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Ulquiorra's Past Essay (Bleach: UNMASKED 3)


Bear with me, this is extremely long ^^;



Now, some of you may be aware of the publication of the next Bleach: UNMASKED character book, the third one to date, which includes a section on Ulquiorra's past prior to becoming an Espada.

If not, here's a link to all the scans as well as the translation of the Japanese text: http://bleachness.livejournal.com/646106.html


From this, we can see how his character as an Espada formed.

*

First off:

THE TITLE: 'NOT BE, BUT BE,'

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic1.jpg

I admit, I looked at it and thought: 'WTF?' But as we well know, Kubo always crams his titles full of intriguing possible explanations as to their meanings. This one, therefore, is no different.

Then some kind of insane inspiration hit me, as it often did. The familiarity of the title, as if I'd heard those words uttered in some other form somewhere else...

Oh my God. Of course.

Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet', in which a certain famous speech is performed:

'TO BE, OR NOT TO BE?'

Translation: 'To live, or not to live?'

Even after you die you still might dream. And who knows what you'll dream?

If it wasn't for that fear who would bear all the evils and humiliations of life?
The injustices and oppression? The gloating of the powerful?
The pain of loving someone who could care less?
The lack of integrity? The abuses of the government?
The rejections we all face?

Why would we put up with all of this when we could just end our lives so easily? Why burden ourselves by continuing to live?

That is indeed the question Ulquiorra explores in his epic inner monologue during these few pages.

The first tale-tale sign of Ulquiorra's conflict with life as a Hollow can be seen on this page:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic2.jpg

The fact that on the next page we are greeted with Ulquiorra's eye, and then him staring upwards, means that the above page is from his point of view.

The sky and the crescent moon are viewed as an upside-down cross. This is the form of torture through which St. Peter is said to have suffered and died through, thereby named the 'Cross of St. Peter'. St. Peter felt unworthy of enduring the same manner of crucifixion as Christ, and was crucified upside down—thus the inverted cross symbol. It is a symbol of humility and unworthiness in comparison to Christ.

However, since we cannot be certain whether this religious symbolism links to Ulquiorra in some way, since we do not know anything about his time as a human. It is therefore safe to say that this inverted cross, the symbol of torture and suffering, being seen as the sky Ulquiorra is staring up at, shows his view of Hueco Mundo and his Hollow self.

Nothing but suffering. Unworthy of redemption, perhaps, as Nnoitra so states in his own flashback. Unworthy of the redemption Christ would offer, of the redemption offered to humans and Pluses.

(Note: An inverted cross has also become the symbol of the Anti-Christ, perhaps the reason for his demonic appearance in his second release.)

In this page he inwardly asks: 'What is there, over there?'

He looks at the meaningless Hollow sky and asks what it is he is looking at. Trying to find a meaning to his empty existence, I think.

Here he comes to a painful realisation as he lays amongst thorns, mask broken, in a position very much like that of one being crucified:

'There is nothing.':

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic3.jpg

He realises that life, as it is, is meaningless, as is the world he now inhabits. Even whilst in the state of nothingness he thought was happiness. It brings to mind the words of a Japanese artist who said of a desert he visited for reference: 'Running through the barren wasteland, I was not reminded of death, but of life. I was overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive, breathing and living in the midst of inanimate surroundings.' I think Ulquiorra discovered this too, but with dread and despair.


Then, the effects given to the first panel of the next page indicates lapsing into thought or memories:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic4.jpg

This indicates that the previous panel is either taken from the present time, Ulquiorra now suffering torture after death, or sometime prior to his being found by Aizen.

Anyway, Ulquiorra thus begins to reminisce on his past as a Vasto Lordes class Hollow. He is clearly Vasto Lordes. He's human-shaped. And clearly immensely powerful—more expansion on why I think so later.

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic4.jpg

He begins by saying: 'I was born in a pit where no light shone.'

