Historical figures in Drifters

  • I posted in a blog post about this series that I was doing research on the historical counterparts of the characters in Drifters, and as promised I am sharing what I have found now. It's a shame the forums couldn't get back up sooner, as the dub of the first season is practically almost over at the time of this post, but that's beyond the point.

    As all of you who have watched the series know, Drifters is about various historical figures being whisked away at the brink of death to a fantasy world, and the consequences that the world's inhabitants must deal with regarding the new arrivals. I will be talking about all the characters on both sides of the conflict, and most notably how they died in real life; for Japanese figures, their full names are mentioned in the Japanese convention of last name first, followed by the name in kanji. Characters are mentioned in the order their names are given in the series. Most of the information I gathered comes from Wikipedia.

    Shimazu Toyohisa (島津 豊久) and the Battle of Sekigahara

    The main protagonist is Shimazu Toyohisa, a rather brash individual who is a brutal warrior on the battlefield. Since the first half of the first episode focuses around the battle in which he died, I will also be mentioning several other notable figures who took part in that battle.

    Toyohisa was killed during the Battle of Sekigahara, while fending off enemy troops to allow time for his uncle Yoshihiro’s forces to retreat from the battle. While he and the majority of his regiment were wiped out, they did succeed in allowing Yoshihiro to make it to safety. His clan was based in southern Kyushu, and can trace back its roots to Minamoto no Yoritomo (源 頼朝), founder of the Kamakura shogunate. The Shimazu clan are also known for being the first Japanese people to use firearms in battle; specifically the arquebus, a type of smooth-bore muzzle-loaded gun. The arquebus was introduced to Japan in 1543 by Portuguese traders who landed by accident on an island south of Kyushu controlled by the Shimazu clan, and by 1550 the Shimazu were mass-producing the weapon.

    Sekigahara today is a town located at the western edge of Gifu Prefecture, located directly in the central area of the island of Honshu. Because of the prefecture’s location, it has been the site of many battles throughout Japan’s history. The Battle of Sekigahara took place over the course of a single day, October 21, 1600. The result of the battle would eventually give rise to the Tokugawa shogunate, which would rule over Japan until the Meiji Restoration.

    The western forces, led by Ishida Mitsunari (石田 三成), numbered 120,000, while the eastern forces, led by Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康), numbered 75,000. Despite the disadvantage in numbers, Ieyasu had been in contact with several daimyo in the western forces and promised them leniency after the battle if they defected.

    The battle began when the eastern army’s advance guard, led by Fukushima Masanori (福島 正則), charged the western army’s right center flank. The battle became intense and brutal due to the ground being muddy from rain the previous day. Masanori’s forces slowly gained ground, but at the cost of exposing themselves to attack, and one of the western army’s battalions took advantage. However, Ieyasu forced a hesitant western daimyo that he was in contact with to make a choice. The western army battalion was soon outnumbered, and more western daimyo defected, turning the tide in Ieyasu’s favor.

    Ii Naomasa (井伊 直政) led the unit that attempted to prevent Shimazu Yoshihiro (島津 義弘) from retreating. His unit was known as the Red Devils because the soldiers were outfitted in blood-red armor. While leading the charge he was hit by a stray bullet. (In the series it is Toyohisa himself who fires that bullet.) Legend has it that Naomasa was such an intimidating figure that his soldiers refused to commit seppuku for fear of retaliation; because of this, Naomasa was able to regain his composure and leave the battlefield alive. However, he would not fully recover from the gunshot wound; in fact, his death two years later has been widely blamed on that injury.

    Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長)

    Nobunaga appears frequently and continues to be portrayed in many works of fiction; most instances portray him as being cruel or belligerent, almost of a demonic nature. He is one of the most famous daimyo of the Sengoku period, the first person to attempt to unify Japan. National unification was an idea widely shared among the numerous daimyo of the time, but Nobunaga was the first for whom this goal actually seemed attainable. By the time of his death, he had taken control of much of western and central Honshu.

    Nobunaga’s first step towards his ambitious goal was dealing with a succession dispute which came about after the death of his father. This dispute was brought to an end with Nobunaga slaying his younger brother, Nobuyuki, and eventually eliminating all opposition within the Oda clan.

