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December 29th, 2015
Anime Relations: Owarimonogatari
The Monogatari series, one of the most intriguing offers that never ceases to capture one's attention. Amongst most other popular series of our day, the Monogatari series is amongst the cream of the crop in its relatively unorthodox approach, both in form and content. It has, for the most part, never failed to impress in its conception of the odd and the avant garde, ever since its first release in Bakemonogatari.

To look at Owarimonogatari, I feel it necessary to speak on the history of the series. Bakemonogatari was the first of the lot, but chronologically speaking it is not the first. Bakemonogatari however, was a success, and Shaft went on to the less successfully Nisemonogatari. Still, it was intriguing. Nekomonogatari Kuro came, and that's when Shaft began a concept of releasing some of Nisioisin's novels as small 4-5 ep OVAs, before Monogatari S2 arrived and blew everybody away. Then came Hanamonogatari and Tsukimonogatari before a third full season, the recently concluded Owarimonogatari, with plans for Koyomimonogatari, and the long-stalling Kizumonogatari finally looking to make an appearance.

The point of this history is that there are many different aspects to the Monogatari series as a whole, and after a while, certain formulas are to be expected. Yet this does not play against the series. For the most part, Owarimonogatari has kept much of what its predecessors had, especially with regard to the entry of what Nisioisin labelled as Monogatari's Final Season, coming on from Tsukimonogatari and Hanamonogatari (even though the latter is technically the Middle Season). Hana and Tsuki came after the unprecedented success of S2, which featured a recurrence to the original heroines of Bake, and by extending upon their stories, the audience is blown away by the sheer ingenuity of Nisioisin's plot. Thus we cannot blame Hana and Tsuki for not living up to its predecessor.

Yet I find that this is one of two curses Owarimonogatari has had to face. Owari is split into two parts: the first regarding a new girl, Sodachi, and the second building on an aspect of Shinobu's past. Sodachi's arc(s) are undoubtedly the stronger of the two, for it is more original, and it features much more of the 'occult detective' subgenre which the whole series technically is. Yet it was nothing spectacular, and whilst one may have been intrigued at times, we do not come to a consensus that it blows any minds. Rather, it was pretty much like Hana and Tsuki, in that it was interesting and nice to watch, especially with Shaft's aesthetic style, but it did not reach the levels of masterpiece S2 did. The second half could be even thought of as disappointing, to some degree. More on this in a moment.

Owari's second sad flaw is one which, unfortunately, doesn't look like it could have been avoided. The chronological aspect of the whole Monogatari series is nothing new. Since time immemorial, the chronology of a story's plot has been varied in many ways. One need only read the likes of Homer and Virgil in epic poetry for an example. A more recent one closer to what Monogatari does is Aldous Huxley's "Eyeless in Gaza," where the narrative skips across time to show various aspects of the plot.

Chronologically and frankly speaking, Monogatari as a whole is currently a mess, especially for the viewer who has a history with the series, but has not had the opportunity to refresh themselves on everything. If I wanted to refresh my memory for Owarimonogatari, I would have needed to watch about 64 episodes worth of anime. Not everyone has that sort of time and patience, even for a wonderful series like this. Furthermore, following our own linear chronology of Shaft's releases does not match with that of the Monogatari series. It is thus difficult for the viewer to follow many parts of the story, especially since we are thrown around various different timings. The great leap S2 made was that it made it imperative for the viewer to make reference to different parts of the series that occurred at different times for there to be a sense of continuity. Unfortunately, this tossing of time makes it difficult to establish that essential continuity. At this moment, the whole Monogatari series still has not been completely animated by Shaft, and thus we have a problem: where do certain things fit in? If we had a full picture of the plot, like in those epic poems or in Huxley's novel, where we could comfortably read from start to finish, we may not have this issue.

One can only know that this is a decision made by the author and the studio, that releases made in this order has a certain effect. Already we can see that the placement of Kizumonogatari right after Shinobu's arc in Owari is entirely intentional. It leads on perfectly. We can take hope in that this continuity will eventually be achieved, even if not at present. The Monogatari series is ultimately one that will not be dropped for all its popularity, and we can be certain that it will eventually be completed, and maybe we can have a fuller picture of the whole.