A pit. Darkness. No light, no salvation, no hope. Sounds like the epitome of despair. He looks tiny under the sheer mass of darkness threatening to entomb him. Yet he looks very human, as Nnoitra does in the chapter page of 'Pray for the Mantis', (Nnoitra being the Hollow whose very aspect of death is 'Despair'):

http://images.wikia.com/bleach/en/images/9/96/C309_cover_Nnotoria%27s_release.jpg

Alone, helpless, human and overcome with despair, thus Ulquiorra's hunched posture.

Nnoitra may embody despair physically, as I will expand on in my future essays regarding him, but Ulquiorra embodies it spiritually in all its emotional toils and hardship.

Ulquiorra then goes on to say: 'I had a white form. My comrades were all in pure black.'

Now why is Ulquiorra different? White—the color of purity. It seems Ulquiorra holds some semblance of it, even as a Hollow. The others look like demons. Ulquiorra is merely a fallen angel, his wings (strangely sprouting from the middle of his back) a demons', but his form, as we see in the next page, is anything but demonic and beast-like. He is clearly a human-like Hollow, as Nnoitra clearly was.

These other Hollows, in their demonic forms, are the beasts that Ulquiorra certainly is not:

'In those black forms, with their eyes shining and teeth baring, they were certainly eating something.
And then...'

The pause after the 'and then', indicates hesitation in remembering the scene to come. Clearly Ulquiorra disliked what happened and wished to avoid it, for the following reasons.

Now, I have read and heard some people saying that Ulquiorra likely was always a loner in personality, and thus was likely never in packs as a Hollow, as Grimmjow was when he was an Aduchas class Hollow.

While Ulquiorra is indeed alone during this flashback, I believe it is that way not because of Ulquiorra's personality, per se, but the effects of the beings surrounding him.

I say this because:

--Ulquiorra himself referred to those other Hollows surrounding him as 'comrades'. Not 'other Hollows', not 'trash' or 'weaklings'. Comrades. A word that implies a certain closeness, a bond between kindred. Ulquiorra clearly wished to view these other Hollows as such and to connect with them, as

--In the next page: http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shikako/bleach/unmaskedcomic5.jpg

We see Ulquiorra merely staring curiously, intently, at these other Hollows. They're not wary, disdainful, or cold eyes. He genuinely wishes to know more about them.

Plus, he doesn't immediately fly off somewhere to be alone, as any loner would, but keeps on staring at them. If they wouldn't have taken a dislike for him (I believe his pure white coloring sparked this off) and attempted to eat him, I believe Ulquiorra would not have minded joining them.

Being someone with communication difficulties, as it can be assumed Ulquiorra couldn't speak as a Hollow (not having a mouth), and otherwise being somewhat shy of others, he would not have asked this of them. Instead, I think he would have approached them by way of asking. If they agreed, as Grimmjow's companions did, I sincerely believe he would have joined them.

My reason for this is:

Look at his eye in the last panel:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shikako/bleach/unmaskedcomic5.jpg

It's disappointed, almost forlorn. He would have avoided resorting to killing his supposed comrades if he could. However, he had no choice.

The statement Ulquiorra makes on this page: 'There was nothing to me, except my eyes.', indicates that the meaning that he attempted to find with these other Hollows, a sense of comradeship, companionship, is lost. What his eyes now perceive is the nothingness, the meaninglessness, which defines all normal Hollows.

What his eyes perceive is the truth—as no hidden emotion governs such mindless creatures. Only primal beast instinct. Thus, Ulquiorra gained his materialistic outlook that thereby made it impossible to understand either emotions or the heart, as the two are intertwined as invisible concepts completely alien to one who has been forced to perceive only the physical realism of Hueco Mundo and the beasts that live within it.

Thus, in the next page, we see that Ulquiorra was forced to kill, but the lack of copious amounts of blood and mouth to be bloodied indicates he did not eat them.

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic6.jpg

This can be seen to prove his status as a Vasto Lordes class Hollow, other than his humanoid appearance. Harribel, a stated Vasto Lordes, killed the Hollow attacking an Aduchas Apacii in her flashback, but stated not feeling the need to eat him, as any other Hollow would. Ulquiorra does the same. And the fact that he continues to be alone shows that he has either given up on finding a companion in such a hostile world, or that, like Starrk, he was simply too powerful for the majority of Hollows to be around.