    Nobunaga’s status was firmly established after the Battle of Okehazama in June 1560. Making use of a deceptive ploy and taking advantage of an afternoon thunderstorm to move through a forest undetected, Nobunaga’s forces ambushed an army of vastly superior numbers, led by Imagawa Yoshimoto (今川 義元), who were marching towards Kyoto. Yoshimoto’s warriors, who were celebrating their recent victories, were caught completely by surprise and fled, leaving their commander’s camp completely defenseless. Yoshimoto believed that the noise from Nobunaga’s approaching forces was actually his own soldiers caught up in drunken revelry, and by the time he realized otherwise it was too late to mount a defense. Yoshimoto was soon killed, and the surviving members of his army joined Nobunaga’s ranks. The most important ally Nobunaga acquired after this battle was the man who would later become known as Tokugawa Ieyasu.

    In September 1567, Nobunaga captured Inabayama Castle, renaming it Gifu, and publically announced his ambition to conquer Japan. The next year, he helped establish Ashikaga Yoshiaki (足利 義昭) as head of the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto. However, Nobunaga soon began to restrict Yoshiaki’s powers as shogun. Displeased that he was being treated as a puppet, Yoshiaki soon began to forge an alliance against Nobunaga.

    In the end, however, it would be someone in Nobunaga’s own ranks who would bring about his downfall. On June 21, 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide (明智 光秀), one of Nobunaga’s generals, launched a coup d'état against him at the Honnouji temple in Kyoto. It is unknown why Mitsuhide decided to stage the coup in the first place. Nobunaga was forced to commit seppuku; his young attendant, Mori Ranmaru (森 蘭丸), set fire to the temple, then followed suit. (Ranmaru’s loyalty and devotion to Nobunaga were widely known and praised during the era of the Tokugawa shogunate. It is also believed that Nobunaga and Ranmaru were in a relationship known as shudo, a ritualized form of homosexuality.) After Mitsuhide captured the temple, Nobunaga’s son Nobutada fled to a nearby castle, but he was assaulted by Mitsuhide’s troops and forced to commit suicide himself.

    Mitsuhide then sent a message to the Mori clan, who Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), another of Nobunaga’s generals, was busy fighting. The message requested that they form an alliance with Mitsuhide to crush Hideyoshi. However, Hideyoshi’s forces intercepted the message, and instead Hideyoshi secured a peace treaty with the Mori clan, being careful not to inform them of Nobunaga’s death. Less than two weeks later, Hideyoshi’s forces trounced and killed Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki. Hideyoshi became Nobunaga’s successor, and would be regarded as Japan’s second “great unifier.”

    Nasu no Yoichi (那須 与一)

    Yoichi was a samurai who fought on the side of the Minamoto clan during the Genpei War against the Taira clan. He is particularly famous for his actions in the Battle of Yashima on March 22, 1185.

    Following a string of defeats, the Taira clan retreated to a fortress on the coast of the island of Shikoku. Expecting a naval battle, the Minamoto clan instead set bonfires on the island, essentially fooling the Taira clan into believing a massive force was approaching on land and outflanking their rear. The Taira fled the palace and took to the sea.

    Legend tells of an account in which someone placed a fan atop the mast of one of the Taira ships, daring the Minamoto to knock it off. Yoichi rode out into the water on horseback and used just one arrow to shoot the fan off. The Minamoto were victorious, but the majority of the Taira fleet escaped to Honshu, where they would be ultimately defeated a month later.

    After the war, Yoichi was made a daimyo by Minamoto no Yoritomo, but he soon lost the position to a spy of Yoritomo’s after losing to him in a hunting competition. Following Yoritomo’s death in 1199, Yoichi became a Buddhist monk and formed a temple. Detailed records regarding the inheritance of the temple were kept until the temple was destroyed during World War II. Most people believe Yoichi died in Kobe in the year 1232 at the age of 64. (However, the series depicts him as being relatively young, only 19 years of age, which leads Nobunaga to mention he is nothing like how the legends portray him.)

