Once you decide that fan translations are ok, it’s difficult to stop. Yup, The Solitary Castle in the Mirror is another manga that hasn’t quite been officially licensed yet. It’s actually based on a novel that might have an official translation. I’m afraid I didn’t do my homework there. The original title is Kagami no Kojou so there’s a chance the official English title might not be the same as I have it here.
But the cover art and the heavy little red riding hood themes just called out to me irresistibly. So I had to read the first volume. Which is all I could find anyways. And this is what I thought.
Why I Picked up The Solitary Castle in the Mirror
Oh, I already mentioned that, didn’t I? The cover art I saw was a bunch of students in a darkened classroom at dusk. It was actually the cover for volume 3 I think. The composition of that cover was unusual. I couldn’t really tell who the main character was, and it turns out she was in the background of that particular image. It drew my eye just enough for me to check out a few more covers, and that’s where the fairy tale references started pouring in. I love fairy tales.
There were mysterious mirror mirrors on the walls, girls in red hoods playing with kids in wolf masks. It just looked cool.
Kokoro is a first-year middle school student. Or at least, she’s supposed to be. A dark and very frightening experience has left her with a severe case of social anxiety that has her dropping out of school and shutting herself away from the world in her house, where she spends her days dealing with the guilt the disappointment in her parents eyes causes her.
One day, the mirror in her room begins to glow. Dragged into the other side of the looking glass by a little girl wearing a wolf mask, Kokoro there finds a fairy tale-like castle and six other children, all close to her in age. The little girl (who calls herself “Ookami-sama”) tells them that the one who finds the Wish Key that is hidden within the castle will have a single wish granted. There are no rules, save for one: if they stay past 5 PM, the Wolf will eat them.
My First Impression
Now that I think of it, this is one of the rare times time I read/saw an isekai with a girl as the main character. Weird.
What I liked
The fairy tale connection is strong and enchanting. If you’re like me of course. I suppose some will be rather indifferent to it but I ate it up.
For all the fantasy elements and supernatural happenings, The Solitary Castle is a deeply introspective story. It’s a slow-paced exploration of the difficulties and fears of finding your place in society, seen from the very specific point of view of a young girl just coming of age. It also seeks to shed a light on all the social structures and pressures that are specific to young women in Japan.
In many ways, The Solitary Castle feels like a deeply personal tale. Almost like an imaginary diary just as much as a fantasy adventure. That’s unique.
In the first volume, there’s something off about the pacing. I can’t quite put my finger on it but events don’t quite flow very well. And the character development is jagged as a result. It’s subtle but noticeable.
It gave me the impression that something might have been lost in the adaptation from novel to manga. I haven’t read the book, but I’m intrigued now. This said I have a feeling that it’s the type of narrative that’s just littered with inner dialogue and detailed descriptions. It’s just the type of story that calls for it. There’s not much dialogue at all.
And since both the descriptives and inner monologues have been cut from the manga, to be presented in visual form, it occasionally makes certain sequences seem rushed or not fully developed.
Then again something may also be lost in the fan translation.
The execution isn’t flawless but both the actual story and the personal and emotional tone of the underlying themes are compelling. I have read everything I could find of the manga and would purchase an official English version if it became available.
I also think that in the hands of the right director, this could be a masterpiece anime. It’s so atmospheric and has a good core, some careful lighting and detailed animation and talented voice acting could bring it to life in a way the manga can’t.