pretty, why not also give more freedom to who they can fall in love and be sexually compatible with? But is this liberating, or controlling and conservative, given that it negates the possibility of casual sex outside of pair bonding?

I generally like how Izana's situation is portrayed. Not only sympathetically, but with a great deal of time, care and subtlety taken to normalise this non-binary identity. Going beyond that, to be a main and then the main love interest is perhaps brave, or novel, at least.

They (i.e. 'they' singular - we really could do with a better standard gender neutral pronoun) are Nagate's dependable but repeatedly overlooked best friend and devote in season 1, where he's blinded by the pristine feminine wiles of the perfect, doll-like Shizuka Hoshijiro (and then the alien construct of her form). So the audience is really rooting for Izana by mid season 2.

I wasn't especially keen on some of her mannerisms later on, seeming to get increasingly whiney, terrified of the dark and physically violent towards her male counterpart when feeling insecure or insulted. If those are feminising traits, they're poor clich├ęs, and grate at any rate. I'm probably over-analysing a single example here. But then they/she is the only non-binary character ever shown. Also, despite walking out of a dedicated photosynthesis room in episode 1, they get suited up with Negate at one point.

Gender issues have seemed especially in fashion of recent years, both in media debate and the arts. Ann Leckie's recent "Ancillary Justice" sci-fi novel trilogy has a strong running theme of questioning the arbitrariness of distinguishing between men and women. (At least in the first installment, which I hope to review, perhaps after reading a follow up.) Also, Amazon Prime's "Transparent" just released it's third series, continuing to exploring personal sexual identities via the chaotic, self obsessed fictional lives of a Californian Jewish family who's grandfather (central character) undergoes a long overdue revelation, realigning towards a female gender (atop of many other trying but often entertaining issues).

Japan's Depopulation:

The whole protagonist-harem milieu is pretty emblematic of a real world issue in Japan (perhaps even a contributory factor): despite all the intrigue, it is totally sexless. Nagate never gets the girl. Not one of them. In fact, no other characters are in a romantic relationship at all, at any time. Which fits well in the context of recent national statistics:

"[...]a new survey of Japanese people ages 18 to 34 found that 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship. [...] Around 42 percent of men and 44.2 percent of women admitted that they were virgins." - Independant.

Japan's fertility rate is 1.4, with declining population a national concern for the last decade, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to raise it to a modest 1.8 by 2025, via various incentives [JapanTimes]. This seems even more dire than Denmark's 1.69 figure which has prompted a viral ad campaign to get wannabe Grandmothers to buy their recalcitrant offspring romantic holidays, known to boost baby-making:

Of course, much of this reduced rate comes down to lengthening life spans, denser populations, with widening wealth inequality making it decreasingly practical for young people to start families. But  entertainments with attractive (real) people in, plus perfect manic pixel dream girls (in games and anime), may make it feel like there are many better mate options out there. Or, at least, these provide a vicarious fix helping to fulfil and suppress that fundamental need, while technology enables more sterile forms of social interaction.

Fretting over reduced procreation of one's natives might seem like a pretty myopic neuroticism, misdirected, in a couple of ways: Why not just relax strict immigration controls, or support it even? As debated here, including their "foreign trainee program", which may in practice be exploiting external labour without granting citizenship:

Germany, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, has in fact been taking this pragmatic approach, offering an 'open door' to the Syrian diaspora, fleeing the ravages of a globally fought war in the middle east. The best of ~ 1 million, so far: 600'000 officially accepted as of April 2016 (the most of any EU nation), compared to a puny ~10'000 by the UK [Wikipedia]. But then Germany is a manufacturing export economy, more reliant on pliable labour, while also fending off a slowly declining population. The UK populace, on the other hand, is reportedly projected to continue growing [BBC News].

However, I did not notice any evidence of demographic related mental calculations during this summer's upsettingly divisive Brexit campaign/vote. That ultimately seemed to be swung to 'leave' by a visceral, anti-immigrant sentiment, fueled (I think) by the mass psychological impact of austerity (eliciting ancient, now counterproductive, survival instincts). Illogical, already damaging and perhaps ultimately disastrous.

Yure Shinatose, AKA sexy 'Grandmother'.
Cabbage Patch Kids:

Back to the safety of fiction and Sidonia! The backstory tells of how the crew of this seed ship replenished the population to a thriving 500'000 over the course of 100 years. Back up from the meagre few hundred survivors of an atrocity that wiped out 99% of the population. When excessive pressures on food production were raised as an issue, the scientist Yure presents a  (somewhat silly) solution: genetic modification of all children to have them photosynthesise, greatly offsetting their need to eat.