    Hannibal and Scipio and the Battles of Cannae and Zama

    Hannibal Barca was a military commander from Carthage, best known for his march over the Alps during the Second Punic War. His army bypassed Roman naval dominance to take the war directly to the Romans’ doorstep. He quickly won two major victories and captured the city of Cannae in the spring of 216 BC, placing himself between the Romans and their crucial supply source.

    The Romans sent a large army to attempt to force Hannibal out. While the Romans had the advantage in overall numbers, Hannibal’s army had more cavalry compared to them. In addition, he deployed his forces in a way that took into account the capabilities of his troops, as well as his perception of the terrain to gain an advantage over the Romans that way.

    As the battle progressed, Hannibal’s cavalry easily overwhelmed the Roman cavalry, and his forces assumed a crescent-shaped formation. Hannibal soon ordered his infantry to make a deliberate retreat, creating a tighter semicircle around the Romans and crowding their infantry in. This turned the Romans’ strength into a weakness, and the majority of the Roman forces were cut down.

    While Hannibal won the day, Cannae would also be his last major victory in the Roman Empire. Before Cannae, the method of attrition warfare was proposed to deal with Hannibal. The method proved successful, but was ultimately unpopular as the Romans wanted a swift and decisive victory. The result of the Battle of Cannae proved that attrition warfare was the only reliable way to beat Hannibal’s forces back. In addition, Hannibal refused to follow the suggestion of a cavalry commander to seize the opportunity and march immediately on Rome itself. The campaign reached a stalemate, and Hannibal was eventually forced to retreat back to Carthage to direct a defense against a Roman invasion.

    Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus was one of the survivors of the Battle of Cannae and led the Roman invasion of Carthage that culminated in the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. Scipio recognized the importance of cavalry in warfare at Cannae and used it to his advantage in Zama. In fact, he employed the very same cavalry that Hannibal used against the Romans at Cannae. Plus he used a strategy that involved blowing loud horns to frighten off Hannibal’s war elephants, further weakening the Carthaginians. Eventually Hannibal’s army was surrounded and captured, bringing an end to the battle. The decisive Roman victory brought an end to the Second Punic War.

    Both Hannibal and Scipio led notable political careers after the Second Punic War. As a statesman, Hannibal created sweeping reforms in the Carthaginian government in an effort to root out corruption. This led to a period of renewed prosperity for Carthage, which alarmed the Roman government, who demanded Hannibal’s surrender; as a result, he went into voluntary exile in 195 BC. He advised several city-states in the Middle East, but he was pursued and harassed by the Romans to no end until his death. In contrast, Scipio’s political career was a relatively quiet one, but there were numerous attempts by his political enemies to bring him to trial. He eventually retired to Liternum on the coast of Campania in southern Italy, where it is said he made efforts to prevent Hannibal’s ruin during his self-imposed exile.

    The exact dates and causes of the deaths of both Hannibal and Scipio are unknown. Most records date the deaths of both men to the year 183 BC, although some records put Hannibal’s death a few years later. One record states Hannibal died of a fever, while another states he took poison in the same manner as Socrates. Scipio’s death took place under suspicious circumstances; it is possible that either he died of the lingering effects of a fever as well, or that he committed suicide.

    Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the Wild Bunch

    Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, was a notorious train robber and bank robber in the days of the American Wild West. His first criminal offense in 1880 was a minor shoplifting charge; he entered a clothing shop, and after finding it was closed he took a pair of jeans and some pie and left behind an IOU. The shop owner pressed charges, but Butch was acquitted at the resulting trial.

    Butch soon associated with a circle of criminals, who would become the core of the Wild Bunch, the second gang to be known by that moniker. Shortly after a bank robbery in Idaho on August 13, 1896, he recruited Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid, into the gang. The Wild Bunch’s main center of operations was a pass in northern Wyoming known as Hole-in-the-Wall, a place used by other outlaws as well.

    The Wild Bunch’s glory days began on June 2, 1899, when they robbed a Union Pacific train near Wilcox, Wyoming. The gang split up after the robbery to throw off pursuing law enforcement officials. Several other lucrative train and bank robberies led to much notoriety and fame.

