Book Review – Coraline – Neil Gaiman

First let’s make this clear – this is a review of the book NOT the animated movie, although I loved the movie too (and it could still be construed as such).

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That being said, I think what touched me most about this book is that it is truly a book for children. The plot line is quite deep, the psychology behind it is disturbing and twisted, and most of the story itself is so metaphorical as to be almost frightening, and yet, it is set so as to not only enter into the world of children, but also make every child who reads it feel totally at home there.

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It captures everyday moments of every child’s life – the unlikeable ‘recipes’ served at dinner, the boredom of rainy days, the loneliness of children with no other brothers or sisters, the sense of loss when one’s parents seem distant and busy with their own lives, the way children’s opinions are glossed over and ignored when it comes to practical matters like choosing clothes for school.

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Most importantly, it offers two different perspectives of parent-hood. On the one hand, we have Coraline’s normal family – her two working parents who both work at home and have their own studies there, who sometimes have no time for Coraline and who have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, and therefore do not understand her, yet who love her and would sacrifice themselves for her.

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On the other – there are the Other parents – especially, the Other mother. She is a perfectly frightening representation of those clutching needy mothers, who need something to love so much, that they literally stifle their children, bottling them up in a bubble of fake smiles and repression – until finally the childrens’ individuality is squeezed into nothingness… which is what they become.

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This metaphor of the needy cold mother, who selfishly does not really care about who Coraline is or what she actually wants, is the prevalent ‘monster’ in the story, and is all the more terrifying in that there are so many real monsters like her out in our world.

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Coraline’s natural communication with the animals around her is so normally-portrayed as to be totally believable, and not relegated to the label of ‘magical’ or ‘supernatural’ at all. Cats talk, mice dance, rats can be spies – it is presented as a fact, and so it is.

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This short book reminded me of the premise of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, where family issues are combatted by children through metaphorical intervention. Totally brilliant.

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Anime Review – Shiki – A Japanese Vampire-Story

Genre – Horror
No. of Episodes – 24
Anime released in – 2010
My Overall Grading – 3 Stars

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Shiki was a random find. I’ve been combing the anime market for good horrors/psychological thrillers for ages now, and wanted something good with a Japanese cultural flavor. Shiki seemed to fit the bill, even though the romaticised vampire plot-line made me a bit wary, since we’ve seen sentimentalized semi-pornographic versions of it so many times before.

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The anime itself was quite good. It sports Higurashi-like traits, in that it is set in a small, almost cut off, town in rural Japan, with its own customs and legends, where, obviously, something strange starts to happen during one hot Summer, when a large number of people start to mysteriously die off. There the story totally deviates from Higurashi however, in that, although interesting and at times, agonizingly full of emotion, the characters in this anime somehow still fail to gain that certain depth of perspective and credibility. The characters in Shiki are thin, cardboard-like and insubstantial. Although we are given sketchy backgrounds of almost each one, we know that the ten-minute background interlude is gifted to us each time, exactly before said character either dies (which does not mean that they do not actively appear on-screen any more) or otherwise falls into some misfortune. The characters never evolve, they never develop, and, alive or dead, their reactions are hardly credible or even probable.

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That being said, the art used in Shiki is very pleasing, when portraying kawai characters like Sunako, but totally irritating with bland ones like Kaori – and seriously, what’s with all the stupid bombastic hairstyles? And the BOOBS… Lol. Anyways, the guys are all hot, and I loved Megumi’s fashion sense too ;p

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I also loved the fact that in the end, we are so steeped in the lore of the town of Sotoba, that we don’t even see the undead as vampires anymore, but we really and truly perceive them as Shiki. They are blood-thirsty, they are romanticized, but in the end, like their human counterparts, the Shiki just want to live a normal life, they are afraid, they make mistakes, they need help – but no one helps them. The (hot) priest Seishin perfectly persnonalizes the troublesome issue everyone in the village, not to mention we the viewers, feel – the Shiki are parents, friends, husbands, sisters, mothers, loved ones who are just trying to survive – is killing them murder, or is it just self-defence?

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Although the characters leave something to be desired, the issues presented by this anime are quite clear and very deep. In the end, I couldn’t, however, give the anime 4 stars as it still had something lacking, but I would still recommend it.

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