The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

A Reader’s Guide to Anime Analysis: Comparing Traits of Effectual and Ineffectual Analysis, and A Case Study in Glasslip

“You know me?”
“I do. You’re not the only one cursed with knowledge.”
“My only curse is you.”

―Tony Stark and Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

As of late, it would appear that controversies surrounding anime analysis have become commonplace, with leading criticisms suggesting that far too many have bought into these analysis and acting as proponents for them when there is little evidence to suggest that the analysis are in fact, meritorious of consideration. The end result is a large number of people supporting positions without being fully aware of what they support is in fact, incomplete, ill-argued and unprofessional. The realm of analysis is and should not be an enigmatic one conducted by a selected few. Literary analysis is a familiar and integral aspect of literature class – the aim is to understand the elements in a work and how they fit together to create a certain effect or impact. To this end, literary devices and symbols are studied to determine what the author’s intent was: for some well-known works, understanding a work and why the author has opted to use the elements in their text can offer insight into their society. For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was a commentary on the excesses of the Roaring Twenties and that the American Dream had costs attached to it through displays of wealth and Gatsby’s pursuit of the impossible. Similarly, the dangers of recklessly pursing scientific progress are outlined in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was composed on an outing with her and fellow authors. Discussions varied from the Enlightenment to reanimation, and Shelley, who believed that scientific progress could be beneficial, also felt that rampant progress could undo society. Themes of forbidden knowledge thus enter Frankenstein, and the dread of what unbridled technological advancement is explored in H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds, whose martian invaders possess technology far exceeding our own was a warning that society’s faith in our technology was folly. Each of these works are some examples of literature that provide instruction on society at a given point in time, although it is certainly the case that modern literature and fiction can also provide equal insights on things that are otherwise taken for granted. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion deal with issues relevant to contemporary society (e.g. racism, discrimination, environmental destruction) and speak of challenges facing our society. Analysing a work, then, can determine the messages an author has about humanity, and this is where the value of fiction comes from. By escaping into another world, readers can gain a new perspective, from that of an observer, and might be able to see problems they themselves face in a new manner.

The relevance of literary analysis within the realm of anime is a contentious one: broadly speaking, anime is less of a genre and more of a medium, and so, it is more appropriate to say that anime encompasses a range of genres, some of which are more conducive towards literary analysis than others. For example, the slice-of-life series that I am so fond of usually end up presenting different variations on a theme, indicating that there are many ways to live life, find happiness and fulfilment. More serious series speak of the dangers of power, social problems and the like. The diversity of genres in anime, coupled with the ability to freely express oneself in electronic media such as blogs and forums, results in individuals being able to convey how they interpret a series to others with unprecedented ease. That some series have more to analyse and discuss have not dissuaded viewers from finding noteworthy points to discuss in series with fewer symbols or complexity, and consequently, the internet has a near-limitless number of analyses on most anything. The challenge for a reader then becomes a matter of which analyses are useful, and which ones accomplish little. Choice of language and length are often-times misleading indicators of quality and value, and so, the aim of this discussion is to look through what makes an anime analysis one that holds its weight for me. To spare readers the tedium of going through the remainder of the post should time be something in short supply, there are three elements that determine whether or not an anime analysis posted somewhere, whether it be a forum, personal blog, YouTube channel or anime news website: clarity, completeness and execution. To explore each of these items, I will be doing a compare and contrast on two different analyses that were written for the infamous Glasslip. These reviews were deliberately chosen to provide juxtaposition: IBlessAll of Mage in a Barrel provides an insightful, precise and focused talk on transience through the different imagery, while Soulelle of My Anime List supplies a lacking review that struggles to suggest that the sum of the events of Glasslip boil down to a fear of loneliness. IBlessAll and Soulelle reach dramatically different conclusions about Glasslip, but of the two perspectives, Soulelle’s is not meritorious of either praise or serious consideration, whereas IBlessAll’s analysis succeeds in conveying a specific idea to the reader.