    In early 1901, pressured by pursuit from detectives and other lawmen, Butch, Harry, and Butch’s girlfriend Etta Place fled to Argentina. Their location was tipped off in 1905, and they were forced to flee from law enforcement yet again. In 1906, Etta decided she had had enough of life as a fugitive, and Harry escorted her back to San Francisco before rejoining Butch in South America.

    The details surrounding the deaths of Butch and Harry are uncertain. Two bandits, believed to be Butch and Harry, lodged in a boarding house in a small mining town in Bolivia after a robbery on November 3, 1908. The owner of the boarding house became suspicious of his two customers, and sent a telegraph to a local regiment stationed nearby. When the regiment approached the boarding house on the evening of November 6, the bandits opened fire and a gunfight ensued. In the early morning of November 7, police and soldiers heard a man screaming, then a single shot, followed by silence. When police entered the house in the morning, they found the two men dead. It is believed one of the men was shot by the authorities; the second man killed his partner to relieve him of his misery before taking his own life. The Bolivian authorities could not positively identify the bandits, and did not know their real names. As of today, no remains with DNA matching living relatives of Butch and Harry have been discovered.

    Hijikata Toshizo (土方 歳三) and the Shinsengumi

    Toshizo was the vice-commander of the Shinsengumi, a police force that was formed in Kyoto in opposition to the Meiji Restoration. The Shinsengumi were established when the leader of its predecessor, the Roshigumi, was revealed to be planning to use the force to serve the new emperor and not the Tokugawa shogunate, which funded the Roshigumi. When the Roshigumi was forced to return to Edo (the city now known as Tokyo) as a result, thirteen members, including Niimi Nishiki (新見 錦), Serizawa Kamo (芹沢 鴨), Kondo Isami (近藤 勇), and Toshizo, stayed behind and formed the Shinsengumi.

    The regulations set up for the Shinsengumi were very strict, and Toshizo was a ruthless enforcer, even to the force’s own members. Nishiki and Kamo began extorting money from Kyoto merchants, tarnishing the Shinsengumi’s reputation. Toshizo found enough evidence to force Nishiki to commit seppuku, while Kamo and his followers were assassinated.

    Isami surrendered and was executed on May 17, 1868, leaving Toshizo to lead the Shinsengumi in their final battles against the Meiji government. Toshizo knew he was fighting a losing battle, but he was prepared to die in combat. He was killed while fighting on horseback on June 20, 1869 during the final days of the Battle of Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido. The battle ended a week later, and the old feudal regime was over.

    Joan of Arc and the Siege of Orleans

    Joan of Arc is considered a heroine of France for her exploits in the Hundred Years’ War and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Born to a peasant family, she said she received visions from divine figures, including the Archangel Michael, instructing her to support Charles VII and bring France back up from British domination.

    The Siege of Orléans began on October 12, 1428, and while the British struck first by taking the bridge to the south, the French managed to keep them from entering the city itself. In February 1429, the French attempted to intercept a supply convoy heading to the British. But due to the French forces being disorganized, the attempt fell through and the convoy continued to support the British. The Battle of the Herrings was the most significant military action before Joan of Arc’s arrival.

    On the day of the Battle of the Herrings, Joan of Arc was meeting with Robert de Baudricourt, the garrison commander at Vaucouleurs, requesting for an escort to the French Royal Court. When she made a prediction about the French defeat at the battle, which turned out to be true, Robert had to take her request seriously. For years, vague prophecies had been circulating concerning an armored maiden from the borders of Lorraine who would save France, so when news of Joan of Arc’s journey reached Orléans French morale was boosted. She would finally meet Charles VII on March 9, 1429, and he accepted her services on March 22.

    Joan of Arc’s arrival in Orléans on April 29, 1429 coincided with a sudden change in the pattern of the siege. Her presence served to encourage the French to fight back, and within ten days they would force the British to retreat from Orléans. Joan of Arc next proposed to advance on Reims to allow Charles VII to officially be crowned king. By the year’s end, the new king made her and her family members of the nobility.

