Lone Castle in the Mirror

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Lone Castle in the Mirror
Author: Mizuki Tsujimura
Specifications: ISBN  978-4591153321
554 pages
13.6 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Poplar Publishing Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2017
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


A story that delves into the circumstances and psychology of children who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves unable to go to school even when they want to.

Shortly after entering middle school, Kokoro Anzai starts getting bullied by the alpha girl in her class—to the point that she soon finds it impossible to attend classes there. She visits an alternative “free school” that she thinks might be better, but when the time comes, she can’t bring herself to go there, either.

One day she is whiling away the afternoon in her room at home when her mirror suddenly begins to glow with light. On an impulse, she reaches out to touch it, and promptly gets pulled through the glass into another world. On the other side she finds a large European-style castle, where she is greeted by a girl in a wolf’s mask. She also meets six other people her age gathered there—all, like Kokoro, boys and girls who have stopped going to school. The wolf girl tells them that they are there to find a key hidden somewhere inside the castle. The one who finds it will be granted a single wish. Castle rules say they can come and go freely each day from 9:00 to 5:00 for up to one year. Once someone finds the key and gets his or her wish, the castle will close, and all recollections of the castle will be wiped from their memories. Further, if anyone stays in the castle past the designated time, all participants who came to the castle that day will be eaten by a wolf as punishment.

There are a number of clashes among the seven participants in their early days at the castle, but as they gradually grow closer they lose interest in looking for the key. They value the castle as a place where they can feel like they belong, so they are wary of finding the key and causing it to be closed. As she learns of the different family circumstances of, and difficulties faced by, each of the others, Kokoro begins to come to terms with her own aversion to school. Back in the real world, she meets a Mrs. Kitajima who teaches at the free school, and finally feels there is someone who understands her.

Then one day the participants discover that they’re all in fact matriculated at the same middle school in the real world. Kokoro learns that she isn’t the only one who knows Mrs. Kitajima. Thinking that this means they’ll be able to support each other no matter what trials they face, they decide on a day when they will all attend and agree to meet up at school. But even though they do go to school on the designated day, for some reason they never encounter one another.

When only one day remains before the allotted year is up, a girl named Aki, tormented beyond bearing by the abuse she suffers at home, decides to kill herself by deliberately staying at the castle past the permitted time. In accordance with the rules, the wolf girl devours her as well as the five others who were at the castle that day. Having been kept away by something she had to do in the real world, Kokoro is the only one spared. By way of a broken mirror, the six victims are able to contact Kokoro and ask for her help. She manages to make it through the broken mirror and arrives at the castle, which has been torn into a shambles by the wolf girl. Once there, she is able to see into the memories of her friends, and realizes that even though they all came from the same world, they’re from different times. Then she finds the hidden key and uses her single wish to rescue all of her friends. Comparing notes about the times from which they came reveals that they are all separated by seven-year intervals in the real world. Aki, for example, comes from 14 years earlier in time than Kokoro, and so is technically 14 years older. But once they leave the castle, the members of the group lose all memory of what took place there. Back in the real world, Aki is finally able to escape from the abuse she was suffering and ultimately becomes a teacher at the free school. When she marries, she becomes Mrs. Kitajima, and it is she who offers Kokoro support.

The shadow protagonist of the story is the wolf girl, Mio Mizumori, who died from an illness at 13 and created the castle; she is also Aki’s very first student, and the older sister of one of the male participants. She orchestrates the yearlong search at the castle as a way of granting wishes for her younger brother and herself. Although the main focus is on Kokoro, the six other participants are given well-rounded portrayals with detailed backgrounds, adding further interest to the story. There are a variety of subplots whose conclusions are revealed one after another as the story nears its end, and hints to solving the castle’s many mysteries are found in Grimm’s fairy tales—making this work an excellent vehicle for linked reading assignments in the classroom as well.