But just how silly is this idea?!:
  • Well, an average human's basal metabolic rate (total energy expenditure) is about 1500 kcal/day [Wikipedia], or a continuous 72 watts (at rest) . 
  • The brightest sunlight on Earth's surface is 1050 W/m^2 [Wikipedia]. 
  • The average surface area of a human is 1.6m^2 [medicineNet],  but in the show they only illuminate from above, so halve that to 0.8m^2 (to be generous). 
  • Our best crops are 9% efficient at turning sunlight into chemical energy (D-glucose), due to various factors of physics [Wikipedia]. 
With this figures, a Sidonian's photosynthesis energy generation rate could be as high as: 1050 * 0.8 * 0.09 = 75.6 W (while under sun-strength lamps).

So, surprisingly, this is actually kind of plausible! Provided each person lays perpetually naked under full intensity sunlight... They'd also need to be a deep shade of green, since that pasty white skin would reflect far too much of the spectrum. Or even darker if they hoped to push up their absorption efficiency significantly above the best nature has ever produced. Alternatively, if they were only spending a full 1/3 of their days drenched in light, it's intensity could be upped at least 3 fold to compensate. Although, then they'd almost certainly need to be immersed in active cooling systems to avoid rapidly cooking themselves...

Attack of the Clones: 

Cloning is another genetic technology that's been deployed in this fiction to boost numbers. With a dozen of the Honoka sisters who feature in the lineup. The Honoka clones have also supposedly been engineered to reach physical and mental maturity in only 5 years (as well as showing off super-strong acrobatics on occasion). That's kind of of an arbitrary seeming figure, I don't know if there's any precedent for that. In terms of acquiring biomass it's easy to imagine, since livestock in contemporary farms massively exceeds those kinds of rates.
School classes must be a real drag for the accelerated Honoka sisters/clones, mature at 5 years old.
But to build a human mind in that time, surely you'd have to imprint it physically, or port the data in somehow. The only teaching in the show is extremely inefficient rudimentary history lectures, for the benefit of the audience, and there's no depiction of parenting, or any parents at all. Presumably most 'families' would amount to little more than crowded orphanages. And without any apparent robotic helpers, they'd be pretty grim places for all involved. You'd also expect the non-clone kids in the show to have many siblings too, but there's only one example: Izumo and Yuhata Midorikawa (brother and sister).

It's a kind of a weird situation from the perspective of the real world overpopulation zeitgeist. The closest parallel would be Star Wars storm troopers, who are originally all clones of ace bounty hunter, Boba Fett. Perhaps no coincidence that Sidonia's uniforms and (scuffed up) space suits have a striking colour scheme resemblance (white with black joints). This does beg the question of why they didn't aim to clone their ace pilots in greater volumes..? Possibly this comes down to darker social aspects of sidonian genetic engineering...

Undying dictators:

The Immortal Ship Committee.
The secretive ruling council of the ship are 'immortal', in that they have the genes to live indefinitely, provided they receive ongoing medical therapies. They mostly live entombed in an assembly of sarcophagi with only their masked heads visible and slightly mobile. (Pretty horrendously claustrophobic, if you ask me!)

Anyway, it's a 1% like (or 0.01%) trope - the privileged, faceless upper echelons pulling all the strings from behind the scenes, retaining power at every turn. A kind of microcosm of Elysium [2013]. Hence captain Kobayashi always keeps her face hidden behind a creepy mask in public, like a vampire, unaging throughout the generations.
The 2nd, r3d and forth Captain of Sidonia - Kobayashi maru.
The council is seemingly afraid of permitting Negate to live since his clone-father was very powerful but defied them and stole away with his replacement clone body (produced without his permission). Having lost sight of humanity and the raison de-etre for a 'seed ship' (i.e. a generation ship), they are bent entirely towards self preservation and are overly risk averse. So they'd much prefer an army of sheep than one composed of mecha-pilot-samurai.

Kobayashi states that the masses couldn't be allowed to know about the immortality technologies, otherwise the whole concept of the ship would be made ridiculous. I'm not sure I can see that entirely. Although they would definitely struggle more to find regular citizens willing to face the rather short life expectancy of piloting a Guardian.

Mostly, it sounds akin to what Aubrey de Gray describes as the "pro-aging trance", in which society exists. People are unwilling to contemplate the possibility of not dying for fear of getting their hopes up, essentially. The unchanging, miserable vampire hell of alive but not living (like the council) is a typical misconception or straw man argument.

This topic of radical longevity is currently pressing ever more into everyday reality. Beyond Ray Kurzweil's advocacy of immortality, there has of course been:
  • Aubrey de Gray's SENS foundation, skimping along with whatever funding it can muster, trying to engineer away biological aging. 
  • Then in 2013 Google founded Calico, explicitly aimed at increasing longevity. 
  • Now just this week there was the announcement the well funded Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, albeit sounding more conventional in its approach: solving individual diseases within this century. 
  • Not to be left out, even Microsoft announced a foray into life sciences, telling of how they will 'solve' cancer. (Perhaps no one has tried turning it off and back on again yet...?)
The hype all seems to be building nicely to make Kurzweil's vision (in "The Singularity is Near") of the 2020s as a decade where the field of biological science receives the most radical transformation. 

