Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Astro Magnum: a History/Electronic Magnum: the Missing Link

Galactic Man, Shockwave, Electronic Magnum, Spark Man, Astro Magnum

Pre-reading on this topic:

Spark Man: the forgotten pre-Transformer

File Notes - Astro Magnum, Shockwave, Patent, Design Registration

File Notes - Astro Magnum, Toyco, Intecs, Shockwave, Galactic Man

Part 1 - Electronic Magnum: the Missing Link

About two years ago I discovered that the ‘Shockwave-like’ transforming toy - Spark Man, by Intecs, Ltd., Korea - was the legitimate successor to the original Astro Magnum by Toyco, Ltd., Japan.

Two years before that, I noted another possible incarnation of the figure that was also assumed by casual observers to be a knockoff (albeit being so obscure that it probably was accepted at face value as a KO without second thought). This figure was Electronic Magnum by Royal Condor – which I suspected could also be of the same ilk as Spark Man, as it shared some key features with Spark Man. With the recent revelations, the original Soundwave variant bible, Soundwaves Oblivion, has moved Electronic Magnum and Spark Man from the KO list to official variant list. At the time there was only a few internet photos to go by. For four years I have been hoping to get my hands on Electronic Magnum to have a closer look. Well, now I have one.

Immediately, the box provides information that was not in the existing photographs of the time - the back displays similar patent pending information that was found on the Spark Man box. Spark Man was made by Intecs, who also made Shockwave for Hasbro. The Japan design registration number has been carried across from Toyco’s Astro Magnum box, to Spark Man’s box, and now to the Electronic Magnum box. Further to that, the patent numbers for the other geographies (US, UK/HK, Taiwan) are the same with the exception of USA, which is absent. The back of box instructions are identical, except that Electronic Magnum has an additional customized drawing (copied from step (7)), illustrating the 9V battery instruction. Like Spark Man, this toy was made in Korea. These factors indicate the toy was made by Intecs and at roughly the same time as Spark Man (but likely slightly later).

The leg is still stamped with the ‘Toyco TRADEMARK’ logo, which is an essential hallmark, but it does not have the ‘© 1983’ that is visible on Shockwave (and Galactic Man), placing this at least next door to non-copyrighted Spark Man but earlier than Shockwave.

Now here’s the kicker - the leg has been modified to have the dowels that connect into holes on the backpack, and a newly cast battery cover that is not like Spark Man/Astro Magnum. Given the absence of ‘© 1983’, the first time these features appear on this toy is on Electronic Magnum.

Like Astro Magnum and Spark Man, Electronic Magnum has a smooth right wrist – Shockwave and Galactic Man have a ridge that allows the gun barrel to stay on better.

Finally, any figure cast from this injection mold shares the same defective panel line on the right side of the chest.

1. Toyco Astro Magnum (Toyco)*
2. Smooth wrist. Dowel on backpack that fits into recesses on top of legs when joined together.
3. Symmetrical battery cover, fits flush into body. MADE IN JAPAN.
4. No date Toyco trademark.
5. The vertical panel line on side of chest has defects from injection mold (die). This defect can be seen on all figures indicating they are cast from the same die.
*Spark Man (Intecs) images inlaid for their similarities (MADE IN KOREA) taken from facebook.com/tfperu


1. Royal Condor Electronic Magnum (Intecs)
2. Smooth wrist. Dowel on legs that fit into holes on bakpack, when joined together.
3. Asymmetrical battery cover, not flush-fitted. MADE IN KOREA.
4. No date Toyco trademark.
5. The vertical panel line on side of chest has defects from injection mold (die). This defect can be seen on all figures indicating they are cast from the same die.

1. Hasbro/Takara Shockwave (Intecs)
2. Ridged wrist. Dowel on legs that fit into holes on backpack, when joined together.
3. Asymmetrical battery cover, not flush-fitted. MADE IN KOREA.
4. © 1983 Toyco trademark.
5. The vertical panel line on side of chest has defects from injection mold (die). This defect can be seen on all figures indicating they are cast from the same die.

1. Radio Shack/Tandy Galactic Man (Intecs)
2. Ridged wrist. Dowel on legs that fit into holes on backpack, when joined together.
3. Asymmetrical battery cover, not flush-fitted. MADE IN KOREA.
4. © 1983 Toyco trademark.
5. The vertical panel line on side of chest has defects from injection mold (die). This defect can be seen on all figures indicating they are cast from the same die.

