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No Fear, No Pain Kamen Rider Kuuga Reviews: Episodes 1 and 2 · 5:39pm May 5th

Video belongs to Toei.

Well, shall we begin?

The year was 2000, it had been a decade since Kamen Rider Black RX had ended and the franchise had entered a hiatus. There had been 3 movies over the course of the decade, but none of them did what needed to be done in order to revive the franchise. Series creator Shotaro Ishinomori had sadly passed away by this point. But now, the time was right, as Metal Heroes was coming to an end and Sentai needed a companion series, for as Kohtaro Minami, Kamen Rider Black/Black RX, said:

"I will revive as many times as it takes."

The time had come for Kamen Rider to return.

I've talked about Kamen Rider before in my review of Kamen Rider Alchemy as well as my own fanfictions, but this is my first run, but in case some of you are new to this franchise I will summarize. Kamen Rider is a long running Japanese Superhero Tokusatsu franchise that started back in 1971 during what is known as the Showa era by the Japanese Imperial Calendar. The titular Kamen Riders typically ride motorcycles (not so much these days, but we'll get into that when we approach a more modern series) and fight against monsters and organizations, using the same power as their enemies.

No Fear, No Pain is the first of a series of text reviews of Kamen Rider shows, starting with Kamen Rider Kuuga the show that brought the franchise back in the modern Heisei era. It builds on the classic tropes of the franchise while still giving it its own spin. We will be exploring this series, and since the show Kuuga is now more accessible, I felt it was the most appropriate place to start.

Episode 1: Revival

I just want to start by saying I love the title of the first episode, it reflects how Kuuga brought the franchise back to life, or at least that was they hoped. It also reflects the show itself, which we will get to shortly.

We start with a dedication title card to Shotaro Ishinomori who as I said had passed away in 1998. It's a nice way to pay tribute to the creator of the franchise you're working to continue:

Which is then followed by a warning to watch at a good distance in a well-lit room. Yeah, I'm gonna be ignoring that because I watch all my Kamen Rider on my computer.

Okay, the episode itself actually starts on a scene of an ancient looking room lit by torches followed by a shot of the face of Kamen Rider Kuuga. This isn't the main character, but Riku, the original Kuuga. This is something that we will get into as the show continues, and I will explain it as we get there. Riku is swarmed by monsters that you can't really make out in the grainy footage, intercut with shots of Kuuga in different colored suits, we'll get to that, before ending with Riku falling into a green vortex and falling onto the ground or into a coffin as the next shot shows.

So we cut to the theme song (which can be seen at the start of the review), and I honestly kinda like it. It's not quite what I'd call my favorite Kamen Rider theme song, but I do feel it reflects the themes of the show in its own way. The lyrics are once more reflective of the idea of continuing a legacy a well as the beginning of a new era. The idea of "No Fear, No Pain" refers to this idea of protecting those who need it, something that often stays true with your main Riders, and Kuuga is no exception.

So once the opening is over we get back to where we were before, focusing in on the coffin of the original Kuuga with the symbol associated with him. This is an archaeological dig that has recently uncovered the tomb of Riku in Japan's Center Alps known as the Kurogatake Ruins. Most of these characters are unimportant as this is just to start the story of Kuuga itself as they are slowly opening the coffin and finding the mummified body of Riku.

We get some dialogue between them as they continue to study the mummy.

"It's so strange, finding something like this in Japan.
"Professor there are differences here that don't reflect known internment practices."

This is the first indication we have that there is something different about Riku and his civilization. They are still human, but as we'll learn there are differences between them and normal humans. But more importantly, we get a brief glimpse of this while the camera pans up it in night vision mode:

Anyone who's read my Kamen Rider Alchemy review knows what we're looking at here, but we'll get to that soon enough.

And naturally because we're investigating an ancient tomb, one of the students asks if the writing on the walls say anything about being cursed if they touch it. The professor of course points out that it's too late for that and tells him less joking and more working. Actually given this is Kamen Rider, it's probably not the weirdest thing that could happen. Trust me, when we get to the likes of Fourze, Ex-Aid, and Gaim this is probably the least crazy thing that could happen to someone in this universe, and I'm not even going into the other shows.

Anyway, as they move we get an ominous shot of the mummy's hand moving which of course no one notices. That's not ominous at all!