For some years now we've had cheap home genome and gut bacteria squencing tests available, with more thorough versions just over the horizon. The other 'omics' have been quietly gaining pace in the background (with AI systems threatening to invade to parse the big data into knowledge). 

One being metabolomics that seems to have already revolutionised a domain of disease research close to my heart (brain and gut), with Robert K. Naviaux's "Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome". (It's apparently found a pretty reliable set of diagnostic blood test quantities as well as bringing in explanatory understanding from deeper understanding of mitochondrial interaction with biological networks.

A down to Earth concern about longevity technology is that it will likely be available to the wealthy first, extending existing inequality from better healthcare, life style and life span, out to indefinite lengths. It's a question/criticism that Kurzweil always seem to duck. The reasons being that everyone will catch up before very long, ever less time, since the pace of change is always increasing. And besides, technologies only tend to work well once produced on mass and widely available.

So I personally don't see there being much scope, in real life, for a secret cabal of immortals ruling humanity for centuries. As things are, it's hard to imagine society at large just having no clue such technology exists, even if it were to make sense to try to withhold it. In suppose in some unlikely niche situation, like the one conceived for KoS, with a small, isolated population that's lost most of its knowledge base, perhaps the immortality treatment machines are being hoarded by an elite, to avoid them wearing out or exhausting supplies as quickly. Like in Vernor Vinge's "Marooned in Realtime" [1986].

But Sidonia has an active scientific process, having produced hundreds of thousands of genetically engineer children and now new (secret) developments in the present time frame. This should require a massive support staff...

Usual Complaints (Super-Scientists and AI, What AI?!):

The biggest omission from Sidonia is, as always, is AI (and robotics). But then, as usual, this is an enabling axiom. Got to have the action focused on humans, to rouse the viewer's psyche, having them in risky exciting scenarios. High stakes.

Accessing Ochiai's giant
mainframe external brain.
Without any of this kind of intelligent or autonomous assistance in evidence, there' just no way that 'scientist' Yure could accomplish so many things (not 'biologist' or medical doctor, just a general purpose technical plot point enabler). She'd need a whole host of technicians, for a start. At least Sasaki (chief Guardian engineer) is seen with a whole host of (male) dog's body staff to enable their impossibly fast production quantities and turn-around times. But then there'd need to be a whole support industry of manufacturers and such, to make and supply the medical equipment and materials and facilities. If there's no AI capability amplification lending a discrete hand.

As to why there's no AI, maaayyybe it's a "Zones of Thought" universe (a-la Vernor Vinge), so the necessary miniaturization has been impossible. After all, Ochiai's external memory banks seem comically massive in their physical size.

But then, simultaneously, you have his little brain controlling squiggles which can contain "a human's brain [i.e. Ochiai's] or an AI". (Huh? So there are AI's?) But maybe they are made of magically Gauna material, that's not limited to regular scales...

Not only in Ochiai a super-scientist, expert on everything, virtually omnipotent within his field of speciality, he's also the mad scientist antagonist. He's inexplicably hell bent on physical perfection: an indestructible humanoid form, rather than on increasing intelligence. So in awe of the Gauna's capabilities that he wants humanity to exist only in Gauna-human chimera form, or not at all. 

What I didn't make sense with S2 of the anime, is why, after taking control of Norio Kunato's body (via a nematode) and his sister's (although she seems to have a distinct personality, and what happened to that deadly doll?!), why did he not go on to mind control the captain (and therefore the entire ship).

Ochiai-Kunato explicitly spares Yure, as her natural talents are essential and would be lost when under control. But why he is not acting more assertively, or at least plotting to avoid repeating that 100 year old defeat at the hands of Kobayashi again? Just a cocky super-villain type, I guess? Anyway, a lack of development here was the root of my frustrations with season 2. (Ochiai-Kunato was actually being more benevolent to Tanikaze and friends than regular Kunato would have been.) It just seemed to loose all plot momentum, as mentioned above.

Assorted References:
  • I got a another couple twangs of Alastair Reynold's "Revelation Space": The placenta-made super-weapon in Season 2 - a terrifyingly powerful wonder, with a moveloent mind of it's own, like the cache of pods aboard the "Nostalgia for Infinity". Also, the placenta infested areas of the ship was a little reminiscent of the 'melding plague' infested captain, stowed away in secret (slowly overrunning the ship).
  • Pilot 007 (Kouichi Tsuruuchi) is a big nosed leatch with light hair, I wonder if this is a deliberate (insulting) caricature of James bond? Lol.
  • StarCraft - in both, the protagonist's crush is consumed by alien space monsters and thought dead, but comes back as a monstrous reincarnation and persistent top level enemy.

To the End - Speculation:

My initial expectation was that if there is a fairly conclusive ending, it will would be revealed that the gauna are human made, or even humans of another form, as with Gargantia, or the giants in Attack on Titan (which again has many similarities to KoS). That'd be pretty trite; on balance I'd currently bet against it. Maybe we'll have that happily ever after on a new planetary home in the Lem star system? But will many more be sacrificed along the way? I guess we'll see...

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