On this page, Ulquiorra inwardly states:

'I felt nothing
No, rather
It was possible that what I felt was "void", yet
I could hear nothing,
I could bite nothing
I could smell nothing
I could feel nothing as I touch
I could not rest
I had no companion.

Just walking, alone, seeming to be searching for something, for the chance to be able to do and have all those things above--this must be the case, why else would he lament lacking the ability to perform/have them?

This is the epitome of nothingness. Of nihilism, of despair. He is living a nightmare of wandering forever without having lived at all, a walking dead. The fact that he states that he had no companion implies that, as I have said, he would have wanted at least a partner to share his existence with, so as not to feel such misery and despair. He therefore seems to answer the question 'to be or not to be' with 'not to be'.

Then he muses the lesson he had learnt from his confrontation with the other Hollows:

'The things reflected in my eyes have no meaning
The things that could not be reflected in my eyes, do not exist.'

Everything, his own existence, the Hollow world, is just a wasteland of emptiness and nothingness. Hollow indeed. Empty. The 'void' Ulquiorra himself feels. The Hollow world is equally a place devoid of emotion and human sentiments, so anything Ulquiorra perceived, as I have said, was the terrible reality, and truth. Thus anything but this brutal realism is utterly alien to him, as shown by his interactions with Orihime.

He himself states to Ichigo that, since becoming a Hollow, his only contact with others has been through battle. Not surprising, considering his status as both a Hollow and a loyal Espada under Aizen, and now his past.

He has succeeded in becoming the void, perceiving the world in its nihilism and physical contact. Emotions are therefore lost on him, and, as I have mentioned in my essay concerning his and other Espada's location of their Hollow hole, tries desperately to regain the knowledge—in vain, until his apparent death. I say 'apparent' for a specific reason, one which I will expand on in the conclusion to this essay.


'Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
Walking
When I had arrived at that thought
I have found something extraordinary,'

Suddenly, Ulquiorra comes across a strange, huge glowing quartz bush, breaking his eternal act of 'walking', searching, as he stops before it and stares in wonder, thinking, for the first time. Prior to this he had been caught in the continuous journey to nowhere, mindlessly. Now he thinks in awe at the sight before him:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic7.jpg


Ulquiorra also implies that this is where light sources such as this are formed:

'It was, somewhat, the place of birth for those strange, translucent objects that dotted this world.'


The quartz stone itself tells us a lot about what Ulquiorra physically gained, and also the spiritual aspects he wanted to gain but didn't, in the process of 'merging' himself with the enormous quartz bush.

Quartz:
Clear/Crystal

Amplifies energies and thought patterns, quartz assists one in increasing the force of thought for sending and receiving energy, information or vibrations. It is the only stone of the mineral kingdom that can be programmed to carry a vibration other than that which it was naturally given.

Physical: Strong positive influence on the digestive system and the body's ability to heal itself (Ulquiorra's ability of regeneration, anyone?). Has been used successfully to treat vertigo.

Emotional: Opens and activates the pituitary chakra (throat) [linking to the original placement of Ulquiorra's Hollow hole] and assists one in being better able to experience visions.

Thus Ulquiorra is enthralled by this chaste void, gazing at it as if bestowed a glimpse of paradise, this haven of blissful nothingness equivalent to the release he sought for his meaningless wandering, in his materialistic view 'nihilism', which denies existence of a heaven or salvation—at least, as far as Hollows are concerned.

'It was the first time my eyes have been captured.

With no color,
With no sound,
With no scent,
Does not interact with anything,
It only exists there.

It was the closest existence to "void" that I had ever laid eyes on.'

To him, it is an escape from the dark despair of wandering and never living. He would rather choose 'not to be', to co-exist with the void, than suffer such a meaningless life.