And cut to a plane arriving at the New Tokyo International Airport (or the Narita International Airport as its now called), and we get our first look at our main Rider:

Meet Yusuke Godai, the titular Kamen Rider Kuuga, as played by Joe Odagiri. He is one of the nicest people to ever bear the title of Kamen Rider, doing what he can to help others and having a signature thumbs up sign that you just can't help but return. He's a nice guy and one of my favorite Riders that is a bit of a wanderer. We find him talking to someone offscreen, seemingly talking to the audience, about a time when he got lost in the mountains of Nepal when he was younger and this idea of smiling no matter how hard things get. Yeah, he's actually talking to a kid who's gotten separated from his mom and dad as shown when the camera pans out.

Yusuke entertains the boy by juggling and we get our first thumbs up which I can't get a decent shot of because of the video tracking. But still, this is where we get the thumbs up counter as I'll be calling it:

Yusuke Thumbs-Up Counter: 1.

Anyway, Yusuke gives the boy the balls he used to juggle as a police officer comes up with the kid's parents who thank Yusuke for finding him. Yusuke climbs onto his motorcycle. And from there we change to a scene of a woman on the phone talking to a reported named Makoto clicking through image from the ruins once more showing the Kuuga symbol and the recurring odd symbols found there. She's looking through ancient languages from around the world, and once more there's talk of a curse.

You know, I think there just might be something wrong with this tomb.

Anyway, this is Sakurako Sawatari, she's part of the show's supporting cast and serves as a linguistics expert that will be translating many of the symbols over the course of the show. In the meantime, someone is climbing up some conveniently placed vines on the side of the building while she continues to talk to Makoto who's looking for a scoop on the archaeological dig. The window behind Sakurako opens with some ominous breathing while a figure wearing a mask:

Wow, the monster budget in this show was really bad.

I joke, its Yusuke as Sakurako recognizes him without even turning around. The two of them are old friends and the mask is apparently from Indonesia and is to ward away evil spirits. Yusuke is on the move as usual according to Sakurako, as he's off to the ruins. However, there is finally some translations of the symbols:

Sakurako: "What the... what's going on here?"
Yusuke: "What's up?
Sakurako: "Look at this."
Yusuke: "'Death' and 'Warning.'"
Sakurako: "I guess I'll tell the dig team. It'll make for good conversation."

Yes, let's tell the dig team that we translated two of the symbols to mean death and warning. Yeah, that's not ominous at all. And yes, good conversation, that's totally not going to end badly at all!

Okay, I need to explain something about first half Heisei Era Kamen Rider. While there were shows before it, the first half of the Heisei Era considers all of its shows to be part of their own separate universes (except for Agito kind of). So there hasn't been 9 previous Kamen Riders or monster factions attacking Japan. This would later change after the events of Kamen Rider Decade which consolidated all of the shows into one universe, and was then split up again in Kamen Rider Zi-O.

So for DC nerds, Decade is Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zi-O is Infinite Crisis. Lets hope Kamen Rider Final Crisis is better than the actual Final Crisis in 10 years.

And yes, something is definitely up at the Kurogatake Ruins as the team is being advanced on by a shadowy figure and are calling the police. There's no answer as Sakurako tries to call them, so Yusuke jumps on his bike and takes off towards the ruins. As he nears them and stops at a red light, a spotlight turns on and lightning crackles.

As the energy radiates, we get a mysterious figure walking through the trees that are exploding as he walks. Energy crackles from his hands as he calls on his servants to awaken, and we get this rather creepy image:

We change focus to the remains of the camp where the ruins are, and we get an introduction to one of the best characters in the show if not the franchise:

Meet Inspector Karou Ichijo, a rarity in Japanese media because he's a very competent police officer who is not at all played for laughs (we'll see this again when we get to Kamen Rider Drive). Sadly in line with past Kamen Rider shows from the Showa era, Kuuga doesn't have a secondary Rider, but otherwise Ichijo would've made a perfect choice for the secondary Rider. He's hard working and dedicated to his job and makes for a very good ally for Yusuke as the story progresses. And as I said, he's actually competent, he and the rest of his team doing what they can to try and help Kuuga fight the monsters.