Clarity

Clarity refers to the focus of an analysis: what was the author trying to say within their passage? How well can they stick with that idea and relate all of the evidence brought up in their discussion to this idea? A clear analysis makes a very clear statement or claim, and then deals with the “so what” openly. In this case, the “so what” pertains to what a particular observation or claim does for a given work, whether it be to enhance the strength of its message or offer insight into nuances that further one’s enjoyment. This message persists through the analysis, tying everything together. A good analysis can wander, but there is a single message, and more importantly, the conclusion follows from the choice of evidence that the author chooses to use: everything seen in the anime is carefully selected so that it is relevant to the final message the writer intends to convey.

I say Glasslip is about impermanence and transience, not change, and I say so deliberately. Glasslip is far less about the changes that occur in the lives of it cast and far more about the fundamental condition that lies beneath them. Life passes us by—is always passing us by—and yet we are so often unaware of its slow and constant ebb. Even those of us who have apprehended its motions are rarely always conscious of this reality.

For Glasslip, the answer lies in trusting in the significance of the moments that come our way, while striving to never tie ourselves to them completely. Although our moments always replaced by the forward momentum of the next realization, the next change, the next step forward, or the next moment, they are not insignificant. They mean something. They represent the pivots on which our worlds and our experiences of them turn. Kakeru departs at the end of Glasslip, but his doing so does not negate the fact that he was there, nor does it erase the impact his presence—however brief—made.

IBlessAll’s entire analysis, though never mentioned by its name, is centred around the distinct notion of wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept that characterises beauty as something transient, flawed; specifically, that beauty is to embrace imperfection as a part of what gives something value. Nothing lasts forever, wabi-sabi posits, and that the fact that something is so fleeting is what gives it value. By IBlessAll’s account, the temporal nature of young love and snapshots in one’s life each have worth. This argument forms the remainder of the discussion, with IBlessAll drawing on the various events of Glasslip in order to demonstrate that transience is a major part of the show. While IBlessAll lapses into sentimentality over Tōko and Kakeru’s short time together, and favours a verbose, logorrheic style over brevity, everything presented is clearly tied to transience and the associated beauty. In this analysis, each short moment in Glasslip that others might have found inconsequential act to show the worth of the different, subtle stages in life. In the end, readers coming out of this review have no doubts as to what IBlessAll intended to say; the evidence IBlessAll logically motivates the conclusion, and readers gain the sense that Glasslip‘s portrayal of fleetingness could have been a deliberate choice. Life is chaotic, after all, and hardly as structured as we would like.

Because of their love, because of their fears, and because of their sensitive nature, Touko and Kakeru experience and share their emotions through imagination, otherwise known as “fragments of the future”. It has nothing to do with alternate worlds, fates, other dimensiona [sic], timelines, or other bullshit – it’s just their vivid imagination. They learn about each other and about each other’s feelings and emotions this way.

Soulelle’s discussion occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, being incoherent and unfocused. Opening with the supposition that the chickens in Glasslip are of utmost importance, the review leads readers to anticipate that the conclusion will be related to the chickens. Soulelle suggests that Kakeru’s desire is to put down roots somewhere, envious that even the chickens have a fixed home. Then, Tōko’s fear of being separated from her close friends leads her to fear that like a chicken, Kakeru will eventually leave her behind, too. That chickens are meant to be a metaphor for freedom is a tepid one at best: most chickens cannot fly to the same extent as other birds do owing to their physiology, but even allowing for this to be overlooked, the distinct concerns that Tōko and Kakeru each have do not overlap, and as such, do not give them any common ground. It is therefore illogical to reach the conclusion that the sum of the events in Glasslip were a consequence of a shared sense of imagination, when very little has been established to illustrate the similarities between the two in Soulelle’s claims. Moreover, the chickens have now vanished from the discussion. They end up being a red herring, misleading readers who are then left to wonder how Kakeru’s desire for routine and his decision to be with Tōko allows him to vividly see the same thing that Tōko sees, when her worries centre around losing those dear to her, and her doubts about whether or not Kakeru intends to stick around for the long term. Unlike IBlessAll, Soulelle’s conclusion cannot be rationally reached from the premises established, and so, it becomes very difficult to see the merit in the idea that loneliness is the driver for Glasslip‘s events.