I have only been looking at the bigger picture of Owari so far, but closing in, Owari's greatest plus is in the enigma that is Oshino Ougi. Who the hell is she (he)? It is such a confusing deal. If anything, anywhere where Ougi is involved and the placement of the episodes along with Monogatari's internal chronology gives rise to suggest that there is something extremely sinister about this character, and every time Ougi made an appearance or a comment, it was one of great intensity. I look forward to seeing how Ougi fits into the whole picture in the future. We can already have certain guesses. One need not comment on Shaft's aesthetic style, although I do feel that fewer 'stop-word-panels' have been used in this season. I usually have little to say about Monogatari's OPs (except Staple Stable and Renai Circulation), but the ED was definitely great and worthy of being a Monogatari series ED.

For the reasons stated above, I could not give Owari a higher rating. It just doesn't work. On a 'close reading' of the series, it might be easier to give it higher ratings. However, with what its various incarnations and series demand, it is impossible for one to not feel lost in considering the placement of Owarimonogatari as a whole. I can only hope that the progression of Owari is a 'sacrifice' of sorts in lieu of the entire watchability and presentability as a series, such that if I were to watch it both in Shaft's release chronology and in the series's own internal chronology, we can get a full picture of this brilliant world that is Nisioisin's creation. I can thus only hope for something better - it would be best if it could go out with a bang, and if any more seasons of Monogatari are released, I do hope they would surpass that masterpiece which is S2. Still, I shall have to wait and see what Shaft offers us next (looks like Koyomimonogatari).
Posted by Divin3Wind_ | Dec 29, 2015 4:26 PM | 0 comments
December 28th, 2015
Without a doubt the most hyped series of this season. As the season progressed, I was surprised at how popular it was, appearing even on my facebook feeds in 9gag, amongst others. The likes of anime to appear in such forms of social media are usually restricted to Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Shingeki no Kyojin... One Punch Man has itself taken a place amongst those other series of late, and it probably will for a while.

What makes One Punch Man so popular then? I knew that it was popular even before the anime came out. i had seen certain panels of the manga, and the manga itself was noteworthy, especially in its proper incarnation with an excellent artist. One can only point to the entire premise of the show: a man who defeats anything with a single punch. We have seen similar 'invincible type heroes' before, but none of them are as convincing or frank as this - and certainly satirical, even. I used to frequently argue with a friend of mine of who was stronger: Goku or Superman. This argument, I thought, would never end. But with Saitama we have a hero who puts an end to all these sorts of now-invalid questions.

Art and sound wise, we are talking Madhouse, so we do get some good quality art. I have however, noted that Madhouse essentially replicated the manga's art (as seen from comparisons made by various websites). Nevertheless, it is still a good job. I was initially not so thrilled with the OP, but as I listened more, I grew to like it better. In the OST, one of the battle BGMs reminded me of Slayer, so many plus points for that. That ED however, totally didn't work for me in the least. That was one of the disappointing parts of the show.

It is ultimately in the comedy of this show that its premise survives. We already know the outcome - Saitama would just bash the guy in one shot. The question then is how the lead up is to be performed. Which dumb creature is going to try and conquer Earth next? This is One Punch Man's first flaw: Monster of the Week (MotW). MotW is a sign that there has not been much thought put into the structure of the series: it is a sign of laziness. i can understand how the manga's plot forces this upon the studio, and structurally it is sound - but for anyone who is looking for more than cheap entertainment, MotW will not suffice.

Yet this MotW thing is inevitable. Since we all know the outcome, it makes one even wonder what there is a series to make out of. Thankfully Saitama is a really cool and chill guy - and that is part of what makes the series popular, I believe. As I just saw on 9gag today: "If Saitama wanted to be the Pirate King, One Punch Man would only run for 12 episodes." If there is a story at all, it revolves around everyone that is not Saitama, the most noteworthy being Genos, and all these other heroes.

Yet, as funny as One Punch Man is, it has unfortunately been overhyped, for the above reasons and others. Perhaps it is the case that the English-speaking-Anime-watching world has never encountered a hero quite like Saitama - and perhaps even other places never before as well. Is there anything that is genuinely impressive about One Punch Man that sets it apart besides this premise? Not really. Its predictability goes against it, and what makes it seem a little better than RosaVam S1 is that there is some good humour and no harem. One Punch Man is forged as a double edged sword - but most don't seem to see that. It is better than the average series in its execution for certain, and it is an interesting premise - but it leads one to question: when will Saitama actually have trouble? Perhaps the manga readers will be able to answer this better. At least we see that in the last episode, the opponent doesn't die in one 'casual' punch, and Saitama actually has to get serious - a nice change, really.