The police are on the site trying to figure out what happened, theories are there such as the idea of lightning or even an eruption. However, both theories are dismissed for good reason. Yusuke arrives on the scene and watches the police activity before getting a brief vision that knocks him back against the trees. He makes his way slowly down to the camp as Ichijo is continuing to investigate the area with a mountain rescue officer commenting on it:

"I gotta say, the closer we look, the more questions we have. I've been doing mountain rescue for a while now, but this is a first!"

This continues this idea that Kuuga has of these creatures and their powers being beyond anything ever seen before both culturally and physically. Yusuke then comes running onto the scene saying that he won't be long, but is stopped by Ichijo who demands to know who he is. And when Ichijo asks what he's doing, he answers simply that there was a warning about death, referring to the translation. When asked if he works here, Yusuke just replies that he's just passing through.

A bit early for Decade, but go ahead.

He gives Ichijo a business card that identifies him as a "Professional Dream Chaser," and Ichijo tells another one of the officers to escort him to a police car. And then he distracts the police officers by pointing at the sky and saying "Hang on a sec! What is that?" Which distracts everyone but Ichijo, once more showing the competence of the Inspector, who manages to trip Yusuke as he tries to run for the ruins and threatens to arrest him for obstruction of justice, getting us another thumbs up when he tries to compliment the Inspector.

Yusuke Thumbs Up Counter: 2.

So yeah, Yusuke agrees to leave, but as he walks off a man runs out of the ruins with a familiar looking belt:

Yusuke gets more flashes of images, this time a blink and you'll miss it image of the original Kuuga. And yeah, no one really knows what it is, quite understandable really.

We then cut to the Nagano Prefectural Police Headquarters for the first of many trips to the police headquarters. Yusuke and Sakurako meet up outside the headquarters with Sakurako bringing what information she has on a laptop and other things along with a fax Yusuke sent with the question of what a symbol on the side of the belt might mean. However Ichiijo interrupts them and when they're introduced he says he was going to talk to them, and he has a video of what happened.

Everyone on the team is dead and Ichijo tries to comfort her by saying that they likely died quickly. They play a grainy video of the coffin crashing and the mysterious figure that raised those hands from the ground. The video itself is very rough, but given it was meant to be just a recording that was probably made with a video camera makes sense. We don't see everything, but we see enough as the creature attacks and kills the team, cutting between the video and images of the characters watching it in silence. There is no music playing here, no dialogue, just the audio from the video playing.

They have no idea what the creature that attacked the people was, but they noticed that it had thrown down the belt. Yeah, I lied before, that wasn't the original Kuuga in the coffin. But who it actually is, we'll see when we get there. Ichijo tells them that he needs them to study the belt which he sets down on the table in a case. However, the conversation is interrupted by an officer running in panicked, and while we don't hear what he says to Ichijo, whatever it is has disturbed the Inspector and he leaves in a hurry. We also learn what the symbol means, "Power."

We cut to Southern Nagano City where a giant Spider web has been formed by an unknown creature. That being, the first monster of the week a Gurongi, descends from the webs and grabs one of the officers. This is Zu-Gunum-Ba, or Unidentified Life Form #1, the Spider Gurongi.

Okay, so this is as good a time as any to talk about the monster designs. Honestly they're kind of mixed, there are much better designs later in the franchise. While the monsters have a very monstrous and inhuman look to them, as they do more or less resemble humans with animal traits, they sometimes look a little too human. There are better monster designs is what I'm saying, but where they fail in the design department, the Gurongi are arguably the most disturbing monster faction in the franchise's history. And when your competition includes monsters that are humans transformed after death and mythological based monsters that are created by driving humans to the point of despair. I will explain this when we get to it, but trust me, they're disturbing.

Anyway, the police rather intelligently fire bullets at the Gurongi to no effect, in fact it just absorbs the bullets and drops them out. The introduction of the Gurongi literally has one of them massacring the police. He even chokes one of them with his web and pulls himself into the fleeing police car in a rather cheesy looking scene, but is still rather disturbing.

Meanwhile back with Yusuke and Sakurako they're talking about what to do with the belt when the wild Police car comes crashing through the front door. The Gurongi steps out and sees the belt, recognizing it as belonging to Kuuga and it shines, giving Yusuke even more flashes of images of Kuuga. The Spider Gurongi continues to attack the police as he heads towards the belt before fighting more officers and Yusuke tells Sakurako to go hide and grabs the belt, placing it on his waist and its absorbed into his body offscreen.