Summarized thusly, these major hallmarks occurred in this order: ‘Toyco TRADEMARK’ logo, and smooth wrist, and dowel on backpack, and holes in legs, and symmetrical flush battery cover, and ‘MADE IN JAPAN’ > ‘MADE IN KOREA’ > leg dowels, and backpack holes, and asymmetric non-flush battery cover > addition of ‘© 1983’ to inner right leg, and ridge on right wrist.

This means in terms of manufacturing order, aka injection mold lineage, Electronic Magnum is the transitional figure between Spark Man and Shockwave.

On Soundwaves Oblivion, the Electronic Magnum figure documented has the ‘© 1983’ added to the stamp, and the ridge is added to the wrist, making that particular specimen identical to Galactic Man, which came out the following year in 1985. So this means that Electronic Magnum was produced when the injection mold was undergoing tooling changes, and transitional variants can be seen within Electronic Magnum's specific lifespan! See Part 2 for the reason for these changes.

Electronic Magnum is not a knock off, but yet another official license by Intecs Ltd., to a toy brand (Royal Condor).

Part 2 - Astro Magnum: a History

The Silver Shocker

About 4 years ago I made a blog entry here reiterating that Toyco - the inventor of the Astro Magnum figure – was and is a Japanese company, in opposition to the often repeated (in Transformer's circles) 'myth' that it's Korean. In July 2018, Toyco joined twitter (https://twitter.com/toyco_ltd) and began tweeting about their toys, old and new. So, from this point forward, there can never be any doubt about Toyco again!

Anyway, a few choice tweets were made about the Astro Magnum toy, which as you may have guessed, is a favorite topic of mine.

The Tweets

On November 20th, 2020, they shared an advert or flyer dated 1983/Oct/11 promising an October 1983 release of the figure with a RRP of 3,980 Yen. This advert actually appeared in the October 1983 issue of Toy Journal.

(https://twitter.com/toyco_ltd/status/1329618690678001665) 
Toy Journal 1983.10

In April 2021, they uncovered a silver (vacuum metalized) Astro Magnum figure somewhere in their company premises, which they described as, “not for sale at the time” and “a corporate treasure”. They've posted a short video of the item (https://twitter.com/toyco_ltd/status/1385341789758844929), in gun and robot modes, and a still photo.  

(https://twitter.com/toyco_ltd/status/1385341223787843587/photo/1)

Of course, Transformers fans were excited. Toyco makes a public acknowledgement of a toy that disappeared in the late 80s. It is a toy that everyone wants re-issued and the idea that Toyco has re-discovered some vestiges of that figure ignites dreams of a re-release. But alas, in 2008,Toyco reps had stated that the rights were transferred to other companies (precluding Toyco from being able to sell it even if they wanted to, and by inference HasTak could not either). A key part of their statement was that they knew the molds were in South Korea for Transformers production and finally ended up in China before being lost to the world.

The Twist

THE SILVER FIGURE IS ACTUALLY GALACTIC MAN.

Let’s get down to some toy geekery here.

The ‘© 1983’ can be seen on the leg under the Toyco company mark, consistent with Galactic Man and not Astro Magnum (no copyright). The back of the leg has protruding dowels that fit into 2 holes on the backpack in gun mode, consistent with Galactic Man and not Astro Magnum (the legs have holes that accommodate a dowel on the backpack). 


The wrist has a friction ridge for securing the detachable gun barrel in gun mode, consistent with Galactic Man and not Astro Magnum (has a smooth wrist).

The battery hatch is not flush with the back, instead sits over the battery compartment, consistent with Galactic Man and not Astro Magnum (flush). 

A savvy aficionado might recognize it has a clear (now yellowed) fist and laser barrel, crosshair panel, chest panel etc, consistent with Galactic Man and not Astro Magnum (pink). Well, this is a tricky one. Most Astro Magnums have pink, but there are clear versions as well that came with multi-lingual instructions in both V1 (blue box) and V2 (red box). These are very rare toys and it is not a widely known fact.