  • Four and a half years have passed since Glasslip, but the anime remains etched in my mind as an example of what happens when a story meanders. If Glasslip intended to be successful, it would’ve needed to focus on how the glass beads and “fragments of the future” are related, rather than driving rifts amongst the characters. Had this been done, and Kakeru was in less of a mysterious and vague role, Glasslip could have been considerably more enjoyable.

  • Despite my praises for IBlessAll’s discussion, it may come as a surprise to readers that I personally do not agree with IBlessAll’s final conclusion about transience being the central theme of Glasslip. My rationale is that Glasslip had enough glass imagery to suggest that there were other themes at play, and while the fleetingness of a moment is a part of Glasslip, it is by no means the entire story.

  • I further add that wabi-sabi is a decidedly Japanese mindset – if viewers from Japan were not able to immediately spot this, it is clear that Glasslip did not do a satisfactory job of conveying transience to the viewers. In spite of the many shortcomings in Glasslip, the anime is not a washout. Aside from beautiful visuals, the lessons from Glasslip would go on to build a superior anime in The World in Colours, which was successful in integrating magic with a meaningful and engaging story of self-discovery.

  • If I were to grade IBlessAll’s analysis as I once did assignments during my time as a graduate student, I would score the resulting passage an A-. The basis for this score is that, while focusing purely on transience and not accounting for the imagery of glass, Glasslip is an inherently tricky anime to write for since the writers were not coherent. As such, for the results that were reached and how they were reached, I saw a thoughtful and logical flow to things. Even if I don’t agree with the result, I did think that this is how more analysis should be done; writers should always take the pain to explain themselves clearly and focus purely on their intended thesis statement.

  • In the end, it feels like Glasslip was an attempt to take on the elements that made Nagi no Asukara successful, create a more minimalist story and then add a supernatural factor with the aim of conveying how tricky love and the future is. The inclusion of supernatural elements in a love story usually acts as a metaphor for how some things are difficult enough so that even with assistance, in the form of magic, things can still be tricky.

Completeness

Completeness is another aspect important in an analysis – this refers to how much of a work the writer references in their discussion. An effective analysis draws upon examples and expand on their relevance in the context of the entire work. In order for a conclusion to be meaningful, events and evidence from the exposition to the conclusion should be considered, and then the most relevant of these are chosen to motivate an argument. In contrast, an ineffective analysis cherry-picks examples, using them to explain an argument without considering the examples’ place in a larger context. In the absence of a big-picture context, some examples might even end up contradicting the author’s conclusion. As such, one cannot ignore elements to suit their analysis, and this is why in general, analysis on anime is most useful for a reader when the author has seen a work in full: messages are still being developed, and ideas explored when a series is underway. Trying to analyse a series for its meaning when not all outcomes are known results in an incomplete picture that diminishes a conclusion. However, when a writer choose to deliberately omit details to fit a conclusion despite the full story being available, they commit what is formally known as a fallacy of incomplete evidence.

Nearly every episode of Glasslip returns to the image of a train on the tracks, coming and going…Yukinari Imi and Yanagi Takayama. From the very start of the show, Yana (the member of the initial group most inclined towards motion through her desire to become a model) has been riding the train daily to her various lessons—it is her river of time.

The town itself—seen frequently from an aeriel [sic] view at different times of day—is associated with the sickly Sachi Nagamiya and the boy who loves her, Hiro Shriosaki. Together, these two embody the spirit of the town: far less dynamic and drastic in its slow march through time, but no less incessant. It fits these two perfectly. While Sachi is too physically weak to ever effect momentous change (even her attempt to upset the love affair of her best friend fails due to her condition), Hiro is correspondingly glacial in his movements due to his insecurity. And yet, both of them inch forward. “For tomorrow” becomes the shared catchphrase of their eventual mutual affection, a emblem of their slow-moving, but never still relationship. There are no bursts of motion, there is only steady, constant change—like the gradual turning of the day.

Time flows, but its motion is not the same for all.