All in all, One Punch Man is meant to be fun. Perhaps this is why it is popular, for it doesn't take itself seriously. Yet if anyone does, they'll find many flaws with the show, and questions will begin to be raised about whether it really deserves to be lauded as it has been. Can we call One Punch Man a masterpiece? Most definitely not. It is better than the average anime, but it does not step very far into the bounds of an 'excellent' anime. Such is the power of hype, and the big question for One Punch Man is about where it can go, rather than where it will go. The premise is entirely based on a joke, so will it continue as a joke?

It is almost inevitable that a second season will be produced at some point, and while I have not observed One Punch Man's manga sales, they would have skyrocketed. How then, will it conclude, when it has to? The author has had no choice but to develop everything that is Saitama's periphery, and while this will come as a commendable approach for other series, for One Punch Man, since it comes as a result of having no choice in adherence to the premise, it can lead into many directions, many of which I can only foresee as being wholly unsatisfying. But as Saitama wisely said, "That is a problem for tomorrow's me." (How did Genos not note this lesson? It's the most important one!). Likewise, that is a problem for the author's future self. The money and fame for his series is piling in, and he only wins. In my opinion, the series has not lived up to the hype, but it is still a good series nonetheless.
Posted by Divin3Wind_ | Dec 28, 2015 11:20 PM | 0 comments
Anime Relations: Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry
Another typical run of the mill looking LN adaptation. What supposedly new thing are we supposed to expect this time? The LN as medium has, I feel, become far more common in adaptations of late than the more typical manga>anime adaptation. The nature of the LN is that more text gives supposedly more room for artistic imagination, whereas a manga is typically easier to conceive, as the images have already been put forth. Where does Rakudai stand, then?

I originally did pick Rakudai in consideration that it would be a 'guilty pleasure' anime. It looked set to be a typical harem romance setting, albeit it looked like there was to be more action and less comedy here. This is what experience does for one who has watched so many of these types of animes. We feel like they are set to certain rules. What Rakudai does is... a little off-track for series in its mould.

Art-wise, Rakudai is quite typical, but it is appealing enough - good character designs, even if they seem rather archetypal. The OP and ED is a major highlight of the show for me. That OP really gets one pumped for the action of the show, and the ED features the unorthodox Ali Project, whose take on an eclectic mix of classical conceived with an synth-pop (not sure if the right word) approach never fails to delight.

Rakudai's big weakness, as with other anime of this mould, is that it is typically not very creative with its world. In other words, what one can expect of Rakudai in its setting is not very different from others, and we can see many cliches that occur over the course of the anime. I am however, glad that the harem cliche did not stick to Rakudai. Nevertheless, on the action front, this is not the case. I find that most LN adaptations typically strive to differentiate themselves from others in the action department - and they should. Yet the usual cliches tend to never be far off: highschool, tournaments, baddies, bla bla. Yet at the very least, there is consideration placed into the combat concept to distinguish it from other anime of similar moulds. Yet this leads on to what is perhaps one of Rakudai's worst mistakes as a whole is the inclusion of an OP-kun, for then there is little need to think about how to make this clear distinction if the OP-kun simply defeats everyone.

Why do the creators have to have an OP-kun? I respect that the animators were being faithful to the text, so this is a question of the source material. Honestly speaking, no one likes an OP-kun. Why do we like Naruto (although I think there will be detractors here)? Because he grows from a weakling, to becoming soemone with potential, to becoming fully OP (although his general OPness at the end is not too appreciated). If someone is too OP, we cannot relate to them, and that is bad. There is no such thing as a human who can simply overcome through sheer power. While we see that he is not entirely OP in his mental faculties, being OP in terms of power levels is a mistake for this series, and in this respect, Rakudai very sadly echoes Mahouka - and Mahouka itself is not great. I hope this issue of OPness is settled, if not in another season, then at least somewhere in the novels - no one deserves to be invincible.