So why does Toyco have a silver version of Galactic Man that was made in Korea? Well, I have to throw some milestones into the mix to set the scene, and then try to join some dots.

Blast from the Past

1. Astro Magnum was released by Toyco in October 1983 (十月旬発売). 

  (https://twitter.com/toyco_ltd/status/1329618690678001665/photo/1)

2. The Tokyo Toy Show video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqiQdw1zmuM) taken June 18th, 1983, shows: Diaclone (1:29) and Micro Change toys that would be part of 1984 Transformers line up. I assume at this time there are figures that are already on sale and figures that are being showcased to be released in the near future. Ligier’s (Mirage) plaque states it will be on sale from August 1983, in roughly 2 months. The video also shows Takatoku (7:43) 1/55 scale Macross Valkyries already in market (since November 1982) that would later become Transformer’s Jetfire in late 1984, but not part of the inaugural Transformers catalogue line up. I didn't see a Toyco presence at the 1983 show. Bear in mind, if the Twitter is anything to go by, in 1983 Toyco was still in its infancy and only had a handful of toys for sale.

4. Shockwave was on sale as a Transformer as early as 18th November, 1984 through until late 1986 according to archived store flyers from PSMR, but it was not actually part of the 1986 US TF catalogue.

5. Galactic Man was sold at Radio Shack before Christmas 1985, according to a Christmas TV spot for 1985 (https://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/videos.htm). Galactic Man is not in the yearly catalogues (from the same site) 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, but these catalogues only feature 2 or 4 pages of toys anyway. 

(https://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/videos.htm)

5. Cross referencing with other sources, it seems reasonable that Galactic Man was available prior to 1985 Christmas and up to and around 1986 Christmas. The evidence for this is PSMR cites Galactic Man print ads from November 1985 to December 1985. The 1987 Radio Shack catalogue introduces the robot Robie Jr. as new for 1987 catalogue (which was printed in 1986) for $79.95 (1987 Catalogue page 108). Robie Jr. shared a Christmas Flyer with Galactic Man, so this Christmas Catalog could have been for Christmas 1986. Some online resources suggest that Robie Jr. was available in 1986, so I think it was probably released late 1986 then added to the 1987 catalogue.

(https://www.flickr.com/photos/67954715@N05/44795532861)

So where am I going with this?

A Magnum Story (Opus)

Toyco creates Astro Magnum, ready for release in October 1983, in Japan.

The original.

The toy wasn't available in June 1983 to show off at the toy show. Anyhow, the Hasbro people in attendance probably were so entirely enamored with the comprehensive cohort of reconfigurable toy robots from Takara (Diaclone/Micro Change), that they didn't go looking for other transforming toys per se (such as the 1/55 Valkyrie). So, they return to Pawtucket with news of this amazing product line(s) from Takara with a transforming gimmick and set in motion events leading to the November 1st, 1983 agreement between Takara and Hasbro, and 'The Transformers' are launched in early 1984. You can read more about this on my timeline post.

Meanwhile in Japan, Toyco is selling Astro Magnum for 3,980 JPY, at the time about $17 (USD). They've got a patent application pending in Japan. The toy is being manufactured in Japan. Who knows if it was a big hit or not? Surely the tooling for this toy was not cheap. It's as large as a 1/55 Valkyrie, the same store price, but heavier and full of electronics. It does not have the benefit of marketing, merchandising and cartoon tie-in that Macross has. Plus, for the same tooling, Takatoku is squeezing out 6 different color decos (6 different figures to collect) and selling hundreds of thousands of units within months. 

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOjAP4sdGPM)

Toyco attempts to distribute Astro Magnum overseas (the red box). We see an English Language box with emphasis on the robot mode of the toy, and multi-lingual instructions for various geographies. With no story around the toy, does it fail to arouse interest in overseas markets the way Diakron failed in the US? Who knows?

The red box version.

Let's say, Toyco decides to wipe its hands of the figure. The relatively new toy company hasn't been able to successfully market the figure and get the return on investment (injection mold tooling costs for a figure this size was very expensive). So, they shop the figure around and find a buyer in Korean outfit Intecs Ltd. Intecs agree to buy the mold. Toyco transfers the rights, the tooling and associated collateral like instructions, stock photos, packaging dies etc. to Intecs. Toyco has now clawed back some or most of their investment. As of that moment, Astro Magnum has gone from a money sink to almost pure profit.