    Joan of Arc was ambushed and captured on May 23, 1430. She tried to escape her captors several times, and was eventually transported to Rouen, where several attempts were made to rescue her. A politically motivated heresy trial was held; she was found guilty and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Her body was burned twice more after she died. A posthumous retrial took place after the end of the Hundred Years’ War, and Joan of Arc’s conviction was overturned on July 7, 1456. She was beatified on April 18, 1909 and canonized on May 16, 1920.

    Gilles de Rais

    Gilles was a knight and commander in the French army during the Hundred Years War and fought alongside Joan of Arc during several of her campaigns; he was present when the Siege of Orléans ended. However, he is best known for his reputation and conviction as a confessed serial killer of children. His string of murders began around 1432, but did not come to light until May 1440 during an investigation into his act of kidnapping a cleric. He admitted to the kidnapping charge in October and was allowed to write a formal confession about his serial murders. According to the confession, Gilles killed a great number of children after sodomizing them. The exact number of victims is unknown, but estimates put it generally between 80 and 200. Gilles was hanged above a burning gallows on October 26, 1440; after he perished, his body was cut down and allowed to burn for a while before being buried. Two of Gilles’s accomplices who were arrested along with him, and who testified against Gilles in his trial, were also hanged and burned, but their bodies were effectively cremated, and their ashes were then scattered.

    Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova and Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin

    The next two characters are inextricably linked to each other in history; one cannot talk about Grigori without mentioning his association with the Romanov dynasty, of which Anastasia was a part of.

    Anastasia was the youngest of four daughters of Czar Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty, the last sovereign of Russia, and his wife Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna. When she was born, her parents were disappointed that she was yet another girl; it would be another three years before the royal family was finally blessed with a son, Alexei. Unfortunately, Alexei suffered from hemophilia B, a genetic disorder that impairs the body’s ability to form blood clots. As a result, Alexei tended to bruise easily and bleed longer after injuries. It has been confirmed that Alexandra and one of her daughters, either Anastasia herself or her older sister Maria, were carriers.

    Grigori was born to a peasant family and turned to a life of religion around the end of the 19th century; he was introduced to the royal family on November 1, 1905. In April 1907, Grigori was invited to the Romanov’s palace after Alexei suffered a particularly painful injury. He was able to calm down Alexei and his parents, and from then on Alexandra believed Grigori was Alexei’s savior. Grigori quickly became a trusted friend to the royal family and a faith healer to Alexei, but the upper class soon began to distrust him because of the privileges he had. In fact, in July 1914, someone attempted to kill him, but the attempt failed and by October most of Grigori’s enemies had disappeared.

    Eventually Grigori’s influence over Alexandra became so great that the royal family’s popularity as a whole diminished greatly, as the people believed Grigori was pulling the strings. Russia’s involvement in World War I further lowered morale towards the czar’s family. In the early hours of December 30, 1916, several aristocrats murdered Grigori; he was shot three times before he finally perished. His body was then dumped beneath the ice of a frozen river, but because the conspirators forgot to attach weights to the feet to make it sink, the body was discovered a few days later.

    Nicholas II abdicated the throne on March 2, 1917. The entire family was placed under house arrest and moved to Yekaterinburg. After the Bolsheviks seized power in October, Russia quickly fell into civil war, and they advanced on the city. In the early hours of July 17, 1918, the Romanov family was awakened from their sleep under the pretext that they were being moved to a safe location. Instead, they were all executed, along with the other people who decided to join them in exile. Their bodies were then transported to a nearby forest where they were buried together in a mass grave.

    When rumors spread in the morning about the burial site, the bodies were exhumed to be buried somewhere else. However, the transport broke down on the way to the new location, and the bodies were mutilated before being buried where the transport had stalled instead; Alexei and one of his sisters, either Maria or Anastasia, were buried separately from the others.

    Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源 義経) and the Battle of Koromo River

    Yoshitsune was a nobleman and military commander of the Minamoto clan during the Genpei War. His older half-brother was Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the Kamakura shogunate. Yoshitsune is known for defeating the legendary warrior monk Musashibo Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶); from then on Benkei would become Yoshitsune’s right-hand man.