Quartz is also the gemstone specifically linked symbolically with one of the seven major energy centres of the body--the 4th Heart chakra:

Anahata Chakra: Healing and Compassion
Location: Center of the chest
Color: Green (secondary color is pink)
Element: Air [Ulquiorra's speed, anyone?]
Functions: Anchors the life force from the higher self. Energizes the blood and physical body with the life force (breath) and regulates blood circulation.
Qualities & Lessons: Divine, unconditional love. Forgiveness, compassion, understanding, balance, group consciousness, oneness with life. Acceptance, peace, openness, harmony and contentment.
Gems/minerals: Emerald, green and pink tourmaline, malachite, green jade, green aventurine, chrysoprase, kunzite, rose quartz, ruby.


Ulqiorra then enters the thorn-bush, inadvertently breaking off his Hollow mask in the process, and assumably gaining his powers, including regeneration:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic8.jpg

Thus he ends up in the state he is in at the prior to the flashback, lying amidst the thorn bush, seemingly at peace with finally finding an escape to life's suffering in something equal to death, and only now he feels truly at peace—content.

'I sank my body into that great "void"

There was nothing there,
Even I had lost my line of vision, and dissolved into the void,
And felt as if everything had disappeared.

Happiness.'

But, as we see from the first page, Ulquiorra does not seem happy in the least, or exhalted. His gaze is blurred and unfocused, his expression blank and staring, and it appears that although he lost his line of vision, instead he gained the vision of happiness, not its true essance, as the quartz stone and his own statement implies. He is left lying there, mesmerised by this mirage, still unable to find meaning in what he sees. But he has to be content with what he has--there is no other option except despair of resuming his search, his aimless wandering in search of meaning, of true happiness, the heart.


The flashback is interrupted by Orihime, who awakens an apparently sleeping Ulquiorra, interestingly calling him 'Ulquiorra-kun':

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic9.jpg

This indicates a certain familiarity with him that was shown in the manga, where upon the opening of her door Orihime began to call his name, but found it to be Loli and Menoli. He is technically the closest of the Espada to her at this point, and due to her expressing her usual bubbling personality for a moment there, it is unsurprising that she calls him such. She can do that because he won't hurt/kill her for doing so, like other Espada might/would.

Ulquiorra holds a certain stunned look as Orihime continues to talk about being relieved Ulquiorra could sleep, citing a certain care for his well-being. His face almost seems to say: 'Ulquiorra-kun? When was the last time someone called me that...' Maybe he remembers when he was human. Maybe it stirs the old yearning within him for a companion as he wandered in eternal search in Hueco Mundo, an equal. Without confirmation, we can't be completely certain.

It is an expression almost identical to the one where he learns that Grimmjow took Orihime away:

http://www.bleachanime.org/manga/Bleach-Chapter-277/bleach-ch277-12.png.php

Compare the two expressions:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic9.jpg

http://www.bleachanime.org/manga/Bleach-Chapter-277/bleach-ch277-12.png.php

Identical. Although they are in different situations, they both involve something related to Orihime. In the Unmasked flashback, however, it indicates that Orihime treating him like a human both intrigues and shocks him, or makes him remember something from his past.

But he's not angry, as he is with Ichigo when the Shinigami basically states outright that he acts more human. He merely corrects her, saying '...It's Ulquiorra.'

An interesting pause. Like he was considering acceptance of what Orihime had called him, or was so deep in memories that he almost forgot who he was—a Hollow, the embodiment of emptiness, as he had so discovered long ago, and becoming 'one' with the 'void' of nothingness. He is not human, although the pause indicates he is either tempted to be considered one, by Orihime at least, or baffled by the notion. But his past experiences and nihilistic outlook keep him from doing so.

Thus, he rejects her attempt at connection and humanising him:

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic10.jpg

'Don't refer to me as you would a human, I said. Call me 'Ulquiorra'. When you call me, call me only that.'

However, he does allow Orihime to call him by his name, and his name only. Not 'Ulquiorra-sama,' as his subordinates would do (she is technically one of the Espada, but ranked below him as their captive), but his name. In Japanese culture, calling another by one's name is the height of closeness, a chance to view said other on equal terms. Clearly he sees her as he would a comrade, thus allowing himself a connection with her, but not on human terms.