Intecs immediately starts manufacturing the toy and exports it as Spark Man, © 1983 Intecs Ltd. - it says so right on the box and figure. The Transfer could have been done as early as before the end of 1983, but this could also just indicate the date the Japanese patent application was filed by Toyco. The figure is identical to the final version of Astro Magnum that Toyco manufactured I.e., clear parts. All the tooling is the same (following the tooling is key in this story). Intecs appears to have some distribution network, with plans to distribute this toy in UK, US, HK, Korea, Taiwan (as indicated by patent applications on the box).

This is Intec's figure.
(facebook.com/tfperu)

Now, around this time, Hasbro is high on the trade preview success of Transformers. It is early 1984 (US Toy Fair is Feb 1984). They are looking again to Japan for more transforming toys, anything they can get their hands on to bolster the ranks as they are already planning the 1985 product catalogue (as well as refining their character biographies and developing the cartoon series). Note that the toys hit the shelves in May 1984, with the Marvel comic, and the cartoon show screens in September 1985. Of particular interest to this story, they secure a supply deal with Takatoku Toys (later Matsushiro, then Bandai - long story) and licensing from Tatsunoko Productions to use the 1/55 Super Valkyrie figure (released in Japan in February 1984) for Autobot Jetfire (but not in Japan, that's Macross/Big West territory). That's a big, deluxe good guy figure that every kid will want for Christmas (Sales are paramount, even though they plan to only use the character sparingly in the cartoon, due to legal issues). They need a big, deluxe bad guy too. Maybe Hasbro gets wind of the Japanese Astromagnum and looks up Toyco in Tokyo. Maybe Hasbro becomes aware of Spark Man as it exists somewhat obscurely in the US market at the time. Anyhow, can Toyco do it? No, not anymore - they've sold it to Intecs, in Korea, and they are making Spark Man now. Hasbro gets in touch with Intecs with or without Toyco's help.

Intecs is happy to fulfill orders. Intecs sends Hasbro samples of their Spark Man toy. The original cartoon character color scheme for Shockwave is nearly identical to Spark Man: dark grey body with light grey accents, the metal parts are gold, the clear parts light blue and he has a red eye. See Jim and Bill's panel here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ucbX1MY4K8).

(https://twitter.com/jessewittenrich/status/1107973728179290112)

(https://twitter.com/jessewittenrich/status/1107973728179290112)

In March 1984, he is already in the cartoon pilot script as Flash Beam.

This means that as early as March 13th, 1984, Hasbro had already incorporated the figure into their cartoon narrative and planned 1985 toyline, meaning Intecs was already the licensor of the toy mold in Q1 1984. The 1985 product brief entry dated April 5th provides a biography of the Decepticon codename: Shockwave, references "SPARK MAN" which means 'the toy that is the physical sample for this character'. 

The same was found for Autobot codename: Jetfire, referencing "VALKYRIE" in the same typeface and position in the same binder, meaning the Macross 1/55 Super Valkyrie figure licensed from Tatsunoko Pro/Takatoku Toys.

If Shockwave is predicated on the Spark Man toy, then the earliest references to Shockwave or Flash Beam in the developmental literature would indicate the approximate time that Hasbro received Spark Man toy samples from Intecs. By 4th May 1984, the color scheme has been revised (to purple). Hasbro uses the Spark Man figure to mockup some purple figures and take photography for the catalog and toybox. At this point, the box photography shows that the Spark Man figure has been painted purple. You can see the lack of copyright, flush battery cover and leg holes in the photos. A hand cut Decepticon sticker has been added to chest. The clear parts have been painted a lighter purple. The trigger has been replaced with a prototype of the flat trigger. 

This can also be seen on the manual, the new drawings are based on the Hasbro mockup.

(http://www.unicron.com/tfitem/itemimage_view.php?mode=instructions&itemID=1037&imageID=700)

There are some changes Hasbro requests of Intecs that requires retooling of the mold - "Fix the legs so they clip into the backpack, change the battery cover - kids need to be able to open this, put a ridge on the wrist to stop the barrel falling off. The trigger is a little provocative, tone that down please. Oh, and can you please put a copyright ‘©1983’ on the figure and ‘MADE IN KOREA’ too?" Hasbro had made similar requests of Takara, such as requiring copyright stamps, country of manufacture, and altered parts for improved safety and/or function.