The Gurongi drags Yusuke out onto the street and is kicking his butt, Yusuke saying that he's going to die if he doesn't do something. And now we get a rather unique transformation sequence for Kamen Rider:

Video belongs to Toei.

This is Kamen Rider Kuuga's Growing Form, the base form for Kamen Rider Kuuga. And yes, he did just transform by punching the monster, sadly this isn't used very often for some reason, which is kind of a shame because its awesome. The fight continues and Yusuke actually slams into the Gurongi with a van, but it survives and Kuuga is clearly still getting the hang of his new powers.

However as he's being strangled by webbing, Ichijo arrives on a helicopter and is surprised to see two odd creatures. He takes out a pistol and shoots at them, getting the Gurongi's attention as it climbs up into the helicopter with its webbing. Yusuke manages to jump up into the helicopter, somehow and pulls the two of them down, hanging onto the landing struts, forcing the Helicopter down towards the ground. While its a bit rough, the fight on the Helicopter is decent enough with many blows being exchanged and Ichijo being grabbed.

The fight finally ends with the Gurnogi being kicked into a building below through the ceiling. Ichijo asks if he just saved him, and we get a trademark thumbs up from Yusuke.

Yusuke Thumbs Up Counter: 3.

The episode ends with Ichijo asking who Yusuke is and Yusuke jumping out of the helicopter. Ichijo recognizes the thumbs up, and wonders if it was Yusuke.

Episode 2: Transformation

We open the second episode of Kuuga on shots of a church and an angel statue. Oh crap, it's a Weeping Angel, RUN! Okay jokes aside as we pan above the church a figure leaps onto the roof.

Oh crap, Batman has finally gone too far in his fight against Rock and Roll!

Anyway, the figure watches as an SUV pulls into a parking space in the parking lot and watches the woman inside stepping out with a creepy look. He says that she's next and swoops down, grabbing the woman as she's on the phone. And once more we cut to the theme song, which I already gave my thoughts on so no point in repeating them.

When the episode proper starts we go to a cafe in South Nagano where Sakurako is reading a news report about children going missing as well as cattle being attacked with their blood drained along with strange night sounds. Oh gee, I wonder where they're going with this, probably a mummy. But yeah, she's not sure what's going on as Yusuke wakes up from the seat across from her, apparently he's been asleep for the past 11 hours, probably in that seat, whatever works for you. Yusuke calls for a menu, and Sakurako says she hasn't been able to sleep after watching that video from last episode and the monster attack.

But even more she's concerned about what Yusuke and what happened to him.

"Are you seriously okay after what happened?"
"Well, I think I'm fine. I mean, I survived right?"
"Could you take this seriously? I was really worried you might end up a totally different person or something!"
"It feels kind of like I can change into that and fight if I need to. And when I don't need to fight anymore, I change back."

Anyway, Sakurako wants to get back to Tokyo in hopes that Yusuke is done fighting. Yusuke agrees, hoping he can just get back to his normal life soon and that he's not sure about how being Kuuga felt.

We cut to a scene where Ichijo is talking with an officer who is telling him about weird reports they've been getting ever since the ruins. Apparently the higher ups don't want to talk about it either, which makes one wonder what's going on. They head out in a squad car and Ichijo mentions that they were unable to identify the bodies of Unidentified Life Forms 01 or 02. This is the first mention of the Unidentified Life Forms, the term given to the Gurongi by the Police Force and that they probably think that making any sort of comment without more information would just cause a panic.

Okay, having watched through many, many Kamen Rider shows I actually find this kind of funny. Not the idea itself mind you, it actually makes some sense. What I find funny is that most of the time the Kamen Riders and even monsters are generally considered to be an Urban Legend and there are times when their existence is even hidden by officials for one reason or another. So this approach is actually kind of logical, so let's see how it goes from here.

Ichijo continues by saying that they will probably get further support in order to make up for it and mentions the TRCS 2000, we'll get to what that is later. They happen to go past the restaurant that Yusuke and Sakurako are eating at and gets Yusuke's attention, asking him straight up if he was the one who fought the Spider Gurongi. And well, Yusuke is oddly forthcoming as he outright says yeah it was him, with once more a thumbs up, this counter is gonna be interesting.