Yet I like Rakudai as well, despite this massive flaw, for something that may be considered a bit of a mindfuck, or contradiction to the nature of such LN>anime adaptations. Perhaps this is a case of my expectations having taken a twist. I spoke of this anime seeming to be a harem - and at the beginning, it gave heavy undertones to solidify that impression. Yet, here it takes a twist in the context: there is actually the development of a proper romantic relationship in the anime! OMG, WHAT KIND OF SORCERY IS THIS? THIS IS UNPRECEDENTED, GENIUS EVEN! Seriously though, you don't see this in most LN>anime adaptations. What I find is characteristic of many anime series is that there is a hesitation in romantic developments, especially in shounen action series of this nature. Why should a young boy limit himself to just one pretty girl when he can have so many more hot chicks? Yet this series does that, and to be fair to them, whilst it was not the best romance (much in part to Stella's tsundere personality, not that tsunderes are bad, for they make things interesting), it actually unfolded in a decent enough manner that one does not think the romance is unworthy or misplaced. Ikki even makes a very good argument for not going down on Stella in a cliche 'alone in a cabin in the mountains scene.' Could we as guys have made the same decision? Probably not. But this is an anime. Animes, as medium of entertainment and escape from reality, tend to show what is a fantasy. Yet when one expects a full blow of fantasy and gets some sort of more realistic approach, especially with regard to romance, it becomes a very strange and even refreshing thing - what is normal is refreshing. How mysterious indeed! For executing this successfully, Rakudai has my praise.

Generally, my impressions of Rakudai is that it is pretty average - but I had no heart to give it a 7, even though it is unworthy of an 8. Such is the pity of a series like this. In its action sequence, where one expects some differentiation, that differentiation is not delivered, and instead an OP-kun is included. If this series has a better than average point, it would be the interactions between characters, and the romantic aspect counts as part of this. I do hope for a second season, mainly in the hope that the errors of the first can be corrected - but I am not expectant of one, and if a second season never comes out, I won't complain.
Posted by Divin3Wind_ | Dec 28, 2015 10:05 PM | 0 comments
December 23rd, 2015
Anime Relations: Subete ga F ni Naru
Subete ga F ni Naru is quite the oddball anime amongst this season's offerings. While I don't normally delve into mystery, I thought I would try this one out, for the premise that it gave - it seemed somewhat promising.

The art was probably the most obvious weak point of the show. It certainly wasn't bad or anything, and while A-1 is not reputed to have the best art (yet as we have seen in Shigatsu, if they try they can), I expected much better of the studio. Perhaps they were aiming for a more realistic sort of feel when it came to the art, hence there being a much darker colour scheme, in addition to character designs being far less appealing than normal. Either way, it did help contribute to the darker mood of the anime. The OST was normal, but the OP deserves mention. It certainly set the tone, and the sequence for it was certainly highly artistic (See, they really can do it if they try!). The ED was less spectacular. It did fit in, but I didn't enjoy it that much.

Personally, the big issue for Subete was whether I should consider it more as a thriller or as a mystery. A thriller typically concerns the personal reaction, whereas a mystery necessitates that the plot be successfully conveyed in the manner such that there is a case involved, and that whatever resolution of the case there is, it is resolved appropriately. This already reveals what this anime has failed to do: to be both, as it technically is supposed to be. I would say it revolves more around the former, as, throughout the course of the series, I was wondering how precisely such a mystery was going to be solved, rather than the necessary mechanics behind the case per se. The premise is such that one is intrigued by the seeming impossibility of its parameters.

The series however, also takes on several tones and moods similar to that of the famed Monogatari series, especially due to its reliance upon dialogue, and the discussion and exchange of philosophical themes, most typically amongst its two protagonists. Yet these discussions often have either implicit or no bearing on the mystery itself, as though it were simply to give the show an air of intelligence - a cunning diversion, I daresay. Yet it was interesting hearing it nonetheless, but it somewhat failed to entrance like Monogatari, particularly due to the lack of creativity during such exchanges.

Naturally, this means that the mystery and these exchanges intertwine, as well with there being a heavy emphasis on the past. One aspect of the show that I did quite enjoy was the counterpoint between Dr Magata's past and the present situation. It did throw me off at first, but I could see that there was a different method of presenting the plot there. Less successful was about Moe's past with Saikawa, though.