At the same time, another company, Royal Condor which is a trademark of SR Mickelberg Co. Inc. (USA) (https://trademark.trademarkia.com/royal-condor-73332663.html) sources the toy for sale in USA, probably via their asia-regional arm SRM COMPANY LTD of Hong Kong (later SRM Toys LTD) in 1984 as well (https://www.hkgbusiness.com/en/company/Srm-Entertainment-Limited). It is called Electronic Magnum. By the time they receive their stock, the figure has received some of the modifications that Intecs have done for Hasbro, and within that stock there are variations as the injection mold gets progressively updated. The toy packaging is in the same format as Spark Man - upright, robot mode with a window and flap. The toy photography is not the re-used Astro Magnum photography seen on the Spark Man box, but newly taken photos of a regular Spark Man, sourced from Intecs prior to the Hasbro requested changes to the tooling.

Electronic Magnum packaging photography

Intecs finalises the injection mold changes and Decepticon Shockwave is born. Of all the versions, Shockwave is the most different to Astro Magnum, as it embodies every deviation from the original molding. Intecs manufacture the figure, print the box and papers and export the finished article from Seoul to Pawtucket.

USA Shockwave
Made and printed in Korea. Manufactured by Intecs, Ltd., Seoul.

Shockwave starts appearing on US shelves in November 1984, just in time for Christmas. Shockwave's RRP is around $29.99 give or take depending on the toy store flyers. Contrast this with galactic Man being $14.95 at Radio Shack the following year. Is Shockwave this pricey because of the marketing costs surrounding the Transformers brand? Was there some retooling cost associated with this figure that Hasbro had to factor into the price?

Takara released Laserwave in 1985 in Japan. What makes this toy extra special, is it is the only toy not manufactured by Takara to be sold under the Takara brand with Transformers marketing. This is because the toy was not owned or manufactured by a domestic market competitor. It was already owned by Intecs in Korea. If the toy was still owned and/or manufactured by Toyco, Takara would not have included it in the domestic line because revenue would flow to the competition, and Takara would never ask the direct competition to supply toys for them. Putting other intellectual property concerns aside, none of the Takatoku/Matsushiro/Bandai associated toys (Jetfire, Roadbuster, Whirl, Chop Shop, Venom, Barrage, Ransack) were released in Japan. Bandai (who ended up owning these toys) was a major Japanese competitor. Similarly, the Toybox toys that were manufactured by Tomy (Sky Lynx and Omega Supreme) were never released in Japan under Transformers. Takara would have never asked their major competitors to supply toys for Transformers for sale in Japan, nor allow them to benefit from their exclusive agreement with Hasbro.

Later Tandy/Radio Shack decide they need a Spark Man of their own. They too, like Hasbro and Royal Condor before them, reach out to Intecs. Tandy can only have the grey version (because the purple characterization of the figure is Hasbro intellectual property), and it is packed like Spark Man but with a windowless box with no flap. Ready for sale in 1985, and appearing to be the last chapter of the Korean story, it is essentially a Shockwave casting with the original trigger, combined with the Astro Magnum deco. Tandy never disclose Intecs as manufacturer, only that it was 'custom made in Korea'. Tandy had a subsidiary called A&A International that was tasked with their manufacturing and purchasing operations in HK, Korea, Japan and Taiwan (according to their annual reports). Galactic man uses the original Astro Magnum stock photography on the back of the box. The front of box photo is not Galactic man, it is an Astro Magnum figure, with 'Astro Magnum' text cleaned off the chest sticker, and Tandy sticker added to the hip. Given that of all the releases, Galactic Man is the only figure to sport Astro Magnum-esque stickers, it's probable that Astro Magnum itself was the figure A&A discovered, possibly in Japan or in neighboring countries, and Astro Magnum was the visual template for Galactic Man.