His back his to her, indicating a sense of detachment, his posture hunched, giving a sense of vulnerability previously unseen in the Fourth Espada. Ulquiorra cannot breach the gap between them because, as I have said, he does not see himself as human because he has become an empty shell, in his eyes, and so has his world. It could be that to be considered such would bring him the pain of being as emotionally vulnerable as one, thus his posture. Perhaps he calls humans 'trash', as he does in his debut, in order to highlight this notion of meaninglessness, or perhaps out of envy for their ability to do what he cannot: connect each others' hearts.

Remember, Ulquiorra has been forced to learn that the only contact he can have as a Hollow is through battle and fear. So far, only Orihime has neither feared him, nor hated him to the point of attacking him (the one slap doesn't count, she just wanted him to stop talking).

This draws him to her, and many times in the manga he attempts to test the limits of this fearlessness brought about by the connection of hearts.

Orihime looks at him sadly, as if realising that Ulquiorra is trying to distance himself from her, or seeing the true vulnerability that her words bring out from him, that her humanity is cracking his Hollow identity, so to speak, leaving him with no clear idea of who he truly is and what he feels in regards to the human heart, and happiness. We can assume she understood him more than we realised.

Ulquiorra goes on to muse:

'If such a thing called happiness exists in this world, it should be something which resembles the limitless nothingness.
Nihility is having nothing, and having nothing to lose.
If that isn't "happiness", then what is?'

Ulquiorra sums up his outlook of life as a Hollow, and his own ideal life that escapes the meaningless suffering of his past and present. I say 'present', because the above last sentence indicates that something makes him doubt his own reasoning, making him consider that perhaps there is another source of happiness besides nihility, the kind he was not able to grasp when he merged with the void.

Orihime, I think, is the culprit, with her devout belief of the heart that Ulquiorra had convinced himself is meaningless in his materialistic outlook and entire life of purely physical, brutal contact that defines the world he lives in. I believe it tormented him, shown by his infamous line: 'Crack your skull/rip open your chest/ to find the heart' speech. It cites his sheer desperation, which practically screams out in the harsh wording.

If there is any other happiness aside from nihilism, then Ulquiorra seems extremely tempted to discover what it is. If he was satisfied with his reasoning, he would simply ignore everything Orihime told him and not constantly question her and test her as he did. Clearly her words bring out his old curiosity, his drive to find the true meaning of the heart/happiness that he had lost.

Yet again, as he would do countlessly during the Hueco Mundo arc, Ulquiorra corrects himself by reasserting his nihilistic view of the world, gathered from his past as a Vasto Lordes in Hueco Mundo and overall time as an Espada, most probably a defence mechanism against the pain he suffered, perhaps remembering his rejection at the hands of his Hollow 'comrades':

'The things reflected in my eyes have no meaning
The things that could not be reflected in my eyes, do not exist.

Pure physical contact, born from hatred or fear, has forged a mindset of pure materialism in Ulquiorra, thus the two individual black and white panels, and it takes a woman forged from pure emotion and heart to reverse this at the apparent end.

On the last page, Ulquiorra muses, with his eyes intense and Hollow-like, in comparison to the almost human ones during his time as a newborn Vasto Lordes:

'There is nothing

In you

And in me.'

http://i270.photobucket.com/albums/jj102/shika-ko/bleach/unmaskedcomic11.jpg


The small white dot in the middle of the pure black page, in my opinion, indicates a glimmer of hope, the yin within the yang—the hope offered by Orihime to the despairing black world of Ulquiorra. Thus, as the kanji are separated by the dot, the 'In you' being above 'And in me', so are they connected.

As a very insightful person pointed out, to Ulquiorra, nothingness=happiness. Thus, he may be acknowledging that, through his connection with Orihime, and her connection to him, both of them can find what they are searching for, happiness. He may be able, through her, to glimpse the light through the despairing darkness of nothingness Ulquiorra believes is happiness, and find the 'heart'.