Yusuke Thumbs Up Counter: 4.

"Then you're really Unidentified Life Form Number 2."
"That's what they're really calling me?"

Yeah, it really doesn't have a ring to it, does it? A bit too technical, but that's the point really.

Anyway, Ichijo asks him how it happened and Yusuke just comments that it just kind of happened that way and mentions the visions and what happened. Yes, that totally doesn't make you sound crazy Yusuke. Ichijo reprimands him for being reckless, and Yusuke says that it felt like he had to do it and it felt right. Ichijo finds this a bit odd, pointing out that he could've become a monster too with Yusuke saying that he knew that wasn't going to happen.

*awkward pause* Yeah... that happens to a few Riders.

Ichijo is confused as to exactly how he knew that wasn't going to happen, and honestly I kinda have to agree with Ichijo here. If I got random visions and found a belt I would be a bit more suspicious of things than Yusuke is. When Yusuke asks what happened to the Spider Gurongi, Ichijo tells him that it doesn't involve him anymore. Which again makes sense to be fair, he's a police officer while Yusuke is a civilian and he doesn't want him to be involved in this. He then tells him to come with him to the station for an examination, but winds up just telling him to go see Shuichi Tsubaki, a medical examiner because they have to get going.

So Ichijo arrives at the scene of the attack from the episode's stinger. And, well, things are getting interesting when the Detective he's talking to tells Ichijo this:

So yeah, the Bat creature from the stinger is very Vampire-like, and the other wounds aren't that severe. There have been other attacks in the area and the Detective questions if maybe it was the same thing from last night, but their mouths were definitely not human-like. There was also apparently a drunk that was attacked by a monster who ran off when the sun rose. At this point Ichijo realizes that there's a third monster that is attacking people.

Yusuke goes up to the doors of the San Marco Church and finds them locked so he makes his way through an unlocked window. The Church is seemingly empty inside. However we get a shot of a man watching him through a cracked door who seems to be the Priest Father Jose. However the "Father" reacts badly to sunlight when he walks through a sunbeam, not turn to ash badly, but he recoils from it. You know, just a theory, but I think he might be the Bat creature. Yusuke leaves the room and the Priest comments that he smells disgusting, playing with an earring, only to vanish before Yusuke looks at him again. The scene ends with a pan to a dead body under the altar.

The scene changes to Sakurako talking on the phone about Yusuke sleeping all night (yes, because that's totally not normal) and then leaving her waiting for two hours. Apparently Makoto has also heard rumors of the "bear" attacks as they've been covering up the bat monster attacks. Makoto gives her an address and she asks Yusuke's help finding her a place to stay as they're holding a wake for the Professor who died at the ruin site. Yusuke agrees as there's something he's interested in too.

Back with Ichijo there has been a sighting of an Unidentified Life Form so he heads that way with Yusuke close behind. When the fight actually begins, well the police are getting their butts handed to them again with one of them being drained of blood. And that's where we get our first clear look at the monster:

Meet Unidentified Life Form #3, Zu-Gooma-Gu the Bat Gurongi. I should take a moment to explain how the Gurongi names work. The Gurongi are a tribe of humanoids and their names are based on their standing within the tribe, and the better they do in their game (I'll get to that later), the higher they can achieve in the tribe. And yes, he is a bat and acts like a vampire, though I find the teeth a bit odd for that as we only ever see two puncture marks, but moving on.

The officers fire at the Gurongi to no effect as Ichijo arrives on the scene with Yusuke who he tells to leave. Yusuke of course doesn't listen and runs forward, punching the Bat Gurongi until he transforms again. However this time it's less effective as the Gurongi just starts beating up Yusuke and knocking him down, forcing him to power down. The Gurongi heads for Yusuke and Ichijo tries to shoot him only to get knocked into some barrels and the earlier officer pulls up and shines the headlights in the bat's face and it flees.

We cut to the Police Hospital where Ichijo is leaving without an exam which he dismisses because he's not in any pain and he has a lot of work to do. Yusuke is trying to tell him that it was his fault, but Ichijo reminds him that he's still a civilian and shouldn't be involved in this and we get this bit of dialogue here:

"You can believe that this power you have is for fighting if you want. But you have no obligation to fight. Protecting the public is a job for the police. Don't get involved if you're not serious."