Galactic Man
Galactic Man packaging photography

Astro Magnum packaging photography

So, back to Toyco. It is 1985 or 1986. By the end of story, the figure that resides with Intecs in Korea has undergone modifications, forever separating it from the original Astro Magnum figure that debuted in 1983. Most notably, leg, backpack, wrist and battery cover changes, ‘MADE IN KOREA’, and a ‘©1983 stamp’. Intecs vac metallizes some Galactic Man figures and sends them to Toyco. Why? Maybe as a thank you. Intecs probably did very well out of the situation, selling a good two and a half year's worth of figures (from mid-1984 to Christmas 1986) all over the world. Maybe Toyco asked for some figures to hand out to staff in recognition of the toy they created after seeing it reborn again as Destron Laserwave on Japanese shelves in 1985 as part of the world-wide hit Transformers. For those who follow the history of Transformer toys and their associated rarities, it would be evident that there appears to be a culture of handing out gold and silver figures as competition/campaign prizes and internal company gifts. See Takara, in particular.

Whatever the reason, for a brief moment, the prodigal son returns home, shiny and chrome.

Chrome Galactic Man

Afterword: Some time after these events, the ownership of the mold changed, again. It is then transferred to a factory in China, and maybe even remains there today, lost, in disrepair, or maybe by now a powdery rust lingering in a decrepit industrial ruin. It is generally believed that the mold was used to produce the N-4-SR toy, sold in non-descript packaging, or under the Village Toys brand as Convert-a-bots. This is a very obscure figure and difficult to locate. It is cited that the stamp is 'Toyco ©1983' (from a vintage green test shot). It is corroborated by the Toyco rep's comments in 2008, that after South Korea, it went to China and then was lost. Watch towards the end of the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKDVKCMqeWY. From what is visible, it is indeed a post Galactic Man version of the figure.


Another afterword: Most Transformers fans are aware that on the periphery, their favorite toys have an off-brand counterpart, usually an ancestor - the original article - the pre-Transformer. The majority of the 1984 and 1985 product line are descended from Takara's Diaclone and Micro Change toys. Also contributing to the early lines were toys from Takatoku Toys, Toybox and of course Toyco. Many of these pre-Transformers sported color schemes unique to the pre-Transformer versions, which in turn over the years elevated those toys to legendary status. In the 21st century, in recognition of the origins of the Transformers franchise, these figures were paid homage to in the modern lines, in the form of reissues, special versions, and sometimes became characters in their own right. Think of the blue Bluestreaks, the red Road Rages, the yellow Tiger Tracks, the black Loud Pedals, the silver Streaks, the gold Jazzes etc. Hasbro/Takara looked to the past to expand and enrich the present toy lines, and this provides a context for present day collectors to learn about the history of the brand, a history that is soon approaching 40 years!

In 2019, a variant of the WFC Siege Shockwave figure was produced. A grey version, it was released under Generations Selects as Galactic Man Shockwave.

https://hasbropulse.com/products/transformers-generations-selects-wfc-gs03-galactic-man-shockwave

According to the the Hasbro Pulse page, Generations Selects is a fan-dedicated line of figures featuring special edition versions of characters that can’t be found in the main line. This 7-inch Generations Selects WFC-GS03 Galactic Man Shockwave figure features special edition deco inspired by a 1985 version of Shockwave, called Galactic Man.

As a fan-dedicated figure, I imagine that for most fans, there are, and were, only two Shockwave toys: Shockwave and Shackwave. Shockwave is purple and everything else grey is Radio Shack's 'Shackwave' Galactic Man. Indeed, any vintage figure that is grey and not Galactic Man is considered a bootleg figure, an inferior imitation. The Astro Magnum origin has never been hammered into the collector consciousness the way Diaclone and Micro Change have (because the mold disappeared and the rights are unknown). The collective memory rests almost entirely with fans (Hasbro understands little more about this figure than the fans), and so their truth is the truth - the only possible name for this figure is Galactic Man. The only counterpart to Shockwave that ever existed was on Radio Shack shelves. The truth is black and white. The truth is grey and purple.

However, Galactic Man had nothing to do with Takara or Hasbro at all in 1985. The clues had been floating around for the past decade, unconnected, in disparate collections and abandoned inquiries. Apart from this blog, no-one has ever definitively linked the Intecs Spark Man figure directly to the origin story of Shockwave in the Hasbro offices of early 1984. To pay homage to Galactic Man and not recognize Spark Man's contribution to the Shockwave story is sadly, a missed opportunity. 

There is always next time...

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