While Glasslip may have predominantly dealt with Tōko and Kakeru, it also introduced Sachi Nagamiya, Hiro Shirosaki, Yanagi Takayama and Yukinari Imi. Friends of Tōko’s, their worlds are rocked when Tōko dissolved the no-relationship clause, setting in motion the chain of events that impacted their friendship. Feelings come out and are hurt, new, more intimate friendships are born, and in it all, IBlessAll finds its relevance to transience and time. Visual elements act as metaphors for the passage of time, whether it be the discernible movement of trains standing in for the motion that Yanagi and Yukinari find themselves in, or the gradual but consistent pacing in the developing relationship between Sachi and Hiro. Although they might be vastly different, everything is related by time. IBlessAll discusses how transience impacts not just Tōko and Kakeru, but also extends it to her friends. The idea that time creates fleeting moments applies to everyone, and so, each character serves to portray a particular aspect of this fleetingness. By considering everything, IBlessAll’s analysis avoids the fallacy of incomplete evidence, and succinctly defines that time is an overarching theme within Glasslip.

And THIS is what this show is about. Everything that happens around them is just a romantic slice of life setting that drives this dramatic world. People meet, fall in love, some have their feelings unrequited, some have to fight for and win their love, etc. The actual drama is however between the two main characters – will they stay together or not, will Kakeru find his home with Touko or will he leave till [sic] better times, will Touko find the way to see the fireworks all together or not? These are the questions raised by the anime.

On the other hand, Soulelle discards Yukinari, Yanagi, Sachi and Hiro entirely, focusing solely on Tōko and Kakeru. There is a reason for their presence in the show, otherwise, Glasslip would have only Tōko and Kakeru present if their story was indeed the only contributor to the narrative. To callously discard their contributions in Glasslip means that Soulelle’s discussion is incomplete, and one suspects that this was also deliberate. Yukinari and Yanagi do not experience the same conflicts as Tōko and Kakeru, nor do Sachi and Hiro; Yukinari and Yanagi both deal with unrequited love, while Sachi and Hiro cautiously and gently begin exploring the extent of their feelings for one another. Neither are directly relevant to notions of home, departure or loneliness that Soulelle posits as being Glasslip‘s main theme; were Yukinari, Yanagi, Sachi and Hiro mentioned in Soulelle’s passage, the inadequacies would immediately be apparent: even if we accepted that loneliness creates a vivid sense of imagination in Tōko and Kakeru, it is not possible to apply this for everyone else. Soulelle’s argument and conclusion fails on the virtue of selective attention, and therefore, cannot be said to say anything meaningful for a reader.

  • By comparison, Soulelle’s analysis would be an D – utterly failing in making a point and defending it, it also insults the reader and is only saved by suggesting that Kakeru’s refusal to live outside of a tent hints at his fear of settling down and losing people again. It came as quite a surprise to me that Soulelle’s analysis can be considered as “inspired” or deserving of a +109 score on Reddit. As it turns out, Soulelle had one important advantage over other interpretations: this analysis was the first detailed one written, and readers flocked to it on the virtue that no one else had yet provided their thoughts on what Glasslip was about. Presently, I have not seen Soulelle attempt to analyse The World in Colours the same way as Glasslip, suggesting to me that The World in Colours is much more straightforwards to understand (and therefore, below Soulell’s level).

  • I have heard that Soulelle has not returned to defend or rationalise the analysis that was provided: this post-and-fade behaviour is reminiscent of one Dani Cavallaro, who is known for publishing volume after volume of dense, unoriginal and oftentimes, error-filled analyses on anime, but otherwise refuses to be contacted or communicated with. I’ve previously written two rebuttals to Soulelle’s arguments myself, but received no response, either.

  • I personally would find it quite interesting if I did hear from Soulelle; gaining some insight into the reasons behind the rudeness would help me understand how some folks reach their conclusions and why they structure things the way that they do even when their chosen method does not conform with best practises. With the amount of time that has elapsed, however, I’d say this is going to be quite unlikely: Soulelle’s modus operandi seems to be dropping patronising analyses and never sticking around to explain them further.

  • Being first past the post has a huge potential to shape prevailing opinions for better or worse: even in academia, the first research group or author to publish a result will get the credit for a discovery, and the first cohort to make an innovation will be consigned to history as the discoverers of something new, even if other similar research and developments were occurring concurrently. In retrospect, because Soulelle had the only effort on explaining Glasslip, the community immediately would have been impressed by this review despite its numerous and severe flaws.