This further shows why Ichijo is one of the best characters in the show and speaks volumes about his character. He's very dedicated to his job as a Police Officer and wants to do what he can to protect innocent people that might get caught up in the fighting. He considers it his duty as an officer, and while he never becomes a Rider, he could be considered the standard for heroic officers in Kamen Rider. And yes, we do get Police Officer Riders later.

Yusuke gets another flash of the original Kuuga, in a red suit before he goes to meet with Sakurako at a hotel in Nagano. When she asks what took him so long he comments that he was thinking about the "red warrior," talking about the visions again. He thinks that he's supposed to be red and that it hasn't worked because he's been holding back too much.

We cut to the residence of the dead Professor where the wake is being held that evening and a girl there runs out crying, it turns out that she's the professor's daughter. Yusuke watches her cry, getting angry about what's going on with the monsters.

Meanwhile, Ichijo is approaching the drunk who was mentioned earlier as having been attacked by a monster at a Ramen Stand. However, the man tells him that when the Gurongi flew off it went through the window of the San Marco church. He follows this lead and we cut to an image of the fake priest hanging upside-down like a bat with Ichijo coming in holding a rifle as the bat creature takes on his true form in a rather grotesque transformation sequence and tries to attack Ichijo.

Ichijo makes his way around the church trying to find the monster with no luck until it... crashes through a stained glass window behind him? Okay, so that would mean it left the Church in order to get to that window, not sure why he'd do that honestly, but whatever. In the scuffle Ichijo gets thrown into some candles and lights the curtains on fire along with his coat. Now this might be a good time to mention that the Gurongi have their own language that they speak almost exclusively for part of the series, sometimes its translated, sometimes it isn't. Hopefully this version of the show has it translated.

Anyway, Yusuke arrives on his bike and falls over, sending it sliding into the flames and exploding in front of the monster. He puts out the flames on Ichijo, telling him that he's going to fight.

"I don't want to let these things make anyone else cry! I want people to smile!"

So now, it is time for the first proper Henshin of the series. Yusuke has made his decision.

This is Kuuga's Rising form, which is probably the most recognizable of the Kuuga forms as it's the form he usually goes into when he transforms, at least for now. The Bat Gurongi is shocked by this, demanding to know how he is Kuuga, giving him his name properly now. Yusuke fights him briefly and then carries Ichijo out of the burning Church right before he gets attacked by the Bat Gurongi who carries him up to the top of a building and crashes through a window.

The fight between Rider and Monster is brutal with blows being exchanged one after another. And remember the Spider Gurongi? Yeah, he's still alive and comes swinging in on a web to attack Yusuke. The two of them manage to hold him down before Ichijo appears and shoots at them, distracting them long enough before the Bat Gurongi gets repelled by sunlight. On the roof, Yusuke gets attacked by poorly CGIed webbing and is nearly killed before he gets the upper hand on the Gurongi, and, well... there's only one way this can end as a glowing symbol appears on his chest.

And yeah, the monster explodes but good. Unlike other shows Kuuga doesn't call out his attacks when he does a finisher, which is an interesting choice that's not really repeated often. Yusuke looks down at his foot which is smoking from the attack. We finish on a scene of Ichijo and Yusuke
together and... is that a hoodie that says 555 on it? Darn it, that's not for a few more years!

Final Thoughts:

So, what can I say about Kamen Rider Kuuga? It has its problems sure, not all of the production values are that great and the monster suits are kinda iffy at times. But its actually a good show, with its biggest failing being its pacing really. This was the beginning of the Heisei era of Kamen Rider where they shifted to two episode storylines and it really shows with some scenes being dragged out longer than necessary with padding.

Still, Kuuga is a good show an it's off to a good start with these two episodes. That being said we don't know a lot about the Gurongi yet other than that they are attacking people. As I said, they are probably the most disturbing monster faction in Kamen Rider as they are absolute monsters, and things just get worse from here.

If you want to watch Kuuga for yourself you can find it here.

Video belongs to Toei.

Comments ( 1 )

Good review. Honestly, you've pretty much summed up why I loved Kuuga so much. It's so different. It' so unique, there's really nothing else like it. Takes a lot of classic Kamen Rider tropes and makes them work in the real world, such as how powerful Riders really are as we really see. It makes you think, and constantly keeps you on your toes.

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