Lonely Castle in the Mirror vol. 1 coverLonely Castle in the Mirror Vol. 1
Writer: Mizuki Tsujimura
Artist: Tomo Taketomi
Translator: Jaqueline Fung
Adaptation: Rebecca Schneidereit
Letterer: Kaitlyn Wiley
Cover Designer: H. Qi
Proofreader: Leighanna DeRouen
Senior Editor: Shannon Fay
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment (print/digital)
Publication Date: November 21, 2023
Rating: Teen
Genre: Manga, Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, Drama, Magical Realism

REVIEW RATING: Five Stars (Highly Recommended)
Mizuki Tsujimura’s story in Lonely Castle in the Mirror (with a wonderful manga adaptation by Tomo Taketomi) is a raw look at the emotional strains caused by loneliness as well as the seeking of companionship and how necessary forming such relationships can be.

Kokoro has been extensively bullied in school to the point where she can’t bring herself to attend any longer. Her parents, for their part, are doing what they can to support their daughter, but the emotional gulf between them and the isolation that Kokoro carries after a tragic event continue to grow.

One day her mirror begins to glow, and she’s whisked away into another world where a lone castle sits and a small girl in a mask awaits. Here, Kokoro meets several other children who have befallen the same fate, and they’re all given a single task: find the key hidden in the castle and their one wish will be granted.

I can’t stress enough how good this first volume is. I had heard about the animated film adaption, which looked interesting, so when offered the chance to read the manga for The Beat I jumped on it. I wasn’t expecting to hold back actual tears while reading this.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror
Kokoro being pulled through her mirror into the Lonely Castle

Lonely Castle in the Mirror is heavy but approachable. Tsujimura and Taketomi are able to balance mature topics such as the emotional weight of feeling like a pariah as a kid and how sometimes it’s both easy and hard to form friendships with others, but how necessary those bonds are for people to grow. The shame that comes with being bullied and the difficulty of not allowing yourself to feel like a victim are also deftly explored.

I was bullied heavily in school for a very long time, and while Kokoro’s and my experiences were different, the sentiments remained the same. No matter how close you were to some people, you were always still made to feel like an outcast by the majority.

There’s also a subplot about how one of the other kids is incredibly clingy, most likely due to some emotional baggage we haven’t yet explored. This causes tension among the kids in the castle because it means they don’t want to be around him. I have been around people like this in my life, and it caused distress because they simply couldn’t take the hint that they were being too much. Much like the kids here, I didn’t have the courage to just say that out loud all those years ago.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror
Ookami-sama puts her foot down on the rules

Tsujimura understands the nuances of people’s personalities and how isolation can drive them to act in different ways. But it isn’t all doom and gloom; the kids that surround Kokoro throughout the book are nice to her most of the time. Sometimes there are misunderstandings, but ultimately all these kids just want to be friends with one another. So while they only have a limited time–a year–to find this hidden key, they opt mostly instead to just hang out, chat, play video games, and learn about one another.

And we have yet to scratch the surface of most of the kids. Many of their issues are alluded to, but most of this first volume is focused on our main hero, with further explorations of the rest of the cast to come in later volumes.

It’s refreshing to see these characters just want to be nice to one another. Chances are all of them know the opposite from those in their immediate lives outside the castle. It strikes a balance between the hard stuff and fun, and both Tsujimura through their words and especially Taketomi in their art execute that perfectly.

Speaking of Taketomi’s art, it has this sort of ethereal feeling that allows many scenes both inside and outside the castle to feel otherworldly, which is perfect when showing atmosphere and illustrating one’s feelings about certain events from their point of view. All of the characters have very ordinary but cute designs, and they’re all different enough that it’s easy to pick who’s who in a crowd.

This book has definitely made me want to seek out and watch the film–which has been released by GKIDS–as soon as possible, and I can’t wait for volume two and explore more of our central cast. Curious how much of their stories I’m going to relate to. Either way, I’m sure the tears will once again try to break the floodgates.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror
Lonely Castle in the Mirror vol. 2 cover
Lonely Castle in the Mirror vol. blu-ray cover
Lonely Castle in the Mirror novel cover

Lonely Castle in the Mirror is being released by Seven Seas Entertainment. You can pre-order volumes 1, 2, and 3 for $13.99 each, and the first volume releases both physically and digitally on November 21, 2023. Likewise, you can order the anime adaptation on demand or on Blu-ray through GKIDS. The original novel on which both the manga and anime adaptations are based has also been released in English through Erewhon Books and is available for purchase.