  • IBlessAll’s analysis did not come out until a year later, and while counted as a solid talk, never did quite have the same impact on providing folks with an alternative perspective on Glasslip as did Soulelle’s talk. The consequences of being first manifest here, and this is something that plagues those who write about anime time and time again: it is frustrating to see well-rationalised arguments from lesser-known individuals be discarded in favour of illegible babble from “authorities” simply because the latter was able to push their opinions out first.

Execution

A technically excellent analysis with solid arguments, a logical conclusion that takes into account the big picture can still be unconvincing to readers if it is syntactically poor, filled with spelling mistakes, or presupposes the reader’s disposition. Analyses with spelling or grammatical errors show that the author does not have the care to polish their work and therefore, lacks conviction in their own conclusions. However, these are not as severe as making assumptions about the reader – if one supposes that the reader can follow their thought process, then gaps are left behind in their analysis, and it may not be clear as to how a conclusion might follow from a series of arguments. Worse yet, if one openly states that the reader is lacking something fundamental, and that the conclusion of their analysis should be obvious, they have essentially insulted their readers. A good analysis assumes nothing, explains everything in full detail, walking people through every step of the thought process, and never criticises the readers for supposedly missing something “obvious”.

My goodness, people, I don’t understand what is so complicated about this show that everyone has troubles [sic] comprehending. Everything’s very, VERY simple.

IBlessAll’s analysis is professional and thorough: it is detailed and takes the effort to explain everything in sufficient depth so that readers are always able to follow where the argument is headed next. There are few spelling mistakes, and the post is well-formatted. Evidently, IBlessAll has put in an effort, telling readers that they have conviction in their arguments, and that things are worth considering. However, Soulelle comes across as rude to readers: opening the analysis with the claim that everything is simple and implying that everyone is missing something basic, readers are greeted with hostility. Soulelle immediate sets the tone that their position is not up for discussion, that readers must listen to them, and those who disagree with what follows are not lacing in some way. This approach is not only immature, but also conveys that the author has no faith in the strength of their arguments. Rather than counting on a logical, well-justified series of arguments leading to a conclusion and that which invite discussion, Soulelle conveys exasperation, asking if people understand why things are the way they are. The passage places the burden of proof onto the reader by asking them to do their own research, dismisses other perspectives with a casual “believe it or not [my perspective is the right one]” and reduces Glasslip‘s meaning to a question the readers must answer for themselves because the answer is “obvious”. By mocking readers and their abilities, implying that other perspectives are wrong and generally coming across as confrontational, weaknesses in Soulelle’s analysis are immediately apparent.

  • Of late, controversies at Anime News Network have arisen because their authors have published perspectives on shows such as The Rising of the Shield Hero that are quite politically-charged, intended to evoke outrage, and moreover, have taken to labelling anyone who opposed their perspectives. These early posts have the potential to influence opinions on an anime and even dissuade viewers from continuing on with a series. The impact of being first is not to be understated, and Anime News Network’s writers appear to understand this; readers may view them as an authority on anime and therefore hold that their opinions have more weight than is warranted, which in turn means that Anime News Network could use their influence to discourage people from watching otherwise excellent series or films.

  • Anime films are particularly vulnerable to this: one of their writers states that “this is the reason why there’s no issue with me reviewing films” – because of the long delay in when a movie is screened in Japan and when its home release comes out, Anime News Network’s writers can monopolise a perspective on movies. The end result is that any movie not consistent with their tastes will be given a negative review, and then readers will enter the film with these preconceptions, diminishing their experience and creating a positive feedback loop where the film will be less enjoyable.

  • This phenomenon has already occurred with Gundam: Narrative and Non Non Biyori Vacation; until these movies come out on BD, I will not be able to refute claims made in their reviews, and by then, my discussions are likely to be ignored because the community already has established their opinions based entirely on earlier perspectives. This is an occupational hazard of being a casual blogger, but for me, I write for reasons beyond trying to enforce an opinion on entertainment: this blog exists for me to simply record my thoughts and share them with interested individuals.

