By Haruko Kurimoto and Vinegar. Released in Japan as “Yugami no Kuni Monogatari” as a webnovel. Released in North America by Cross Infinite World. Translated by Amber Tamosaitis.
When it comes to light novels, especially ones that have ‘another world” in the title, there is usually a certain blueprint that gets followed, and this goes for those written for a men’s marketplace as well as a women’s marketplace. But isekai has been around long before its rise to popularity in the 2010s. Most older fans who disparage the cliches and characters of modern isekai are quick to say “El Hazard and Rayearth don’t count!”. And then there’s Fushigi Yuugi, which I suspect more than a few people are going to think of then they read Reflection of Another World. The main character and the basic plot beats are not the same as that iconic series, but it has a sort of Fushigi Yuugi-ish veneer that permeates it. It helps the book to feel more like a shoujo manga being novelized than an isekai book. Which is good… and also bad, as it features the best and worst of the genre.
Our heroine is Yura, an introverted girl who is best friends with Tomoko, a lively and outgoing girl who’s also smart and good at sports. The other girls can’t really bully her – but they can bully Yura, who’s quiet and never speaks up for herself. One day, while she’s visiting after school at an antique store owned by one of Tomoko’s relatives, she sees a huge and mysterious mirror with writing on the sides. After a bit more suffering through the Japanese school system, including the classic “get blamed for stealing by your bullies who are the actual perpetrators”, when even Tomoko is upset that she always folds like a card table at any sign of conflict, she runs off to the shop and looks closer at the mirror… and gets pulled through it! Now in another world, she must deal with accidental marriage, everyone calling her the most beautiful thing ever, and a handsome man who is called ugly and kicked and abused. What is going on here?
I’ll be honest, a lot of this book was a struggle to get through. Yura, unfortunately, does not get called to another world for any reason we can see, so she rarely gets explanations when she does things wrong or doesn’t understand what’s going on. Also, the King seems to be a jerk, and most of the rest of the cast who are not Yura or her assumed love interest Sei are also not very likeable. The good news is that Yura, while not always likeable herself, is a very compelling character, and the writing does an excellent job of taking us into the head of an introvert who is forced every day to confront things that she really does not want to. Becoming everyone’s center of attention is her worst nightmare, and it felt very realistic that it took till near the end of the book – and, more importantly, for the danger to be to someone else rather than herself – for her to actually take a stand.
There’s a lot unanswered at the end of this book, so we’ll see what happens next. If Tomoko somehow joins Yura in Book 2, I will raise another Fushigi Yuugi eyebrow. Till then, recommended not for isekai fans, but for shoujo fans.