LONELY CASTLE IN THE MIRROR is a Fantastically Moving Modern Day Fairytale

The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

Last week saw the Blu-ray release of Keiichi Hara’s feature length anime adaption Lonely Castle In The Mirror on Blu-ray thanks to the folks over at GKIDS. The film which started as a book and was adapted into a manga, and finally a film tells the fairytale adventure of 7 first year students who are summoned via a magical portal in their mirrors to a gorgeous castle in the middle of the ocean. Once there they meet a young girl in a wolf mask known as the Wolf Queen who informs her guests that from the hours of 9am to 5pm they are invited to the castle to socialize and to search for a magic key. That key will grant the finder one wish, but there are two catches. Once they make the wish their memories of the castle will be erased, and if they come to the castle outside of the designated time, they will be eaten by a wolf, along with all the other children who are forced to share the fate. 

The gorgeously animated film primarily focuses on Kokoro, a painfully shy teen who when the film begins is afraid to go to school. We don’t know why, but it’s to the point her parents are exploring other schools and options. After being recruited, at first she is hesitant to visit the castle, but the more she visits and gets to know the other kids, the more she begins to realize that there’s something similar about the other children and her situation. While the thread of the narrative is this somewhat convoluted fairytale – something the characters go even as far to comment on. The emotional journey of these characters together as they are allowed to open up to one another and their struggles with being bullied at school is what makes the film as moving as it is. In their downtime looking for the key they create friendships that make the castle not only a refuge, but bridge to the children finding their way back to their respective lives. 

Lonely Castle In The Mirror is a socially aware spectacle that attempts to tackle not only bullying and different kinds of abuse. But how living in a society where speaking out or sticking up for yourself is frowned upon, often traps the victims in these cycles and prevents them from getting help. The film manages to mull through these weighty themes thankfully in a way that’s not preachy or feels like an afterschool special, which is probably why the property is so popular. This is probably because Kokoro is portrayed as grounded and her emotional struggle in the film feels very genuine in how she reacts and and internalizes her struggle. Its how those around Kokoro react to her that also surprised me and really felt like the property was not trying to talk down to the film’s intended audience, allowing her to find her own way to happiness.

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