  • As such, while I get that it is infuriating to be ignored or to have the impression that one’s thoughts are being ignored, the true joy of writing is to write for oneself and for those readers who have come to enjoy the blogger’s contents. This post is predominantly for the reader looking to see if a writer is worth listening to, and from a writer’s perspective, one should always strive to be honest, genuine and polite in their writings, doing everything possible to help a reader find reason to enjoy one’s works.

  • I expect my readers to be constantly exercising their own judgement when reading my posts; everything I’ve said here also applies to my writing, as well. If I am making assumptions about the reader, failing to be complete or have not said anything meaningful in a post, then that was not a good post, and the reader should not take it to have weight. Similarly, readers who find a post clear, comprehensive and fun to read are free to draw more from it.

Altogether, the two different analyses that I’ve used as examples here illustrate the vast disparity between what makes an effective analysis, as well as what relegates an analysis to being unfit for consideration. A good analysis is clear, focused, covers all relevant points and thoroughly explains things for readers while maintaining a professional tone. Simply, any analysis (or presentation of an opinion in general) that does not do an adequate job with these elements usually is lacking; whether it be an incoherent argument or lack of evidence, weak analyses will instead aim to obfuscate, obscure and insult in an attempt to cover up its short-comings. This is how I determine whether or not a position merits consideration. While I’ve picked two older analyses as motivating examples, the same rubric can be applied to determine if reviews and analysis, even those from Anime News Network, deserve to be counted as being useful. Similarly, some of the more well-known YouTube channels (especially those claiming to have “analysis”) are not exempt from this criteria: if a YouTube persona cannot say anything useful as to enhance the viewer’s experience, or be civil with their viewers, then their thoughts have no weight. Having a clear set of criteria for whether or not something holds weight translates to deciding whether or not a controversy really is thus, or if it is merely being blown out of proportions. The reality is that there are numerous pieces out there worth reading or watching, but there are an equal number of pieces where the author might not have the conviction to stand by their perspectives. This shows in their writing, and regardless of whatever their reasons for putting out such a talk might be, I appreciate that the readers’ time is valuable; knowing when to dismiss an opinion (and its proponents) is often preferable to confronting those who aren’t looking for anything logical. Such individuals cannot be reasoned or negotiated with, and truthfully, life’s too short to be spent dealing with these folks: I would rather my readers pursue the things that bring them happiness and positivity with the time that they do have, and leaving this post, I hope that my readers find this useful as one of many different means of assessing whether or not something holds value, to the extent where one should spend their time giving it consideration.

2 responses to “A Reader’s Guide to Anime Analysis: Comparing Traits of Effectual and Ineffectual Analysis, and A Case Study in Glasslip

  1. Jusuchin (Military Otaku) January 17, 2019 at 09:57

    Interesting. See, I grew up to Professor Reynolds and his Instapundit and his form of ‘news aggregation’ that sought to pull in news from many different sources. I mention it because getting multiple viewpoints lets one sift through and find the gems. It’s why I follow you and many others.

    I’ve long held the belief that ANN should just be a resources for the details of a show. When it’s airing, who is in it, what studio is making it, because lately their articles are starting to sound like the gatekeeping activities of old.

    Like

    • infinitezenith January 17, 2019 at 10:36

      For me, news is strictly the facts of what happened, and who was involved, as well as how it happened if that is known or can be reasonably worked out. ANN does its job with those pieces. I generally do not have issues with opinion pieces, but I do take exception to people blindly agreeing with something because the person holding that opinion has authority. This is especially worrisome if the opinion is about gatekeeping (one of their writers precisely chooses to cover anime movies knowing no one else can offer other viewpoints, allowing theirs to be the prevailing one for months at a time), or virtue signalling.

      It is not in my capacity or interest to stop places like ANN from gatekeeping or virtue signalling: the goal of this post was to identify how I separate useful opinion from content that holds no value. ANN’s recent virtue signalling pieces tend to meander or spin their wheels, failing the coherence test, come at the start of a season (so they don’t taken into account the whole picture) and implicitly label people for disagreeing (failing the last test). Knowing this, my goal with this is to help readers decide whether or not a given opinion, authority notwithstanding, should be something they take seriously and consequently spend time on. Time is valuable, and I’d hope people choose not to spend their time on opinions whose holders did not put effort into making!

      Like

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