The essential foible of the mystery is its failure to actually be as mysterious as it should be. There is definitely a crime case, but in retrospect, one wonders if the different strands of the case actually combine to make a rational whole - was it really solved? I fail to recall if there even was a genuine logical progression regarding the solution. Ultimately, one is led to believe that this series was more about the relations between characters than the case itself - which seems fair enough, but yet one feels that this is quite a waste, for it seemed to have so much more potential than that.

Nonetheless, it was intriguing, particularly in the last meeting between Saikawa and Dr Magata, where she posed quite the unorthodox view on life and death, "The natural state is death - life is an anomaly," or something like that. It is but an example of some of the more thought-provoking exchanges which are posed in the series.

Ultimately, Subete is certainly a decent anime, but for those who are nitpicky, it most certainly would not satisfy the curiosities one may have regarding the case that it presents. It is thought provoking, but the unfortunate part about this is that the whole mystery around it and the aspects of human relations etc seem like they are two disjointed parts that have been thrust together in this confined environment with a murder mystery. Nevertheless, I did enjoy watching this anime, and while it did not live fully to my expectations, it is still one of the better offerings this season, despite its major flaws. I believe that, since it is an adaptation of the novel, had there been better execution, it would have been a much better anime.
Posted by Divin3Wind_ | Dec 23, 2015 5:32 PM | 0 comments
December 22nd, 2015
Shinmai Maou is a series whose themes don't go beyond the level of cheap entertainment. As scathing as this sounds, it is the truth for a series built entirely upon the cliches of a typical light novel story - and it is unfortunate in that it does not even push the boundaries of any of these features beyond what is already known or expected - something other LN-to-anime adaptations try to do, at the very least.

Yet it opened with some promise - most notably in the art for the OP. There was an observable increase in the art quality, and while I don't like the OP too much (it's ok I guess), this increase in the art quality gave me hopes for at least better art. Yet I found that the art in the anime was the same as the first season - this is not a bad thing, but to be let down on this aspect was sad. Neither OP nor ED was worth my time.

Nothing needs be said about the fanservice in this anime - it was entirely expected, and it was entirely shameless, to be honest. Yet, even in this aspect it fails to reach the standards of the one LN that set this subgenre up: HighSchool DxD

HighSchool DxD's recent third season was not as good as others, but the plot was certainly still there, and I enjoyed the recently released OVA. However, while Shinmai Maou's plot seems ok enough, on hindsight, the number of flaws and holes throughout it are glaring. All of a sudden, a tournament pops out of nowhere. What? Do you really settle the fate of an entire realm with a TOURNAMENT? Furthermore, the resemblance of this 'demon world' to the human world just screams lack of creativity - or effort, even. This is pushing the boundaries of acceptable cliche. Character development? That makes me laugh. While it was good seeing that Basara is obviously into Mio the most, the problem is that the treatment of the harem makes it such that one knows this is not a serious romantic development, and cannot treat it as such. Playing on the 'onii-chan' card doesn't help it very much either.

If there is one good thing about Shinmai Maou, and its only saving grace that gives it a glimmer of hope for a third season, it would be Basara's past. We observe that there must be a reason why he can become a demon like that, and why he is claimed to have two mothers by his one father. The biological impossibilities are thrown out the window, but it gives a good chance for historical development. This is the main thing going for Shinmai Maou, even in this season - let's just hope that if a third season does come out, Basara does not become like Ichigo.

On this note, I am not impressed by Shinmai Maou, and it failed my expectations - that is the most important part. I was hoping for a better season, but it's typically expected that series of this nature do not distinguish themselves in subsequent seasons. Dare I call it a waste of time? It wasn't, but for anyone with better things to do, this is one series to avoid. Would I, however, watch a third season? The strange answer is that I would, for I still believe that there may be some potential in here - as I said, it all depends on the execution of its historical development.
Posted by Divin3Wind_ | Dec 22, 2015 3:16 PM | 0 comments
July 23rd, 2015
Naruto's manga ended somewhere close to the end of last year, and this movie was released about a month after that as a sort of 'concluder' for the series. Almost 3/4 of a year after that, Naruto Shippuden (which I don't bother watching) is still ongoing, Naruto Gaiden ended a month or two back, and a movie revolving around Naruto's son is coming out in Japan next week. So much for ending the series - the franchise hasn't stopped at all, and if Dragonball is capable of not ending decades after the manga did, we could raise the same question for Naruto.