    After the Genpei War, Yoshitsune found himself in bitter conflict with his half-brother Yoritomo. He fled Kyoto in 1185 and made his way to Hiraizumi, where he was taken under the protection of Fujiwara no Hidehira (藤原 秀衡) and remained there in relative peace until Hidehira passed away two years later. Hidehira’s son, Fujiwara no Yasuhira (藤原 秀衡), promised to continue following his father’s wishes, but pressured by Yoritomo, in 1189 he betrayed Yoshitsune and surrounded his residence with troops. Yoshitsune’s retainers, including Benkei, were defeated. It is said that Benkei died standing on his feet. Yoshitsune was forced to commit seppuku.

    Kanno Naoshi (菅野 直)

    Naoshi was a Japanese fighter ace during World War II, having been credited with shooting down 25 planes. He graduated from the Japanese Naval Academy in February 1943 and was assigned to the front lines of Palau two months later. In July 1944 he was made a squadron commander. His unit was reassigned to Kyushu to assist in the defense of the Japanese homeland near the end of the war. He was shot down on August 1, 1945 by American P-51 Mustang fighters over the island of Yakushima, just south of Kyushu. His body was never recovered, and in September he was posthumously promoted to captain.

    Yamaguchi Tamon (山口 多聞)

    Tamon was an admiral in the Japanese navy during World War II. His naval career began in 1912 when he graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in Etajima, just south of Hiroshima. He also attended Princeton University from 1921 to 1923. By November 1938, he had reached the rank of rear admiral. He commanded aerial forces against China until he was appointed commander of the Second Carrier Division of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet.

    Tamon’s carrier force was among the ships and planes that attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He also commanded a force of planes at the Battle of Wake Island. On June 4, 1942, a Japanese reconnaissance plane spotted an American aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, near Midway Atoll. He was at odds with his superior officer, Admiral Nagumo Chuichi (南雲 忠一), over what to do; Tamon wanted to scramble the planes and bomb the carrier, while Chuichi wanted to use torpedoes. The admiral won out, but soon after American planes destroyed all the carriers except for Tamon’s flagship, the Hiryu. After sending out two attacks to cripple the Yorktown, the Hiryu was finally brought down. Tamon decided to go down with the sinking carrier, along with the Hiryu’s captain; he was posthumously promoted to the rank of vice admiral.

    Abe no Seimei (安倍 晴明)

    Seimei was an onmyoji, a type of cosmologist whose field combined both natural science and the occult. He was a prominent figure during the tenth century A.D., the middle of the Heian period. In addition, he is a figure of legend in Japanese folklore and has been portrayed in numerous stories and films. Seimei worked as a spiritual advisor to the Heian government, as well as made calendars and predicted astrological events. He lived a very long life, free of any major illnesses, which further contributed to the belief that he had mystical powers.

    Seimei’s life is well recorded, but immediately after his death in 1005 A.D. at the age of 84, legends arose much like those surrounding Merlin. According to these legends, Seimei was not entirely human; his mother was a kitsune, or fox spirit. Many of the legends about Seimei revolve around a series of magical battles with a rival who often tried to usurp Seimei’s position by embarrassing him. After Seimei’s death, the emperor had a shrine erected at the location of his home. The original shrine was destroyed during wartime in the fifteenth century, but it has since been rebuilt and it still stands today.

    The Count of St. Germain

    The Count of St. Germain was a European adventurer who rose to prominence in high society in the mid 1700’s. His background is obscure because he would invent fantasies in order to deflect inquiries about his origins, such as claiming to be 500 years old, leading Voltaire to sarcastically dub him “the Wonderman.” St. Germain used a variety of names and titles, a common practice among royalty and nobility of the time. In 1779, he made an acquaintance with Prince Charles of Hesse-Kassel, a Danish general field marshal, and later told him that he was the son of a Transylvanian prince. He also told the prince that he was 88 when they met. Prince Charles set St. Germain up in an abandoned factory, where the two cooperated in creating gemstones and jewelry. St. Germain died in his residence on February 27, 1784, and he was buried on March 2. The Count’s residence was converted into a hospital, and his estate contained no gemstones or any riches.

  • @GalaxyCrisis Really cool post. You should include character pics/portraits from the anime vs real life (where possible). Well done sir.

  • Lol, Sula drivsgen

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