I believe he does so seconds before his body turns to ash in his so far final scene in the manga, physically and emotionally connecting one final time, and leaving Ulquiorra with the solace of having finally found meaning in his existence.

Thus ends the flashback of Ulquiorra's past, giving us many interesting implications about how his personality formed as a Hollow, and how his relationship with Orihime changed this.

I believe that this is Kubo indicating that Ulquiorra may still be alive. Why show the flashback now, after his presumed death, with him as the narrator? It is consisting entirely of past memories, indicating that Ulquiorra may be somewhere reminiscing all that has past prior to his death.

You could say that it is because his flashback is shown after that proves he is dead—but who said that flashbacks confirmed whether or not a character dies? So far none of the Espada, or any other Bleach characters to my knowledge, have had a flashback either before or after they are visually confirmed to die immediately afterwards or prior to it.

Therefore, by Kubo reintroducing Ulquiorra through his past and almost doujinshi style conversation/inner musing with Orihime, shows that he has more things in store for Ulquiorra. Questions need to be answered. Unfinished business needs attending.

Ulquiorra himself is the epitome of unfinished business—he himself believed his battle with Ichigo to be unfinished, and had only just began to grasp the heart's meaning. Kubo has never had any character so far learn a life lesson and not survive to act upon it. Therefore, I believe Ulquiorra will return to finish off where he left things.


Thanks for reading the longest essay I have ever written concerning Bleach!

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
xxboo_radleyxx
Aug. 16th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC)
Omg your essay is... wow.
I love it and I appreciate all the little connections you made. I felt the same way when I remembered that famous line from Hamlet and the title. XD

So wow, awesome essay. So concise and well written for one of the best and most complex character that ever existed in literature.
icefrosty
Aug. 16th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you so much! Ulquiorra is indeed the most complex and thoroughly engaging character I have ever come across.
strawberries_85
Aug. 17th, 2011 01:53 am (UTC)
Hi there. :)

I haven't read the whole essay yet, but I just wanted to ask if it is ok with you to link it at the Ulquiorra fan club on Bleach Asylum and put it in our front page of featured fanworks? :)
icefrosty
Aug. 17th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
Hi! Awesome, could you send me the link to the page? :D Thank you! I hope the others of BA will enjoy the essay too ^^
strawberries_85
Aug. 17th, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
Just read it all. I enjoyed every word of this! XD It was a very good analysis/description of Ulquiorra's character and I loved how you connected the possible link between the quartz and Ulquiorra's powers and some characteristics. Yes, it's a small detail, but I haven't seen it picked up on by anyone else yet, and although we cannot say Kubo thought of all this when creating the chapter, finding all these little "poetic" like points gives us food for thought. At the very least, I think it shows that Kubo places the utmost of thought and care when it comes to his characters, even if fandom often accuses him of trolling.

I too, feel there is a great deal of unfinished business with Ulquiorra, although I cannot allow myself to strongly hope for his return because I'd rather not be disappointed. XD But given how even this flashback, which was supposedly meant to once and for all finish his story and confirm his death, leaves us with even more unresolved questions, I cannot help but have a glimmer of hope and think Kubo has more in store.

Thank you for sharing this. I have already linked it at the Ulquiorra FC because I am impatient. XD
icefrosty
Aug. 17th, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!! Yeah, I was just curious about why Kubo chose quartz of all things to be the 'trees' in Hueco Mundo. Probably because they're lifeless things, but when I really looked into their symbolic meaning...OMG, this just screams Ulquiorra! XD I live in hope Ulquiorra will come back ^^
lackasexical
Aug. 17th, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
your PM was disabled XD
But if it's not too much trouble, would you mind removing the link to my essay (the facebook repost) from your entry? I appreciate the thought and kind words, it's just that the essay was written a veeery long time ago and sorely needs to be updated to remain relevant (which I haven't had the time to do), and I'd prefer if the old version not be promoted any longer if I can help it :)
icefrosty
Aug. 17th, 2011 08:40 am (UTC)
Re: your PM was disabled XD
Oh, sure, will do! Thanks for telling me ^^
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )