Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a heartwarming coming-of-age story about seven bullied teenagers who discover a mystical castle where they can escape reality. This Japanese animated film smartly navigates the trauma of school bullying and the support mechanisms required to overcome the experience. The Blu-ray from GKIDS and Shout! Studios provides a solid A/V package for the film, but the disc is lean on bonus features. It’s an exciting flick that is definitely Worth a Look.
“You’re fighting every single day, isn’t that true?”
Outcast junior high schooler Kokoro Anzai has been feigning illness for weeks to avoid the bullying girls who tease her to no end. Unable to explain this to her parents, Kokoro spends her days in her room with her parents, unaware of what's truly happening. Suddenly, the mirror in her room started glowing. It pulls her onto an island with a castle inhabited by a young girl in a red dress wearing a wolf mask. Here, Kokoro discovers six other troubled teenagers who have stepped through the mirror. The Wolf Queen explains that they are to play a game over the next year, and whoever breaks the rules will be eaten by a real wolf.
Based on Mizuki Tsujimura’s 2017 novel of the same name, the film explores the impact of bullying and the mechanisms to confront the aggressors. Once the teenagers are introduced, we begin to learn each of them is facing specific traumas, which leads them to find solace in the mystery castle. Thankfully, this isn’t a Safe Space in which they receive therapies and guidance; rather the host details a tense mystery that must be solved. The Wolf Queen explains that a key hidden in the castle will grant a wish. They will have a year to search but are only allowed between 9-5 p.m. If the key is found and a wish granted, they will forget their memories of each other. Failure to comply with the rules will mean certain death.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror mainly divides its time between the castle and Kokoro’s life outside the fantasy realm. We see her struggle to communicate with her parents and gaze out her bedroom window at her friend dropping off her work in the mailbox. Soon, a teacher from a special school reaches out to Kokoro in hopes of being a resource when she needs it. Thankfully, the film never uses her as a simple solution to the issues at hand but allows the traumatized children to find their own way. Over time, the castle becomes a haven for the seven teens to explore their personalities, relax, and discover new friendships. Their choice to visit the castle becomes less about the game and more about healing themselves. Predictably, the kids realize that no single wish could solve their problems at school.
Director Keiichi Hara (Summer Days with Coo) crafts a promising adaptation of the novel, which hits all the high emotional marks of the source material. With a runtime of 116 minutes, the feature is given plenty of space for character development; however it still feels as if there is much to be explored within the story. As the game timer reaches its end, we’re rushed through the troubled lives of the teens, which I’m sure is fleshed out better in the source novel. Animation in the film is low-key, with detailed backgrounds and castle settings never taking the focus off the characters moving through scenes. Some occasional 3D shots took me out of the film as the camera swirled around the fantasy realm.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror critically examines the bullying problem facing Japanese students. Using the castle as an escape from their traumas, we’re able to see troubled teens flourish when given the opportunity to find solace. It’s a thought-provoking and heart-warming film best suited for fans of coming-of-age stories.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lonely Castle in the Mirror arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Studios and GKIDS. The Region A BD-50 disc is housed in a typical keepcase with reversible artwork.
An AVC-encoded 1080p HD image is used in the film’s original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The animation for Lonely Castle in the Mirror rarely draws attention to itself. Backgrounds and set pieces are vibrant and confidently presented, though they never detract from the character’s actions. Primaries are bright throughout the feature with bold reds and blues. The detail and texture are excellent, whether the fine trappings within the castle or the leafy bushes lining Kokoro’s street. Black levels are deep, and the contrast is pleasing.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror arrives with a lively DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track available in both Japanese and English. Dialogue is clearly presented as our characters move through the environments. Scoring elements take full advantage of surround channels with atmospherics and scoring cues enveloping viewers. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, in English for the Original Language Version, and in Spanish.
GKIDS and Shout! Studios keep the special features lean on this release; however, the Art Gallery is worth checking out for fans of the film.
Relying on a clever fantasy hook to leverage appeal, Lonely Castle in the Mirror takes aim at the epidemic of Japanese school bullying with pleasing results. With relatable characters and beautiful moments of self-discovery and friendship, the film is a heartwarming look at the enduring power of love. Even with its shortcomings, fans of coming-of-age stories will surely enjoy this one. The Blu-ray disc from GKIDS and Shout! Studios is a respectable release offering a solid A/V package with limited bonus features. Worth a Watch.