But these external circumstances aside, I was honestly quite looking forward to watching this movie. I initially planned on watching the Korean sub when it first came out, but... it just didn't sit right with me. We all knew long ago that this was going to be yet another milking of the franchise, but as a NaruHina shipper, I had always wanted to see how they would decide to clean up this one.

Of course, Naruto is not a series that focuses on romance - and it shouldn't be. But that doesn't stop Kishi from doing what he wants, and amongst the female cast, Hinata got quite a fair bit more development than some of the others, save perhaps Sakura. In the Pain arc, we see how Hinata finally stands up for what (who) she loves, and from there, we can see how she has developed from being that meek side character we first see in the first part of Naruto into a strong, young woman who is capable of putting up a fight (both literally and metaphorically speaking). Of course, the change in her character design also did wonders to exhibit her maturity (ahem), but all these changes drew me to the character in the first place, and knowing that Kishi was likely to ship her rather than Sakura, I hopped aboard the canon.

So it does make commercial sense to go about 'ending' the series on a high note. Of course, all those other ships were sunk (NaruSasu? Really, guys/girls?) in the manga's ending and we are left with a gap to fill in the story about how Naruto finally went for Hinata. So of course it should be no surprise that the movie, with this rather narrow focus in mind, would take on romance as part of its plot. They could have just ended it simply like that, but if one wants to go all the way... they may as well right? For the industry... more money - for the fans (of the ship in particular)... to fill in the gaps - for the haters (especially of this ship)... something more to rant about, especially with all that mess Kishi gave us in the final arc.

With these ideas in mind, it surprised me that people were expecting something great and serious from the movie. I cannot deny that their points make sense, but perhaps they should've considered some of these factors when they were watching it. It was obvious from the start that the bait was for shippers and fans of the series in general who wanted some closure on Naruto's character, but still it could not be taken seriously. On to the movie itself.

The plot of the movie itself is actually... quite rehashed. For the critics, this is one of their two main valid points, I feel. It acts precisely like a filler, and it doesn't try to hide this too much. Having not watched all those Naruto fillers, and generally one who avoids fillers in most series, I did not feel too enraged by this - probably because I haven't been exposed to fillers on a constant basis. It is however, not exactly a very strong plot. It is a good-enough one, and its primary merit is how it made a clear establishment between itself and the manga's ending, even if it isn't too greatly hinted. Cliche would be the nasty word to use here, but perhaps that describes it best; nothing about it was too surprising, except at one point, when I was hoping for an explanation, and it took a while before it came - at least it did, though.

The other aspect of the plot, the romance, on the other hand, really does deserve a bit of a kick. As one writer on the MAL forum posted, "Hinata took years for her feelings to come through and develop. It took Naruto merely the course of a few days." Now, as a shipper, I feel inclined to say that perhaps the seeds were sown in Naruto's heart from way before, but I cannot deny that there is truth in this point. The 'blossoming' of Naruto's feelings came so quickly and I was actually shocked when he decided to confess. Naruto's immersion in that Evangelion-like dream takes too much credit for the change in his heart. I did however, enjoy very much the scenes when Naruto and Hinata were alone in the deserted city - if I had to defend the ship, I would point to those scenes as the ones that were responsible for the trigger. But it is a weak defense.

The action of the movie was... typical of Naruto's anime (which I've watched a bit), and so that is a good thing. After years of reading the manga and being confused at Kishi's drawings, it's good to see that the anime studio knows what it is seeing. The sound... well the ED was nothing very special. I watched it more for scenes of Naruto and Hinata's wedding, but it really didn't strike me too much. The most spectacular part of the art was perhaps the beginning, when the history of the ninja was documented. That was good.

As a whole, I did enjoy this movie. I did recognize that there were flaws in the story, and other weaknesses, but having waited for this movie for so long, I decided I would switch off (as I almost always do) and just watch. The most important thing is that the movie needs to provide closure for what it intends to market, and in that it was successfully achieved. Naruto rarely ever pleases everybody, especially with the way it ended, but here I was just watching for the sake of seeing an aspect of the series which merited a little more exposition.
Posted by Divin3Wind_ | Jul 23, 2015 11:52 PM | 0 comments